Energy. Environment. Economy.

Commonwealth Court Has Struck Down Portions Of Act 13. Here’s What Happens Next

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The Pennsylvania Judicial Center

Commonwealth Court has voided sections of Pennsylvania’s new Marcellus Shale law.

In a ruling issued Thursday morning, the seven-member panel found restrictions on local governments’ ability to zone and regulate natural gas drilling violated municipalities’ constitutional right to due process.

You can read the full ruling here, and find answers to your questions about the ruling’s impact below.

Does This Mean An Impact Fee Won’t Be Assessed To Shale Wells?

No. Commonwealth Court is only voiding Chapter 33 of Act 13, which supersedes local drilling ordinances and restricts local governments’ ability to zone drilling operations. The ruling also voids a section granting the Department of Environmental Protection the right to grant waivers that override well spacing requirements. The rest of the legislation stays in place. That means natural gas drillers still  need to submit impact fee payments to Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission by September 1, and revenue will still be distributed in December.

Here’s StateImpact Pennsylvania’s look at how much money each county can expect to receive.

Is This The Final Ruling?

That’s not clear yet. Commonwealth Court is an intermediate appeals court, and the petitioners in this case – the Office of the Attorney General, Public Utility Commission and Corbett Administration – have the right to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Spokespeople for the  PUC and Attorney General say they’re still reviewing the ruling, and haven’t decided whether or not to appeal. The governor’s office hasn’t responded to StateImpact Pennsylvania’s request for comment.

When Would An Appeal Be Heard?

Generally speaking, parties have thirty days to appeal a Commonwealth Court ruling to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Once an appeal has been filed, and once the opposing side has been given fourteen days to respond, the Court will make a determination of whether or not the case has jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court doesn’t have to consider the case. It “gets to pick and choose what cases it hears,” explained Duquesne University Law School professor Joseph Mistick. And the Supreme Court sets its own schedule for when it decides on jurisdiction or issues a ruling. Mistick pointed out the successful challenge of Pennsylvania’s legislative reapportionment maps was expedited, and settled within a matter of months. “That’s unusual,” he said. “Some cases can linger.”


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