Sunday, July 26, 2020

Report: Senators Baker, Yaw, Scarnati Request To Withdraw From Lawsuit Challenging Delaware River Basin Commission Gas Drilling Prohibition

Terrie Morgan-Beseck of the Citizens Voice reported July 26
Senators Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) and Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) have requested to withdraw from supporting the federal lawsuit by Wayne County landowners challenging the Delaware River Basin Commission’s natural gas drilling moratorium.
The Senators, who support natural gas drilling,  have been trying to intervene in the case to support the landowners since the 2016 lawsuit was filed saying the DRBC overstepped its authority.  

They said the General Assembly should decide whether or not there should be a moratorium because they said, ironically, they have fiduciary duties as trustees of Pennsylvania’s natural resources under Article I, Section 27 of the state Constitution-- the Environmental Rights Amendment-- as a result of a 2017 PA Supreme Court decision.

The Senators argued-- “...the Commonwealth owns substantial property within the Basin, all of which, pursuant to PEDF [2017 PA Supreme Court case], are part of the Trust. The moratorium, if permitted to remain intact, will totally and permanently divest the aforementioned property from the Trust.

The second petition for intervention was denied by federal court in May of 2019.

The Senators filed another petition to intervene in July 2019 and this is the one the Senators seek to withdraw from.

Background On Case/Moratorium

On July 3, 2018. the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal of the Wayne County landowners’ lawsuit on the 2010 Delaware River Watershed ban in March 2017 and remanded the case back to the U.S. District Court for additional hearings.

The Appeals Court did not take a position on the issue of fracking, but remanded the case on the narrow issue of the meaning of the word “project” in the case Wayne Land Mineral Group V. DRBC & Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

The Appeals Court said, “Because we conclude that the meaning of the word “project” as used in the [DRBC] compact is ambiguous, we will vacate the order of dismissal and remand the case for fact-finding on the intent of the compact’s drafters.”

In March of 2017 U.S. Federal District Court threw out the lawsuit by the group of Wayne County landowners who said the Delaware River Basin Commission lacks the authority to review and approve natural gas facilities on land owned by the group.

These same three Senators--  Joe Scarnati, Gene Yaw and Lisa Baker-- attempted to intervene on the side of the landowners in October 2016, however, their request was denied by Federal Court in January 2017.

DRBC is now considering a formal ban on fracking, but not drilling, in the Delaware River Watershed, but has no fixed timetable for bringing the ban to a vote.  It is still reviewing some 8,687 comments it received on the proposed ban.

Gov. Wolf has taken a position in support of the ban on fracking.

The 2010 moratorium remains in effect.

Bills Requiring Compensation

Senator Baker has introduced legislation again this session-- Senate Bill 305-- requiring the Delaware River Basin Commission to reimburse oil and gas rights holders for the value of their rights if DRBC adopts a moratorium on fracking in the watershed.

The bill was reported out of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in June and is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Similar legislation was introduced in the House-- House Bill 827 (Fritz-R-Wayne)-- which was reported out of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in March and remains on the House Calendar for action.

Click Here for more background on this legislation.


Senators Withdraw Request To Join Fracking Lawsuit Supporting Landowners

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-- AG Shapiro Charges National Fuel Gas Supply, Subcontractor With Environmental Crimes Related To Pipeline Construction In Washington County

-- Sen. Yaw Questions Impartiality Of DEP Consultant Behind Impact Studies Of Proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Program

[Posted: July 26, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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