Court Strikes Down Local Zoning Provisions of Act 13

The state Commonwealth Court issued its opinion Thursday morning—calling those provisions unconstitutional.

This story was updated at 12:52 p.m. to include a recently released statement on the ruling by the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

The state Commonwealth Court on Thursday struck down portions of Pennsylvania’s newly enacted legislation governing Marcellus Shale operations—also known as Act 13—as unconstitutional.

The 54-page opinion filed by President Judge Dan Pellegrini, stated:

“Petitioners allege that they have close to 150 unconventional Marcellus Shale wells drilled within their borders, and Act 13 prevents them from fulfilling their constitutional and statutory obligations to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens, as well as public natural resources from the industrial activity of oil and gas drilling. Petitioners allege that Act 13 requires them to modify many of their zoning laws.”

The petitioners, which included a cluster of local communities including Cecil and Peters, an environmental group and a medical doctor, has asked the court to throw out portions of the zoning regulations under Act—and it did.

“We grant petitioners’ Motion for Summary Relief, declare 58 Pa C.S. §3304 unconstitutional and null and void, and permanently enjoin the Commonwealth from enforcing it,” the order read.

Reached Thursday morning, solicitor John Smith—who handled the challenge—said: “I think it’s a great day for local government and a great day for Pennsylvania.”

The attorney added, “Our system of checks and balances worked. The Legislature overstepped, and the court did its job declaring portions of Act 13 as unconstitutional.”

Cecil Township supervisor Andy Schrader, who was a proponent of the challenge, said, “I think the whole purpose of this challenge was to protect our residents and with this ruling, it will give us some legal standing under our zoning laws to do that. That’s what this was all about for me.”

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who vehemently opposed portions of Act 13, said, “This is obviously a huge victory for those of us who want to see Marcellus Shale developed responsibly. Hopefully now we can stop the bullying and the buying of influence and truly work together to develop a responsible approach that will allow development of Marcellus Shale while creating a culture of true accountability and responsibility. Today’s decision reaffirms that our constitutional protections are not for sale.”

In a statement, the Marcellus Shale Coalition also weighed in on the ruling.

Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Z. Klaber said:

“The premise for the General Assembly's action earlier this year was to provide certainty and predictability that encourages investment and job creation across the Commonwealth. Lack of uniformity has long been an Achilles’ heel for Pennsylvania and must be resolved if the Commonwealth is to remain a leader in responsible American natural gas development and reap the associated economic, environmental and national security benefits.”

To read the entire opinion, click on the attached PDF.

