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An Indiana County Town has been Ordered to Pay O&G Company’s Legal Fees after Losing Federal Lawsuit

Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE), an oil and gas company, will not have to foot their legal counsel’s bills after battling an Indiana County community in court over a wastewater injection well. A judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania of the U.S. District Court ruled that Grant Township will pay just over $100,000 to PGE. The legal battle began when PGE plans to build a wastewater injection well in Grant Township became public. The plans were immediately met with pushback from the community. In an effort to prevent PGE from moving forward with the injection well project, Grant Township decided to adopt a home rule charter with a special provision disallowing oil and gas development in the township.

After fighting through the state judicial system regarding the Constitutionality of Grant Township’s Home Rule claim, a federal judge noted that “PGE had clearly prevailed in a suit that challenged the constitutionality [of the claim]”. The judge went further, accusing Grant Township of “mak[ing] an end run around the judicial determination by amending its form of government” which in itself was constitutionally questionable. As a result, the judge ordered Grant Township to pay for the legal fees accrued by PGE in their years-long long battle. PGE agreed to only seek payment for a portion of their legal fees amounting to just over $100,000.

Home rule charters essentially allow local governments to create law about anything that state law has not already forbidden. However, a legal concept called ‘Dillon’s Rule’ leverages state law against home rule charters, giving state law the power to exercise control over local governments. While home rule charters give home rule communities the authority to enact legislation that is not directly forbidden by the state Constitution, it is not a magic bullet that allows for these communities to overrule state law. In this case, as Grant Township’s actions to keep the oil and gas industry out of the township altogether violated Pennsylvania state law, their home rule claims were nullified.

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