The lawsuit over Pennsylvania’s controversial Act 13, set in place by Governor Tom Corbett, continued last Wednesday. Seven Commonwealth Court Judges heard lawyers representing both the state, and the seven municipalities challenging the law at a hearing over the heated lawsuit.
The seven municipalities in opposition of the law argue that Act 13, passed by Gov. Corbett and the Republican-controlled Legislature on February 14, infringes on the municipalities’ right to create and observe individual zoning ordinances. The law puts a statewide ruling on where drilling, drilling activities, and equipment are permitted to exist in relation to residential zones, schools, public buildings, businesses, etc. Such drilling equipment includes rigs, pits for waste, pipelines to transport the gas, and compressor stations.
The law currently specifies that drilling is allowed in all zoning districts. During the hearing, one of the Commonwealth Court judges, President John Dan Pellegrini, asked a lawyer representing the Department of Environmental Protection and the Public Utility Commission what would happen if the state passes laws similar to Act 13 for every industry it considered to be a positive economic force. He pressed the issue by adding, “If you make that argument, pretty soon zoning becomes irrational.”
A counter argument arose when Judge Anne E. Covey asked a lawyer representing the municipalities on what grounds he can argue that the state is disrupting “the municipalities’ constitutional responsibility to protect its residents when the Legislature has the power to dictate the extent of those powers,” as reported by the Associated Press.
The 174-page bill also contains language that grants physicians access to the previously secret mix of chemicals used in the fracking water. However, it also requires that physicians sign an agreement to ensure the secrecy of this information. Not only does the law designate zoning guidelines and physician-patient rights, but it also has some clear advantages for local government, such as stricter environmental and safety laws. In addition to these advantages, each county is at liberty to impose an impact fee to the drilling industries present within their limits.
In an earlier installment of this lawsuit, a Commonwealth Court Judge imposed a moratorium on a section of the law that deals with these zoning issues. Municipalities now have until mid-August of 2012 to draw up new zoning ordinances that comply with those designated by Act. 13. This is an extension of the previous deadline, originally set for mid-April.