Friday, January 12, 2018

PEDF: Commonwealth Court Effort To Narrow Focus Of How State Spends DCNR Oil & Gas Payments Without Factual, Legal Support

Laura Legere reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Thursday Commonwealth Court issued an opinion January 8 saying it would only review whether upfront bonus and land rental payments from natural gas drilling on State Forest land are constitutional, and not the broader issue of the General Assembly’s continuing practice of using gas revenues to pay for DCNR operations, in litigation brought by the PA Environmental Defense Foundation.
The Court said the narrower issue was the only issue the June 20 PA Supreme Court ruling asked Commonwealth Court to review after declaring transfers from DCNR’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the General Fund to balance the state budget unconstitutional.  
The Court based its June decision on the Environmental Rights Amendment to the state constitution which the PA Supreme Court said creates a trustee duty on the Commonwealth to spend those funds only for conservation purposes, not for balancing the budget.
The PA Environmental Defense Foundation filed motions with Commonwealth Court in December urging the Court to also look at the same transfers used to fund the FY 2018-19 state budget made since the June 20 PA Supreme Court ruling.
John Childe, the PEDF attorney in the lawsuit, said in reaction to this week's opinion, “The Commonwealth Court Opinion limiting the Remand from the Supreme Court to one issue dealing with the Bonus payments is without any factual or legal support. We are considering our options.”
Last week, PEDF filed a petition with the PA Supreme Court asking the Court to direct Commonwealth Court to obey the June 20 decision.
Under Pennsylvania’s constitution, the PEDF said public forest and park lands are part of a public trust owned by the people of Pennsylvania. The government must protect the natural resources of this public trust and cannot sell them to balance the budget, as it has done since 2009.
To date, more than $1.1 billion from the sale of public natural resources has been used to fill gaps in the state budget.
Click Here for a copy of the January 8 Commonwealth Court opinion.
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