PA Hearing Board Reduces EQT Fine from $4.5M to $1.1M

In October 2014, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) fined Marcellus driller EQT a whopping $4.53 million for a leaky wastewater impoundment in Tioga County, PA (see PA DEP Levies Biggest Fine Ever, $4.5M Against EQT). While EQT did not say there wasn’t a problem with leaks at the site, they did say the way the DEP calculated the fine is unreasonable and arbitrary. EQT appealed the fine and the case all the way to the PA Supreme Court. In December 2015, the high court handed EQT a “procedural victory” by saying EQT has a point about the manner in which the DEP is calculating the fine (see PA Supreme Court Gives EQT “Procedural Victory” in $4.5M Fine Case). The Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court, PA Commonwealth Court, for follow up work, and in January 2017, a three-judge panel ruled that the method the DEP currently uses to assess fines–by how many days pollution lingers, instead of by how many days the initial release of pollution lasted–is not legal nor common sense (see EQT Wins Court Case Against PA DEP re $4.5M Wastewater Leak Fine). The judges said such a method in fining, “would result in potentially limitless continuing violations.” Under the old way of calculating fines, the DEP was considering upping the fine on EQT to an insane $157 million. Calculating it under the new way will mean a fine of around $120,000. We thought with that ruling it was all done and dusted. Not so. The soap opera continued when the DEP appealed the Commonwealth Court panel’s ruling back up to the PA Supreme Court where the Supremes will consider it all over again (see DEP Appeals $4.5M Wastewater Leak Fine Against EQT to Supremes). Into this mess, let’s now throw in another wrinkle. While the courts have been grappling with issues of procedure and whether or not the DEP can assess fines the way it claims it can (that is, Constitutional issues), at the same time the matter was brought up before the PA Environmental Hearing Board (EHB), a sort of quasi-court set up to hear appeals of decisions made by DEP. The EHB has decided to adjust the fine down significantly–from the DEP’s initial levy of $4.53 million down to $1.1 million. Here was their reasoning…

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