The decision made by four Supreme Court Justices today to invalidate a portion of Act 13 of 2012 is incredibly disappointing. While recognizing that a decision of this length will take weeks to fully absorb, we are stunned that four Justices would issue this ruling which will so harshly impact the economic welfare of Pennsylvanians. The majority decision seems to raise significantly more questions than it answers.
Chief Justice Castille’s opinion relies in part on inaccurate antidotes and unproven science. The consequences of this decision will likely be the increase of natural gas prices for consumers, while at the same time costing a multitude of jobs in Pennsylvania. It is important to note that this decision resets the clock on zoning prior to the enactment of Act 13, therefore municipalities will continue to have some statewide checks on local discretion.
The Marcellus Shale Impact Fee legislation was the result of great collaboration between state officials, local officials, industry leaders and environmental groups. There were dozens of strong environmental protections included in Act 13 and due to the Court’s jarring decision it seems that the Court even invalidated some of them.
The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors was fully engaged in numerous legislative discussions and supported the zoning language during passage, until they later decided to oppose it in court. The language in dispute was crafted with their full input.
In light of the broad severability language discussion contained in the majority opinion, there is some question whether the impact fee which has resulted in over $400 million over the past two years, will remain in place going forward. A reasonable level of regulatory consistency across the Commonwealth is vital to the success of any major industry or employer – however the Supreme Court failed to recognize that in their majority decision. Our fear now is that landowners and hardworking individuals will suffer because of today’s decision.
Harrisburg – In a significant decision announced today, the state Supreme Court overturned portions of Act 13, a law that established an extraction fee and regulations regarding Marcellus shale drilling in Pennsylvania.
Several members of the Senate Democratic caucus participated in the case by filing an amicus brief in support of overturning the blanket local zoning preemption provision and the setback requirements related to sensitive water resources.
State Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), the Senate Democratic leader, offered his reaction to the decision:
“The court’s decision to overturn portions of Act 13 – those provisions that involve zoning restrictions and the community’s right to protect their own water resources – provides Pennsylvania lawmakers with a second chance to craft a better, more responsible law. This is an opportunity to revisit an issue and devise a shale drilling law that is meaningful; one that offers protections for our citizens, communities and a valuable Pennsylvania natural resource.
“While Act 13 included a wide range of subjects, it failed to institute a reasonable shale drilling tax and took too much control away from local municipalities. We left too much control in the hands of gas drilling companies and the governor was too lenient in dealing with energy companies at the expense of Pennsylvania’s citizens and our communities.
“Senate Democrats are hopeful that the governor will work with legislators on a balanced plan that includes a responsible approach to drilling restrictions and community protections.”
Marcellus Shale Coalition president Dave Spigelmyer issued the following statement on today’s Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruling:
“We are reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision in full to evaluate its impact on our operations across Pennsylvania. As we did prior to enactment of Act 13 and have done during this period of review by the state Supreme Court, Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry will continue to work collaboratively with the communities in which we operate to ensure shale development moves forward and we continue to realize the benefits at the local level and statewide. Although we will continue to collaborate with communities across the Commonwealth, today’s decision is a disappointment and represents a missed opportunity to establish a standard set of rules governing the responsible development and operation of shale gas wells in Pennsylvania.
“This outcome should also serve as a stark reminder to policymakers of Pennsylvania’s business climate challenges. If we are to remain competitive and our focus is truly more job creation and economic prosperity, we must commit to working together toward common sense proposals that encourage – rather than discourage – investment into the Commonwealth.”