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The drilling ruling: Good & bad news

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The good news about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's expansive ruling on natural gas and oil drilling is that it checks the overarching (if not overreaching) power of the state to run roughshod over local governments' rights (through zoning laws) to regulate such activity in the name of the public weal.

The bad news about Thursday's long-awaited Act 13 ruling is that, with largely anecdotal “proofs,” industry, in general, is tarred as a pejorative and the burgeoning shale gas and oil industry is, particularly (and ignorantly and undeservedly, too) smeared with a scarlet letter.

The crux of the 4-2 ruling, written by Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a Republican, is that it is unconstitutional for the state, by legislative fiat, to override the Pennsylvania Constitution, including the Environmental Rights Amendment, which guarantees the “right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”

He's correct. But while such drilling might have the propensity to violate the latter codicil, it's certainly not the automatic thing that Mr. Justice Castille paints it as with his broad brush. Extrapolating his standard, industry itself would be unconstitutional. And that's a reckless, economy-killing proposition.

That said, the ruling represents the perfect opportunity for local governments and the industry to hit the reset button and to cooperatively work to balance the interests of all — the people, the industry and the environment.

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