Case over fracking pit leak could limit Pa. water pollution fines

The state Supreme Court justices heard arguments Tuesday in what an attorney for the Department of Environmental Protection told them is the most important environmental case to come before their court in recent years.
Jonathan Massey, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who was brought in to represent the DEP, told the court that the state Clean Streams Law’s text, history and purpose all indicate the Legislature’s broad interest in preventing and promptly cleaning up pollution by allowing for penalties for ongoing violations.
Robert Byer, an attorney for EQT, said the law does not prescribe mounting fines for as long as any trace of pollution remains.
Other laws and resources allow DEP to ensure spills are stopped, including the agency’s ability to issue cleanup orders or seek damages, he said.
Most of the justices’ questions during the session were aimed at clarifying the two sides’ positions.
Justice Max Baer asked Mr. Massey if “for every yard” a spill travels down a river, “is that another infraction?” (Mr. Massey’s answer was no, it would be a new violation when contamination moves from groundwater to a seep to a stream.)
“Under your interpretation,” he said, “it would be a $10,000 fine.” Mr. Byer agreed, but said it is for the Legislature to change the law if it wants fines to cover pollution that remains in waterways.
The state Environmental Hearing Board assessed a $1.1 million fine against EQT in May for the wastewater pond leak, which amounted to a quarter of the financial penalty that DEP recommended.
Both DEP and EQT have appealed the penalty ruling.
Laura Legere:

Learn More