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Pa. Supreme Court hears drilling, zoning debate

Published: Wed, October 17, 2012 @ 3:40 p.m.

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard oral arguments today over challenges to a new law that regulates the state's booming natural gas industry.

Representatives of seven municipalities said the law takes away all power to control gas drilling operations through local zoning.

"It is the role of the court to address whether the legislature went too far," said Jordan Yeager, one of the lawyers representing the municipalities. Opponents claim the new law, known as Act 13, leaves municipalities defenseless to protect homeowners, parks and schools from being surrounded by drilling sites or waste pits.

In July, the state Commonwealth Court ruled 4-3 that the zoning aspects of Act 13 violated the state constitution, and Gov. Tom Corbett's administration appealed. The Supreme Court currently has three Republicans and three Democrats, and cannot overturn a lower court decision on a 3-3 tie vote.

Lawyers representing the Corbett administration said the sweeping, 5-month-old law is constitutional, and doesn't violate the rights of municipalities or residents. Matthew Haverstick, one of the lawyers representing the state, noted that municipalities are created by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

"When the general assembly wants to, it can override local zoning," Haverstick said. "I think the analysis stops right there."

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