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


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.”


Recent related news article from WFMZ-69

ARCA appeals to Lehigh County commissioners

Here is the latest news on our Clean Air Ordinance. The Lehigh County Commissioners are looking into the appeal process for ARCA to appeal the Lehigh County Elections Board’s rejection of our ordinance. Stay tuned.

quote From WFMZ-69

Thwarted clean air law advocates appeal to Lehigh County commissioners

“This is a real crisis of democracy,” said county resident Al Wurth, a political science professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. “The cancellation of an election is not something I thought I would read about in this country, much less my home county.

“I’m very concerned as a citizen of Lehigh County that the county is usurping Allentown’s sovereignty.”

“I share your concerns,” said Commissioner Michael Schware, who resides in Allentown. The process is deeply flawed, said Commissioner Vic Mazziotti. Wurth called on county commissioners to tell the election board to reconsider its decision and let city voters decide whether the air pollution ordinance should become law. But Commissioner Scott Ott, who chaired the meeting, said the commissioners do not have the power to overrule the election board. Ott added: “Do not interpret our desire to follow the law with a lack of sympathy for your cause.” Commissioners have asked the county’s lawyers to look into whether election board decisions can be appealed. They also hope to get a clear explanation from the election board about why it rejected the ballot initiative.

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