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Goodbye to Act 13 gifts to the gas industry

October 5, 2016

In crafting Act 13, state lawmakers in Pennsylvania clearly wanted to make life as easy as possible for the gas drilling industry, while showing little concern for the rights of other residents and the local laws meant to protect them and the environment.

Among the most outrageous provisions of the law was one called by many a “physician gag order,” which restricted healthcare professionals from getting information on chemicals and other materials used in the drilling process that might be harmful to human health.

On September 28, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that this element of Act 13, which was passed in 2012, was unconstitutional because it was a “special law” intended to benefit drilling companies and not other industries at the expense of the health of the public. As soon as the law was passed in 2012, there were howls of protest over this provision, because perhaps the most important obligation of elected officials is the protection of the health and wellbeing of their constituents. In this case, lawmakers clearly were concerned with the health and wellbeing of drilling companies.

In striking down that element the court wrote, “It appears no other industry in the Commonwealth has been statutorily shielded in this manner by the imposition of stringent limitations and conditions on the access to, and use by, health professionals of information pertaining to chemicals, substances, or materials used in its operations claimed to be trade secrets or confidential proprietary information.”

And that was not the only controversial element of Act 13 the court struck down. The justices also ruled that owners of private wells must be notified if there is a toxic spill at a drilling site that might impact a property owner’s drinking water. The pro-drilling provision in Act 13 required the PA Department of Environmental Protection to notify public water users only in the case of a spill but not private well owners.

The court noted in addressing that issue, that one of the purposes of Act 13 was to protect the health, safety and property of Pennsylvania residents. The court wrote, “We do not conceive how Section 3218.1’s exclusion of notice to over three million of our Commonwealth’s residents who receive their drinking water from wells—roughly a quarter of our population—that their health, or even their property, may be at risk as the result of a spill that has potentially jeopardized the safety of the water they consume, bears any fair and substantial relationship to this objective.”