Earlier this year, Claudia Shank blogged about the revival of the Environmental Rights Amendment (the “ERA”) (available HERE) after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Fund v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (2017).  The PEDF decision breathed new life into the 1972 amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, but also left many unanswered questions about the ERA.  The most relevant unanswered question for developers and municipalities was the meaning of the revived ERA in the land use context.  Last week, the Commonwealth Court provided some insight.

In Frederick v. Allegheny Twp. Zoning Hearing Board, 2018 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 593 (Commw. Ct. Oct. 26, 2018), the Court reviewed a substantive validity challenge to a zoning ordinance that permitted oil and gas wells by right in all zoning districts of a township.  In a 5 to 2 decision, an en banc panel rejected the challenge (and the accompanying land use appeal to a zoning permit) that was filed by objectors to an unconventional gas well project in a residential zoning district.  The Court dismissed the objectors’ argument that Continue Reading The Commonwealth Court Begins to Answer What the Environmental Rights Amendment Means to Land Use

This post, which is the second in a two-part series exploring the scope of Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment (the “ERA”), will delve deeper into the text of the ERA as analyzed and explained by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Fund (“PEDF”) v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017).

In PEDF, the Court ruled that the ERA grants citizens of the Commonwealth two distinct rights: 1) the right to clean air and pure water, and to the preservation of natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment; and 2) the right of common ownership by the people, including future generations, of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources. The Court noted that the first right, which comes directly from the text of the ERA itself, “places a limitation on the state’s power to act contrary to [the] right, and while the subject of the right may be amenable to regulation, any laws that unreasonably impair the right are unconstitutional.” Despite this declaration by the Court, the scope and meaning of the first right remains undefined. It remains to be seen how the courts will define “clean air” or “pure water” and even more intangibly, who will determine which “scenic” or “esthetic” values are worthy of preservation? Continue Reading The PA Supreme Court’s Revival of the Environmental Rights Amendment – Part 2

Although the Environmental Rights Amendment (the “ERA”) to the Pennsylvania Constitution was ratified in 1971, for many years it was rarely a topic of discussion among land use practitioners. Recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court jurisprudence, however, has revived this long-dormant amendment, and is reason to reconsider the ERA’s potential impact on development projects. This two-part post will explore the history of the ERA, the current legal standard for evaluating ERA violations as articulated by the Supreme Court, and potential future implications of the Court’s decision.

The ERA, found in Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, provides as follows:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.  Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.  As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of the people. Continue Reading The PA Supreme Court’s Revival of the Environmental Rights Amendment – Part 1

A large-scale natural gas liquids pipeline project traversing the Commonwealth has shed light on an oft misunderstood legal principle regarding the municipal regulation of utilities. Municipalities typically operate under the assumption that essentially all land uses, including public utilities, are subject to municipal regulation to at least some degree (e.g., zoning ordinances, subdivision and land development ordinance, etc.). But, most public utility facilities actually are not subject to local regulation. A pair of recent Commonwealth Court cases reinforce this legal principle that is nearly sixty-five years old but rarely reflected in municipal ordinances. Continue Reading What do you mean that pipeline isn’t subject to zoning regulations?