Delaware Riverkeeper and leaky methane pipes

Delaware Riverkeeper again has standing to oppose fracked natural gas pipelines, as part of the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling against frackers.

Andrew Maykuth wrote for 23 December 2013, What Pa. court’s ruling on gas-drilling law means,

…opponents of shale gas drilling say the court decision carries substantial symbolic and political weight. They hope it signals a reconsideration of state government’s love affair with fossil fuels.

“With this huge win, we will move ahead to further undo the industry’s grip of our state government,” said Maya van Rossum, executive director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, whose standing as a plaintiff in the case was restored by the Supreme Court’s decision.

The ruling may also revitalize the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment, a 42-year-old law that guarantees Pennsylvanians’ access to clean air and water.

Fracking backers of course say the ruling will harm business. Somebody remind me, why should big business get to destroy local property and watersheds to turn a buck?

Local governments in Pennsylvania made big fossil fuel think again:

Local governments argued that drilling was an industrial activity, just like a steel mill, that should be subject to zoning.

Establish limits

The court decision strikes down the law’s provision allowing wells and pipelines in every zoning district, including residential neighborhoods, as long as certain conditions were met.

Castille and Justices Debra Todd and Seamus P. McCaffery agreed the provisions “sanctioned a direct and harmful degradation of the environmental quality of life in these communities and zoning districts.”

The ruling restores the ability of municipalities to limit drilling to certain zones and to manage it with reasonable noise requirements and setback rules.

And this wasn’t just about drilling: it was also about pipelines.

Local governments in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama can also pass such pipeline limits.

And how about impact fees?

Act 13 imposed some stricter environmental rules on drilling: new disclosure standards for the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing; lengthened setbacks to keep wells farther from homes and waterways; and higher standards for emergency containment.

The act also created an impact fee, which imposes an annual tariff on wells that generated $400 million in revenue for the first two years. Though the court ruling did not address the constitutionality of the impact fee, some legislators believe the decision also threatens its validity.

Then again, maybe local governments could require impact fees or other forms of profit sharing.

Even better:

Castille and two other justices based their ruling on Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment of 1971, which guarantees Pennsylvanians “a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment.”

The environmental amendment “has been marginalized by the courts from the outset,” said John C. Dernbach, a Widener University law professor who is codirector of the Environmental Law Center in Harrisburg.

Dernbach said the court ruling Thursday “breathed new life” into the environmental law, the implication of which “will be felt for years, perhaps decades.”

Georgia has oodles of environmental laws. Simply funding GA EPD to actually enforce them would be a good step. Extending them to more directly address methane pipelines would be an even better step. A step that local governments can take without waiting on the state.