Can Pennsylvania Lawmakers run roughshod over the Constitution?

Can Pennsylvania Lawmakers run roughshod over the Constitution?Leave a replyBy: Larry J. SchweigerThis important question is before the Commonwealth Court: Does the Public Estate Provisions of the Constitution protect us against the special interests of fracking companies who want to drill in our state forests and parks and their political allies? Do their legislative actions need to live up to the public trust provisions in the state constitution?It all started when the fracking industry, the Governor and the Pennsylvania Republican House and Senate Caucus got together to rewrite and weaken environmental laws through the budget. This question triggered a case involving the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation and Governor Corbett. Pennsylvania Constitution’s Article 1 Section 27 entitled: Natural Resources and the Public Estate is at stake in this suit. The Pennsylvania Constitution states: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.” This important language was added to Pennsylvania’s Constitution in 1970 by over eighty percent of the Pennsylvania voters. Now largely on the basis of that provision, the Environmental Defense Fund filed a legal action challenging the Governor’s approval of budget bills in 2009 and 2010 that ordered leasing of state forest land for natural gas exploration and diverted royalties and depleting vitally-needed funds from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund Act that has long supported the conservation of Pennsylvania’s state forests and parks.The State Republican Caucuses for both the House and the Senate have recently petitioned the Commonwealth Court to intervene in the action brought by Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation against the Governor (Case No. 228, M.D. 2012, Original Jurisdiction) The Republicans intervention asserts: “The Caucuses dispute that Article I, Section 27 [of the Pennsylvania Constitution] is self-executing…” In other words, the Republicans are suggesting that they define clean air and pure water by legislation and the Constitutional language has no power apart from what they want it to say. By petitioning to intervene, the Republicans challenge the very purpose of the Constitutional protection that constrains elected officials to live up to a standard of intergenerational resource care. Republican lawmakers and the Governor seek to allow legislative interests to trump the Constitution whenever the legislature recklessly decides to lease more State Forest land for fracking and to take funds from those leases for whatever purpose they chose. It was for this purpose that so many campaigned to create the constitutional protection in the first place.Share this:

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About Larry Schweiger

Larry Schweiger is President and Chief Executive Officer of Citizens for PennFuture. Previously, he was President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and earlier the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Larry also served as the Executive Secretary of the Joint (House and Senate) Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and 1st Vice President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He returned to the National Wildlife Federation in March 2004 with a commitment to confront the climate crisis. He is passionate about protecting nature for our children's future. Larry continues the climate work as the battle moves to the states. Previously, Larry served for eight years as President and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, where he pioneered watershed restoration and promoted ecological research, land conservation, community outreach and Fallingwater restoration. In the past, Larry was the Executive Secretary of the Joint House/Senate Conservation Committee for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Senior Vice President for Conservation Programs at National Wildlife Federation, and 1st Vice President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Larry wrote a book warning about climate change impacts on nature entitled: "Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth" that won 1st Prize for the best non-fiction at the 2011 Indie Book Awards. Larry started volunteering at age 14 and is an active community leader, having served on more than 40 governing boards, commissions and committees. He currently serves on the Boards of Directors of Climate Reality; the John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; and National Wildlife Federation Action Fund. In 2012, He was honored by the Blue-Green Alliance for the Federation's leadership on the auto rules and was selected as Pennsylvania’s Environmental Professional of the Year in 2002, Pittsburgh of the Year in 2000, and he received a Conservation Service Award from the Christian Environmental Association in September 1995. Larry is married and is blessed with three daughters, two sons-in-law, and five grandsons.
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