Corbett declines to discuss details of challenge to Act 13 decision

  • Marie Cusick


Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Governor Corbett today declined to discuss details about his administration’s challenge to the state Supreme Court decision on Act 13. The 2012 law made major updates to the rules governing Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry.
Yesterday, attorneys representing the state Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Commission filed an application asking the court to reconsider its decision. Last month the court struck down portions of the law—including controversial measures restricting the power of local governments to zone oil and gas development.
The administration is now arguing the state Supreme Court lacks the proper jurisdiction to engage in fact-finding.
When asked by witf which facts the court improperly determined, Corbett declined to answer.
“I don’t have that in front of me right now.”
“The long-term ramifications of this really have to be looked at,” he said, referring to the decision.
When asked what those ramifications would be, Corbett wouldn’t elaborate.
“I’m not going to go into them right now.”
The administration’s 11-page application asserts the court made a “series of sweeping factual conclusions” about the constitutionality of Act 13. Attorneys representing the DEP and PUC argue that as an appellate court, the state Supreme Court is not supposed to establish facts.
Here’s the list of facts they cite from the court’s majority opinion:

  • “By any reasonable account, the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.”
  •  “The entirely new legal regimen alters existing expectations of communities and property owners and substantially diminishes natural and esthetic values of the local environment.”
  •  The General Assembly has “sanctioned a direct and harmful degradation of the environmental quality of life in these communities and zoning districts.”
  •  “[T]he outright ban on local regulation of oil and gas operations … propagates serious detrimental and disparate effects on the corpus of the trust.”
  •  Act 13 “permit[s] development with such an immediate, disruptive effect upon how Pennsylvanians live their lives.”
  •  The Court is “constrained to hold that the degradation of the corpus of the trust and the disparate impact on some citizens sanctioned by Section 3304 of Act 13 are incompatible with [Section 27].” [note: the court states here that one of Act 13’s zoning sections is incompatible with the Environmental Rights Amendment of the state constitution]

“They’re putting the cart before the horse,” says Joshua Maus of the state Office of General Counsel, referring the state Supreme Court.  “They are not a fact-finder.”
Lauren Williams is an attorney representing local governments that challenged Act 13’s zoning restrictions. She says the case was never about fact-finding and instead hinged on the constitutionality of the law.
“What they’re arguing right now in terms of the need for a factual hearing, is directly contradicting their contention all along which was that this could be decided as a matter of law.”

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