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On June 20, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its opinion in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (PEDF) v. Commonwealth, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 1393 (Pa. June 20), in connection with the so-called Environmental Rights Amendment or ERA (Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution). Suffice it to say, the opinion has reopened the debate as to the meaning of the ERA, and more importantly, how the ERA is implemented as a practical and legal matter. In brief, the court ruled that amendments to the state’s fiscal code (which sought to address budgetary shortfalls by redirecting money from a fund containing rents and royalties from oil and gas leases on commonwealth land to the general fund) violated the ERA. While the facts before the court were narrowly drawn, the court used the opportunity to revisit the decades old “test” applied in evaluating ERA claims, an issue it first addressed in its 2013 plurality opinion in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013). It abruptly rejected the well-established Payne v. Kassab test and roughly 45 years of ERA-related case law, thereby placing the ERA, and industry, back into legal limbo. Despite some legal uncertainty, this opinion should not be interpreted as a major stumbling block to key energy and infrastructure projects.

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