Act 13 law opponents speak out

August 16, 2013
This file photo shows a gas well being drilled in Mt. Pleasant Township. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Saying it would open a legal “Pandora’s box,” lawyers representing the seven communities, including four in Washington County, that are challenging the state’s new Marcellus Shale law say the case should not be argued again before the state Supreme Court.

In a response to the request from two state agencies for the Supreme Court to hear the case again, the challengers, which include Peters, Cecil, Robinson and Mt. Pleasant townships, said Wednesday that another round of legal arguments would be a “second bite at the apple” that would waste time and taxpayer money.

“To start this process over would result in a duplication of time, taxpayer dollars and effort despite the fact that a decision has not been released and that the law and the facts have no change since first submitted to this honorable court,” the response reads.

The seven municipalities are challenging the state’s Act 13 law, which was passed in February 2012, that removed municipal zoning reviews of Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania. In July 2012, the state Commonwealth Court ruled 4-3 that the zoning aspects of Act 13 violated the state constitution, and Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration appealed. The state Supreme Court heard the case last October, but has not made a ruling. At that time the case was argued, the court had just six justices after the legal woes of former Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Gov. Tom Corbett has nominated Superior Court Judge Correale Stevens to become the new justice, although he has yet to be confirmed. There are three Republicans and three Democrats on the current court, meaning a Corbett appointee could be the swing vote to the ruling. A tie would revert to the Commonwealth Court’s decision.

The response by the seven municipalities questions why a new justice would be included in the decision-making process when that jurist was not part of the original hearing.

“Importantly, the newest addition to the court was appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Commonwealth Senate, both entities who have an interest in Act 13 remaining intact,” the response reads. “Granting the (second hearing) could create the appearance that a named party used a judicial nomination to secure a desired vote on a pending case.”

It’s not known when a decision on the case will be made.

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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