The swearing-in of Correale F. Stevens to the state Supreme Court has prompted the state Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Commission to ask the court to rehear oral arguments regarding controversial amendments to the state's Oil and Gas Act.
The legislature approved the law in February 2012, but a group of municipalities quickly sued in Commonwealth Court over a provision in the law, Act 13, that effectively prevented them from changing their zoning ordinances to block natural gas drilling within their boundaries.
The Commonwealth Court declared the zoning provision unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on an appeal in the case last October, but before rendering a decision, Justice Joan Orie Melvin resigned in May after being convicted on corruption charges. Her resignation left the court with three Democrats and three Republicans.
A 3-3 ruling on the case would let stand the earlier Commonwealth Court ruling rejecting the zoning provision in the law. Justice Stevens is a Republican and could tip the balance in favor of upholding the entire act if the ruling divides the court along party lines.
In a recent interview, Justice Stevens said that he would likely not participate in any case where he was not present for oral arguments. He was sworn in to the Supreme Court on July 30.
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