The Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on a Madison County school district’s dispute with an area refinery and the state’s Pollution Control Board.
The high court on Wednesday allowed seven petitions for leave to appeal – four civil and three criminal -- and denied more than 200, including about a dozen from the Fifth District.
The school district’s dispute comes to the Supreme Court on appeal from the Fourth District Appellate Court in The Board of Education of Roxana Community Unit School District No. 1 v. The Pollution Control Board and WRB Refining LLC.
In October 2010, following renovations to its petroleum refinery in Wood River, WRB Refining submitted 28 separate applications to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).
The applications, according to the appellate court’s December 2012 unpublished order, sought “certification of certain systems, methods, devices and facilities as ‘pollution control facilities’ as defined by section 11-10 of the Property Tax Code.”
If certified, the appellate court order states that the Illinois Department of Revenue would supersede the county as the taxing authority and compute a “preferential tax assessment against the 28 separate entities at 33 1/3 percent of the fair cash value of the economic productivity to WRB.”
The PCB took the IEPA’s recommendation in September 2011 and certified two of the entities as pollution control facilities, spurring the school district to file two petitions for leave to intervene.
The district, the appellate court order states, claimed that WRB’s requests failed to satisfy certification requirements and that the PCB’s certifications would “adversely affect the district by depriving it of additional tax revenues.”
In October 2011, the PCB denied the district’s petitions, saying they were moot because the certifications had already been granted. The district asked the PCB to reconsider its denials the following month, at about the same time the IEPA recommended that the board approve WRB’s remaining certification requests.
Making the same arguments it made the previous month, the district in December 2011 filed 26 separate petitions for leave to intervene. In response, the IEPA and WRB argued that under statutory and regulatory rules, the district didn’t have the authority to intervene.
In January 2012, the PCB denied the district’s request to reconsider the approval of WRB’s certification applications and rejected its attempt to intervene, echoing the argument of the IEPA and WRB that it didn’t have the authority to do so.
Pointing to a section 41(a) of the Environmental Protection Act, the district asserted that it could appeal the PCB’s decisions directly to the appellate court. As such, it filed a petition for review and by March 2012, the Fourth District Appellate Court consolidated the 28 cases.
A split panel of the appellate court in December 2012 sided with the PCB’s argument that judicial review of PCB orders and proceedings is controlled by the Property Tax Code, not the Environmental Protection Act.
Justice Robert Steigmann delivered the court’s order. Justice John Turner concurred and Justice Thomas Appleton dissented.
On behalf of the majority, Steigmann wrote that “permitting a party adversely affected by a final order of the Board in a pollution-control-facilities proceeding to file a direct appeal to this court would effectively render meaningless section 11-60 of the [Property Tax] Code, which only grants applicants appeal rights under the Administrative Review Law.”
He also wrote that it would “produce absurd results in that it could conceivably allow, at a minimum, applicants seeking a pollution-control-facilities certification to engage in forum shopping any potential appeal in either the circuit court or appellate court.”
Appleton, however, dissented from the majority, saying he would have reversed the PCB’s decision and remanded the case with directions to grant the school district’s request to intervene and conduct further proceedings.
Because the district’s petitions for leave to intervene deal with tax and environmental protection issues, Appleton asserts that both the Property Tax Code and the Environmental Protection Act apply and should be read together.
“We should not turn the District away,” Appleton wrote in his dissent.
The court has not yet announced when it will hear arguments in this case, or the other six it agreed to review.
The civil cases the justices on Wednesday agreed to hear are: Wells Fargo Bank N.A. v. Katie McCluskey (Second District); Home Star Bank and Financial Services, etc., et al. v. Emergency Care and Health Organization, Ltd., et al. (First District); and American Access Casualty Company, petitioner, v. Ana Reyes et al., (Second District).
The three criminal cases are: People v. Christopher Easley (First District); People v. Addolfo Davis (First District); and People v. Christopher B. Bailey (Second District).
The full list of allowed and denied petitions for leave to appeal can be found on the Supreme Court's website at www.state.il.us/court.