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Bear in the Woods: Environmental Law Blog

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It ain't over till it's over: Recent development in the Act 13 Case.

A few weeks ago, we discussed a filing by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Public Utility Commission (PUC) in the Act 13 case, Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Attorneys for the DEP and the PUC asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reconsider its December 19, 2013 decision striking down portions of Act 13, because they claimed that the Court made improper findings of fact and erroneously determined certain provisions were not severable from the remainder of the statute.

The individuals and municipalities who challenged Act 13 (referred to in the case as "Citizens") filed a response to the state agencies' application, asserting that the agencies failed to present the required compelling reasons in support of their request for the extraordinary remedy of reconsideration. In their brief, the Citizens make several arguments. First, disputing the agencies' claim that the Supreme Court improperly made factual findings, the Citizens argue that the Court properly held various provisions of Act 13 unconstitutional as a matter of law without making any determinations of fact. On this score, the Citizens highlight the agencies’ own prior contentions that this case could be decided as a matter of law, and argue that the Court should not allow the agencies to change their position at this late stage. The Citizens further argue that even if factual findings were necessary to support the Court’s decision, the record was well developed and fully supported any such findings.

On the issue of severability, the Citizens argue that the Court was right to enjoin the implementation of subsections (c) and (e) of Act 13's Section 3215, because they are too closely related to the subsection the Court declared unconstitutional – subsection (b) – to operate on their own. The Citizens point out that halting the implementation of those provisions does not remove DEP’s authority to ensure that the environment is adequately protected.

Finally, the Plaintiffs suggest that by creating uncertainty about the outcome of the case while requiring additional court proceedings, granting reconsideration would conflict with the Court’s interests in the finality of its decisions and the conservation of judicial resources.

No further submissions are allowed, so the ruling on the agencies' application for reconsideration could come at any time. There is no firm deadline for the Court’s decision.

Mike Helbing is a staff attorney for PennFuture, based in Philadelphia.

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