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Seven municipalities, Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Dr. Mehernosh Khan filed a legal pleading in Commonwealth Court today challenging Act 13, also known as HB1950, which was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett on Feb. 14, 2012.
The municipalities are: Township of Robinson, Washington County; Township of Nockamixon, Bucks County; Township of South Fayette, Allegheny County; Peters Township, Washington County; Township of Cecil, Washington County; Mount Pleasant Township, Washington County; and the Borough of Yardley Bucks County.
Act 13 amends the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, preempting municipal zoning of oil and gas development. It also establishes an impact fee on natural gas. The plaintiffs are challenging the new law on the grounds it violates the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions and endangers public health, natural resources, communities and the environment. “The Petition for Review in the Nature of a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief” was filed today in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg. The docket number is 284-MD-2012. Read and download the Petition (it is in two parts, due to large size file) by clicking here and here.
The lawsuit details how the constitutional rights of all citizens of the Commonwealth are egregiously infringed upon by Act 13. The legal filing explains how the law strips away constitutional rights and violates equal protection principles; illegally benefits the oil and gas industry who are basically put in charge of future land use in the state; extinguishes all existing zoning and planning by permitting oil and gas operations anywhere in a municipality (including residential neighborhoods, by schools, hospitals, and day care centers, and sensitive natural and public resources); deprives municipal officials of carrying out their legally-binding duty to protect air, water and natural environmental values as agents and trustees of the Commonwealth; prevents municipal officials from serving and protecting their jurisdictions through encouraging beneficial and compatible uses and planning through the Municipalities Planning Code, making predictable and comprehensive planning an exception rather than the rule; perverts the Commonwealth’s Police Powers by forcing oil and gas activities into municipalities through a state-mandated ordinance that does not serve the public health, safety, morality and general welfare interests of the community; economically devastates municipalities through sanctions and unreasonable unfunded demands; among other violations.
As stated in the Petition: “By attempting to preempt and supersede local regulation of oil and gas operations, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, through Act 13, has assumed the power to zone for oil and gas operations, which is manifested through the promulgation of a uniform set of land-use regulations governing oil and gas operations throughout the Commonwealth. By crafting a single set of statewide zoning rules applicable to oil and gas drilling throughout the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania General Assembly provided much sought-after predictability for the oil and gas development industry. However, it did so at the expense of the predictability afforded to Petitioners and the citizens of Pennsylvania whose health, safety and welfare, community development objectives, zoning districts and concerns regarding property values were pushed aside to elevate the interests of out-of-state oil and gas companies and the owners of hydrocarbons underlying each property, who are frequently not the surface owners.” (Petition, page 4)
Jordan Yeager, Esq., representing Nockamixon Township and Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said, “Harrisburg sold out the citizens of the Commonwealth. Harrisburg sold out our locally elected municipal governments. Harrisburg sold out our state’s precious water resources, our agricultural soils, the clean air we need to survive. We’re asking the court to say what we all know to be true: Harrisburg went too far.”
"Act 13 must be challenged since it is unconstitutional and unfair, which is why Delaware Riverkeeper Network is joining forces with municipalities to overturn it. Among the many wrongs we're fighting is the violation of Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution1—municipalities are being stripped of their ability to protect public natural resources like water and air. By depriving municipal elected officials of their ability to use zoning and community decision-making to protect precious natural resources, schools, hospitals and homes from damaging industrial practices, and to ensure the rights of everyone are honored and protected, this law has undermined the very fabric of municipal and constitutional law in the Commonwealth. As a result, our water, air, kids and communities will be subjected to more pollution and degradation from gas development," said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and co-plaintiff in the case.
The filing today is expected to be filed by a request for a preliminary injunction, aimed at keeping Act 13’s zoning provision from going into effect on April 14, 2012.
For more information, click here.
1. Article 1 Section 27: 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.
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As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.