By Zack Needles
Of the Legal Staff
About two weeks after the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and Department of Environmental Protection asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling striking down as unconstitutional key provisions of the state’s Oil and Gas Act amendments, the plaintiffs have filed an answer arguing that the agencies presented “no compelling reason for reargument.”
The high court’s ruling, issued Dec. 19, 2013, overturned Section 3304 of 58 Pa. C.S., known as Act 13 of 2012, and affirmed the decision of a deeply split en banc Commonwealth Court panel. The lower court found last July that requiring municipalities to bring their zoning ordinances into compliance with Act 13 means forcing local governments to violate substantive due process by allowing incompatible uses in their districts.
In a plurality opinion, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said the state "fails to respond in any meaningful way to the citizens' claims that Act 13 falls far short of providing adequate protection to existing environmental and habitability features of neighborhoods in which they have established homes, schools, businesses that produce or sell food and provide health care, and other ventures, which ensure a quality of human life."
While the state argued in its application for reconsideration that the ruling “runs roughshod” over the principle that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not sit as a trier of fact, the plaintiffs said in their answer that the court’s ruling was based on a “purely legal determination on Act 13’s constitutionality.”
“Neither the Commonwealth Court nor this court required factual findings to conclude that statutory language allowing heavy industrial activity next to homes, schools and sensitive natural resources without consideration of local conditions and preventing municipalities from ameliorating adverse impacts violated the people’s inherent rights as guaranteed under the Pennsylvania Constitution,” the plaintiffs argued.