From staff reports
HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Commonwealth Court on Oct. 26 ordered the Public Utility Commission to cease and desist in reviewing township gas drilling ordinances and withholding drilling impact fee payments to Cecil, Mount Pleasant, Robinson and South Fayette townships.
In Senior Judge Keith B. Quigley's one-page opinion, he noted the court had permanently enjoined the state from enforcing a section of Act 13 and any remaining provisions enforcing it on July 26. Quigley noted, under this order, the PUC no longer has authority to review ordinances at the request of "aggrieved parties."
PUC Press Secretary Jennifer Kocher said Monday, "The court's order, its implications and any further appeal by the PUC are currently under review."
When a $204 million statewide disbursement of impact fees was announced on Oct. 15, PUC documents noted money earmarked for Cecil, Mount Pleasant, Robinson and South Fayette townships was being "withheld pending resolution of the Requests for Review of existing ordinances."
Cecil Township is scheduled to receive $246,098; Mount Pleasant, $500,000; Robinson, $225,737.93; and South Fayette, $2,731.39. The impact fees are for road and infrastructure improvements, police and fire protection and to mitigate the impact of drilling in communities.
"This is another win in what's becoming a long string of victories for the side of local communities as related to Act 13," said 46th District Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil Township. "Instead of fighting and attacking local governments at every turn, supposed industry leaders like Range Resources and the Corbett administration should attempt to work with us. Or, at the very least, they should realize that our local towns won't back down and won't tolerate the intimidation designed to divide and conquer our communities."
Act 13 would have allowed drilling, waste pits and pipelines in every zoning district, including residential districts, provided a specified buffer was observed. A handful of townships, including Cecil, Mount Pleasant, Robinson and South Fayette, challenged the legality of the Act 13 regulations, and, in July, an appellate court panel ruled in their favor, voting 4-3 to strike the provision, saying the change would have allowed the drilling industry to sidestep zoning rules under which other home and business owners had made investment decisions, thereby putting those investments at risk.
Gov. Tom Corbett filed an appeal on July 27, suggesting the Commonwealth could lose drilling rigs if its rules were perceived to be less industry-friendly than other states.
The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Act 13 challenge on Oct. 17 in Pittsburgh. A final ruling is expected in the coming months.