Robinson Township, the first municipality to authorize a lawsuit against the state’s Act 13 gas drilling law, will withdraw its involvement before key provisions head back to Commonwealth Court for consideration.
Shortly after taking office last month, incoming supervisors Steve Duran and Rodger Kendall voted 2-1 to remove Robinson Township from legal action involving Act 13, the 2012 state law governing natural gas drilling. The state Supreme Court already ruled on the case, deeming key provisions of the law unconstitutional. Kendall, chairman of the board, said the move was largely ceremonial. However, he said both he and Duran wanted to make a statement to show they did not agree with the lawsuit.
“It’s not going to stop the court case,” Kendall said. “It’s not going to change the outcome. It’s a message that the new administration does not agree with what the old administration was doing.”
Kendall, a drilling leaseholder, said Robinson Township’s name would not be removed from the lawsuit, but the township’s involvement would cease. He said supervisors were advised by their new solicitor, Alan Shuckrow, to hold off on the withdrawal until the Supreme Court decides whether or not it will rehear the case. Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration asked the court to reconsider its decision, with the Public Utility Commission and Department of Environmental Protection both arguing that more evidence should be considered.
Former Robinson solicitor John Smith, who represents several townships in the Act 13 lawsuit, said he offered to continue representing Robinson Township in the lawsuit even though he is no longer their solicitor.
“I was doing the case for free, and I did offer to continue to do the case for free,” Smith said. “If they don’t want to be involved, we understand.” Smith said the township’s withdrawal will not have any effect on the outcome of the case hearing.
Incumbent supervisor Mark Brositz voted against the township’s withdrawal. Brositz said he felt Kendall and Duran were trying to make a media statement to influence the state Supreme Court as it considers whether to rehear the case.
Brositz said the fact that their challenge was upheld by Supreme Court is just one reason to stick with the lawsuit.
“That Act 13 lawsuit gives local municipalities a lot of that power back to regulate where oil and gas drilling occurs in the township,” Brositz said. “We have a difference of opinion maybe … but regardless of that, don’t you want that control to remain here instead of being taken away and given to Harrisburg?”
The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will rehear the case. It also remanded several provisions back to the lower court for consideration, including the severability of Act 13, or whether the unchallenged provisions of the law can hold up without the remainder.