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Court Strikes Down Local Zoning Provisions of Act 13 – Canon-McMillan, PA Patch

This story relates to a ruling that says a state (in this case Pennsylvania) cannot make a law that strips local government from banning fracking for health and public safety, that such a law would be unconstitutional. This is a very important precedent.

The state Commonwealth Court on Thursday struck down portions of Pennsylvania’s newly enacted legislation governing Marcellus Shale operations—also known as Act 13—as unconstitutional.

The 54-page opinion filed by President Judge Dan Pellegrini, stated:

“Petitioners allege that they have close to 150 unconventional Marcellus Shale wells drilled within their borders, and Act 13 prevents them from fulfilling their constitutional and statutory obligations to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens, as well as public natural resources from the industrial activity of oil and gas drilling. Petitioners allege that Act 13 requires them to modify many of their zoning laws.”

The petitioners, which included a cluster of local communities including Cecil and Peters, an environmental group and a medical doctor, has asked the court to throw out portions of the zoning regulations under Act—and it did.

“We grant petitioners’ Motion for Summary Relief, declare 58 Pa C.S. §3304 unconstitutional and null and void, and permanently enjoin the Commonwealth from enforcing it,” the order read.

Reached Thursday morning, Cecil solicitor John Smith—who handled the challenge—said: “I think it’s a great day for local government and a great day for Pennsylvania.”

The attorney added, “Our system of checks and balances worked. The Legislature overstepped, and the court did its job declaring portions of Act 13 as unconstitutional.”

Cecil Township supervisor Andy Schrader, who was a proponent of the challenge, said, “I think the whole purpose of this challenge was to protect our residents and with this ruling, it will give us some legal standing under our zoning laws to do that. That’s what this was all about for me.”

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who vehemently opposed portions of Act 13, said, “This is obviously a huge victory for those of us who want to see Marcellus Shale developed responsibly. Hopefully now we can stop the bullying and the buying of influence and truly work together to develop a responsible approach that will allow development of Marcellus Shale while creating a culture of true accountability and responsibility. Today’s decision reaffirms that our constitutional protections are not for sale.”

In a statement, the Marcellus Shale Coalition also weighed in on the ruling.

Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Z. Klaber said:

“The premise for the General Assembly’s action earlier this year was to provide certainty and predictability that encourages investment and job creation across the Commonwealth. Lack of uniformity has long been an Achilles’ heel for Pennsylvania and must be resolved if the Commonwealth is to remain a leader in responsible American natural gas development and reap the associated economic, environmental and national security benefits.”

To read the entire opinion, click on the attached PDF.

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