Nearly two hours of arguments were offered yesterday in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court regarding the Marcellus Shale drilling law known as Act 13.
The question: Does Act 13 take too much power away from local governments?
Act 13 has been a controversial law since its inception in February of 2012. The Act 13 battle began in July when zoning provisions were thrown out in a Commonwealth court panel.
At that time, the court ruled that Pennsylvania cannot take zoning control away from local municipalities.
The law, signed by Gov. Tom Corbett in February 2012, created an impact fee and determined what municipalities could include in their gas drilling zoning requirements.
In March a lawsuit was filed— by seven municipalities (including the towns of Cecil, Peters, South Fayette, Mt. Pleasant and Robinson; two towns in Bucks County; a Monroeville doctor; and environmental activists from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network)—arguing that the new law prevented protection of the health and public safety of the residents living in those municipalities.
The July ruling declared the zoning provision null and void, and a separate provision that allows environmental officials to waive setback requirements for gas wells was also overturned.
One day later state officials appealed the court’s decision.
At this morning’s hearing, a standing-room-only crowd of activists, attorneys, local officials, and observers filled the courtroom in downtown Pittsburgh.
The attorneys were contesting the Commonwealth Court’s July decision.
Matt Haverstick, a Philadelphia attorney representing the state Public Utility Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection, defended the law. He reitereated past arguments stating that all municipal zoning rights are given by state government and that those rights can be changed at any time by the General Assembly.
Attorneys for the towns involved in the challenge said the law serves gas drillers by offering a predictable regulatory environment instead of serving the public by allowing them to know what type of development will occur in their neighborhoods.
Attorney John Smith said that in determining zoning, state officials must weigh the same criteria that towns do determining whether it protects the health, safety, and welfare of residents.
There is no timeline for when a ruling must be issued in the case.