PA Act 13 Lawsuit and its “Supporters”

The Pittsburgh newspapers want us to believe there is a huge surge of support behind a lawsuit recently filed against what is known as Act 13—a new law passed just a few months ago in Pennsylvania that updates Marcellus oil and gas drilling rules in the state. Although the law brought much-needed new regulations to the Commonwealth, it also contained two measures that have particularly irked those who oppose drilling: an impact fee instead of a severance tax, and preemption of local oil and gas zoning ordinances with a “one size fits all” set of ordinances from the state. MDN will not recount the arguments for and against, you can read them by doing a search for “Act 13 lawsuit” in our search box (upper right corner).

Seven Pennsylvania municipalities—less than one-half of one percent of the 1500+ PA municipalities—have filed a lawsuit to challenge the legality of the new zoning measures in Act 13. But to read about it, you would think the vast majority of municipalities are on board:

Robinson, Washington County, has received hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters from governments and individuals supporting its joint legal challenge of Act 13, the state’s new Marcellus Shale law.

Supervisor Brian Coppola said Monday night that he’s been overwhelmed with supportive messages from across Pennsylvania.

"There have been days I’ve gotten 150 emails," Mr. Coppola said.

Township secretary Christine Rummell reported receiving recent letters of support from Pittsburgh City Council; Luzerne County Council; township supervisors in Buffalo, Butler County, and Hanover, Beaver County; and the borough councils in Wilkinsburg, Allegheny County, and Tullytown, Bucks County.

Tullytown council wrote that the law "deprives local governments of inherent rights to control land use through zoning, and is a disturbing exercise of state power without precedent in the history of the Commonwealth."

Hanover supervisors wrote that "Act 13 restricts our ability to ensure the equal protection of personal and property rights through zoning."

Pittsburgh council’s letter said the law is "unprecedented, misguided, and plain wrong."*

So MDN wonders, if this is such a great lawsuit and such a vital issue, why don’t the rabidly anti-drilling Pittsburgh council members join the lawsuit? And if it’s so great, why doesn’t Tullytown join it? Or Wilkinson? Or Luzerne? Or Buffalo? Or Hanover? Or any of the other  “150 emails a day” of support that Mr. Coppola gets? Are they just cowards? Afraid of the political ramifications if the lawsuit goes against them? Afraid of a countersuit?

MDN reserves judgment on the merits of the case and can see both sides: more self-government on a local level is a good thing, but reducing the risk for a vitally important industry is a good thing too. MDN has respect for those who put their credibility and political futures on the line for what they believe in, regardless of whether or not we agree. So a shout out to Cecil, Peters, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson, South Fayette, Yardley and Nockamixon townships. As for the others who sit on the sidelines and cheerlead and send emails supporting them? Sorry, your actions speak louder than your words.

*Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Apr 10, 2012) – Washington County township receives support for legal challenge of shale law