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Pioneer Aggregates, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

ELR Citation: 42 ELR 20203
Nos. 3:11·cy·00325, (M.D. Pa., 09/21/2012) (Mariani, J.)

A district court dismissed a quarry operator's lawsuit against the state environmental agency for violating its constitutional rights when it denied the operator's application to use certain fill material at a reclamation site. The state denied the application because the fill to be used at the site did not meet the state's clean fill standard. The operator was in the process of appealing the state's decision, but it chose to file suit in court when an inactive mine, subject to a different regulatory scheme, was given approval to place the same fill material into its mine. The operator alleged that the agency violated its due process rights, but it failed to point to any protected right by which it is entitled to use the fill at the reclamation site. Although the operator has a constitutionally protected fundamental right to use and operate its land and business, it does not have a protected right to conduct some particular business operation or to obtain a specific land use permit. Nor were the operator's procedural rights denied. In fact, it chose to cease the appeal process once it learned that the fill it had sought was sent to the inactive mine. The court also rejected the operator's claim that the agency's actions were facially discriminatory in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause. The environmental regulations imposed by the agency applied evenly to in- and out-of-state competitors, and the only distinction made is between active and inactive mines. The operator's equal protection claims were also dismissed. The operator argued that the agency acted with discriminatory purpose by intentionally imposing a more stringent requirement on it than on the inactive mine, and that there was no rational basis for this differential treatment. But the inactive mine is governed by a completely different legislative scheme. And even if the quarry could maintain that it is similarly situated to others treated in a dissimilar and more favorable manner, its claim would still fail because the agency had a rational basis for denying their application to use the fill at issue.