monica day July 26, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Thank you from my family and myself. Mom in Eighty Four
cecil resident July 26, 2012 at 08:52 PM
If you really believe that the townships laws are the best for all the citizens you weren't at the meetings when they tried to pass a bird ordinance that affected all of the residents in the township because one neighbor didn't like another neighbor feeding birds with a $1000 fine if you disobeyed the ordinance , does this sound like good governing. How about trying to stop a long time resident from running his trucking business because another citizen had super sonic hearing. Then we have another time when thousands of signatures were ignored from concerned citizens concerning a multimillion dollar soccer field. Now I am suppose to have faith that they can come up with a fair plan for residents that want to use what they own for a gas lease. This area is going to drive the gas industry to another site they don't need Cecil Township, Cecil Township needs the benefits that the gas industry could bring to this area.
JJ July 26, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Great job John Smith, Jesse White and most Cecil twp supervisors. Keep Cecil a great safe and healthy place to live! The gas companies wont suffer, they will still make big money selling our gas to china.
cecil resident July 26, 2012 at 11:28 PM
You are right the gas companies won't suffer but the landowners with mineral rights will as well as people who might have a chance for good paying jobs in our area with the gas and oil company will. Various business collecting from the extra activity such as rent, food, supplying materials to the sites, etc. will all feel it. Contrary to most beliefs big business don't crush the economy they grow the economy. The financial shape the township is in it could use a big boost to their economy then maybe all the roads can be repaired. We all want a safe and healthy place to live this has nothing to do with that aspect of drilling or the township wouldn't have let them place new train tracks in the community that will be hauling chemicals past the intermediate school to other communities that are taking advantage of the drilling. All it was is don't tell use what to do we are experts in the field of gas and oil drilling.
Roger July 26, 2012 at 11:28 PM
JJ, why do you think the natural gas companies will tolerate a patchwork of provisions, with the price of natural gas this low? Do you have inside information that you can share here?
JJ July 27, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Proud: Im sure Cecil Twp is in good financial shape just drive thru Southpointe, and all the new housing plans, what better way to show a healthy growing community than new buildings! Big business will still thrive even if regulated and the railroad has been hauling chemicals past the school for 100 years safely. More swerving overworked truck drivers off the road with the new railroad spur!
Jesse White July 27, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Proud American (as if you're the only one) - you talk an awful big game for someone without the guts to put their real name up here. Just saying.
Roger July 27, 2012 at 10:56 AM
JJ, ... we are looking for your inside information. Proud ... is right, the gas companies will remain viable. The issue is where will they choose to operate. Undoubtedly, they already have a list prepared of where their operations are easiest to manage. With many wells being capped (read: no revenue produced) as the price is so low, the NG companies can afford to pick and choose where to operate wells. Those areas with tight restrictions can easily be relegated to the bottom of the list. Effectively, ACT 13 did what many wanted, that is eliminate NG industry from their area. No, the NG companies are not going to be hurt much. They will merely find the best area to work, and leave others alone. This arrangement may not last for a long time, but right now there is an abundance of product, and abundance of areas to work. The legal hassles will be minimized by merely avoiding townships they don't want to work. The ones to be hurt are the local folks. Lease holders counting on the revenue streams from extracted product will not be getting their checks. Local businesses who support the added personnel for NG operations will see their uptick in business dwindle as workers leave. Yes, some who got the up-front money did well, but the downstream impact will dry up for those counting on an upsurge in NG operations.
cecil resident July 27, 2012 at 11:16 AM
Representative White I am not the only one who feel that way and wasn't speaking only for my self a lot of land and mineral right owners have lost opportunities to profit from something they have paid taxes on for decades. I'm sorry you think just because I don't use my real name that I don't have the right to print my opinion. Attack the messenger not the issue is the reason people don't use there name. You have done some good thing for this area and I wouldn't attack you personally but I disagree with the attack on the oil and gas industry.
cecil resident July 27, 2012 at 11:36 AM
I'm not so sure about the financial situation because i have attened a few meetings and when they have to pick and choose on roads to fix their is a shortage of money because roads have been ignored for years because of lack of funds.. Southpointe and housing plans are good for the community but are not the backbone of the township. Life time residents and generations of land owners are also a very important aspect of the township. If you have lived in the township as long as I have the railroad next to the school was never used to haul chemicals it was cars, coal, and what they could haul in boxcars. And as people who are against the oil and gas industry keep bringing up it only takes one accident and the old railroad tracks have them frequently. Regulation don't kill big businesses they just more more to another community or state and another lost in revenue for Cecil Township.
cecil resident July 27, 2012 at 11:45 AM
Very well said Roger you have put it into words much better then I could. I know what I want to say but don't always know the right words. Just to clarify something I have not made money from the oil and gas industry but I feel for the people in our community who are losing out on this opportunity.
Amanda Gillooly July 27, 2012 at 12:08 PM
I am working on a reaction story on the issue - stay tuned and thank you all for reading and posting in this forum!
cecil resident July 27, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Thank you Amanda for the forum to post our opinions
