PennFuture Blog

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PennFuture Secures Two Legal Victories in One Week

At PennFuture, we take great pride in being Pennsylvania’s watchdog for clean air, pure water and a healthy environment. We approach our work through multiple facets, one of which involves flexing our legal muscle and protecting our environment through litigation in local, state and federal courts. 

Over the course of our 22-year history, PennFuture has achieved significant and meaningful legal victories and, just this week, we received word that two cases had been resolved in our favor. 

The first victory, handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, involved the use of so-called “tolling orders” by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Tolling orders allow an agency or court to pause or delay the running of time to take action that is set forth in a statute. Put simply, for many years FERC used these tolling orders to indefinitely delay reviewing complaints from property owners who wished to protect their property from fracked gas and pipeline development. 

In fact, FERC used tolling orders in 99 percent of the cases between 2009 and 2017 in which property owners, organizations, and other aggrieved parties asked for rehearings of FERC decisions involving pipeline projects. Until the rehearing request was finally decided upon, the parties were prevented from challenging FERC’s decision in court.

Most concerningly, even as these parties were blocked from having their day in court, pipeline companies could rely on the decisions to condemn private property and begin construction, resulting in irreparable harm to property and the environment. 

Thankfully, the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday ruled that FERC cannot indefinitely delay the review of these complaints. This decision gives landowners, environmental groups, and environmental justice communities who are disproportionately burdened by pipeline infrastructure back our right to challenge FERC’s decisions before the irreparable harm from pipeline construction can occur.

PennFuture, which was represented by EarthJustice in this case, was just one of several entities that submitted an amici curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the case challenging the illegal use of these tolling order , and we are thankful for the court’s ruling. To read more about this case, click here

The second legal victory, handed down by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, involved a case where PennFuture and other organizations, again represented by EarthJustice, sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to properly regulate coke ovens like those found at U.S. Steel’s plant outside of Pittsburgh. 

In 2005, the EPA publicly acknowledged that carcinogenic emissions from coke ovens destroy air quality and cause devastating health complications, yet the agency also admitted it wasn’t sure that its regulations were protecting communities located near these coke plants. 

No new rules or regulations have come forth from the EPA in the 15 years since that admission, and this lawsuit demanded that EPA finally take action and craft regulations that protect citizens who live near these dangerous plants. In response to our lawsuit, EPA conceded liability and admitted that they had failed to establish three of the necessary standards to protect human health and the environment as alleged in our lawsuit. The court set a 30-month deadline for the EPA to act on these rules, which is a significant victory for public health. 

Both of these court decisions are significant victories for citizens across America whose rights to clean air and clean water have been denied for far too long. These decisions are also further evidence that PennFuture will not stand idly by as corporate polluters and our federal government trample on our rights solely in the name of profits. 

Please consider joining PennFuture today to support all of the great work we do to protect our environment and hold polluters and our government accountable.

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