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Westmoreland official joins fight against drilling regulation

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

While Westmoreland County will take no formal position on a lawsuit challenging zoning aspects of legislation overseeing Marcellus shale drilling in Pennsylvania, Commissioner Ted Kopas has signed on to support the litigation.

Kopas, a Democrat, said Thursday he is backing the efforts of municipalities to have the law overturned.

"It's my way of showing disdain for the legislation," he said.

In a letter of support, Kopas said the law pre-empts local zoning authority over natural gas and oil operations in all municipalities. He said it makes it impossible for local officials to meet their obligations under state law to oversee municipal planning codes.

"The act is flawed," Kopas said. "If (the lawsuit) helps expose the flaws in this legislation, then it is good."

Republican commissioners Tyler Courtney and Charles Anderson did not sign on their support.

Courtney said he is not opposed to the overall goal of the lawsuit's supporters, but the scope of the complaints must be addressed by each municipality so a standardized focus can be reached to improve the law.

"There needs to be a standardization," Courtney said.

Commissioner Charles Anderson said he won't support the lawsuit.

"We really can't affect it, other than talking to the Legislature, which we've done. The right thing to do is to allow the process to take its course," Anderson said.

Last week, Murrysville's council signed on to support the lawsuit filed in March by several Western Pennsylvania communities, including South Fayette in Allegheny County and Peters and Robinson in Washington County. A group of residents have asked Ligonier Township supervisors to sign a resolution supporting the court challenge.

In April, Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Keith Quigley issued a 120-day injunction to stop the state from enforcing the zoning portion of the law, which was enacted in February.

The portion of the new law that allows local governments to enact an optional fee on drillers for each well was not affected by the lawsuit.

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