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Monday, March 26, 2012

Where Is The Anti-Marcellus Shale SuperPac?

[Peters] Township Considers Challenge To [PA] State's Shale Regulation

by Janice Crompton, 3-15-12, from Pittsburgh Post Gazette


Peters council members on Monday began discussing strategic options to challenge the state's new law that would strip municipalities of most authority in regulating where Marcellus Shale gas wells could be located. Included in the discussion was reviewing a preliminary draft of a lawsuit expected to be filed by local municipalities in about two weeks.
Township Solicitor William Johnson updated council members on discussions he's had with other local solicitors about challenging the new law, Act 13, which also establishes impact fees for gas well drilling.
Although the lawsuit is still in the conceptual stage, Mr. Johnson said a group of municipalities, including perhaps Peters, Cecil, Robinson and South Fayette, will likely band together to challenge the law on several constitutional fronts.
Mr. Johnson said Act 13 may be unconstitutional because it gives the state Legislature police powers; it was enacted to benefit one specific industry; it violates the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches of government; and it usurps the right of local governments to regulate the location of facilities that could seriously impact the environment.
Under the law, municipalities also would have little authority over the locations of gas well infrastructure, such as pipelines and compressor stations.
Signed by Gov. Tom Corbett Feb. 13, the new law is set to take effect April 13 and will require municipalities with conflicting ordinances, such as Peters, Cecil, South Fayette and Robinson, to amend their drilling regulations to reflect new state laws within 120 days.
If municipalities don't make the necessary adjustments, they could lose out on impact fees and be forced to pay legal fees for drilling companies.
The state Public Utility Commission has been charged with overseeing local regulations to ensure that they comply with new state laws.
While solicitors are ironing out the legal response, Mr. Johnson advised council members in Peters and elsewhere to begin considering which parts of their shale ordinance would need to be adjusted.
Modifications to the ordinances could be time consuming and probably will require public hearings and legal advertising, he said.
In the meantime, council members are urging other local governments to pass resolutions in support of the legal challenge.
"We need to get as many municipalities involved as possible because there is strength in numbers," Councilman Robert Atkison said. "We're being stabbed in the back by Harrisburg."
Councilman David Ball said he's spoken to about 15 municipalities across the state, including in the eastern half, where methane wells also would be affected by the new law.
"It's amazing that townships didn't understand the magnitude of this onerous legislation," he said.
An ordinance passed in August in Peters limits gas wells to sites with at least 40 acres. It is chief among the regulations expected to change there.
According to his calculations, Mr. Ball said the new law would allow Marcellus Shale drill pads to be installed throughout half of the township.
"We have no way of stopping it," he said.
Mr. Johnson said he and other solicitors are also preparing a litigation budget, which he said would not be "onerous," though officials should expect drilling companies to intervene in the lawsuit, he said.
The lawsuit would be filed in Commonwealth Court, Mr. Johnson said, and would first seek a temporary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect. Afterward, he said, municipalities could seek a permanent injunction.
Council members in Peters are expected to vote to approve the lawsuit at the next township meeting, set for March 26.
"We have no choice," council President Robert Lewis said.
Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.

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