JJ July 27, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Sorry Roger I have no inside info. Not sure what comment I made has you thinking I have any.
Jesse White July 27, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Proud American, I'm not anti-drilling, I'm pro-responsibility. And I just believe that if you are going to make strong statements, you should put your name to them as it greatly increases your credibility.
Andy July 27, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Thank you to John Smith for volunteering your time and effort to keep our community a safe place to raise a family. Thank you Jessie White for standing up for the vast majority of the homeowners in our district and thank you Cecil Township for getting behind an effort that is not popular with some powerful industries. I also am not against gas wells but they must be done in a safe, responsible manner with reasonable oversite and the communities that they are located should have a say in how and where they are operated.
cecil resident July 27, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Has their ever been any type of survey or poll taken in Cecil Township to find out what the vast majority of the homeowners feel? Powerful industries aren't always the bad guys and where is the data thats shows they are not safe and responsible there is an article in the Observer-Reporter Monday June 23, 2012 by Kevin Begos AP (Experts say some critics of fracking using bad science). Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority did extensive test ( found no problems) in the rivers. The Us Energy Information Administration stated quality of air could improve because large powerplants are switching from coal ( which admits far more pollutions) for cleaner gas.The Susan G. Komen for the Cure a major cancer advocacy group Based in Dallas Texas stated it see no evidence of a spike in cancer and those areas that have a lot more wells then Cecil Township will ever have. I also agree with reasonable oversite but I have also seen some of the ordinances that Cecil Township have tried to pass when neighbors have an issue with each other, ordinances that would affect all residents not just the 2 that can't get along. Also someones business was almost taken away because a neighbor not even close by had an issue and the business owner had to spend thousands to get it settled there was no resonable oversite in these cases. This works both ways you want reasonable oversite with the industry and citizen want reasonable oversite with our elected officals.
Amanda Gillooly July 27, 2012 at 04:11 PM
As promised, here is the reaction story on the ruling: http://canon-mcmillan.patch.com/articles/local-officials-react-to-ruling-on-marcellus-shale-legislation
Amanda Gillooly July 27, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Mr. American, May I ask what ordinances you are referring to? I'd be happy to link to them so people can see what you are talking about. Just trying to be proactive in providing source documentation. Thanks!
cecil resident July 27, 2012 at 04:15 PM
An American citizen has a right to their opinion can't see where a name gives that opinion any more credibility, its my opinion and I am a Proud American. I could give a name and a long title but it would still be my opinion . Its a free country you give your opinion I give mine and we debate, a lot of great statements have been made by Anonymous.
Roger July 27, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Andy, how will this court ruling "keep our community safe to raise a family?"
Roger July 30, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Your initial statement made some bold claims and assertions of what will happen. This is why it seemed clear you have inside information.
Roger July 30, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Andy, still looking for an answer as to the projected claims of "safe place" comment.
James Tilman August 10, 2012 at 11:36 PM
DON'T WORRY, the gas drilling companies will hang around like vultures waiting for the smoke to clear....if they can't get to it legally, they'll get to it illegally, they won't go away! And, to the "folks" in Cecil and elsewhere, whose livings rely on industries that hurt the health & well-being of their neighbors, GO GET ANOTHER JOB!
Roger August 11, 2012 at 12:21 AM
New report with statistics: Last year, 116 rigs operating in the region. This year (same week), 72 rigs. Thinking the NG companies will "hang around" may be just wishful thinking. http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/blog/energy/2012/08/rigs-drop-by-3-in-pa-rise-in-west.html
Larry Borowiec September 20, 2012 at 10:56 AM
This proud American was paid off by the gas drilling company. Just another paid advertisement that these drilling people will deploy to hide the facts of an unhealthy industry. Do these people really care anything about the future of this planet?
cecil resident September 20, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Larry I care very much about our planet and because I disagree with you I am a paid advertisement , sad. I care enough about it to want us to become energy idependent and we are then able to monitor how things are done in this country. I just feel it shouldn't be over regulated by over zealous elected officals that are quick to pass new ordinances everytime one citizen has a problem with a neighbor. If they do it with petty arguments everytime one person doesn't like something about drilling they will try to pass another ordinance, then another and so forth. When will relying on foreign oil going to be enough for you when gas is 8-9-10 dollars a barrel.
cecil resident September 20, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Larry show me unhealthy to me looks like it is getting better even with all the doom and gloom . Observer-Reporter Monday June 23, 2012 by Kevin Begos AP (Experts say some critics of fracking using bad science). Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority did extensive test ( found no problems) in the rivers. The Us Energy Information Administration stated quality of air could improve because large powerplants are switching from coal ( which admits far more pollutions) for cleaner gas.The Susan G. Komen for the Cure a major cancer advocacy group Based in Dallas Texas stated it see no evidence of a spike in cancer and those areas that have a lot more wells then Cecil Township will ever have
Bill Ross September 26, 2012 at 07:28 PM
It is a shame that politicians think they know more than industry and are are somehow better suited to decide what is and is not safe and what is and is not in the best interest of the people they are supposed to serve. There is no doubt a standard policy is best for all.


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