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

By Fritz Mayer
December 24, 2013

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.”