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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wave of Dissent Sweeps into Highest Court to Protect Municipal Rights from Gas Industry Takeover

Municipalities, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, 32 Amici go to Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Defend Commonwealth Court Decision that Act 13 is Unconstitutional

Wave of Dissent Sweeps into Highest Court to Protect Municipal Rights from Gas Industry Takeover
Pittsburgh, PA – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard argument today that Pennsylvania’s Act 13 is unconstitutional, unjustly supersedes all local ordinances related to oil and gas operations, extinguishes municipal zoning of these operations, and exposes the public and the environment to pollution and degradation from these activities.  Attorneys for the case appeared before the Court, which heard the Commonwealth’s appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s declaration that overturned the municipal preemption provisions and environmental waiver provisions of Act 13. 
“We believe Act 13 clearly violates the Pennsylvania constitution and makes it impossible to carry out the responsibilities of elected office,” said Brian Coppola, Supervisor, Robinson Township, and one of the original petitioners in the legal challenge to Act 13.
“Ample legal precedent (i.e., the Huntley case) and stakeholder support (i.e., amicus briefs filed by PSATS, PSAB, PA Planners, etc.) exists to ensure that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will properly uphold the bipartisan decision rendered by the learned Commonwealth Court in late July,” said
Deron Gabriel, President, South Fayette Township Board of Commissioners.
“As the Commonwealth Court recognized, the legislature and Governor completely overreached in enacting Act 13.  Act 13 deprives citizens of their democratic rights to local government, violates property rights protected by locally enacted zoning ordinances, and jeopardizes public health.  We are confident that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will agree and uphold the Commonwealth Court’s well-reasoned decision,” said Jordan Yeager, Esq., attorney for the Petitioners challenging Act 13.
Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, said, “The gas industry interests thought they could just march all over everything  and everybody that was in their way, but together we fought them back and now have our day before the Supreme Court, where we have every expectation of fairness and justice.  Pennsylvania is undergoing the largest drilling campaign in its history, and municipalities need to be able to have a say over these dangerous and polluting activities within their borders.”
"Clean Water Action is proud to join 19 other organizations in filing an amicus in support of the lawsuit against Act 13.  The zoning provision of Act 13 is nothing more than an attack on municipalities who attempted to protect their residents and community by exercising their longstanding power.  By caving to the demands of special interests, our governor and legislature have enacted a dangerous policy that threatens the safety and security of our homes and schools by allow drilling to occur in all areas, including residential.  Clean Water Action hopes the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will uphold the Commonwealth Court’s ruling and restore zoning power regarding natural gas operations to local governments,” said Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus Shale Policy Associate with Clean Water Action.
“The Pittsburgh City Council stands in support of the municipalities fighting to defend their local zoning rights,” said Pittsburgh City Councilman William Peduto.  “The ability to create zoning rules to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our residents is one of the most important roles of a city and its elected representatives and it is critical that we safeguard it.”
                Seven municipalities, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Dr. Mehernosh Khan filed a legal pleading in Commonwealth Court on March 29, 2012 challenging Act 13, also known as HB1950, which was signed into law by Governor Corbett on February 14, 2012.  The municipalities are:  Township of Robinson, Washington County; Township of Nockamixon, Bucks County; Township of South Fayette, Allegheny County; Peters Township, Washington County; Township of Cecil, Washington County; Mount Pleasant Township, Washington County; and the Borough of Yardley, Bucks County.   Act 13 amends the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, preempting municipal zoning of oil and gas development.  It also establishes an impact fee on natural gas.  The named Appellants are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”); Office of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania; and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”).
The Petitioners argued that Act 13 is an unconstitutional violation of:  1) Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; 2) Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution; 3) Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; 4) Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; 5) Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; 6) Due Process Principles; and 7) The Doctrine of Separation of Powers.  The legal challenge was considered essentially important for the Appellees because Act 13 guts local zoning of gas and oil operations and endangers public health, natural resources, communities and the environment.
On July 26, the Commonwealth Court declared the statewide zoning provisions in Act 13 unconstitutional, null, void and unenforceable.  The Court also struck down the provision of the law that required DEP to grant waivers to the setback requirements in Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act. 

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