Commonwealth Court Rejects PUC Role in Reviewing Local Ordinances Regulating Oil and Gas Industry
On July 17, 2014, the Commonwealth Court ruled unconstitutional several provisions in Act 13 of 2012 that granted authority to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to review local ordinances regulating the oil and gas industry.
In Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Court held that Section 3302 (to the extent that it attempted to enforce Chapter 33) and Sections 3305 through 3309(a) could not be severed from the sections that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in December 2013. The previously invalidated sections set out uniform requirements that municipalities must follow and established where oil and gas operations could and could not take place.
The Commonwealth Court determined that the statutory scheme of Chapter 33 could no longer be enforced. As a result, the court said, “Local zoning matters will now be determined by the procedures set forth in the MPC [Municipalities Planning Code] and challenges to local ordinances that carry out a municipality’s constitutional environmental obligations.” Those challenges must be brought in the courts of common pleas, not before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission or directly to the Commonwealth Court.
The court ruled in favor of the commonwealth on other issues, finding that:
- the commonwealth need not report spills affecting private water supplies as it must for those affecting public water supplies;
- Act 13’s chemical disclosure requirements are not unconstitutionally restrictive; and
- qualified entities have eminent domain rights for creating natural gas storage facilities.
At this time, it is unclear whether the parties will appeal any or all aspects of the Commonwealth Court’s decision.
If the decision stands, municipalities will no longer be threatened with a loss of impact fee funds distributed under Act 13 or the imposition of attorneys’ fees against them in the event their local ordinances are invalidated. Although municipalities will not have to defend their local ordinances before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, they will still need to ensure that those ordinances comply with existing law.
This maintains the traditional and existing practice that has been followed for years and represents a great victory for local government.
Action Alert: Townships Urged to Oppose Clean Water Act Change
PSATS is asking township officials to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw their proposed change to the Clean Water Act that would dramatically impact land, water, and local budgets.
If adopted, this rule would tighten federal control over the nation’s waters and land, including private property, by redefining what constitutes “waters of the U.S.” This phrase currently covers “navigable waters” that flow between states, typically rivers, but under the new rulemaking, it would include streams, wetlands, ponds, and even temporary bodies of water created by heavy rains and flooding, such as ditches.
While the agencies’ intentions may be admirable, their approach is being roundly criticized as a “terrifying power grab.” Why? Because the rule change would give the federal government greater authority over public and private waters and land. Local officials worry, for instance, that the regulation would delay projects and create new bureaucratic hurdles.
PSATS opposes the rule change and is encouraging townships to support its efforts. Here’s what you can do:
Study up on the rule change. Read more on the proposed rule from the National Association of Towns and Townships. Townships can also go to any search engine and do a keyword search — use such phrases as “Waters of the U.S.” and “Clean Water Act expansion” — to find related information and news articles.
Participate in the EPA’s public comment period, which ends October 20. Comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Water Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20460, Attention: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-2011-0880. (Note:Suggested talking points for PSATS member townships are available under "Member Resources" and then "Environmental Info." You will need to enter your member ID and password to view the information.)
- Register your opposition with Pennsylvania’s senators, Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, and your congressman. (You can access their contact information by entering your zip code here.)
Submit Your Citizen Communication Contest Entries by Aug. 31!
If your township has published a newsletter or other publication to communicate with residents in the past year, show your pride in a job well-done by entering it in PSATS’ 47th Annual Township Citizen Communication Contest. Eligible publications or other forms of communication must have been produced between August 1, 2013, and July 31, 2014.
Entries must be received by August 29.
Thirty-one awards in eight categories will be up for grabs. Winners will receive a framed certificate and coverage in the Township News. All entrants will also compete for the 24th Annual Outstanding Citizen Communication Award, which will be presented at PSATS’ Annual Conference to the township that exhibits an exceptional commitment to informing its residents.
The contest honors townships for their citizen communication efforts in the following categories:
- Most improved newsletter
- Electronic newsletters (This category is for electronic newsletters that are produced strictly for the Web. Printed newsletters that are posted on a township’s website as a PDF are not eligible.)
- Annual reports (Year-end budget or financial reports that include figures but no text or graphics are not eligible.)
- Other publications, including brochures and calendars of events
- Cable TV channels and programs (Audiotapes are not eligible.)
- Social media (Judges will evaluate townships’ overall use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and other resources to communicate with their residents.)
Entries in the printed newsletter category will be judged according to the following population ranges:
- 2,500 and under
- 10,001 and over
Entries in the remaining categories will compete against one another regardless of township population.
Each entry will be judged on the usefulness of information presented, how well the information is communicated, and the entry’s attractiveness, readability, or technical quality, depending on the media being judged. First-, second-, and third-place awards will be given in all categories unless the entries fail to meet the minimum standards of the judges.
Awards will be mailed to winners in November, and the Association will publish an article in the Township News about the winning entries and send news releases to the winners’ local news media.
To enter, provide the following:
- For newsletters and other printed publications, send three copies of each entry.
- For websites and social media, send three printouts of the home page and the Internet address for judges to access the sites.
- For cable TV channels and programs, send three DVDs of each entry. Please note: Each township is limited to three entries in this category.
Each entry must be accompanied by a cover letter noting the category being entered and, for printed newsletters, the township’s population.
If submitting multiple publications in one category, such as Newsletters or Other Publications, please indicate whether they should be judged as one entry or separate entries. Multiple issues of the same newsletter, such as the spring and summer issues, will be judged as a single entry.
