In a victory for local trout streams in Pennsylvania, the state’s Supreme Court has found in favor of trout and local habitat, striking down sections of the state’s Act 13 that would have prohibited local governments from enacting laws to protect those special places.
TU does not jump into litigation at the drop of a hat, but when the famed trout fishery of Pine Creek, and others like it, are threatened, it’s time to take action.
In September 2012, TU submitted an amicus brief, or “friend of the court” brief as it is known, in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case brought by towns that were challenging a new state law (Act 13) that would prohibit local governments from adopting laws that would protect natural resources from impacts from shale gas development.
It started in the Pine Creek Valley, home to Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon, a 47-mile long steep gorge cutting through the heart of northcentral Pa.’s mountains. A great trout fishery, Pine Creek is fed with countless tributaries, many home to native brookies. Without a local floodplain ordinance crafted with the help of TU, well pads would share the same land.
Pine Creek Township adopted the ordinance that would prohibit the placement of well pads in the 100-year floodplain, limiting the risk of spills, leaks and other pollution pathways to Pine Creek. Act 13 would have voided Pine Creek’s law.
In its brief, TU argued that Act 13 was unconstitutional because it prevented a town from meeting its obligations to protect public natural resources under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. TU further argued that the law unconstitutionally gave the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection the authority to grant waivers to the setbacks required to be established between streams and a well pad.
Today, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found in favor of trout. Or at least that’s how I see it. Today’s court decision declared the sections of Act 13 that would have prevented a town from protecting trout streams illegal.
More importantly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court confirmed that towns, and other levels of county and state government, have an affirmative duty under the Pennsylvania Constitution to conserve and maintain clean water.
And keep those fish rising.