Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Second lawsuit filed to halt drilling in state parks and forests

A drilling convoy heads through the Loyalsock State Forest.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

A drilling convoy heads through the Loyalsock State Forest.

An environmental group has filed a lawsuit challenging the Corbett administration’s plan to lease more state park and forest land for oil and gas development. The Corbett Administration lifted a moratorium on new leases in state parks and forests with an executive order last May to help plug a budget gap. The lawsuit filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network is the first to challenge that executive order directly, but is the second suit aimed at preventing more drilling on state lands.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s challenge, filed Thursday in Commonwealth Court, is based on the state’s environmental rights amendment and is a direct result of the Riverkeeper’s successful challenge of Act 13. In that case, the Supreme Court invoked article 1, section 27 of the state constitution, also referred to as the environmental rights amendment, to strike down key aspects of the state’s new drilling law. The Riverkeeper’s latest challenge of Corbett’s executive order could serve as a test case for how the courts continue to interpret the state’s environmental rights amendment.

Riverkeeper Maya Van Rossum said Corbett’s executive order on opening up more state land to natural gas development “invites and encourages the frackers to come right up to the edge of our public parks, destroying the adjacent communities as well as destroying the park lands themselves.”

A separate lawsuit, filed back in 2012 by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation — also based on the environmental rights amendment — challenges the Governor’s authority to lease that land, and to use the proceeds for the general fund. After a series of hearings, the case is now in the hands of seven Commonwealth Court judges.

Corbett’s Energy Executive, Patrick Henderson defended the administration’s policy, which is projected to raise $95 million in state revenue and “specifically prohibits leasing which would result in any new or additional surface disturbance in state lands.”

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