Our environment is our most important commodity. Without it, many of the world’s species are doomed to extinction. And courts have had a tough time finding ways to hold big companies who damage our environments culpable — and liable. Recently, a consent decree was filed in the United States Middle District Court. It will settle a legal dispute between natural gas supplier Chesapeake Appalachia, the federal government, and Pennsylvania State Department of Environmental Protection for about $1.9 million.
The agreement was made without Chesapeake admitting to guilt for damaging streams and wetlands. The Oklahoma City corporation quickly filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy (www.t-plaw.com). A Texas bankruptcy court is now tasked with approving or disapproving of the decree.
Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit on behalf of at least 76 properties in Beaver, Bradford, Sullivan, Suquehanna, And Wyoming Counties after complaints that the gas provider dumped dredged material into streams and wetlands, contaminating the areas after construction projects.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, and DEP were all notified of the illegal and unauthorized activity back in 2014, and an audit was conducted.
Gas and oil companies are required to assess potential environmental damages before new construction projects take place. In this case, Chesapeake failed to uphold its end of the bargain by mitigating damages.
The new agreement was drawn up to ensure that those permits are obtained and upheld in the future, thereby mitigating damage done to dozens of acres of wetland and streams in the aforementioned counties. In order to continue construction, a third-party will ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act of Pennsylvania.
Chesapeake will also be required to audit two full years of construction activity for the EPA, DEP and Army Corps of Engineers, create a representative employment position to guarantee oversight, and pay fines of at least $1,000 for each future violation.
The agreement could be terminated if the courts find that Chesapeake is holding up its end of the bargain — but this is unlikely due to the fact that a previous 2014 case with similar findings in West Virginia resulted in a separate settlement.
EPA Mid-Atlantic Acting Regional Administrator Diana Esher said, “This substantial federal-state settlement highlights the cooperative efforts of EPA and PADEP to protect the Commonwealth’s waters and wetlands. These natural areas are critical ecological and economic resources for all Pennsylvanians.”
This agreement will not repair the damage already done on the East Coast because of wetlands pollution, however. For example, about 80 percent of the hellbender population has been wiped out.
Senior attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity Brian Segee said, “Hellbenders are under pressure from a multitude of threats throughout their range, and those threats are only expected to worsen in the coming years. Until it’s reversed, the Trump administration’s denial of protection to these endearing salamanders will doom them to continue on a path toward extinction.”