Act 13 Update: Commonwealth Court Decides Unsettled Issues

Yesterday, June 17, 2014, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court entered a decision regarding four matters that remained unsettled after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in the Robinson Township v. Commonwealth decision.

One, the Court held that it is not unconstitutional to limit notice by the DEP of spills to public water system facilities only. In reaching this decision, the Court found there are valid reasons for treating differently notification to public drinking water suppliers versus to private well owners.  For example, the DEP does not regulate private wells, the DEP may have no knowledge of the location of all private wells, and public drinking water systems cannot be replaced easily if affected by a spill.

Two, the Court dismissed the issue of whether eminent domain powers are available to those private companies storing, selling, or transporting gas because the challenged statutory language “only confers upon a public utility possessing a certificate of public convenience the power to condemn property for the injection, storage and removal of natural gas for later public use.” In other words, the at-issue provision confers the right of eminent domain on a public utility only.

Three, the Court upheld the prohibition precluding medical professionals from disclosing chemicals associated with gas drilling.  The Court found that the statute does not preclude a physician from sharing the disclosed confidential and proprietary information with another physician for purposes of diagnosis or treatment or from including such information in a patient’s medical records or evaluation.

Four, the Court enjoined the application and enforcement of the provision conferring the Public Utility Commission with the authority to review local zoning ordinances and to withhold impact fee money to municipalities.