The Heinz Endowments has led the attack of the gentry class on economic opportunity in Pennsylvania but was rebuffed by a recent Commonwealth Court decision.
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court slapped down the Heinz Endowments in a decision released yesterday. No, the Heinz Endowments isn’t mentioned in the decision and the judges may not have any realized its involvement but they recognized its hucksterism when they saw it and they rejected it.
The case is EQT Production Company vs. Borough of Jefferson Hills, which is located in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh area). EQT had applied for a conditional use permit to develop a natural gas well pad known as the Bickerton Well Site. The Borough Council arbitrarily decided EQT had not met its burden of proof to demonstrate the project would “not endanger the public health, safety or welfare nor deteriorate the environment, as a result of being located on the property where it is proposed.”
This was despite evidence provided indicating EQT would not use Borough roads during well-site construction, that water truck traffic would be alleviated by using Pennsylvania American Water Company for its supply, that the proposed project would not impact streams or wetlands and that all of the lighting requirements of the Zoning Ordinance were met. EQT also voluntarily agreed to a sound testing program and to use sound walls, if required as part of a conditional use approval.
Moreover, the Borough Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the application. Here’s what happened according to the Commonwealth Court (emphasis added):
In October 2015, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the application, conditioned upon the Applicants providing updated information before the public hearing on the conditional use in order to show compliance with numerous deficiencies outlined in the borough planning consultant’s review letter. In December 2015, the Council denied the Applicants’ conditional use application by a zero to five vote. Council’s written decision followed.
In its decision, Council determined that the Applicants complied with all of the general requirements for conditional uses found in Section 1003 of the Zoning Ordinance except subsection (a), pertaining to the public health, safety, and welfare, and the environment. That subsection provides that, “The use shall not endanger the public health, safety or welfare nor deteriorate the environment, as a result of being located on the property where it is proposed.”
In addition, Council concluded that the Applicants satisfied Section 1004.35 of the Zoning Ordinance, providing additional standards for the specific conditional use of oil and gas drilling. Further, it determined that they met Sections 1503 and 1504 of Ordinance No. 833,2 pertaining to “oil and gas overlay districts oil and gas development application requirements” and “oil and gas development standards.”
Based on its determination that they failed to satisfy Section 1003(a), however, Council concluded that “the burden never shifted to the objectors to prove that the impact of the proposed use is such that it would violate the other general requirements for land use set forth in the Borough Zoning Ordinance.”
You might wonder how EQT could meet every specific standard of the ordinance and then fail to meet some vague general criteria. The Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas wondered the same thing, throwing out the decision. It observed the absurdity of concluding EQT never met its burden of proof under those circumstances.
The Borough Council’s rationale was, in fact, a back door way of appeasing project opponents without relying too much on their evidence, which was clearly speculative and unrelated to the EQT application under consideration. The Borough’s approach was to just say EQT didn’t get the job done, even though it had, and treat the opponents testimony as helpful but unnecessary, while also throwing the Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment into the mix for good measure.
It was a total BS strategy and, in the end, neither the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, nor the Commonwealth Court, bought it. You can read the decision yourself here, but, what interested me when I read it, were the two yellow highlighted sections found on pages 11 and 12 as the protestants testimony was reviewed by the Commonwealth Court (my emphasis):
Mr. Baumgartner testified as to his proximity to the Trax Farm well site and commented on negative impacts there, such as noise, vibrations, and odors. Stating that Southwestern Regional Health Association had advised him as to the presence of airborne particulate matter restricting outdoor activities, he alleged that air quality levels and diesel odors had required him and his wife to evacuate their home several times and had forced his pregnant daughter to move out on her doctor’s advice…
Ms. Marcucci, who resides in Pleasant Hills, PA, but not in the Borough, is employed as a community outreach coordinator for the Environmental Integrity Project.
Why did these two statements catch my attention? Well, first they indicate this was organized attack on EQT and shale, not a spontaneous reaction of citizens. Secondly, notice in the case of Baumgartner that his statement was, in large part, hearsay. He was simply told by the Southwestern Regional Health Association (an apparent reference to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project [SWEHP] as there is no organization by the former name) that there were air quality problems. That’s undoubtedly related to the SWEHP junk science project we discussed here.
Who’s behind this attack by the SWEHP and Environmental Integrity Project? Follow the money. Here’s the SWEHP money trail from the Heinz Endowments website:
That’s $600,000 is for this year alone, of course. The Heinz Endowments has been funding SWEHP from the beginning. It’s a complete junk science scam, IMHO.
Then, there is the Environmental Integrity Project:
That’s $1,078,000 since 2008. Put it all together and the Heinz Endowments has funneled millions of dollars into the coffers of these two organizations behind the attack on EQT and shale. That’s the real story here; how a gentry class outfit determined to stop anything remotely resembling economic development — development that might help Pennsylvania’s middle class — manipulates things behind the scenes using the courts and, of course, the media.
There is, in fact, no organization more dangerous to the economy of the Commonwealth and the welfare of ordinary Pennsylvanians than the Heinz Endowments. Unless, of course, it is its partner in crime, the William Penn Foundation. Can’t wait to see how their shared house organ, StateImpactPA reports this.