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Pa. court strikes down zoning limits on drilling

December 19, 2013 - Ben Klein
Interested in fracking?

You better start reading.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared protions of the state's oil and gas law that superceded local zoning as unconstitutional today.

The whole 160 page decision is part of the law passed in 2012 placing an impact fee on natural gas drillers.

You can read it here.

From page 5 of the ruling:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

Marc Levy's story for the AP is posted below, before are comments on the ruling from Gov. Tom Corbett, the Marcellus Shale Coalition and Earthjustice.

Governor Corbett's Statement on Act 13 Ruling:

Harrisburg–Governor Tom Corbett released the following statement regarding the Supreme Courts recent decision on Act 13:

"I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has invalidated some key provisions of Act 13. We are continuing to review today's decision. Act 13 was a bipartisan accomplishment between the Administration and members of the General Assembly, which raised the bar on environmental protection standards while respecting the rights of local governments.

"The Act was crafted with strong input and support from Pennsylvania's local government organizations. We must not allow today's ruling to send a negative message to job creators and families who depend on the energy industry. I will continue to work with members of the House and Senate to ensure that Pennsylvania's thriving energy industry grows and provides jobs while balancing the interests of local communities."

MSC Statement on Pa. Supreme Court Ruling Pittsburgh, Pa. – Marcellus Shale Coalition president Dave Spigelmyer issued the following statement on today's Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruling:

"We are reviewing the Supreme Court's decision in full to evaluate its impact on our operations across Pennsylvania. As we did prior to enactment of Act 13 and have done during this period of review by the state Supreme Court, Pennsylvania's natural gas industry will continue to work collaboratively with the communities in which we operate to ensure shale development moves forward and we continue to realize the benefits at the local level and statewide. Although we will continue to collaborate with communities across the Commonwealth, today's decision is a disappointment and represents a missed opportunity to establish a standard set of rules governing the responsible development and operation of shale gas wells in Pennsylvania.

"This outcome should also serve as a stark reminder to policymakers of Pennsylvania's business climate challenges. If we are to remain competitive and our focus is truly more job creation and economic prosperity, we must commit to working together toward common sense proposals that encourage – rather than discourage – investment into the Commonwealth."

Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice:

HARRISBURG, PA - Today the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned a portion of a controversial state law - Act 13 - that sought to override local zoning laws related to the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The decision stems from a lawsuit by seven Pennsylvania municipalities and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network challenging the constitutionality of Act 13.

Earlier this year in New York State, two separate courts ruled in favor of towns that have limited industrial gas development through local zoning. The non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice is representing the town of Dryden, one of the New York towns.

The decision in Pennsylvania comes as the Ohio Supreme Court considers the same questions in a case that revolves around the zoning rights of local communities related to oil and gas development. Earthjustice has submitted an amicus brief on behalf of health professionals in that case.

The following is a statement by Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg, who submitted an amicus brief (PDF) in the Act 13 appeal on behalf of Berks Gas Truth, Brockway Area Clean Water Alliance, Clean Air Council, Clean Water Action, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Earthworks, Environmental Defense Fund, Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition of Luzerne County PA, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Pennsylvania Division of the Izaak Walton League, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley Gas Truth, Local Authority Western PA, Marcellus Outreach Butler, Marcellus Protest, PennEnvironment, Responsible Drilling Alliance, Sierra Club, Thomas Merton Center, and Westmoreland Marcellus Citizen's Group:

"For the third time this year, state courts have recognized that local municipalities have rights that must be respected when industrial activities are proposed for their communities. This is terrific news, not only for the people of Pennsylvania, but for communities across the country trying to defend their way of life from destructive oil and gas development. Today's ruling gives encouragement - and firm legal backing -- to Pennsylvania communities daring to stand up to the oil and gas industry with local zoning laws.

"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that stripping away the rights of local communities to protect themselves from fracking isn't just bad for the environment, it's bad for democracy. Thanks to this ruling from the Supreme Court, the law is crystal clear: local officials have the right to decide what industrial activities are appropriate within their communities. These local decision-makers know what's best for their towns. Not powerful oil and gas companies, nor their bought-and-paid-for state politicians."

Pa. court strikes down zoning limits on drilling By Marc Levy Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday struck down portions of a law that stripped some of the powers municipalities have to decide where the booming natural gas industry can operate — portions that the industry had sought from Gov. Tom Corbett and lawmakers.

The justices ruled the 2012 law unconstitutionally restricted the power of municipalities, although the 4-to-2 majority disagreed as to why it was unconstitutional.

Seven municipalities challenged a law known as Act 13, which grew out of the state's need to modernize 20-year-old drilling laws to account for a Marcellus Shale drilling boom made possible by innovations in drilling and technology.

The law restricted local municipalities' ability to control where companies may place rigs, waste pits, pipelines and compressor and processing stations.

Among the objectionable provisions cited by the lawsuit are requirements that drilling, waste pits and pipelines be allowed in every zoning district, including residential districts, as long as certain buffers are observed.

"It's a tremendous victory for local governments, for local democracy, for public health and for the environment," said Jordan Yeager, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "It's a huge, huge victory for the people of Pennsylvania."

The municipalities said the zoning restrictions run counter to objectives of protecting the environment, health and safety of people who live there, and three of the six justices agreed. A fourth justice ruled that the law violated the municipalities' constitutional rights to due process to carry out community planning.

Although the law passed last year, the new zoning rules had never gone into effect by court order. A narrowly divided lower court struck them down in 2012, but Corbett appealed, saying lawmakers have clear authority to override local zoning.

A lawyer for Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said Thursday the high court decision is a setback that will reopen the door to legal fights between municipalities and the drilling industry that the Legislature had sought to settle.

The drilling industry flocked to Pennsylvania in 2008 to tap into the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation and had sought the changes as a top priority, complaining of a complicated patchwork of municipal rules and some municipalities that had effectively tried to use zoning rules to ban drilling.

As part of a sprawling law that also toughened safety regulations over drilling and slapped a drilling fee on the industry, Corbett and Republican lawmakers approved the limitations over the objections of Democrats, who called them "corporate eminent domain."


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Dec-21-13 5:59 AM



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