Local victory: For now, the court says towns may restrict drilling
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The principle of local control was at issue in the state's new drilling regulations, and Commonwealth Court on Thursday sided with municipal officials. This victory, however, may be only temporary because the governor's office announced the state has appealed to the state Supreme Court.
In a rare departure from the Republican mantra that big government should stay out of local affairs, the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett made sure when they enacted Marcellus Shale industry regulations earlier this year that the rules cleared the road of impediments for drillers.
The result was a law that gave the state control over zoning related to drilling sites, superceding local zoning ordinances. That's not how other zoning laws work. For example, individual municipalities have the ability to create zoning rules for billboards or industrial operations or housing lot sizes and any number of other permutations, as long as the rules are not discriminatory against certain types of businesses and are uniformly applied.
In other words, the state decides the big picture and leaves the details to local officials, who best know their local needs.
Because the drilling law didn't do that, a group of towns -- including Cecil, Peters, South Fayette and Mount Pleasant -- sued. As a result of Commonwealth Court's 4-3 ruling, towns got a reprieve from overhauling their local zoning ordinances in the next few weeks. They now are on hold, probably until a pronouncement from the state's high court.
At minimum, the latest decision prevents municipalities from having to enact one set of rules only to revoke them based on some further court action. The better outcome will be a ruling that says local officials should be in charge of where wells can be drilled in any given town.
Correction/Clarification: (Published July 31, 2012) Cranberry was incorrectly identified Monday as one of the plaintiffs that challenged the state's authority over zoning for Marcellus Shale drilling in Commonwealth Court.
First Published July 30, 2012 12:00 am