PA Supreme Court Hears Arguments in EQT Wastewater Leak Case

Buckle up while we explain the background for this story. 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. Not long after that ruling, the Environmental Hearing Board, a special “court” set up to hear appeals of DEP decisions, decided to reduce the original $4.5 million fine down to $1.1 million (see PA Hearing Board Reduces EQT Fine from $4.5M to $1.1M). We thought that would be the end of it. But no! Both the DEP and EQT appealed the matter back up to the PA Supreme Court and yesterday the Supremes heard the case once again…

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