PA Problem: Act 13 Zoning Case to be Decided by 6 Supremes, Not 7

trouble brewing signPotential trouble is brewing for Marcellus drillers in Pennsylvania. As MDN has chronicled since early last year, seven towns (and a few individuals) sued PA over a provision in “Act 13” passed in early 2012 which creates uniform statewide standards for oil and gas zoning regulations–regs that supercede and replace local zoning laws related to oil and gas drilling (see Lawsuit Filed: PA Towns Sue State over Marcellus Act 13 Law). A handful of towns in western PA didn’t like the state telling them where a well can and can’t go. They call it a “one size fits all” solution that doesn’t square with realities in different and varying geographies. The state maintains it has all sorts of safeguards built in and the new uniform standards prevent capricious local town boards from interfering with a legitimate and safe activity. Who’s right? It’s a Solomon kind of conundrum.

The towns sued and won–in two lower court cases. The case was appealed to the PA Supreme Court–but Houston, we have a problem. The PA Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last October. One of the seven justices has since been convicted on a minor fundraising offense and removed from office (see PA Supreme Court Resignation Affects Act 13 Zoning Decision). If the court had previously decided the case without a seventh justice, it likely would have resulted in a 3-3 split. The new justice, Correale Stevens, was installed in June. We’ve just learned that he will not participate in the Act 13 case, meaning it will definitely be decided by six justices. Unless one of them changes, a 3-3 decision would mean the lower courts’ decision stands and drilling in some locations in PA will be thrown into chaos, affecting landowners, jobs and the local economy…

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