Supreme Court refuses Corbett administration request to reconsider Act 13 ruling

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court late Friday afternoon denied a request from Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration to reargue the Act 13 case concerning the state’s oil and natural gas drilling law. The court voted 5-1 today to deny a request made by the state Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Commission, which argued that more evidence should be considered by the court.


The court in December ruled the zoning provisions of Act 13 were unconstitutional.


Four local municipalities were among the groups that filed the challenge to Act 13, primarily over zoning concerns. Robinson Township plans to withdraw from the case, while Mt. Pleasant, Cecil and Peters townships will stay on. Several other key provisions of Act 13 will head back to Commonwealth Court for consideration.


“We’re extremely pleased that the court once again did not entertain an unfounded request by the Commonwealth,” said attorney John Smith, who represents several townships in the Act 13 lawsuit. “We look forward to moving this case forward in the Commonwealth Court to resolve the number of issues that the court remanded.”


Smith said one major provision heading back to the lower court involves a medical gag rule restricting the information doctors can relay to patients about the potential health effects of natural gas drilling. He said the court also will review a provision that would require Marcellus Shale companies to report to the DEP only spills into public water sources, but not private water sources.


Justice Thomas Saylor sided with the commonwealth in his dissenting statement, arguing that it is the court’s duty to give parties a reasonable opportunity to present evidence to “determine whether Act 13 satisfies the newly mandated balancing test” of the state Constitution.


“The judiciary simply does not possess the ability to divine the consequences of a legislative enactment absent a developed factual record,” he wrote in his statement.


“We disagree,” Smith said in reaction to Saylor’s statement. “The court is applying the Constitution to law.”


Smith also argued that municipalities presented hundreds of pages of evidence, and commonwealth agencies did not submit any.


“The fact that the commonwealth chose not to submit evidence is on them,” Smith said.


Justice J. Michael Eakin, who dissented in the court’s decision that ruled parts of Act 13 unconstitutional, also voted down the Corbett administration’s request to reargue Act 13.


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