Tuesday, May 8, 2018

PA Environmental Defense Foundation Files Motion To Protect $383 Million In State Forest Drilling Payments

On May 4, the PA Environmental Defense Foundation filed a motion with Commonwealth Court asking that $383 million in bonus and lease payments from natural gas drilling on state forest land be protected and spent only in accordance with the public trustee requirements of the PA Supreme Court’s June 20 decision.
The motion seeks to clarify that bonus and lease payments from the sale of public natural resources are part of the public trust protected by the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment, rather than simple payments for the use of land like renting a cabin or picnic area in a state park.
This follows an action filed by PEDF in December asking Commonwealth Court to declare unconstitutional the 2017 amendments to the Fiscal Code transferring money out of DCNR’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to balance the FY 2017-18 budget.
The language contained in the 2017 Fiscal Code amendments-- House Bill 674 (page 23)-- eliminated the current law on how the Oil and Gas Lease Fund monies could be used.  The new law simply says rents and royalties from oil and gas leases were to be used as appropriated by the General Assembly.
And then in a nod to the June 20 PA Supreme Court decision, language was added to say-- “the General Assembly shall consider the Commonwealth’s trustee duties under Section 27 of Article I of the Constitution of Pennsylvania.”
This latest action is part of a series of PEDF actions over the last several months to urge the courts to determine which funds are to be held in the public trust as a result of the June decision and what PEDF sees as a failure by Commonwealth Court to follow the direction of the PA Supreme Court in the June 20 order.
The PA Supreme Court ruled last June that amendments to the 2009 and 2010 Fiscal Code by the General Assembly using gas drilling revenues to balance the state budget were unconstitutional because there was no evidence the General Assembly considered the use of the funds in its role as a public trustee for natural resources under the Environmental Rights Amendment.
The Court remanded the case to Commonwealth Court to determine which funds were specifically used without considering the state’s role as public trustee.
In January, Commonwealth Court tried to narrow the focus of the case only to bonus and lease payments to which the PEDF objected and filed the request for Extraordinary Jurisdiction with the PA Supreme Court.
To date, more than $1.1 billion from the sale of public natural resources has been used to fill gaps in the state budget, and were not appropriated without considering the state’s role as public trustee, according to PEDF.
Click Here for a copy of the latest motion.
For more information, visit the PA Environmental Defense Foundation website.
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