In a series of posts last year (available HERE and HERE), I discussed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s revival of the long-dormant Environmental Rights Amendment (“ERA”) to the Pennsylvania Constitution.  This summer, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court authored another chapter in the ERA saga.  Stick with me, because it is about to get technical…

As you may recall, in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Fund (“PEDF”) v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the ERA created a public trust, the corpus of which was all of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources.  In this analogy, the Commonwealth is the trustee and Pennsylvania’s citizens are the named beneficiaries of the trust.  When state park land is leased by Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for oil and natural gas extraction, any royalties – monthly payments based on the gross production of oil and gas at each well – are proceeds received in exchange for trust assets.  As a result, royalties must be returned to the trust as part of its corpus.  In other words, they are earmarked for the conservation and maintenance of Pennsylvania’s natural resources.
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