Townships entering the Most Improved Newsletter category should state in their cover letter who was responsible for the redesign, such as staff or outside agencies, and include three copies each of “before” and “after” newsletters.
Note: Once-a-year tabloid-type newsletters that contain a map of the township and business advertisements and are produced by outside firms are not eligible.
Mail all entries to: PSATS, 4855 Woodland Drive, Enola, PA 17025, Attn.: Brenda Wilt.
Full Slate of 'Learning at Lunch' Webinars Feed Need for Easy Access to Training
PSATS has added a full slate of 'Learning at Lunch' webinars to its 2014 training schedule. The webinars are held from noon to 1:30 p.m. and are a great way to access essential, interactive training opportunities without ever leaving your desk!
All webinars are $30 for PSATS members and $40 for nonmembers. [To qualify as a member, you must have paid current annual membership dues to PSATS or its affiliates (solicitors, engineers, planners, and emergency management associations) or be an associate member.]
Get a glimpse of the available webinars below, and then click on each link for more information. Please note that all webinars are eligible for 1 course credit for enrollees of the PSATS Municipal Government Academy.
Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations Review - July 24, 2104
Protecting Your Municipality from Fraud - August 27, 2014
PA DEP Underground Mine Mapping and Mine Subsidence Insurance Program - September 10, 2014
Expanding Volunteer Recruitment and Retention for Fire/EMS Services - October 8, 2014
Township Population Figures Soar in PA
In Pennsylvania’s population race, townships are clearly the winners, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.
Statistics show that between 2010 and 2013, more than three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s population growth, or 78.9 percent, occurred in townships. Cities saw growth, too — a 27.4 percent increase — while the population in the commonwealth’s boroughs declined by 6.3 percent.
As a result, 56 percent of Pennsylvanians now live in townships, 24.3 percent in cities, and 19.7 percent in boroughs.
Since 2010, Upper Macungie Township, Lehigh County, gained 1,745 residents, the highest number for any township. Rounding out the top five for growth are Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County, with 1,426 additional residents; Cranberry Township, Butler County, with 1,392; Benner Township, Centre County, with 1,280; and Moon Township, Allegheny County, with 1,077.
Meanwhile, Stroud Township in Monroe County lost the most residents, 366, or 1.9 percent of its population. Close behind it were Chestnuthill Township in Monroe County, which lost 355 residents; Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County, which lost 278; Richland Township in Cambria County, which declined by 272; and Middle Smithfield Township in Monroe County, which dropped by 226.
Among other local governments, Philadelphia remains the commonwealth’s largest city with a population gain of 27,159 residents between 2010 and 2013. Pittsburgh ranks second but grew by just 139 residents during the same time frame. Erie, on the other hand, lost the most residents, 1,113, of any Pennsylvania city.
For boroughs, the most significant growth occurred in Franklin Park, Allegheny County, which added 563 residents since 2010. On the flip side, Clarion in Clarion County experienced the greatest population loss with a decline of 340 residents.
Join in National Night Out Aug. 5 to Help Fight Crime
Townships are encouraged to plan community activities to observe the National Association of Town Watch’s 31st Annual National Night Out on Tuesday, August 5.
National Night Out is a yearlong community-building campaign designed to:
- heighten crime prevention awareness;
- generate support for and participation in local anticrime programs;
- strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and
- send a message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
The program culminates each year with the August observance.
In addition to the traditional vigil of turning on porch lights, many communities also sponsor block parties, cookouts, parades, police visits and demonstrations, neighborhood flashlight walks, safety fairs, contests, rallies, and youth programs and activities.
"This is a night for America to stand together and promote awareness, safety, and neighborhood unity,” National Project Coordinator Matt Peskin said about the event. “National Night Out showcases the vital importance of police-community partnerships and citizen involvement in our fight for a safer nation. On NNO, we invite neighborhoods nationwide to join us and ‘give crime a going-away party.’”
Peskin began National Night Out in 1984. That first year, 2.5 million Americans participated in 400 communities across 23 states. Today, nearly 38 million people participate in the annual observance in more than 16,000 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canada, and military bases worldwide.
Townships that are interested in sponsoring National Night Out events should register with the National Association of Town Watch. Once registered, townships will receive a free organizational kit with planning suggestions, sample news releases, artwork, and a promotional guide.
To register, call the association toll-free at (800) NITE-OUT (648-3688) or click here.
Help PSATS Recognize Young ‘Superstars’ of Community Service
Has a youth organization completed a community service project in your township or county? Has a Scout troop helped clean up a township park or a high school group developed an environmental program for residents? Has a local 4-H club held an event for children or adults or a church youth group volunteered to help elderly residents repair their homes?
Township supervisors and county association officers can help identify and recognize such “superstars” of community service by encouraging them to enter the annual PSATS Youth Awards Contest.
The awards program recognizes the contributions youth groups make to improve the quality of life in Pennsylvania’s townships. Entrants in this year’s contest will vie for cash prizes of $500 each.
To be eligible, projects must have been undertaken or continued between September 1, 2013, and August 1, 2014, and must have benefited a township of the second class.
Guidelines and entry forms were mailed to townships, county associations, 4-H groups, school districts, and Scout councils in May. Additional entry forms are available here or by contacting PSATS.
Townships are encouraged to help youth groups submit their entry forms to the county association by August 1. County associations must sign off on the projects and forward the entries to PSATS by August 15.
Four winners will each receive $500 and a framed certificate, along with coverage in the Pennsylvania Township News and their local newspapers.
For more information about the contest, call Brenda Wilt at PSATS at (717) 763-0930 or email email@example.com.