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Friday, March 30, 2012 at 3:31PM
Seven municipalities in three counties are suing the state and several state agencies in the first challenge to new oil and gas laws, according to a filing this afternoon in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg.
South Fayette, Peters, Cecil, Mt. Pleasant and Robinson, Washington County, are joined by two municipalities from Bucks County in challenging the state's new restrictions on local land-use laws for drilling.
The municipalities — mostly growing suburbs — want to retain their rights to say where drilling can happen in their towns and under what circumstances, powers affirmed by the courts before state lawmakers voted in February to restrict those powers.
State lawmakers do not have the right to supersede the state's Municipal Planning Code, the state constitution's tool for authorizing local property rules, they claim in the suit. Several legal experts have been skeptical of that claim and the chance the suit has at overturning the new laws.
"Act 13's broad brush approach and failure to account for the health, safety, and welfare of citizens, the value of properties, adequate open spaces, traffic, congestion, the preservation of the character of residential neighborhoods and beneficial and compatible land uses, results in an improper use of the Commonwealth's police power and is therefore unconstitutional," the lawsuit states.
"By crafting a single set of statewide zoning rules applicable to oil and gas drilling throughout the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania General Assembly provided much sought-after predictability for the oil and gas development industry.
"However, it did so at the expense of the predictability afforded to Petitioners and the citizens of Pennsylvania whose health, safety and welfare, community development objectives, zoning districts and concerns regarding property values were pushed aside to elevate the interests of out-of-state oil and gas companies and the owners of hydrocarbons underlying each property, who are frequently not the surface owners," according to the lawsuit, a copy of which the Tribune-Review obtained from lawyers in the case.