The Board of Supervisors for Packer Township has voted unanimously to advertise an ordinance that would enable the municipality to adopt and enforce environmental protection standards exceeding those set by the State legislature.
The ordinance is being considered by the Township in wake of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's lawsuit to overturn an ordinance adopted in 2008 which bans corporate sewage sludge dumping within the township.
The vote to advertise the Packer Township Community Self-Government Ordinance is the necessary legal step prior to it being adopted by the township, which could occur as early as May 4.
The Board's consideration of the ordinance followed a ruling by the Commonwealth Court on March 17 that let stand all but one provision of the Packer Township Sludge Ordinance, adopted in 2008.
Reacting to the attorney general's legal filing in another municipal sludge ordinance case, in which he argued that "there is no inalienable right to local self-government" (Corbett vs. East Brunswick, January 31, 2008), Packer Township amended its sludge ordinance to remove authority from the attorney general to enforce state laws that violate community self-governing rights.
Claiming authority to sue to overturn the entire ordinance, Attorney General Thomas Corbett filed suit against Packer and on behalf of corporate waste haulers in August, 2009. Corbett requested the court nullify the ordinance without going to trial and find the ordinance void as a matter of law.
The opinion filed on March 17 stated that "Corbett's Motion for Summary Relief is granted with respect to the amendment removing the authority of the Attorney General to enforce state law. The Motion for Summary Relief is denied with respect to all remaining issues."
The new ordinance under consideration asserts that the "Pennsylvania legislature has repeatedly violated the right of Packer Township residents to govern their own municipality" and calls for "the outright nullification of the doctrine of preemption when it prohibits the people of Packer Township from adopting higher standards than those set forth in state law, but also requires the people of Packer Township to refuse to recognize the authority of the Attorney General or the courts, when those entities attempt to enforce the legislature's illegitimate acts."
"We know we're pulling the tiger's tail, but it's not a question of which branch of government is more powerful; it's a matter of right and wrong," said Thomas J. Gerhard, chairman of the Packer Township supervisors. "It's about justice and the denial of justice by the state, the legislature, the courts and the attorney general."
How quickly the sewage sludge ordinance law suit moves forward in a politically packed year is up to the office of the attorney general. The state's claim that dumping sewage sludge in rural communities is a "normal agricultural activity" protected by the state's "Right to Farm" (ACRE) law will be one of the questions of fact before the court, as will the question of who has the right to govern in the municipalities of Pa.: corporate Boards of Directors and state regulatory agencies, or the people who live and raise families in those communities.
The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Packer Township, 432 MD 2009.