Pennsylvania officials seek expedited review of Act 13 lawsuit

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HARRISBURG -- State officials are seeking a speedy review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of their appeal to a decision last week overturning statewide zoning for shale gas drilling.

That request, outlined in a legal brief filed on Monday, asks the Supreme Court to hear the case during its October session in Pittsburgh.

Attorney representing the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection are appealing the decision from a panel of Commonwealth Court judges, who ruled that Pennsylvania can't require municipalities to allow drilling in areas where their local zoning rules would prohibit it.

The new law, known as Act 13, went into effect five months ago and brought widespread changes to the Marcellus Shale drilling industry in Pennsylvania. It created a per-well annual fee, changed scores of regulations and outlined which parts of the drilling industry can and cannot be regulated by municipalities.

Municipalities had about two weeks left to update their own rules to comply with the controversial new law.

In the new court filing, the attorneys argue that without the law's zoning provision, which they say was intended to create a uniform, consistent set of rules, "development of this state's vital oil and gas resources will proceed in a less than 'optimal' fashion."

The attorneys pointed to a decision by Cranberry to forgo updating their drilling ordinance following the Commonwealth Court ruling and argued that a final decision from the top's court is needed to create clarity.

"Until certainty, one way or the other, is established, the Commonwealth risks losing the chance to promote and grow a key economic driver to its fullest potential, perhaps irreparably so," the brief states.

They also wrote that the seven municipalities -- most located in southwestern Pennsylvania -- should support a speedy hearing because of their earlier requests for a quick legal process.

"This matter shot forward at a breakneck pace in the Commonwealth Court -- start to finish from March to July -- on the spurs of that court's belief that quick resolution was necessary," state attorneys argue in the brief. "This court should, respectfully, adopt that same pace and shepherd this matter forward with equal haste, in recognition of the import this appeal has for the entirety of the Commonwealth."

Officials from two Bucks County municipalities were joined by South Fayette and the Washington County communities Cecil, Peters, Mount Pleasant, Robinson to argue that the law's zoning provision was unconstitutional because allowing gas wells and compressor stations across all zoning districts would inhibit their abilities to protect the health and safety of residents.

John Smith, one of the attorneys representing the municipalities challenging the new law, said Monday evening that he was reviewing the filing and had no comment.

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Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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