The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a portion of Act 13, the controversial 2012 update of the state’s oil and gas law, finding that the law violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court ruled that the law can’t force municipalities to zone to allow gas development activities that they determine would be harmful. The ruling also dealt with complaints that the law prevented doctors from following their duties to report medical findings.
Article I Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (the environmental rights clause) reads as follows:
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
The Court’s majority opinion states that:
To describe this case simply as a zoning or agency discretion matter would not capture the essence of the parties’ fundamental dispute regarding Act 13. Rather, at its core, this dispute centers upon an asserted vindication of citizens’ rights to quality of life on their properties and in their hometowns, insofar as Act 13 threatens degradation of air and water, and of natural, scenic, and esthetic values of the environment, with attendant effects on health, safety, and the owners’ continued enjoyment of their private property. The citizens’ interests, as a result, implicate primarily rights and obligations under the Environmental Rights Amendment.