The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that a 2012 fracking law allowing gas companies to drill anywhere in the state without regard to local zoning laws is unconstitutional.
The court’s decision called the state’s Marcellus Shale drilling law, Act 13, unconstitutional given restrictions it placed on municipalities’ rights. The ruling also sent back to Commonwealth Court – one of Pennsylvania’s appellate courts – challenges by local townships and individuals to the law’s provisions that barred doctors from passing along to patients the health risks associated with shale drilling, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
In the majority opinion, the justices cited Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution, which guarantees the “right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”
“When government acts, the actions must on balance reasonably account for the environment of the affected locale,” wrote the majority, Chief Justice Ronald Castille and Justices Debra McCloskey Todd, Seamus McCaffery and Max Baer.
Dissenting opinions were written by Justices Thomas Saylor and J. Michael Eakin. Commission President Deron Gabriel of South Fayette, one of the municipalities challenging the law, said the decision preserves local communities’ rights in the face of an unrelenting industry.
“Preserving zoning is vital to local planning efforts, in order to keep industrial activity out of residential and commercial areas,” Gabriel told the Post-Gazette. “Now we can keep industrial activities away from our school and residences, and there’s been more and more of a push by the industry to locate closer to the residential areas.”
John Smith, the attorney who brought the case for South Fayette and other localities, said the decision was, overall, a victory for citizens standing up against the state’s favorable treatment of corporate interests over the rights of the people.
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