Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Pro-Fracking Law Ruled Unconstitutional by Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Popular
Pro-Fracking Law Ruled Unconstitutional by Pennsylvania Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the state's controversial Act 13 is unconstitutional, calling it a special law that benefits the shale gas industry. The massive Marcellus Shale formation, which underlies a large area of Western Pennsylvania, provides more than 36 percent of the shale gas produced in the U.S.

The Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 13 in 2012 and it was almost immediately challenged by seven of the state's municipalities along with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and a private physician. The onerous law enabled natural gas companies to seize privately owned subsurface property through eminent domain, placed a gag order on health professionals to prevent them from getting information on drilling chemicals that could harm their patients, and limited notification of spills and leaks to public water suppliers, excluding owners of private wells that supply drinking water for 25 percent of Pennsylvania residents. Act 13 also pre-empted municipal zoning of oil and gas development.

"The decision is another historic vindication for the people's constitutional rights," stated Jordan Yeager, lead counsel on the case representing the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Bucks County municipalities on the case. "The court has made a clear declaration that the Pennsylvania legislature cannot enact special laws that benefit the fossil fuel industry and injure the rest of us."

On Dec. 19, 2013, the state Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling on the grounds that the law violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. That ruling returned local zoning rights to municipalities. It also ordered the state Commonwealth Court to reconsider other provisions. The ruling by the Supreme Court issued Wednesday addresses those rulings and should end the litigation.

Protestors march earlier this year for clean energy.Delaware Riverkeeper Network

The state Supreme Court held that the gag order and exclusion of private wells from notification were all unconstitutional. The ruling prohibits the state Public Utility Commission from having oversight on local ordinances and from withholding certain payments from municipalities that limit shale gas drilling.

In its ruling, the state Supreme Court wrote that the eminent domain provision of Act 13 "is unconstitutional on its face, as it grants a corporation the power of eminent domain to take private property for a private purpose, in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Sections 1 and 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution."

"A majority of our state legislators joined with the oil and gas industry in placing corporate desires and profits over the constitutional rights of Pennsylvania citizens," said John Smith, the attorney who represented four Western Pennsylvania municipalities in the case. "The Pennsylvania Supreme Court correctly found that the constitution is not a document to be ignored."

The gas industry appeared to shrug it off. "It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things," said energy attorney Michael Krancer, referring to the court's decision. Krancer was secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection when the law was passed.

The industry-side Marcellus Drilling News pulled no punches in its reaction to the ruling. They called the plaintiffs "seven selfish towns" (twice in one paragraph) and blamed the ruling on "four left-wing Democrat judges." But even they admitted that, for all practical purposes, Act 13 is now dead.

A woman walks along The Embarcadero under an orange smoke-filled sky in San Francisco, California on September 9, 2020. Brittany Hosea-Small / AFP / Getty Images

Smoke from wildfires may be more harmful to public health than other sources of particulate matter air pollution, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

China's new five-year plan could allow further expansion of its coal industry. chuyu / iStock / Getty Images Plus

On Friday, China set out an economic blueprint for the next five years, which was expected to substantiate the goal set out last fall by President Xi Jinping for the country to reach net-zero emissions before 2060 and hit peak emissions by 2030.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Trans Canada Trail and AccessNow partnership for AccessOutdoors / Trails for All project. Mapping day on Capital Pathway in Ottawa, Ontario with Camille Bérubé. Daniel Baylis

The Great Trail in Canada is recognized as the world's longest recreational trail for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Created by the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) and various partners, The Great Trail consists of a series of smaller, interconnected routes that stretch from St. John's to Vancouver and even into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It took nearly 25 years to connect the 27,000 kilometers of greenway in ways that were safe and accessible to hikers. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the Canadian Paralympic Committee and AccessNow, the TCT is increasing accessibility throughout The Great Trail for people with disabilities.

Read More Show Less
A lone house is seen inside the exclusion zone near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on February 26, 2016 in Namie, Fukushima, Japan. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

By Kiyoshi Kurokawa and Najmedin Meshkati

Ten years ago, on March 11, 2011, the biggest recorded earthquake in Japanese history hit the country's northeast coast. It was followed by a tsunami that traveled up to 6 miles inland, reaching heights of over 140 feet in some areas and sweeping entire towns away in seconds.

Read More Show Less
Rescript the Future is WaterBear's global script writing competition focused on building a better future. WaterBear

"Watch. Connect. Take Action."

These words are the invitation and mandate of the WaterBear Network, a free film-streaming platform that launched in November of 2020. Its goal is to turn inspirational images of the natural world into actions to save it.

Read More Show Less