The Commonwealth Court held today that a township’s zoning requirements related to the location of gas pipelines are preempted by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (“PUC”) authority. The case involved a challenge by an environmental group and property owners alleging that the construction of the Mariner East 2 gas pipeline in West Goshen Township, Chester County violated the Township’s zoning ordinance that prohibited this type of activity in residential zones. The Commonwealth Court upheld a lower court decision that dismissed the legal challenge by the appellants. The Court held that the Mariner East 2 project, having been approved by the PUC, was not subject to local zoning regulation, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code.
The Court also addressed municipalities’ obligations under the Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment (“ERA”) to the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court stated that it was not persuaded that prior cases interpreting the ERA “signify an intent to protect natural resources that trumps all other legal concerns raised by every type of party under all circumstances.”
It is likely that this case will be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has generally taken a more expansive view of the scope of the ERA. Attorneys with Stock and Leader will be monitoring developments in this case and other litigation that could impact the obligations of municipal and business clients, as well as property owners.