Thursday, July 17, 2014

Court Dismisses Challenges To Act 13, Enjoins PUC Review Of Local Ordinances

Commonwealth Court Thursday dismissed the remaining challenges to the Act 13 drilling law remanded for reconsideration by the PA Supreme Court, but did enjoin the Public Utility Commission from reviewing local ordinances regulating drilling consistent with the higher Court’s ruling in December.
Issues considered by the Court include--
-- Drinking Water Supply Notification: Whether notice to only public drinking water systems following a spill resulting from drilling operations, but not private water suppliers, is unconstitutional because it is a special law and/or violates equal protection.
The Court ruled there are valid reasons for treating notification of public drinking water supplies and private well owners differently based on the fact DEP does not regulate private wells, may have no knowledge of the location of all the wells and that public drinking water systems can not be easily replaced if affected by a spill.
The Court said, however, that does not mean DEP or the drilling company should not use its best efforts to notify affected well owners.
-- Health Professional Medical Disclosure: Whether those provisions of Act 13 prohibiting health professionals from disclosing to others the identity and amount of hydraulic fracturing additives received from the drilling companies impedes their ability to diagnose and treat patients, is unconstitutional because it is a special law and/or violates equal protection and violates the single subject rule.
The Court ruled Act 13 does not unreasonably restrict the sharing of information with health professionals
-- Eminent Domain: Whether conferring the power of eminent domain upon a corporation empowered to transport, sell, or store natural gas in this Commonwealth to take the property of others for its operations is unconstitutional because it permits a taking for private purpose.
The Court dismissed this allegation saying the existing statutory language only confers the right of eminent domain on a public utility.
-- Local Ordinance Review: Whether 58 Pa. C.S. §§3302 and 3305 to 3309, which authorizes the Public Utility Commission to review local zoning ordinances and to withhold impact fees from local governments, are severable from the enjoined provisions of Act 13.
The Court found the provisions are not severable and and enjoined the Public Utility Commission from reviewing local ordinances that regulate drilling operations.
A copy of the Court decision is available online.

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