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Decision Could Make Way For Fair Gas Extraction Tax

February 28, 2014 - Ben Klein
Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, Associated Press

The Corbett administration took a highly unusual step recently when it asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider its emphatic decision that elimination of local zoning authority to suit the natural gas industry violated the state constitution.

Other than the administration's reflexive instinct to serve the gas industry, the question was why it was so intent on letting the industry run roughshod over local zoning priorities. The zoning laws remained in place as the case was litigated. And with those laws in place the natural gas industry has thrived, to the point that 20 percent of the nation's natural gas comes from the Marcellus Shale industry in Pennsylvania.

The court majority noted something very important for Pennsylvania beyond the specific zoning question. It found that usurping local zoning violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the state constitution that guarantees, "clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment."

That amendment exists in response to state politicians' long history of allowing railroads and the coal and timber industries do whatever they wanted at the expense of the environment.

Having declined to reconsider the case, the Supreme Court sent it back to Commonwealth Court to determine whether other aspects of the overturned law must fall as well.

That includes the per-well local impact fee that generates about $200 million a year. But if that is overturned with other parts of the law, it simply will force the administration and the state Legislature to stop coddling a mature, thriving industry and impose a fair extraction tax on gas.

 
 

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