Pa. Supreme Court will not reconsider Act 13 decision

  • Marie Cusick

Pennsylvania's highest court threw out sections of the state's oil and gas law in December, saying they violated citizens' environmental rights.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Pennsylvania's highest court threw out sections of the state's oil and gas law in December, saying they violated citizens' environmental rights.

Pennsylvania’s highest court has denied a request by the Corbett administration to reconsider its recent decision, which found portions of the state’s oil and gas law unconstitutional.
In a 4-2 decision in December, the state Supreme Court court threw out portions of the law, known as Act 13, which restricted local zoning of oil and gas development.
One section of the law that was struck down called for statewide rules on oil and gas to preempt local zoning rules. Another section required local governments to allow oil and gas development in all zoning areas.
In the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Ronald Castille, the court determined both those provisions violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the state constitution, which guarantees Pennsylvanians the right to “clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. ”
The decision was hailed as a major victory by environmental groups and local governments who argued Act 13 went too far in restricting local authority.
In January, the Corbett administration asked the court to reconsider its decision. Corbett’s General Counsel James Schultz argued the court, “made its own sweeping factual findings regarding the impact of Act 13″ without giving the state an opportunity to present its own evidence.
The court issued an order today simply stating, “the application for reargument or reconsideration of the opinions entered by this Court on December 19, 2013 is denied.”
Justice Thomas Saylor filed a dissenting statement.
“I respectfully differ with the majority’s decision to deny reconsideration,” Saylor wrote. “The judiciary simply does not possess the ability to divine the consequences of a legislative enactment absent a developed factual record.”
Schultz says the administration is disappointed with the court’s decision.
“Not only has the Court set aside several critical environmental protections championed by both Governor Corbett and the General Assembly, they have infringed upon a fact-finding role that they have always held was not their role to invade,” he said in a statement.
Lauren Williams is an attorney who represented local municipalities who challenged the law.
“It’s definitely what we were hoping for,” she says of the court’s refusal to reconsider. “It allows everyone to move on. Particularly from the zoning portion, which was the central aspect of this case.”
There are still a number of unresolved issues.
In its December decision, the state supreme court sent several matters back to the lower Commonwealth Court– including whether the rest of Act 13 can stand, without the sections deemed unconstitutional.

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