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December 09, 2016
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PA Supreme Court strikes down portions of Act 13; municipalities may control drilling through zoning

PITTSBURGH, PA — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stuck down section of Act 13, the legislation that said in part that municipalities must allow gas drilling in all districts within their borders. The court determined that the legislation violates the Environmental Rights Amendment to the state constitution.

The court said, “Development of the natural gas industry in the Commonwealth unquestionably has and will have a lasting, and undeniably detrimental, impact on the quality of these core aspects [life, health, and liberty: surface and ground water, ambient air, etc.] of Pennsylvania’s environment, which are part of the public trust.”

It continued, “By any responsible account, the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.”

Under the ruling, townships, boroughs and cities have the right to keep gas drilling and related operations out of some neighborhoods and areas. Environmental groups called the ruling a major victory.

“The Court has vindicated the public’s right to a clean environment and our right to fight for it when it is being trampled on. Today the environment and the people of Pennsylvania have won and special interests and their advocates in Harrisburg have lost. This proves the Constitution still rules, despite the greedy pursuits of the gas and oil industry.

With this huge win we will move ahead to further undo the industry’s grip of our state government,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

“We fought this law because it was illegal and because it spelled ruin for public health and the environment, even though we, as plaintiffs, didn’t have nearly the resources our powerful and well-funded opponents had. This proves, when you have the law and environmental rights on your side, it’s worth fighting and you can win,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Jordan Yeager, counsel for the plaintiffs, said “This is a great historic victory for local democracy, for public health, and for the health of our environment. The shale gas industry overreached, greedily wanting to operate without respecting local concerns and without playing by the same set of rules everyone else has to play. The Corbett administration and the general assembly went along with it and tried to give away our rights to the gas industry.”

Jeff Schmidt, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter director, said, “This ruling is a victory for our local communities, whose interests the Corbett administration has consistently put behind those of the oil and gas industry. Efforts by the general assembly or the governor to resurrect some form of local preemption following this decision will be attempted at great political risk. Those who are our elected officials should act in the best interests of the people, and respect the authority delegated to local municipalities.”

On the other side of the issue, Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, issued a statement saying, “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.”

Governor Tom Corbett said, “I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has invalidated some key provisions of Act 13. 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.”