Yesterday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stood up for the traditional powers of local governments to decide where — and, to a significant extent, how — oil and gas development happens in their communities. In a 4-2 vote, the Court overturned Act 13, a 2012 state law that had stripped localities of some of their power to decide where the industry can operate. For example, Act 13 required that drilling, waste pits and pipelines be allowed in every zoning district, including residential districts, as long as certain buffers are observed.
That provision and others were challenged in a lawsuit filed by seven Pennsylvania localities. The suit was supported by an amicus brief written by lawyers at Earthjustice and signed by EDF and other environmental groups. We congratulate the local governments on this important victory and thank Earthjustice for its leadership.
This is a big win for local governments because it preserves their right to make sensible land use decisions that can impact quality of life. Home to the gas-rich Marcellus shale basin, Pennsylvania has emerged as the nation’s fastest-growing producer of natural gas and now ranks third in the nation, behind only Texas and Louisiana. Pennsylvania accounts for more than 10 percent of the nation’s total natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Alongside this spike in production, however, serious concerns about air and water quality in the region have also emerged.
EDF believes that the environmental and public health risks associated with natural gas development, distribution and delivery must be addressed. Nobody should have to accept polluted water or dirty air for the sake of cheap energy. That’s why we are working in key states around the country, such as Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado, to get strong regulations in place to make sure gas development is done right. It’s also why EDF and our allies stood up for the traditional rights of localities during the Act 13 court challenge that ended in victory yesterday.
We’re glad to see the Pennsylvania Supreme Court take this important step to restore the balance between state and local interests. EDF believes that states and local authorities can best regulate oil and gas activities when we all work together, collaborating on the sequencing, placement and extent of this heavy industrial activity in a way that respects communities and protects the environment.