In this follow up case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013) in which the Court struck down several provisions of Act 13, the State’s oil and gas law, that provided uniform statewide regulation of land uses associated with oil and gas operations, the Court dealt another blow to Act 13 by finding additional provisions either unconstitutional or not severable. The Court struck down additional sections related to allowing gas companies to employ eminent domain, exempting private water sources from being notified following spills, preventing doctors from disclosing or using information about patients’ chemical exposures, and allowing requests for state review of local ordinances.
Act 13 was passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2012. It established a variety of regulations related to the oil and gas industry. These included an impact fee for unconventional gas well producers, statewide zoning regulations for oil and gas operations that preempted local zoning ordinances, a system for requesting a review of local regulations for compliance with statewide standards; financial penalties for ordinances found to contravene statewide standards, procedures for private gas operators to employ eminent domain, exemptions from notification requirements after spills, and restrictions on the disclosure of information by doctors related to a patient’s chemical exposures.
Several municipalities successfully challenged the provisions related to statewide zoning regulations, arguing that Act 13 prevented them from fulfilling their constitutional and statutory obligations to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed, striking down these restrictions. The Court then remanded the matter to the Commonwealth Court to determine whether any of the remaining provisions were severable.
Following disposition by the Commonwealth Court, the matter again came before the Supreme Court. The Court determined that the provisions permitting DEP review and requiring statewide uniform zoning regulations were inextricably linked, could not be severed, and were thus similarly void. As for the restrictions on the disclosure of chemical exposures by doctors and the notification exemption, the Court concluded these provisions constituted “special legislation” and were thus unconstitutional and void. Finally, the Court determined that the provision allowing oil and gas companies to “appropriate an interest in real property located in a storage reservoir,” was unconstitutional because it conferred eminent domain power upon a private corporation, in violation of the Pennsylvania and U.S. Constitutions.
Click here to read: Robinson Twp. v. PUC, 104 & 105 MAP 2014 (Pa. Sep. 28, 2016).