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Judge grants 120-day reprieve for PA municipalities; Bucks County forum

April 12, 2012

A Commonwealth Court judge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ordered a 120-day halt in the implementation of the part of Act 13 which would have immediately stripped Pennsylvania municipalities of their right to use zoning laws to protect their residents from high-volume hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling, or fracking, and all its associated heavy industrial operations. The law would have gone into effect this Saturday.

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, sees the decision as a partial victory. “Senior Judge Quigley’s decision ensuring municipalities and communities will not be exposed to an onset of drilling before they have a sufficient chance to challenge or comply with Act 13 is an important first success on the road to having this law declared unconstitutional and therefore invalid.”

Judge Quigley granted the 120-day delay yesterday after hearing arguments from seven Pennsylvania municipalities which filed suit in an effort to overturn Act 13. The municipalities sued the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Public Utility Commission, and the state Attorney General’s office. The Act became known as the “Mad Rush to Frack Act” because of its gag order on physicians, its stripping of municipal rights, and its extraordinarily lax regulations which allow fracking operations to be placed within a few hundred feet of homes, schools, waterways and drinking water supplies.

Jordan Yeager, Esq., representing Nockamixon Township and Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said ““This is a great victory that preserves local democracy and local zoning while we continue to challenge the constitutionality of Act 13.”

Forum tonight: Republican lawmakers from Southeastern Pennsylvania are holding a forum tonight, Tuesday April 12th in Bucks County, to defend their votes in favor of Act 13. The Republicans decided to hold their own forum after pulling out from a public education forum at which two of them had agreed to speak, also in Bucks County, on Thursday April 19th. Tonight’s forum will be 7 – 9 pm at Palisades High School, Cafeteria, 35 Church Hill Rd, Kintnersville, PA 18930. Both of the “dueling forums” are listed in detail here

Background: a “death blow to democracy”

Act 13 was hard-fought for months as HB1950, which passed by a slim 11-vote margin in the Pennsylvania House. It passed the Senate after PA Senator Scarnati used heavy arm-twisting to persuade Philadelphia area Democratic Senators Anthony Williams and Vincent Hughes to vote for the bill or risk losing millions in funding for Philadelphia. “I deemed the threat credible and real,” Hughes said at the time, referring to Scarnati’s successful bullying tactics.

The 174-page law is often referred to as the “impact fee bill” because it imposes eency teency fees on giant multinational corporations, which have been using the controversial, high-impact technology since 2004 in Pennsylvania with no tax at all. One activist group, the Responsible Drilling Alliance, called Act 13 an “egregious death blow to democracy” when it passed on February 7th, 2012.

Laura Olson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

HARRISBURG — A state judge has granted a 120-day halt to provisions in the new Marcellus Shale drilling law that would override local zoning ordinances for industry activity.Post-Gazette

That order, released hours after a Commonwealth Court hearing in Harrisburg on the matter, prevents the land-use portions of that law from going from going into effect on Saturday.

Senior Judge Keith Quigley stated in the order that the local ordinances must remain in effect until a challenge under the new law finds them invalid.

“Municipalities must have an adequate opportunity to pass zoning laws that comply with Act 13 without the fear or risk that development of oil and gas operations under Act 13 will be inconsistent with later validly passed local zoning ordinances,” according to the order.

The decision gives towns an additional 120 days beyond that already included in the law to revise their drilling-related rules…

The municipalities challenging the law — Cecil, Peters, Mount Pleasant and Robinson in Washington County; South Fayette in Allegheny County; and two Bucks County towns — argued this morning that the 120-day window included in the new law for bringing their ordinances into compliance creates a period of uncertainty.

Drilling companies and state attorneys said they believe the new state law would immediately pre-empt local rules, regardless of whether local officials are using that 120-day period to revise their ordinances.

That interpretation means there would be no local rules for oil and gas operations, the municipalities argued.

 Read the full story here.
3 Comments
  1. April 12, 2012 8:15 am

    Thank you Iris for posting this information. I am speaking at the press conference before the Kintnersville forum. So are several individuals and groups.

  2. April 12, 2012 8:17 am

    People are calling act 13 the rush to frack act!

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