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Commonwealth Court Issues Decision On Remaining Issues In Act 13 Case

In its far-reaching decision in Robinson v. Commonwealth, which was issued on December 19, 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated several critical provisions of Act 13.  Additionally, the Supreme Court remanded to the Commonwealth Court to address whether the remaining sections of Act 13 can be severed and whether several sections of Act 13 were unconstitutional.  Yesterday, the Commonwealth Court reached its decision on the remanded issues.

Regarding severability, the Commonwealth Court held that the last sentence of Section 3302 and all of Sections 3305 to 3309 were not severable and, therefore, invalid.  The cumulative effect of this invalidation of all substantive portions of Chapter 33 of Act 13 is that local zoning matters relating to oil and gas will “now be determined by the procedures set forth under the [Municipalities Planning Code] and challenges to local ordinances that carry out a municipality’s constitutional environmental obligations,” and that the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission no longer has the authority to review local ordinances for compliance with Act 13 and withhold well fees where defects were found.

Regarding the other issues, the Commonwealth Court dismissed claims that providing notice only to public drinking water systems following a spill from drilling operations and that prohibiting health professionals from disclosing the identity and amount of hydraulic fracturing additives were unconstitutional special legislation.  The Court also dismissed the claim that Act 13 conferred the power of eminent domain to illegally permit taking private property for use by a private enterprise.

Review our recent Administrative Watch for more in-depth analysis.

For more background, review our blog post on the Supreme Court Decision.