Municipal support for Act 13 challenge growing
Sixty-seven municipalities opposing zoning preemption
HARRISBURG — As the reality of Pennsylvania’s Act 13 sets in at the local level in Pennsylvania, there is a groundswell of disapproval, according to a July 19 statement from the Delaware Riverkeeper.
In customarily deliberate and carefully considered fashion, municipalities throughout the state are publicly adopting resolutions and sending letters in support of the legal challenge to Act 13, the municipal takeover law that was adopted by the Pennsylvania Legislature and enacted by Governor Corbett’s signature in February 2012. Act 13 removes municipal zoning of oil and gas operations, weakens environmental protections under the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, limits physicians’ rights to disclose gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) chemicals that their patients may be exposed to, and establishes an impact fee on natural gas.
To date, at least sixty seven local governing bodies are known to have either adopted a resolution or voted to send a letter in support of the lawsuit that aims to overturn the law based on its unconstitutionality. The opposition to Act 13 spreads out geographically and includes Marcellus shale regions as well as areas where no drilling is occurring. Since Act 13 guts municipal rights over all types of natural gas operations – such as drilled gas wells, frack pits, gas pipelines, and natural gas processing facilities -- the law has a long reach that pulls in every community, no matter where it is located. Gas wells, frack pits and other gas and oil-related industrial pollution sources are now pushed into residential districts and right up against day care centers, schools, and shopping districts and municipalities are not allowed to keep them away.
What they protesting
Seven municipalities and Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a legal pleading in Commonwealth Court challenging Act 13. 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 March 29 in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg. To read the filing: http://www.scribd.com/doc/87252080/Act-13-Challenge
No support for Act 13
“We have received many formal Resolutions of municipal support of our legal challenge to Act 13, and many more informal expressions of support,” said Deron Gabriel, South Fayette Township Board of Commissioners, of Allegheny County. “In fact, every local elected official I have spoken with has been generally supportive of our position of keeping our local zoning powers in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our residents including the two largest governing bodies in Allegheny County - Allegheny County Council and Pittsburgh City Council. There just isn’t any support for Act 13 at the local and regional level,” concluded Gabriel.
The case was argued in Commonwealth Court on June 6 and the Court is expected to rule in the near future. In April, Senior Judge Keith Quigley issued a preliminary injunction against a portion of Act 13 in response to the plaintiffs’ request, ensuring that zoning ordinances dealing with oil and gas operations remain in effect and are not immediately pre-empted, providing an additional 120 days for municipalities to consider their existing ordinances.
“Act 13 is an unpopular law, and that fact is becoming more known now that so many municipalities are joining in to support the legal challenge. Zoning is the backbone of municipal government and without it, municipalities are disenfranchised,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “These 67 governing bodies are saying loud and clear ‘Don’t take away our local rights to protect our residents’. We fully expect the wave of dissent to grow over the coming weeks as the case moves through the courts. Even the now-infamous ‘South Newark Basin’ in Bucks and Montgomery Counties is not exempt from Act 13, despite some politicians’ attempts to make it seem so,” said Carluccio.
Jordan Yeager Esq. of Curtin & Heefner, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said, “Communities from all across Pennsylvania are joining together and speaking out. They are speaking out to protect their residents, their businesses, their water supplies, their public health, and their local democratic rights. Together, they are sending the message that Act 13 must not stand.”
For information on how local governing bodies can express support for the challenge to Act 13: http://www.delawareriverkeeper.org/act-now/urgent-details.aspx?Id=102
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