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PA "Gag Rule" on Fracking Overturned!

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb on September 30, 2016

Great news! The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned the state's pro-fracking "Act 13," ruling it unconstitutional.

Passed in 2012, Act 13 established a "gag rule" restricting health professionals' access to information about fracking chemicals that could harm their patients. It also limited notification of fracking fluid spills and leaks to public water suppliers but excluded private well owners.

These and the state's eminent domain provisions were ruled to violate the state Constitution's prohibition against laws that benefit specific individuals, groups or industries.

The law's "gag order" required doctors seeing patients exposed to fracking fluids to sign a written promise of nondisclosure in order to learn the identity of the chemicals in those fluids. In case of an emergency, doctors could learn about the chemicals verbally from a phone call, but they were still required to sign a written gag agreement.

Information about the chemicals could not be shared with anyone else in the public, including the public health department, thus thwarting the documentation of fracking accidents and harm. 

Act 13 also enabled natural gas companies to take privately held subsurface property through eminent domain. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote that the eminent domain provision of Act 13 "is unconstitutional on its face, as it grants a corporation the power of eminent domain to take private property for a private purpose," violating the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as sections of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Revocation of this misguided law is a real gain for justice and for public health.

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