Peters joins fight to regulate drilling
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Peters council members voted this week to join a consortium of municipalities and an environmental group that plan to mount a legal challenge to the state's new law overseeing Marcellus Shale gas regulation, possibly as soon as today.
On Monday, council joined at least seven municipalities from Washington, Allegheny and Bucks counties, along with an environmental group called Delaware River Keepers than plan the challenge.
The local municipalities include Robinson, Cecil, Mt. Pleasant and Peters in Washington County, and South Fayette in Allegheny County. In Bucks County, Yardley and Nockamixon plan to participate in the lawsuit, lawyer John Smith said.
Most of the municipalities participating in the action have been at odds with drilling companies for a variety of reasons, including regulations that the industry feels are too stringent.
Local municipal officials have been meeting regularly since Gov. Tom Corbett signed Act 13 into law on Feb. 14. It's set to take effect April 14, and will establish an annual fee for gas drillers based on the price of natural gas.
Most importantly to local government officials, though, is a provision in the law that strips municipalities of most of their authority in determining where gas wells and related infrastructure, such as pipelines and compressor stations, should be located.
The law will replace local zoning regulations with state guidelines in dozens of local municipalities.
Under the new law, municipalities with conflicting ordinances, such as Peters, Cecil and Robinson, would have 120 days to amend their drilling regulations to reflect new state laws.
If municipalities don't make the required adjustments, they could lose out on impact fees and be forced to pay legal fees for drilling companies.
Mr. Smith, who represents Cecil and Robinson, said a 100-page appeal seeking a temporary injunction would be filed in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg perhaps as early as today or Friday.
Mr. Smith said the group would be asking the court to hear arguments concerning the constitutionality of the new law.
Though he sees a legal battle as an "uphill fight" against the state, Mr. Smith said it's possible that the new law may conflict with a statutory requirement that local officials "protect the health, safety and welfare of their communities."
Mr. Smith said the group has received letters of support from multiple municipalities and doesn't favor taking on new members right now.
"If we opened this up to all the municipalities who were interested, we'd have 50 to 60 municipalities and it becomes unwieldy because you then have to bring in 50 to 60 lawyers," he said.
The lawsuit also will include two individuals, Peters Councilman David Ball and Robinson Supervisor Brian Coppola, both of whom have been involved in gas drilling dialogue in recent years.
Mr. Smith is offering his services at no charge to the group, though Peters Solicitor William Johnson said he would not be working pro bono.
Mr. Johnson estimated the cost of litigation at around $10,000 for the group, depending on expert witnesses.
First Published March 29, 2012 5:16 am