PA Supreme Court Finds Parts of Act 13 Unconstitutional, Allows Municipalities to Limit Fracking
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an opinion yesterday in the closely-watched case of Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. 63 MAP 2012.
The case was a challenge filed by several Pennsylvania municipalities against the state legislature’s adoption of Act 13. Act 13 sought to eliminate zoning authority from municipalities over oil and gas extraction.
Act 13 was passed in 2012 to remove any local barriers to the expansion of drilling and fracking across the state. Provisions of Act 13 made certain oil and gas extraction activities a “use by right” in any part of any municipality, thus eliminating the ability of municipalities to use zoning and planning to control oil and gas drilling (and other activities) within their communities.
In 2012, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court (Pennsylvania’s trial court for actions brought against the State of Pennsylvania), ruled in favor of the municipal plaintiffs. That court struck down certain portions of Act 13, ruling that they were a constitutional violation of the property rights of landowners who would be affected by the act’s elimination of municipal zoning authority.
The decision was then appealed by several parties to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
In yesterday's decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court also ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. However, in a departure from the lower court, the state Supreme Court rooted its decision not in the property rights of landowners, but on Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment.
The amendment, adopted in 1971 by the voters of the state as part of the State Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, declares the right of citizens to “clean air and pure water” and to the “preservation of natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.” The amendment also declares that the state and its municipalities must act as trustees to protect the rights of Pennsylvania citizens under the amendment.
The court ruled that Act 13’s elimination of zoning and land use planning authority—the primary method through which municipalities act as trustees—was unconstitutional. For, the court found, the state cannot interfere with the constitutional duty of municipal governments to carry out the duties imposed by the Environmental Rights Amendment.
In essence, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a ruling which limits the power of the state to interfere with the duty of municipalities to act as a trustee of natural resources.
The court thus overturned several sections of Act 13, including the sections creating the power of the state to nullify municipal zoning provisions which ran afoul of the act’s requirement that oil and gas drilling could occur in any area of a municipality, regardless of how that area was zoned.
The court’s decision was a drastic departure from that of prior courts with respect to the Environmental Rights Amendment. Ever since the amendment’s overwhelming adoption by the people of the commonwealth, courts have generally disregarded it, holding that its sole purpose was to provide additional authority to state agencies to protect the natural environment.
“Today was a significant victory for municipalities seeking to regulate the placement of oil and gas wells and other structures on the surface of land,” said Thomas Linzey, the executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).
“Further, today’s decision may not only affect Act 13 or oil and gas drilling," said Linzey. "For years, the state legislature has sought to eliminate local authority on extraction and other activities, including forestry and coal, which the court referenced in its decision.”
For many years, CELDF has represented municipal clients adopting local ordinances that ban corporate projects harmful to communities. As part of that work, CLEDF has fought to overturn another Pennsylvania law—known as ACRE (Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment)—which forced corporate factory farms into communities regardless of local zoning and land use planning laws which sought to limit industrial agriculture.
Linzey stated, “The court’s decision calls into question the constitutionality of any state laws which nullify the authority of municipal zoning ordinances and land use plans. Today’s ruling gives new life to people’s environmental rights, and serves more importantly, in some ways, to shield our communities from a state legislature that has been privatized by certain industries.”
“This ruling, while welcome, does not stop fracking of Pennsylvania’s communities, nor does it recognize the right of the people of Pennsylvania to govern their own communities without state or corporate interference,” Linzey explained further. “Today’s decision does, however, for the first time open the door for future rulings that would add that law."
"However, there remain tremendous legal barriers in place which subordinate the authority of people, communities and nature to protect themselves from fracking and the wide range of activities that the state legislature has forced into our municipalities,” explained Linzey.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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