A panel of seven Commonwealth Court judges must decide whether the State of Pennsylvania was overreaching its bounds by creating a law that outlined where drilling sites and compressor stations can be located. Lawyers representing the municipalities are arguing that state limitations on how municipalities can craft zoning rules are inappropriate.
The standardized rules for towns would allow shale gas drilling in areas that are currently prohibited. Municipal officials are arguing that allowing the industry into more areas infringes on the rights and safety of residents.
The zoning provision was scheduled to go into effect in April, but another court decision granted a 120 day injunction.
Judge Kevin Brobson countered concerns about infringement on local rights by asking about places that do not have zoning.
The municipal attorneys argued that allowing incompatible uses in zoning districts would undermine the overall regulatory scheme and would give drillers special privileges compared to other companies.
Lawyers for the state said that municipalities do not have a constitutionally protected right to zoning, and the State legislature can alter those powers as they see fit.
Judge Dan Pellegrini pressed that point with the municipal attorneys but was also critical of the states argument that the General Assembly has a wide berth to mandate zoning.
Judge Pellegrini asked “Could we say that industrial farming of chicken is an important food source and we’ll allow it in every district?” and said “Pretty soon, zoning would become irrational.”