On September 28, 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (Court) ruled on a Commonwealth Court remand decision of the Robinson Township 2013 Court decision, where the Court held key provisions of Act 13 (the statute implementing major changes in Pennsylvania’s oil and gas laws and the ability of local government to regulate this industry) were unconstitutional (HMS Blog). In the 2016 Robinson Township decision, the Court: (1) upheld the Commonwealth Court’s holding that provisions related to Public Utility Commission (PUC) review of local ordinances are unseverable from unconstitutional provisions and thus unenforceable, and (2) held four additional provisions of Act 13, including the grant of eminent domain, unconstitutional.
HMS Legal Blog
On June 29, 2016, President Obama, Prime Minister Trudeau, and President Nieto announced the North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership at the North American Leaders Summit. According to President Obama, the “ambitious and enduring” Partnership will see the United States, Canada, and Mexico “work toward the common goal of a North America that is competitive, that encourages clean growth, and that protects our shared environment.”
On January 2, 2014 the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and Department of Environmental Protection (“Applicants”) filed an Application for Reargument of Robinson Township,1 in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, requesting reconsideration of the December 19, 2013 plurality opinion and remand to the Commonwealth Court for an evidentiary hearing and findings of fact. The Applicants argue that the plurality of the Court, in applying its newly coined Environmental Rights Amendment balancing test, adopted novel and unsupported findings of fact, contrary to established Supreme Court principle against taking on a fact finding role in its appellate jurisdiction. Robinson Township, et al., (“Townships”) answer that no disputed facts were necessary to the Court’s balancing test, and in the alternative, judicial estoppel precludes Applicants from requesting an evidentiary hearing because Applicants successfully argued in the Commonwealth Court that the Act’s constitutionality was purely a question of law. Applicants also request remand to have the Commonwealth Court determine whether the unconstitutional set back provisions are severable from the rest of Act 13.
In January 2009, PPL Electric Utilities Corp. (“PPL”) sought Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) approval to construct a 500kV Pennsylvania-New Jersey transmission line, part of which, subject to the issuance of appropriate permits, will run through the National Park system in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. The project involves modernization of an existing 230kV transmission line and the exercise of eminent domain over five parcels of land. A PUC Administrative Law Judge issued a recommended decision granting PPL’s application on the condition that PPL not begin construction on the 230kV line prior to obtaining all approvals necessary for construction. The PUC's final opinion and order adopted the ALJ’s recommended decision but also required that PPL inform the PUC whether it intended to defer its construction schedule and refrain from constructing a certain portion of the 230kV line until obtaining a National Park Service permit. On reconsideration, the PUC clarified that PPL could begin construction on any other part of either line that was not subject to the National Park Service permit because to hold otherwise “would result in a significant, unacceptable delay in light of the demonstrated need for the line.”