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Robinson Township v. Commonwealth

ELR Citation: 43 ELR 20276
Nos. 63 MAP 2012, (Pa., 12/19/2013)

Pennsylvania's highest court struck down Act 13, which pertains to oil and gas operations in the Marcellus Shale, as unconstitutional. The Act repealed Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act and replaced it with a codified statutory framework regulating oil and gas operations in the Commonwealth. Among other provisions, Act 13 preempts local regulation, including environmental laws and zoning code provisions, except in limited instances regarding setbacks in certain areas involving oil and gas operations. Three members of the six-member court struck down the provisions under the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, holding that several provisions of the Act are incompatible with the Commonwealth’s duty as trustee of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources. A regulatory regime that permits industrial uses as a matter of right in every type of pre-existing zoning district is incapable of conserving or maintaining the constitutionally-protected aspects of the public environment and of a certain quality of life. Moreover, some properties and communities will carry much heavier environmental and habitability burdens than others as a result of the Act's requirement that local governments permit industrial uses in all zoning districts. And while the Act provides for mandatory setbacks for the gas industry, the statute does not provide any ascertainable standards by which public natural resources are to be protected if an oil and gas operator seeks a waiver. Because Act 13 has failed to properly discharge the Commonwealth’s duties as trustee of the public natural resources, they ruled that Act 13 is unconstitutional. A fourth judge concurred in the judgment based on substantive due process. Two judges dissented. The lower court's decision was therefore affirmed in part, albeit on different grounds, and reversed in part.