MEDINA – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania has reprimanded two lawyers associated with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, ruling they acted in bad faith and pushed implausible legal theories to defend a local ban on oil and gas wastewater disposal.

Medina County Commissioner Adam Friedrick brought attention to the ruling after members of Sustainable Medina County spoke about the negative impacts of the proposed NEXUS pipeline at the Jan. 9 meeting of commissioners.

The CELDF is the group which helped Sustainable Medina County mount three failed attempts to place an issue on the ballot, which would create a county charter form of government that included a so-called bill of rights intended to give local officials and residents more power to resist new energy projects like pipelines and oil and gas wells.

According to Friedrick, the protest efforts of local environmental groups like Sustainable Medina County can have some negative effects like the costly litigation in the Pennsylvania courts.

Magistrate Judge Susan Paradis Baxter found in the case cited by Friedrick that a CELDF director and attorney must pay more than $50,000 to cover part of a Pennsylvania energy firm’s legal bills from litigation over a township’s ban of injection wells to dispose of the drilling fluids used in drilling operations.

“An attorney’s zealous advocacy for the protection of a client’s interests is certainly appropriate, however, the legitimate pursuit of justice imposes important obligations on counsel to ensure that the court is not a mechanism of harassment or unbridled obstruction,” Baxter wrote in her ruling.

Kathie Jones, a spokesperson for Sustainable Medina County, said the Pennsylvania ruling did not come as a surprise.

“What it really shows is that the Community Rights Movement has grown large enough to force the industry to lash out this way at our efforts,” Jones said. “Shut the people completely out of the system by going after our lawyers. Well, we’re far from through resisting the oil and gas industry, despite this ruling that punishes the public for asserting the superiority of people’s rights over corporations in our courts.”

Baxter also referred CELDF attorney Thomas Linzey to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for further review. Jones said Linzey was vindicated by the Disciplinary Board two years ago when the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association made a similar complaint against him.

CELDF Associate Director Mari Margil criticized the sanctions as a win for corporations over communities. At issue in this case is one company’s plans to dispose of oil and gas wastewater in an injection well in Grant Township, about 80 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania General Energy Co. had a permit from the U.S. EPA to store wastewater there, but township leaders in 2014 approved a ban on the practice. The township’s CELDF backed ban also purported to strip corporations of constitutional rights and recognize independent legal standing for the environment and various elements of nature.

Such “rights of nature” are recognized in a handful of jurisdictions around the world but are generally considered highly unconventional. Linzey has used CELDF to push the legal concept in town ordinances and courtrooms across the country but with little success.

CELDF is now promoting a ballot initiative in Ohio that would make it easier for local governments to pass measures like the one in Grant Township.