House Dems support Act. 13 challenge

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State Rep. Jesse White has joined 43 other House Democrats in filing a legal brief before the state Supreme Court supporting those who believe state Act 13 is unconstitutional by eliminating local zoning ordinances regulating the booming Marcellus Shale natural gas industry.


The brief known as an amicus curiae supports a Commonwealth Court ruling that sided in favor of seven municipalities, including four in Washington County, that sued to overturn the law’s exclusion of local ordinances setting conditions on the industry and is on appeal to the higher court, White announced today.


The townships of Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Peters and Robinson in Washington County and South Fayette in Allegheny County contend Act 13’s blanket zoning provisions have unfairly stripped their power to set such conditions as requiring the industry to erect certain-sized fences around their plants, create buffer zones, repair roads damaged by drilling rigs and determine the locations of outdoor lights.


“It’s important to remember that none of these municipalities in this case has ever sought to ban drilling, so these false claims about endangering jobs and jeopardizing energy independence are just lies,” stated White, a Cecil attorney who helped to draft the court document filed late Tuesday.


The municipalities filed the initial lawsuit in April, six days after Gov. Tom Corbett signed Act 13 into law, stripping the municipalities of their land use rights and ordering those with Marcellus ordinances in place to bring them under compliance. The law directed enforcement and regulatory control over the industry to the state Department of Environmental Protection.


The industry argued the different local ordinances lacked uniformity and the problem needed to be resolved in Pennsylvania if the state was going to remain a leader in the natural gas industry.


State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, at the time said he worried stringent Marcellus regulations would cause some gas companies to do business in other states.


In the majority opinion released July 26, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini said Act 13 violated due process rights because it did not protect the interests of those living near drilling sites. He further stated that, through Act 13, the commonwealth would be improperly exercising its police powers. State agencies appealed that ruling a week later.


White said it’s highly unlikely that natural gas developers would pull out of Pennsylvania if portions of Act 13 were stripped because they have already invested millions of dollars in acquiring mineral rights and building processing stations.


“They are not going to walk away because they have to build a higher fence or install additional lighting,” White said.


He said the House Democrats joined a growing list of groups that have filed similar briefs in the Supreme Court challenge filed by Pennsylvania.


He said Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited has expressed opposition to the law. On Friday, Pittsburgh City Council announced its intensions to file the same type of brief before the higher court, siding with those who feel Act. 13 is unconstitutional.


“There is a broad coalition out there that feels Act 13 is no good,” White said.


He aimed much of his criticism in the case toward Southpointe-based Range Resources, whose spokesman, Matt Pitzarella, could not be reached Wednesday.


State Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane, said he did not add his signature to the brief. He said he usually does not sign such documents unless he writes them.


Neuman said he voted against the legislation and did not want to take a position on it while the case is under appeal.


The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Oct. 17 in Pittsburgh.


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