More Drilling On DCNR Land Delayed Until Court Rules On Oil & Gas Fund Challenges
Commonwealth attorneys Friday announced they have negotiated a settlement in the case of PEDF v. Commonwealth, ensuring the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources receives essential funding while preserving the opportunity to present the Commonwealth’s case in court.
Under the terms of the agreement, the department will continue to work to prepare for leasing of DCNR managed land that does not involve surface disturbance on the newly leased areas, but not take any final action pending the Commonwealth Court’s final decision on the underlying case.
“Without this settlement, DCNR’s capacity to preserve Pennsylvania’s natural treasures would have been decimated,” Gov. Tom Corbett said. “We cannot allow our commitment to protecting Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests to be held hostage during the duration of this lawsuit.”
“The preliminary relief that PEDF was seeking would have eliminated more than $120 million in funding appropriated to the department,” DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti said. “This agreement will allow the critical operations of DCNR to continue, including all state parks remaining open and staff being available during our busiest time of year, and no interruption to the work of our Bureau of Forestry, such as managing the multiple uses of our state forests, monitoring gas development on the forests to protect their natural and recreational values, fighting fires, forest pest management and other operations.”
The Patriot-News reported Friday, John Childe, the lead attorney for the PA Environmental Defense Foundation, said: "Should the court have enjoined the use of the Oil and Gas lease Funds, DCNR would be left without the ability to operate for the next year, and our Parks and Forests would have had to close down.
"PEDF is bringing their case to support DCNR's ability to protect our Parks and Forests, not to shut them down," he added. "With the fear of losing more park and forest land to new leases for gas extraction gone, PEDF is anxious to get the case decided as quickly as possible."
“We appreciate the Commonwealth Court taking these significant issues into consideration and we look forward to presenting our case in court,” said the Governor’s General Counsel Jim Schultz.
Capitolwire.com reported Friday Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson set the timetable for PEDF's motion for summary judgment: the Commonwealth must file a response by August 29, and PEDF must file a reply brief by September 14.
The FY 2014-15 budget approved by Senate and House Republicans counted on a $95 million transfer from the Oil and Gas Fund to the General Fund to help balance the budget. Part of that revenue was to come from additional “non-impact” leasing of natural gas drilling rights under State Park and State Forest land.
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