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Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation v. Pennsylvania

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20006
Nos. 228 M.D. 2012, (Pa. Commw. Ct., 01/07/2015)

A Pennsylvania court held that the state legislature acted within its constitutional authority when it gave itself the power to transfer money out of a special account, funded by oil and gas revenue from state lands, that had been set aside for conservation projects; but that the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has the authority for making the decision to lease. An environmental group argued that the power to determine the appropriate use of the monies should have remained with DCNR as the agency with the scientific and technical expertise to understand how to best use those resources to enhance and protect the commonwealth's parks and forests. But there is no constitutional mandate that monies derived from the leasing of state lands for oil and natural gas development be reinvested into the conservation and maintenance of the commonwealth’s public natural resources. However, the Conservation and Natural Resources Act does grant DCNR the exclusive statutory authority to determine whether to sell or lease the commonwealth’s natural resources for oil and natural gas extraction. Although officials within DCNR serve at the pleasure of the governor, they ultimately serve the people of Pennsylvania, who are entitled to expect that those officials will "support, obey and defend" the environmental rights set forth in the state constitution, "even when faced with overwhelming political pressure . . . to act against their better judgment."