Court nixes zoning limits on gas drilling
HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court yesterday struck down portions of a law that stripped some of the powers municipalities have to decide where the booming natural-gas industry can operate - portions that the industry had sought from Gov. Corbett and lawmakers.
- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court yesterday struck down portions of a law that stripped some of the powers municipalities have to decide where the booming natural-gas industry can operate - portions that the industry had sought from Gov. Corbett and lawmakers.
The justices ruled the 2012 law unconstitutionally restricted the power of municipalities, although the 4-to-2 majority disagreed as to why it was unconstitutional.
Seven municipalities sued to challenge a law known as Act 13, which grew out of the state's need to modernize 20-year-old drilling laws to account for a Marcellus Shale drilling boom made possible by innovations in drilling and technology.
The law restricted local municipalities' ability to control where companies may place rigs, waste pits, pipelines and compressor and processing stations.
Among the objectionable provisions cited by the lawsuit are requirements that drilling, waste pits and pipelines be allowed in every zoning district, including residential districts, as long as certain buffers are observed.
"It's a tremendous victory for local governments, for local democracy, for public health and for the environment," said Jordan Yeager, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "It's a huge, huge victory for the people of Pennsylvania."
The municipalities said the zoning restrictions run counter to objectives of protecting the environment, health and safety of people who live there, and three of the six justices agreed. A fourth justice ruled that the law violated the municipalities' constitutional rights to due process to carry out community planning.
Although the law passed last year, the new zoning rules had never gone into effect by court order. A narrowly divided lower court struck them down in 2012, but Corbett appealed, saying lawmakers have clear authority to override local zoning.
Corbett said he's disappointed with the ruling. He said the law was passed with "strong input and support" from local government organizations.