Thursday, October 30, 2014

Governor’s Order, Fiscal Code Allowing More Drilling On DCNR Land Challenged Again

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network Thursday filed a petition in Commonwealth Court against Gov. Corbett and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources challenging Executive Order 2014-03 issued May 23, 2014 titled Leasing of State Forests and State Park Land for Oil and Gas Development.
According to the Petition for Review:  “Petitioners challenge the constitutionality of the Commonwealth’s decision to attempt to balance the state budget by leasing state park and forest land for industrial shale gas development.”
“The Governor’s Executive order will invite, inspire and spawn a wave of industrial development both in our state parks and forests and right up to its edges – turning once natural areas and beautiful communities into industrial zones, irreparably harming the water, air, recreation and the natural resources of both present and future generations,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and a Petitioner on the case.
“The Governor has a constitutional obligation to protect Pennsylvania’s shared natural resources from harm.   By authorizing increased industrial gas drilling of our state parks and forests, Gov. Corbett has violated his constitutional duties.  This legal action seeks to hold him accountable and to protect our precious public assets from further harm.”
As issued, the Governor’s Executive Order and Section 1601.1-E. of the Fiscal Code allow ongoing and increased shale gas development on lands already leased in state park lands and forests as well as allowing drilling beneath the state owned lands to extract gas from shale, including by using horizontal drilling and fracking technology.
The Fiscal Code bill-- House Bill 278 (Baker-R-Tioga)-- passed in July to implement the state budget contained a provision requiring DCNR to do additional oil and gas leasing and transfer $95 million from the Oil and Gas Fund to the General Fund to balance the budget
           Among the legal claims presented is that the Executive Order infringes on the people’s rights under Article I, Section 27 to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment and breaches the fiduciary duties of the Governor and the Commonwealth to act as the trustee of the people’s public natural resources, including state parks and forests, and the myriad of public natural resources in them.
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Delaware Riverkeeper were integral to obtaining the recent Supreme Court ruling in Robinson Township, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et al. v. Commonwealth, which reinvigorated Article I, Section 27 and reaffirmed that all citizens have a right to a clean and healthy environment that the Commonwealth and local governments may not unreasonably infringe upon.
The legal action seeks a declaratory judgment from the Commonwealth Court that Executive Order 2014-03 and Section 1601.1-E. of the Fiscal Code violate Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and that further leasing of state forest and park land (including subsurface rights) violates Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  
The legal action also asks that the Court issue an injunction prohibiting further leasing of state forest and park land (including subsurface rights) and an injunction prohibiting further permitting of wells using the technologies of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling – whether “unconventional” or “conventional” – on, in, under, or through state forests and parks.
Additional drilling on DCNR lands is already being delayed as a result of a Commonwealth Court order in July involving another challenge in PEDF v. Commonwealth to the use of drilling royalties and transfers from the DCNR Oil and Gas Fund.
Commonwealth Court heard arguments in that case earlier in October, but gave no indication when they would rule on the issue.
The petition for review is available online.

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