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Showing 34 posts in Pennsylvania.

On June 1, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, held that a municipality was required to amend its zoning ordinance before it could allow natural gas operations in a residential-agricultural zoning district. Gorsline v. Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp., et al., No. 67 MAP 2016, 2018 WL 2448803 (June 1, 2018).  Specifically, the Court ruled that the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors improperly found that the drilling and operation of a natural gas well in a Residential-Agricultural (“R-A”) district was “similar to” other uses in the R-A district.  Although the Township’s zoning ordinance did not specifically allow drilling, the zoning ordinance provided that when a use is not specifically permitted by the zoning ordinance, the Supervisors may permit the use if, among other things, it is “similar to and compatible with the other uses permitted in the zone where the subject property is located.”  The Supervisors found that Inflection Energy, LLC’s proposed gas drilling was “similar to” other uses in the R-A district.  The Commonwealth Court upheld the Supervisors’ decision, finding that the gas drilling was similar to and compatible with a “public service facility,” which is a conditional use in the R-A district, and which is defined as the “erection, construction, alteration, operation or maintenance of buildings, power plants or substations, water treatment plants or pumping stations; sewage disposal or pumping plants and other similar public service structures by a utility, whether publicly or privately owned, or by a municipal or other governmental agency, including the furnishing of electrical, gas, communication, water supply and sewage disposal services.”   Read More »

On April 24, 2018, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board issued a decision denying a Petition for Supersedeas filed by Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club which had sought to enjoin Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company, LLC (“Consol”) from mining under a stream called Polen Run located in Ryerson Station State Park See Center for Coalfield Justice v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2018-028-R (Opinion issued Apr. 24, 2018) (“CCJ III”). The Board’s opinion reinforces the Board’s prior decisions applying Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (“Environmental Rights Amendment” or “ERA”) in the context of a permitting decision in light of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Pa. Environmental Defense Found. v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017) (“PEDF”).  Read More »

Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated opinion in EQT Prod. Co. v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., No. 6 MAP 2017, 2018 WL 1516385, (Pa. Mar. 28, 2018), holding that the Clean Streams Law (“CSL”) does not authorize the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) to impose daily penalties for the ongoing, continuing presence of pollutants in waters of the Commonwealth. In the 5-to-2 decision, which affirmed in part the Commonwealth Court’s preceding opinion, the Court ruled that to construe the language of the CSL as allowing penalties for the movement of pollutants from one water body to another (DEP’s “water-to-water” theory) was not only unsupported by the statutory language, but would also expose the regulated community to potentially massive civil penalties, and as such, DEP’s penalty calculations including penalties for the days the pollutants remained in the affected groundwater after the initial discharge were excessive. Read More »

Earlier this month, in B&R Resources, LLC v. DEP, No. 1234 C.D. 2017 (March 15, 2018), Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court held that the sole managing member of a limited liability company may be personally liable for his company’s failure to plug certain abandoned wells. In doing so, the Commonwealth Court clarified that the participation theory of liability, which essentially extends liability from a corporation to its officers who “participated” in corporate wrongdoing, may encompass not only intentional misconduct by an officer but also deliberate inaction. Read More »

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (the “Board”) issued an adjudication in Logan v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2016-091-L (Adjudication issued Jan. 29, 2018), in which the Board dismissed an appeal challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (“DEP”) issuance of an air quality plan approval to Purdue Agribusiness LLC (“Purdue”) for construction of a soybean solvent extraction plant. In upholding the plan approval, the Board rejected the appellants’ argument that DEP’s issuance of the plan approval violated Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, known as the Environmental Rights Amendment. Read More »

On November 8, 2017, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (the “Board”) issued an adjudication in Friends of Lackawanna v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2015-063-L (Adjudication issued Nov. 8, 2017), in which the Board upheld the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (“DEP”) issuance of a renewal of Keystone Sanitary Landfill, Inc’s (“Keystone”) solid waste management permit for the Keystone Landfill. At the same time, the Board added a condition to the permit requiring Keystone to prepare a groundwater assessment plan based on groundwater degradation observed in one of its monitoring wells. Interspersed throughout this decision was language that shed additional light on the Board’s view of how Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, often referred to as the Environmental Rights Amendment, applies to DEP permitting decisions. Read More »

Western District of Pennsylvania Magistrate Judge Susan P. Baxter reiterated in an opinion issued last Friday that certain municipal laws prohibiting natural gas drilling are preempted by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act. Seneca Res. Corp. v. Highland Twp. et al., No. 16-cv-289 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 29, 2017) (“Seneca III”).  The decision is the result of a complex procedural and political history in the township, and it reinforced an earlier settlement and consent decree between the same parties.  In its opinion, the federal court’s decision provided guidance regarding the interplay among federal, state, and local authority over energy development in Pennsylvania. Read More »

On June 20, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a majority decision, established a binding, heightened standard of review for challenges brought under Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment. See Pa. Environmental Defense Foundation v. Commonwealth, No. 10 MAP 2015 (Pa. June 20, 2017) (PEDF).  The Court’s decision in PEDF affirmed and expanded upon the Court’s 2013 plurality decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013), which the Commonwealth Court had refused to follow. Read More »

On June 7, 2017, the Commonwealth Court upheld a zoning ordinance allowing oil and gas drilling in mixed use agricultural and residential areas of a Butler County municipality because the pre-existing zoning code had already allowed construction of what the Court found were substantially similar public utility structures. 

The issues in Delaware Riverkeeper et al. v. Middlesex Township Zoning Hearing Board v. R.E. Gas Development LLC et al., 1229 CD 2015, 1323 CD 2015, 2609 CD 2015, arose out of Middlesex Township’s Ordinance 127, enacted in 2014, which sought to add a “oil and gas well site development” use within a Residential-Agricultural (“R-AG”) District. Environmental groups, the Clean Air Council and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, appealed the Middlesex Township Zoning Hearing Board’s enactment of the ordinance, upheld by the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, which found in part that the added language was a permissible extension of the already existing zoning provisions. Read More »

The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (the “Board”) recently stirred up some controversy. Last month, in Lancaster Against Pipelines v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2016-075-L (May 10, 2017), the Board held that it has jurisdiction to review actions taken by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”) involving interstate natural gas pipelines, despite a 2013 decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania that held precisely the opposite. Read More »