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Breaking News: Act 13 Struck Down by PA Commonwealth Court!

July 26, 2012

This morning, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth court struck down some of the worst provisions of Act 13. This is a huge victory for Pennsylvania municipalities, residents, and anyone opposed to government favoring of industry over the health of its land and people.

The suit was originally filed by multiple affected townships, two municipal leaders, a doctor opposed to Act 13’s gag order on physicians, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

What was struck down:

  • Municipalities losing their power to decide their own zoning. The court ruled that the new zoning laws would prioritize oil and gas development over the more local, typical zoning concerns, like not having compressors droning day and night or your cattle poisoned. The court ruled that the commonwealth’s plan “violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications.” In summary, “If a municipality cannot constitutionally include allowing oil and gas operations, it is no more constitutional just because the Commonwealth requires that it be done.”
  • The state’s new setback rules for how far drilling operations have to be from water bodies and wells. This might seem counter-intuitive, but the setback rules were a weak attempt to show some sort of consideration for the concerns of local landowners. Additionally, all of the new setback rules could be disregarded if the drilling companies promised not to hurt the water.

What was kept:

  • The $50,000 per gas well impact fee
  • Gag order on physicians who need drilling chemical information to treat illnesses caused by fracking. The court ruled that the physician who joined the case doesn’t have standing to challenge this part of Act 13, as he has not yet been impeded from doing his medical duty by the gag order. The court therefore didn’t examine this part of Act 13.
  • Treating the natural gas industry diffrently from other industries. The court pointed out that this isn’t new–different types of coal mining have different regulations, for example.

We’ll have more on the details of the 54-page ruling in the next few days. In the meantime, StateImpact’s article has a great interactive tool–an embedded copy of the ruling that highlights and summarizes the most important points of the ruling. Marcellus-shale-area papers and the Peters also have great preliminary coverage, while the main page of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website seems to have missed it.

Watch this space to learn about comparisons between pigs in parlors and roses in wheatfields, why an industrial zone is usually not the same as your backyard, and, once they disseminate, reactions from a sure-to-be-angry industry.

But if you’re impatient or law-loving, the ruling itself is in the link below.

Document: Commonwealth Court’s Ruling on Act 13

  1. July 26, 2012 6:30 pm

    The announcement, which I first heard on NPR earlier this afternoon, made my day! i hope that Corbett, Scarnotti and Company, choked on the news. At the same time, I feel more hope for our brothers and sisters living in gas country, and differ from us only by living where criminal CEOs see only dollars and power, not humanity and clean air, water and the open space, which belong to all of us as our heritage.


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