Act 13 Struck Down

The state Supreme Court this afternoon declared Act 13 unconstitutional.  This law was passed for the Marcellus shale gas industry to bypass local zoning regulations and force every community to permit gas drilling.  The Court held that it violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania constitution.  Chief Justice Castille was joined in the majority opinion by Justices Todd, McCaffery and Baer.  My friend Jordan Yeager was the attorney who argued the case before the Court.  A press release says the following:

“The Court has vindicated the public’s right to a clean environment and our right to fight for it when it is being trampled on. Today the environment and the people of Pennsylvania have won and special interests and their advocates in Harrisburg have lost. This proves the Constitution still rules, despite the greedy pursuits of the gas and oil industry. With this huge win we will move ahead to further undo the industry’s grip of our state government,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

“This is a great historic victory for local democracy, for public health, and for the health of our environment. The shale gas industry overreached, greedily wanting to operate without respecting local concerns and without playing by the same set of rules everyone else has to play by. The Corbett Administration and the General Assembly went along with it and tried to give away our rights to the gas industry. The Supreme Court has made it clear that what they were trying to do violates our state Constitution. It’s a great day for the Constitution and the people of the Commonwealth”, said Jordan Yeager, counsel for the plaintiffs.

“The gas industry tried to take over every inch of every municipality in Pennsylvania for drilling, regardless of the zoning rights of local governments and the residents they represent. The industry and their backers in Harrisburg overreached when they thought they could literally takeover the state, turning it into one big drilling and gas infrastructure site. We fought this law because it was illegal and because it spelled ruin for public health and the environment, even though we, as plaintiffs, didn’t have nearly the resources our powerful and well-funded opponents had. This proves, when you have the law and environmental rights on your side, it’s worth fighting and you can win,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Chester County Residents Fight Pipeline Project

Washington DC lawyer Carolyn Elefant spoke to a crowd of about a hundred people this morning about fighting a proposed natural gas pipeline in their community.  Hosted at my alma mater Owen J. Roberts High School the event was sponsored by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Berks Gas Truth and the Pipeline safety Coalition.  It began with a short film of the Hopewell Big Woods area and the protected lands, historic structures and open space which would be destroyed in the route of the pipeline.  The proposal would transport Marcellus shale natural gas to LNG terminals for export.  Even though southeastern Pennsylvania is not in the Marcellus shale region this shows how we all are potentially impacted by fracking.

A rural/suburban wealthy area known for its conservatism, northeastern Chester County has rolling hills, farms and forests amidst its McMansions.  The crowd which turned out on a winter morning had many questions for Elefant.  She gave a lengthy detailed examination of the certification process by which pipelines get approval to use eminent domain to seize the right to bury their potentially explosive transit pipes through protected areas.  

The Hopewell Big Woods is a 110 square mile area of old growth forest which has been preserved.  It includes French Creek State Park and the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site.  It is near where I grew up and is rich with natural springs.  Ponds are everywhere with fresh water coming up from the ground to form the ponds and creeks which feed into the nearby Schuylkill River.

FERC is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and she taught the residents how their process for certifying pipelines works, where in that process to lodge concerns, the most effective method of doing so, and how to maintain pressure on the process.  This pipeline was originally planned to go through York County and down to Baltimore and Washington but local opposition moved it to this route.  That shows that local impact statements and opposition can be effective.  Almost all pipelines are approved however so much effort must be placed on routing it properly and insuring safety.  Several local Township officials were in attendance along with two Chester County Commissioners.  

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