Monday, October 03, 2016

Pa. Supreme Court strikes down several parts of 2012 law friendly to the oil and gas industry

"In a win for environmentalists and municipalities, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down a number of provisions to the state’s oil and gas law," Susan Phillips reports for NPR. "the court ruled that the 'doctor gag rule,' eminent domain for natural gas storage facilities, and the exclusion of private wells from notification of hazardous spills is unconstitutional. The industry no longer has a fast track to commonwealth court when it comes to challenging local zoning ordinances. And the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will have no role in examining local zoning decisions."

The 2012 law, known as Act 13, "was soon challenged by local towns wanting to maintain control over where fracking for natural gas could take place. In December, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in a plurality decision that portions of the law, including one that restricted local zoning rights, was unconstitutional," Phillips writes. "Much of the decision was based on the state’s environmental rights amendment. But the court also sent some challenges back to the lower courts, and those issues have been working their way back to the Supreme Court. By striking down the local zoning restrictions in 2013, issues over the role of the Public Utility Commission remained because the original law made the PUC the decider on whether local zoning rules violated Act 13. The PUC will have no such role."

The law "was also supposed to make things easier for doctors and patients seeking hazardous material information in case of exposure," Phillips reports. "The law requires drillers to list the chemicals used to produce oil or gas on a public website that doctors could access. But the website is not required to list all the chemicals used; it leaves off those considered to be trade secrets. These are ingredients that a company says it has to keep secret in order to maintain an edge over its competitors. Doctors could only get the trade secret chemical names and information if they signed a confidentiality agreement and agreed not to share that information. That caused an uproar in the healthcare community and one doctor filed suit." The ruling eliminates the agreements.

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