HARRISBURG – Lawyers for two state agencies Thursday asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reconsider its decision last month that struck down key components of a state law that regulates natural gas drilling.
The Public Utility Commission and Department of Environmental Protection filed a motion with the justices that argued that parts of the court’s main opinion would benefit from scientific and scholarly evidence and that the court also should take another look at how much of the law will remain in force.
Lawyers for those who successfully sued to challenge Act 13 said they will oppose the Corbett administration’s request.
The justices threw out significant portions of the law, which instituted impact fees and limited the power of local governments to determine where the gas industry can operate.
The filing by the two state agencies said the court record did not contain sufficient facts regarding a balancing test to determine if the 2012 law violates Section 27 of the state constitution’s declaration of rights, a provision referred to as the Environmental Rights Amendment.
“This court issued its own factual findings on appeal, where the trial court made no findings of fact and only one side had presented a modicum of evidence,” the agencies argued. “Fundamental fairness to a co-equal branch of government, as well as adherence to this court’s precedent and established procedure, mandates that the commission and the department be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present evidence.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said reconsideration requests are a long-shot under any circumstances.
“It really strikes me as nothing more than sour grapes,” said attorney Jordan Yeager, noting the justices considered the case for more than a year after it was argued before them. “Clearly they gave it full consideration.”
Another plaintiffs’ lawyer, Jonathan Kamin, said the new filing demonstrated that the agencies have “an inappropriate stake” in the gas drilling law.
“When would you ever see a body charged with protecting the environment … ask for less standards?” Kamin said.
The administration’s lawyers argued to the high court that a three-justice opinion written by Chief Justice Ronald Castille made a number of “sweeping factual conclusions” that had no basis in the court records.
Among them, they said, are that the drilling will hurt the environment, that the law will have an immediate and disruptive effect on how people live and that it “alters existing expectations of communities and property owners.”Observer-Reporter | Pa. lawyers ask court to rethink gas drilling case