Attorneys argue Marcellus Shale zoning law in Commonwealth Court
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HARRISBURG -- A panel of Commonwealth Court judges fired questions at attorneys this morning arguing over the constitutionality of the new gas drilling law.
Lawyers for a group of municipalities, a doctor and an environmental advocate gave their first full argument as to why they believe state provisions mandating how municipalities can craft zoning rules for drillers is unconstitutional.
John Smith, the first of three attorneys representing the group to speak this morning, was only able to get a few sentences into his remarks before the seven judges began to pepper him -- and later the other lawyers -- with critiques.
Mr. Smith and other counsel defended their claim that allowing drilling activities in areas authorized by the state would make it difficult for local governments to protect their residents' health and safety as constitutionally required.
They also argued that the law treats the drilling industry as a special class, allowing those companies procedural privileges in permitting and land use that others do not have.
Lawyers for the state replied that municipalities do not have a constitutionally protected right to zoning, and the powers they do have can be altered by the Legislature as it sees fit.
A representative for the drilling industry also was given several minutes to dispute whether municipalities have standing to challenge the law, comparing the relationship between Pennsylvania and its municipalities to a parent and children.
A ruling from the Commonwealth Court panel typically could take several months, though attorneys for both sides said they expect the court may issue its decision sooner.
First Published June 6, 2012 3:11 pm