On Thursday, Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court declared two key parts of the Marcellus drilling law (Act 13) unconstitutional. One decision – by a 4-3 ruling – upholds the right of local governments to plan for the orderly development of oil and gas resources within their borders.
The portion that was struck down required local zoning ordinances to authorize oil and gas operations as a permitted use in all zoning districts. In its decision, the court said the law "violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interest of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications …"
The lawsuit was filed by township officials in Washington County, Bucks County, Allegheny County, plus the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and private individuals.
Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) applauded the court's decision. George Jugovic Jr., PennFuture's president and CEO, noted that the court went so far as to say that Act 13 would "allow the proverbial pig in the parlor instead of the barnyard."
The court also unanimously ruled against the General Assembly's attempt to give the Department of Environmental Protection unfettered ability to waive water and wetlands protections in the law.
"This law — written in private with no public input — demonstrates what happens when elected officials overreach in attempts to promote a single industry to the detriment of their own citizenry," added Jugovic. "The law [rewrote]s Pennsylvania's Oil and Gas Law in a fundamental way that showed contempt for local government's historic role of planning for areas that, to paraphrase the U.S. Supreme Court, protect family values and the blessings of a clean environment."