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Protect PT Appeals Court Ruling Upholding Westmoreland County Township's Ordinance Allowing Natural Gas Drilling

On December 13, Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, on behalf of Protect PT, filed an appeal with the PA Supreme Court of a November 14 Commonwealth Court decision upholding the zoning ordinance of Penn Township in Westmoreland County allowing natural gas drilling in a designated rural resource district with a mineral extraction overlay.

The Petition asks the Court to review four days of testimony from experts and residents to consider whether Penn Township officials satisfied their duty to protect citizens’ rights under the state constitution’s Environmental Rights Amendment.

Protect PT said adopting a zoning ordinance which failed to take into account the immediate or long-term effects of fracking and encourages a heavy industrial activity in a growing suburban community of 20,000 which is already home to 11 well pads fails to protect those rights.

“Our constitution guarantees our rights to clean air and water. These basic human rights are self-evident, and we shouldn’t have to fight so hard, but it’s clear that in this corrupt government that is what we have to do,” said Gillian Graber, Executive Director of Protect PT.  “We will not stand down! Instead, we will use every legal means necessary to protect the rights of our community.”

This case is the next step in a line of important cases, starting with the Robinson Township v. PA Commonwealth decision, states “[b]y any responsible account, the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.” 

The court recognized that there are constitutional limits on government actions that deny citizens of their rights under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

To protect residents, the Township could have relied on the community’s own land use planning tools, such as the Comprehensive Plan, to determine where it would be most appropriate to site fracking, but instead created an arbitrary overlay which encourages increased industrial activity throughout the residential community.

"The Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees citizens' environmental rights are part of municipal decision-making and this case is an important step towards ensuring local zoning decisions protect the long-term health, safety and welfare of the community," said Ryan Hamilton, PA Managing Attorney, Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services.

Click Here for a copy of the petition.

For more information, visit the Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services website.  Questions should be directed to Josh Eisenfeld by sending email to: or call 412-388-2525

Related Article:

Commonwealth Court Upholds Westmoreland County Township’s Ordinance Allowing Natural Gas Drilling


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