In his recent article in the Energy Report, Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Kotula bemoans the fact that Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court struck down parts of Act 13 as unconstitutional.
What part of “unconstitutional” does he not understand? If a law is unconstitutional, it cannot exist. The citizens of Pennsylvania have rights and they are protected by our Constitution. Among those rights are the right to health, safety and welfare and the right to not have their rights infringed upon by others. That’s what zoning does; it allows activities to be grouped in designated areas with similar activities so one person’s rights don’t infringe upon another’s. Zoning assures planned and orderly development. It protects property values.
One of the 12 parts of Act 13 that were challenged as unconstitutional was the delusional concept that one set of zoning regulations could be imposed upon every municipality in the state, one that allowed an industrial activity such as gas drilling and frack ponds, and that, not knowing the specifics of each community, such a zoning law would not infringe on the rights of the citizens who own property and homes in those municipalities. It allowed one industry to trump the rights of the citizens.
Kotula goes on to say that striking down parts of Act 13 “has placed gas drilling under a cloud of regulatory uncertainty.” How so? They must operate exactly as they have operated from the time the first well was drilled, because those parts of Act 13 never were in effect and now never will be. Nothing changed. The industry has drilled more than 8,000 wells and permitted many thousands more without Act 13. There is a glut of gas on the market. They have not been impeded.
Kotula raises the specter of de facto moratoriums, litigation and slow-walking approvals. Why? Nothing has changed. The industry has done well and will continue to do well.
The court’s decision clearly says that municipalities have not only the right, but the obligation to protect their resident’s health, safety and welfare and to protect their property values. I would think Kotula, as the president of the Chamber of Commerce, would applaud such a ruling. He implies that the court put new power in the hands of the townships.
Again, nothing has changed. The municipalities have no more power now than they did in the past.
What is clear is that the gas industry has no mandate to ride roughshod over the rights of the citizens of Pennsylvania and that is a good thing.
David M. Ball
David M. Ball is a member of Peters Township Council.