South Fayette: PUC shouldn't be reviewing drilling ordinance
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HARRISBURG -- South Fayette officials say the on-going state review of their local drilling ordinance shows "malicious intent" and should be suspended until Pennsylvania's top court has ruled on the pending Marcellus Shale appeal.
The Allegheny County township was notified by the state Public Utility Commission late last month that South Fayette resident William Sray asked the agency to review his town's drilling rules.
The PUC is tasked under the new Marcellus Shale law, known as Act 13, with determining whether local drilling ordinances fall within state parameters for what municipalities can and cannot regulate. Municipalities with drilling rules deemed unacceptable are ineligible for the impact fee dollars the drillers must pay fopr each well they drill.
Part of that law related to zoning was overturned in Commonwealth Court, but the agency has begun ordinance reviews under sections of the law that remain in effect.
In a filing dated Friday, attorneys for South Fayette, which was part of the legal challenge to Act 13, responded to the agency's notification. They disputed the PUC's decision to begin reviewing ordinances and pointed to comments from agency officials prior to the July court ruling in which they said the pending litigation created too much uncertainty to judge ordinances.
"Although portions of Act 13 have now been declared unconstitutional and despite the increased uncertainty of the pending appeals in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the PUC has nevertheless inexplicably chosen to reverse its prior policy of restraint and has commence[d] its zoning ordinance reviews by reviewing the zoning ordinances of two of the municipal petitioners," the attorneys wrote.
They continued: "This punitive action of the PUC evidences malicious intent and is indicative of professional persecution."
The attorneys also argued that the agency, which is reviewing ordinances in South Fayette and Robinson, Washington County, is unable to be objective due to its "aggressive stance" against the municipalities in their lawsuit.
In addition to its 16-page response to the PUC, South Fayette and the other municipalities involved in the Act 13 lawsuit also are asking Commonwealth Court to find that the agency is violating an August court order and order them to cease and desist.
Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for the PUC, said the previous court ruling didn't throw out the agency's review of local laws, so that work will continue. A ruling on the South Fayette ordinance is expected next month.
First Published September 10, 2012 12:26 am