The flurry of legal activity surrounding Pennsylvania’s new drilling law continues.
On Wednesday, attorneys representing seven municipalities and other entities opposing state Act 13 filed further motions with Commonwealth Court in attempts to strike down portions of the legislation.
At issue is the diminished ability of local government to regulate oil and gas activities. Opponents contend that the law “deprives municipal officials of carrying out their legally binding duty to protect air, water and natural environmental values,” according to a lawsuit filed in March by seven municipalities and other entities.
Cecil Township attorney John Smith, who represents the suit’s petitioners, said Wednesday’s actions seek to prevent representatives of the natural gas industry from giving oral arguments in court proceedings, and for the court to uphold its decision not to allow state legislators to intervene in the case.
The court has designated certain industry representatives, including the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, as amici curiae, parties that are not involved in a particular litigation but are allowed to advise the court on matters of law directly affecting the litigation.
On Wednesday, a court order granted industry representatives the opportunity to present a collective five minutes of oral argument when the case is heard. At the request of the state attorney general, the case has been placed on the court’s en banc argument list for June, meaning all Commonwealth Court justices are to be present, instead of the usual panel of three.
The petitioners, who have been granted five minutes to respond to industry arguments, filed a request to deny the court order.
On April 20, Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Keith B. Quigley denied an application by state lawmakers to intervene. They applied for reconsideration May 4, claiming, “The Court prevents the legislative leadership from answering petitioners' imputation of bad motives upon the legislature.”
Cecil and six other municipalities—including Peters, Mt. Pleasant and Robinson townships in Washington County and South Fayette Township in Allegheny County—filed suit March 29, challenging an Act 13 section providing for state law to pre-empt local regulation of drilling. On April 3, the petitioners requested a preliminary injunction to delay implementation of the act’s relevant section for 120 days.
Quigley granted the injunction April 11. The state and its agencies then moved to modify the injunction, but Quigley denied the application. The injunction and denial since have been appealed to the state Supreme Court.
On Monday, the petitioners filed a motion with Commonwealth Court for summary judgment with regard to their suit, claiming Act 13 is unconstitutional on the federal and state levels. The motion lists 66 points, including one that contends the act “establishes a one-size-fits-all zoning scheme for oil and gas development that applies to every zoning district in every political subdivision in Pennsylvania.”
A summary judgment, if granted, would dispose of the case without a trial.