Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Keith Quigley issued a 120-day injunction yesterday to stop a small but important portion of the newly passed Act 13 Marcellus drilling law. Seven PA townships had filed a lawsuit to overturn Act 13 (see this MDN story). As part of their lawsuit, they filed a petition seeking an injunction from stopping the law from going into effect this Saturday, April 14. Judge Quigley’s injunction only deals with the provisions in the law that deal with changes to zoning regulations—the part that would replace local zoning laws with a “one size fits all” state law. Everything else in Act 13, including collection of an impact fee, will go into effect on Saturday.
"Municipalities must have an adequate opportunity to pass zoning laws that comply with Act 13 without the fear or risk that development of oil and gas operations under Act 13 will be inconsistent with later validly passed local zoning ordinances," Quigley wrote.
His order halts only any part of the law that might "pre-empt pre-existing local ordinances" but denies the rest of the municipalities’ injunction request to stop the entire law from going into effect.*
One of the lawyers representing the seven municipalities said they got everything they wanted in the injunction (even though it didn’t stop all of Act 13):
"What we were seeking was 100 percent what the court granted," said John Smith, the solicitor for Robinson and Cecil.*
Judge Quigley is not at all sure the lawsuit has merit, but he issued the injunction anyway:
To issue an injunction, a judge must find that the request meets six standards, including that "there is likely success on the merits." Quigley wrote in a footnote to the order that he "is not convinced that petitioners’ likelihood of success on the merits is high," but he ordered the injunction because five other factors were compelling.*
Gov. Tom Corbett’s office pointed out that the injunction simply gives municipalities another four months to get their zoning houses in order, and means nothing more:
"All this decision means is that municipalities will get an additional 120 days to come into compliance with the zoning provision of the law," said Eric Shirk, a spokesman for the Republican governor.*
*Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Apr 12, 2012) – Judge halts law on shale oversight