This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.
The Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) put out the Open For Business sign today – a key milestone in this innovative effort to up the game on environmental protection in shale gas development. The question now is, will energy companies step up?
We hope so.
CSSD is an unprecedented collaboration – bringing together environmental groups, philanthropic organizations and energy companies to develop performance standards for reducing environmental impacts from shale gas production, and setting up a system so gas producers can have their operations audited and certified against those standards.
CSSD isn’t a substitute for effective regulation. Strong rules and robust oversight is a nonnegotiable bottom line. But we like the idea of upping the ante. Why not have a program that recognizes companies for going beyond the regulatory minimums and doing more to protect communities and the environment? These companies are tough competitors – so let’s make environmental performance part of what they compete on. Read More
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. Read More
A recent state court ruling in Pennsylvania was a huge win for local communities’ rights to make zoning decisions about natural gas development within their borders. As we’ve mentioned before, EDF fully supports the traditional rights of local communities to regulate this intensive industrial activity, much as they would any other commercial or industrial activity in their community.
Yesterday, EDF joined an amicus brief with Earthjustice and over a dozen other organizations to support a state court ruling, which recently overturned a state law curtailing local government regulation of natural gas development. The brief urges the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to uphold the lower court’s decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, which deemed a section of this year’s oil and gas omnibus Act 13 unconstitutional as to its preemption of local zoning control over oil and gas development. The state law would have stripped away local zoning laws, limited private property rights, and in the process, hampered towns’, cities’, municipalities’ and county governments’ ability to regulate shale gas development within their own, respective jurisdictions.
Act 13 of 2012 is a major legislative package that reforms Pennsylvania’s oil and gas laws to reflect the new realities of the shale gas boom in the Marcellus formation underlying much of the state. State agencies are conducting substantial rulemaking activities to implement sections of the law on topics including well site development, air quality, pipelines and wastewater management. EDF looks forward to working with state officials to ensure that these rules are fully protective of communities and the environment.
However, parts of Act 13 went in the wrong direction. In particular, section 3304 obligated all local zoning ordinances to conform to a list of requirements related to the siting and permitting of oil and gas development activities and infrastructure – altering pre-existing zoning arrangements where necessary. Several Pennsylvania townships and non-profits filed suit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that this preemption of local zoning control violated several aspects of Pennsylvania’s constitution. Read More
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