DEP Appeals $4.5M Wastewater Leak Fine Against EQT to Supremes

There’s a reason hospitals and court rooms are frequently the settings for soap operas on TV–there’s always so much drama surrounding medicine and the law–the latter of which is our focus today. In January MDN reported what seemed like the final chapter in a long, drawn-out case between Marcellus driller EQT and the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP). In October 2014, the DEP fined 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. In fact, EQT says the DEP levied the fine and took EQT to court because a few weeks prior EQT had sued the DEP over a different matter–that is, sour grapes. 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. When you read the “friend of the court” brief just filed by those supporting the DEP in their case, it’s a Who’s Who of Big Green organizations and virulent anti-drillers–which tells you all you need to know about which side is in the right in the case of EQT v DEP…

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