Late last Friday afternoon, four officers with the Huntingdon County Sheriff’s Department arrested grandmother, retired teacher, and advocate Ellen Sue Gerhart on her own property – likely in retaliation for her tireless work to protect her family’s land and Pennsylvania’s waterways from Energy Transfer Partners’ Mariner East 2 pipeline. Ellen will be in court on Friday, August 3, facing a slew of charges that could lead to her being thrown in jail for six months with no trial. She is currently being held in solitary confinement and on hunger strike – even while incarcerated, she is taking every opportunity she has to draw attention back to the dangers of the Mariner East pipeline project.
Ellen Sue Gerhart is a retired special ed teacher and longtime Huntingdon County resident who has lived on her family’s land for 35 years in peace. Over three years ago, her tranquil retirement was abruptly disturbed with a notice that pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) planned to build a polluting, volatile Natural Gas Liquids Pipeline straight through her land in order to supply raw materials for plastics manufacturers in Europe.
The Gerharts never gave ETP permission to build a pipeline through their land, but ETP seized it anyway using eminent domain law. For the past three years, Ellen has been an outspoken, compassionate, and selfless leader in her advocacy against the pipeline. She helped host Camp White Pine on her land, a longstanding tree sit that effectively prevented pipeline construction on the family property for 741 days. She’s known at Camp White Pine as mama bear, and is known across Pennsylvania as a powerful and loving voice for justice.
In my visits to Camp White Pine over the past few years, I’ve had the immense privilege of witnessing Ellen in action – as a mother and grandmother, and a creative, witty, tireless, and grounded advocate. After meeting Ellen, it doesn’t take long to understand that she is a force of nature. It’s remarkable what she’s been able to accomplish under the most dire of circumstances: since deciding to oppose ETP, Ellen and her family have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, surveillance, and violence, but continue to persist in their work.
The Gerharts are currently using all legal avenues to oppose the project, including contesting the permits granted to ETP and the abuse of eminent domain. They have also levied a federal civil rights lawsuit against Energy Transfer Partners, private security contractor TigerSwan, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Huntingdon County Sheriff Department, and a creator of a fake grassroots facebook page called PA Progress over continuous harassment the family has faced since deciding to oppose the pipeline project.
As has been widely reported, the damage from the Mariner East pipeline project extends well beyond the boundaries of the Gerhart’s property. Since construction of Mariner East began, ETP has reported an astounding 111 spills along the pipeline route, with more occurring each week. Over two dozen residential water wells have been contaminated due to pollution related to the pipeline’s construction.
We are living in a precarious moment in American history. With democracy, human rights, and our environment under attack on all fronts at the federal level, it is more important than ever to stand beside those directly targeted for standing up for justice. Ellen Sue Gerhart needs our support. Let’s make sure she gets home.
We are working to raise $25,000 for the Gerharts’ legal fund and are grateful for any and all support – visit bit.ly/standwithellen to donate.