Pa. Ruling On Parks Drilling Weakens Enviro Amendment

January 8, 2015 – In The News
Law360

Phil Hinerman was quoted in the Law360 article, “Pa. Ruling On Parks Drilling Weakens Enviro Amendment.” Full text can be found in the January 8, 2015, issue, but a synopsis is below.

A Pennsylvania appeals court cleared the path for natural gas leases on public lands, thus increasing the state's general fund. Experts claim that the court’s decision undermines a landmark 2013 state Supreme Court ruling that elevated the status of the long-dormant Environmental Rights Amendment.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf seems initially unlikely to avail himself of this newly clarified power and open state parks and forests to new leases. Therefore, the most significant immediate impact of the decision may be on the use of the amendment as a weapon in environmental litigation. The 1971 addition to the constitution grants the state’s citizens rights to a clean and healthy environment and establishes the state as the trustee of these environmental resources for future generations.

“I’m intrigued by the possibility that the Supreme Court could decide that there doesn’t need to be any balancing done here because ‘It’s a given that fracking damages the environment,’” comments Phil Hinerman.

Hinerman also emphasizes that this was the conclusion Chief Justice Castille came to in the Robinson Township case.

Wolf, a Democrat, campaigned on a pledge to reinstate a moratorium on new leases. Any move to take advantage of the court’s ruling may be perceived as hypocritical.

Still, considering that the state faces a projected $2 billion budget deficit, it would be plausible for Wolf to demonstrate a change of heart. The state reportedly reaped roughly $163 million when it granted the first set of Marcellus Shale drilling leases on public land in 2008, before then-Gov. Ed Rendell imposed the moratorium.

“It may be something he looks at as a potential revenue generator,” Hinerman said.

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