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Pennsylvania agencies appeal ruling on zoning rights for hydraulic fracturing

The Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection [official websites] filed an appeal on Friday challenging this week's Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court [official website] ruling [opinion, PDF] that Pennsylvania's new oil and gas law [Act 13 materials] violates the state constitution. The two agencies are questioning whether the judges had erred in stating that the seven municipalities and two council members challenging the constitutionality of Act 13 had grounds to do so [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report]. The court declared that Act 13 unconstitutionally infringed on local municipalities' zoning rights [JURIST report] by placing solely in the hands of state authorities all zoning powers regarding hydraulic fracturing [JURIST news archive], the process of injecting a high pressured mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break through rock and release oil and natural gas. Each agency challenging the ruling is headed by an appointee of Governor Tom Corbett [official website; press release, PDF], who announced the appeal. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court [official website] has given no indication to date whether they will consider the appeal.

Fracking has been a contentious issue both in the US and abroad. Three weeks ago, North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue vetoed a bill [SB 820 materials; JURIST report] that would have lifted the state's ban on fracking. In May, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law [JURIST report] a bill outlawing fracking in the state. In January the New Jersey Legislature passed an amendment to a bill that establishes a one-year ban on fracking [JURIST report]. Legislators re-introduced the bill this year after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed legislation last June that would have permanently banned fracking in New Jersey [JURIST report]. In October the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to develop standards [JURIST report] for wastewater discharge from fracking. Last June New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the US government [JURIST report] for its alleged failure to study the risks of fracking. In May 2011 France's lower house approved a nationwide ban on fracking [JURIST report]

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