Groups speak out before Legislator Forum on Act 13 – the gas drilling takeover law — in Bucks County, PA

Organizations spoke out this evening before a forum being put on by Legislators who voted in favor of HB1950 – now Pennsylvania’s Act 13 of 2012. Act 13 preempts municipalities’ right to zone natural gas and oil operations and guts municipal controls, gags physicians who treat people exposed to chemicals used by the industry, and removes environmental safeguards. The groups held a press conference prior to the forum denouncing Act 13 as unconstitutional and a disaster for Pennsylvania communities.

The press conference came on the heels of a victory in Commonwealth Court on April 11; the Court issued a preliminary injunction against a portion of Act 13, ensuring that zoning ordinances dealing with oil and gas operations remain in effect and are not immediately preempted by Act 13, which was a looming deadline in the Act. Organizations attending the press event called for the Act to be overturned by the Courts.

“By depriving municipal elected officials of their ability to use zoning and community decisionmaking to protect precious natural resources; schools, hospitals and homes from damaging industrial practices, and to ensure the rights of everyone are honored and protected, this law has undermined the very fabric of municipal and constitutional law in the Commonwealth, threatening our water, air, kids and communities,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

Nockamixon Township Supervisor Nancy Alessi said, “Act 13 takes away local land use in a manner that is unprecedented in Pennsylvania history. Until now no land use was required in every zoning district by the state – not a church, not a school, not a home. Every municipality had the authority to control its own planning and growth and to take into account each community’s unique features. Now the state has mandated that every community from Bucks County to Bradford County be the same – with gas and oil drilling legally permitted everywhere. I am appalled at the audacity of our legislators in voting for this law, which is an affront to every town, township and landowner in Pennsylvania.”

“On the heels of the state courts agreeing that a ‘time out’ is needed for the far-reaching override of local control for our communities, these legislators should take the high ground and acknowledge their error in voting in support for this law—and pledge to do whatever it takes to repeal it and preserve the sanctity of local control in this Commonwealth,” said David Masur, PennEnvironment Director.

“There are no legal contortions in Act 13. It is not a complicated law. Anyone who wants to understand how Act 13 undermines local control of land use should just read Section 3304, “Uniformity of Local Ordinances.” It’s about a page or two. Act 13 makes five-acre natural gas well-pads – the kind that are known to blow up and leak benzene – a permitted use in every part of every town. The community has no say. It’s really that simple. Read the bill,” stated Brady Russell, Eastern PA Director, Clean Water Action.

“We are still shocked that Senator McIlhinney reversed his position and voted to remove local government’s legal authority to prevent gas drilling and associated activities in residential zones throughout Pennsylvania,” said Dave Meiser, Sierra Club Bucks County Conservation Committee Chair. “In a letter he sent to his Senate leadership, he said he opposed elimination of local zoning authority. In a message he sent to me as a constituent, Senator McIlhinney said he opposed drilling in residential areas. I don’t see how we can trust Sen. McIlhinney, when he tells us one thing and then votes the opposite. Whose side is he on, the drillers or the people?” continued Meiser.

“All Pennsylvania legislators who approved this law sold us down the river and must be held accountable. They ushered in a new PA Dark Ages by approving a gag order on physicians, stripping municipalities of their ability to protect residents, and allowing corporations to place poisonous industrial operations within hundreds of feet of our waterways, the veins and arteries which keep us alive,” said Iris Marie Bloom, Protecting Our Waters.

“It would have been bad enough to trade a puny impact fee for local control over drilling. What a lot of people, especially those in Southeastern PA, don’t understand, though, is that the more imminent threat to their communities is not drilling, but something that falls within the much broader category of drilling operations and those operations are not eligible for the impact fee. Under Act 13, the natural gas industry may decide to run a pipeline near an elementary school, down Main Street or down your street and there’s nothing your local officials can do to stop it. Act 13 is an abomination. It’s got to go,” said Karen Feridun, Founder, Berks Gas Truth.

“Pocono Environmental Coalition and Wildlife Society rebukes the ‘gag order’ in Act 13 which requires nondisclosure of Physicians treating patients exposed to chemicals used in gas extraction, and also jeopardizes all citizens exposed to the same toxic environmental conditions,” said Elizabeth Grieco, founder/President, Pocono Environmental Coalition & Wildlife Society, Inc.

“Act 13 is, quite simply, a complete takeover of all Pennsylvania municipalities by gas drilling interests. The fact that Act 13 deprives all municipalities of zoning for the intrinsically dangerous industrial activities of gas drilling and its myriad of operations is straight-up unconstitutional, denying municipal officials of any meaningful means to protect their residents and public resources. The Legislators who voted for this Draconian law are being confronted here by their constituents for selling them out. We hope that the Courts will overturn Act 13 and its supporters will be exposed as protectors of special interests to the detriment of the public good,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Read the legal challenge to Act 13 here:

Read the 4.11.12 Order of Commonwealth Court here: