Court will wait to rule on Pa. state lands leasing plan



A Commonwealth Court judge will wait until after the state budget is adopted to decide whether to block new natural gas leases under state parks and forests.

Judge P. Kevin Brobson said in an order last week that he will consider an environmental group’s petition to stop the state from leasing more land and transferring money out of a special conservation fund only after a budget is enacted so he won’t interfere with the ongoing negotiations.

The state budget deadline is July 1.

“The court is mindful that any decision on the application, one way or another, during the pending budget process could affect the negotiations and decision making of legislators and the governor’s office that are inherent in that process,” he wrote. “Such interference runs afoul of the principle of separation of powers.”

He added that the court can rule on the legality of laws once they are enacted, but “there is no place carved out in our constitution for the court to rule on the legality of budget proposals.”

Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed to raise $75 million in the next fiscal year by leasing state parks and forests to companies that can extract the gas underneath the new leases without causing new surface disturbances. His budget proposal also calls for transferring $117 million out of a special conservation fund to cover the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ operating expenses.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation is seeking a preliminary injunction to block the proposed lease sale and fund transfer until the court has ruled in its larger case on the constitutionality of state lands leasing. Current and former DCNR officials testified during a recent three-day hearing that they have reservations about opening more public lands for gas extraction.

Laura Legere: llegere@post-gazette.com

 

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