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Bear in the Woods: Environmental Law Blog

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Act 13 case: Court sets aggressive schedule, impact fee likely to remain intact

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued an order last week in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. 284 M.D. 2012 (Pa. Commw.), setting briefing and hearing schedules. As we’ve discussed previously on this blog, Robinson Township has been remanded by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings after the Supreme Court overturned parts of the Commonwealth Court’s original ruling and upheld other portions that invalidated certain provisions of Act 13.

The Commonwealth Court’s order imposes a fairly aggressive schedule on the parties. The Court directs parties to file affirmative briefs supporting their various requests for pre-trial relief by April 1, 2014. Each side will then have the opportunity to respond in writing to the other side’s submission by April 21, 2014. The parties will then appear in court to present their arguments before an “en banc” panel of seven Commonwealth Court judges on May 14, 2014. 210 Pa. Code 3103(a)(2).

During this round of briefing, the parties will address: • Whether the portion of Act 13 regarding which parties are entitled to receive notice of a spill constitutes a “special law” or a violation of equal protection. • Whether portions of Act 13 related to the jurisdiction of the Public Utility Commission must be struck down because they are incapable of standing on their own in the absence of other provisions that have been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The parties will also resubmit briefing that they previously submitted to the Court about: • Whether Act 13 effects a ‘taking’ by allowing well operators to take private property for use in its operations. • Whether the ‘gag rule’ covering the ability of health care practitioners to communicate about the chemical composition of fluids used in fracking is constitutional.

The media has reported that the parties and Court have agreed to limit their consideration of severability to several discrete provisions of the law. That suggests that other sections of Act 13 (including the impact fee) not directly implicated in the Robinson Twp. case are likely to remain intact.

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

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