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Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

83 A.3d 901, 623 Pa. 564 (2013)

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Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

83 A.3d 901, 623 Pa. 564 (2013)

Facts

Citizens of Pennsylvania, Robinson Township, and several other municipalities (plaintiffs) challenged the enactment of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act (Act 13) by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (defendant). Act 13 focused on natural-gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale Formation, a large natural-gas reservoir. In order to extract the shale gas, two techniques—hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling—were to be used. Both techniques caused great environmental damage to the nearby land and water. Act 13 contained provisions that were added to the existing Oil and Gas Act. Chapter 33 of Act 13 prohibited any local regulation of oil-and-gas operations, including existing environmental regulations. It also required uniformity among local zoning ordinances related to oil-and-gas development and extraction throughout the state, establishing an industrial-oil-and-gas-operations use as of right in all zoning districts. Act 13 preempted already established and settled local regulation of oil-and-gas development. The Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, Pa. Const. art. I § 27 (ERA) provided the people of Pennsylvania with the right to clean air and water and the preservation of the natural environment and natural resources. The ERA also commanded the commonwealth to act as trustee of these resources and to conserve and maintain public natural resources for the benefit of all citizens, present and future. The citizens filed a 14-count petition in the Commonwealth Court. The citizens claimed that Act 13 violated the ERA, among numerous other state and federal constitutional provisions. An en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court heard objections and motions for summary relief (i.e., summary judgment). The court granted summary judgment to the citizens on four counts and denied the commonwealth’s application for summary judgment, among other rulings. The panel held that Act 13 was unconstitutional in part. Several sections of Act 13 were enjoined. The parties filed direct cross-appeals to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Castille, C.J.)

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