When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last week that Act 13 – the law signed by Corbett in February 2012 that gave the state great authority over the gas and energy deposits under certain residents’ homes – was unconstitutional, it dealt a huge blow to the Corbett’s Marcellus Shale plan while giving state Democrats a huge victory over a governor who is facing a stout gubernatorial challenge as Corbett is also running for reelection.
Act 13 would also allow the state to undertake gas exploitations and extractions in areas that weren’t properly zoned for such.
In fact, Democrat Katie McGinty - who is in a crowded primary with fellow Democrats John Hanger, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz and Tom Wolf – were among the first to hail the court’s decision, and viewed Act 13 as a blunder by Corbett.
“This is the right decisions for communities and for an industry that says it’s committed to working with residents to develop this resource safely and responsibly,” McGinty said. “Just like they say about good fences, reasonable zone restrictions make for good neighbors. Shale gas development is an industrial activity, and while it can be done safely and responsibly, still some places are not well suited for industrial development.”
For his Part, Corbett released statement through which the governor voiced disappointment with the court’s decision while again defending Act 13.
“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has invalidated some key provisions of Act 13. We are continuing to review today's decision. Act 13 was a bipartisan accomplishment between the Administration and members of the General Assembly, which raised the bar on environmental protection standards while respecting the rights of local governments,” Corbett said. “The Act was crafted with strong input and support from Pennsylvania's local government organizations. We must not allow today’s ruling to send a negative message to job creators and families who depend on the energy industry.
“I will continue to work with members of the House and Senate to ensure that Pennsylvania’s thriving energy industry grows and provides jobs while balancing the interests of local communities.”
State Rep. Jesse White (D-Allegheny), a member of the Labor and Industry Committee, also hailed the decision, noting that the court’s decision will go a long way toward protecting the environment, specifically the state’s waterways and air quality.
“The ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is a historic victory at a critical moment for the people of Pennsylvania,” White said via a lengthy statement released by his office. “By affirming every Pennsylvanian’s constitutional right to clean air and clean water and upholding the right of local communities to govern themselves when it comes to certain aspects of natural gas development, a clear message has been sent to Governor Corbett and his friends in the energy industry: our fundamental constitutional principles cannot be auctioned off to wealthy special interests in exchange for campaign dollars. On this day, David has defeated Goliath.
“Despite the $1.3 million spent by the energy industry to write and pass its own law, and a governor and legislature all too eager to play along, each court that heard this case recognized the massive problems created by the zooming loopholes in Act 13,” White continued. “Eliminating local ordinances and replacing them with a ridiculously low standard of protections, like allowing drilling in residential neighborhoods and next to schools and churches, is not constitutional, not an environmental best practice, nor is it the proper way to do business in Pennsylvania…the Supreme Court has made clear that anything less than true best practices when it comes to natural gas drilling moving forward will be unacceptable.”
Pennsylvania House Democrat Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny), said House Democrats introduced a series of bills – commonly referred to as the “Marcellus Compact” - in the 2011-12 legislative session. The Marcellus Compact was designed to strengthen and fix Pennsylvania’s drilling laws. Dermody said the ruling allows everyone to take a moment to further analyze the impact of gas exploitation in Pennsylvania.
“The ruling gives us an opportunity to go back to the drawing board an do this right. We want to work with industry and environmental stakeholders to craft a law that will constitutionally protect the environment and also include a fair and reasonable severance tax on the oil and gas industry,” Dermody said. “The ruling reaffirms what House Democrats have been saying for two years, that Governor Corbett’s sham of a Marcellus Shale drilling law wrongly and constitutionally protect the environment and also include a fair and reasonable severance tax on the oil and gas industry.”