Friday, December 20, 2013

PA Supreme Court Declares Parts of Marcellus Law Unconstitutional

Yesterday (Thursday, December 19) the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared a major provision of the state's Act 13 unconstitutional. Act 13 was signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett nearly two years ago and allowed gas companies to drill anywhere, overriding local zoning laws. Provisions in the law also prevented doctors and other health professionals from advising patients whose health was affected by gas drilling activities.

In his 162-page opinion for the court, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille noted that the law, Act 13, violated the  Environmental Rights Amendment to Pennsylvania's state constitution. That amendment states:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
Thomas Linzey, the Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) based in Mercersburg, PA, told the press that the ruling is "a significant victory for municipalities seeking to regulate the placement of oil and gas wells and other structures on the surface of land." While the Supreme Court ruling doesn't prohibit fracking, it does support zoning of surface uses.

You can read the entire decision here. More about the court's decision here.


  1. good news but communities that do not have zoning will be heavily exploited . We have neighbors who do not think clean air, clean water and esthetic values matter. Those of us who think these things are essential to a quality of life are outnumbered in the drilling fields. Truck drivers have jobs and some are getting royalty checks. It comes down to leaving the drilling fields if you cannot live within a massive industrialized area...our days are numbered for sure.

  2. My Township has been in the process of writing an amendment to our zoning code. Act 13 has been mentioned as a guideline in the process. Beware! Be ever vigilant! If a community's elected officials favor exploiting the environment over protecting it, the former will prevail. This is not democracy. There has never been a vote on the matter.

  3. As Yoko and Jay's comments illustrate, Home Rule is not going to protect every community. Nevertheless, I support Home Rule in NY and PA and everywhere, because if we've come to the point where corporations can literally invade our neighborhoods and tell us how to live whether we like it or not, that is quite horrifying. But of course, using Home Rule to control fracking is really a second-best attempt to protect the environment and public health, since it still allows an inherently dangerous activity to take place in those towns that decide to allow it, and even in such towns there will no doubt be many adults who do not want to be fracked as well as innocent children, who of course have no say in the matter. Moreover, the adverse effects of fracking are not going to stay within the boundaries of the towns in which fracking occurs, and then what? Once Town A's drilling has fouled Town B's water, what will Town B do? (One thing I'm wondering about this hypothetical situation is whether Town B might have standing to sue Town A, since Town A could have opted not to frack in which case Town B's water would not have been affected.)

    Despite the shortcomings of the Home Rule approach, I do think that the more towns that ban fracking, the more public pressure there will be for an end to fracking. Dallas, TX (a place that is certainly not hostile to the oil and gas industry) has enacted a 1500-foot setback that effectively bans fracking--this should make everyone really think twice about whether they want fracking in their communities.

    The danger is that the Home Rule approach could end up just protecting a few chosen places, but I think the hope is that it will form the basis for statewide and nationwide bans, and maybe eventually even a worldwide ban.