Allentown Residents for Clean Air Sues Election Board to Bring Clean Air Ordinance to Voters

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
9/19/2013

ALLENTOWN – Four members of Petitioners’ Committee for the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance initiative, also members of Allentown Residents for Clean Air (ARCA), filed suit in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas today to require the Lehigh County Board of Elections to put the initiative on the November ballot, as required by the Allentown Home Rule Charter.

They filed a mandamus action, a type of suit requiring the government to do their job when their duties are mandatory and the plaintiffs have a clear legal right. The suit cites the Allentown Home Rule Charter’s language that states that the city council “shall submit the proposed or referred ordinance to the voters of the City” if they do not vote to pass the ordinance themselves. On June 19, City Council voted to table the ordinance, forgoing to pass it within the 60 days they had to do so.

At their August 27th meeting, the Lehigh County Board of Elections voted to deny Allentown residents their right to vote on the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance initiative. The ordinance, if adopted, would apply to any new facilities within in the city limits that would burn more than one ton a day of solid wastes or fuels, like coal or wood. It would apply to the trash and sewage sludge incinerator planned by Delta Thermo Energy. The proposed ordinance requires that such incinerators continuously monitor their toxic air pollution, release the data to the public real-time on a website, and that they limit their emissions to levels comparable to natural gas power plants.

“Allentown area has been described in a recent report as the nation’s 11th worst asthma capital. While collecting signatures, we spoke with many parents with asthmatic children who were eager to sign to bring this clean air issue to the voters. We have a right to clean air and a right to vote on this that must be honored,” said Diane Teti, one of the plaintiffs.

Mike Ewall, one of the attorneys for ARCA, explains: “State law clearly gives Allentown and other local governments the right to have local air pollution laws stricter than state or federal law. Sadly, the Board of Elections was confused by faulty legal opinions arguing that Allentown can’t do this without state permission.”

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