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The Court said in its decision, “...we hold that the income generated from the revenue streams at issue must be returned to the corpus as a matter of trust law.”
The total amount of funding under the sections of the Fiscal Code declared unconstitutional and that the Court said should be returned to the corpus is an estimated total of $383 million.
This decision overturns a 2020 Commonwealth Court Court ruling. Read more here.
The legal challenge was brought by the PA Environmental Defense Foundation and follows a 2017 ruling by the PA Supreme Court also declaring the transfers unconstitutional. Read more here.
John Childe, attorney for the PA Environmental Defense Foundation, issued this statement on the Court's decision--
“The Supreme Court Opinion issued today, identified by the Court as PEDF IV, affirms our belief that all funds from the oil and gas leases, including the royalties, bonus and rental payments, are part of the public trust, and must be used to conserve and maintain the public natural resources, including our State Forest.
“This decision ends the four year battle against the Governor over the use of the bonus and rental payments, which have amounted to over $500,000,000.00 over the past 10 years.
“The opinion does not mean that money must be paid back. Only going forward it must be used for conservation purposes, and not used for the general fund.
“Today's opinion finally ends the twelve year battle PEDF has waged to stop degrading our State Forest for revenue from oil and natural gas reserves to supplement the general fund.
“The Supreme Court PEDF IV Opinion today reverses the decision of the Commonwealth Court finding that Article I Section 27 allows the Commonwealth to lease our state forest for income.
“It reaffirms that the Commonwealth's role regarding our public natural resources is that of trustee.
“It reaffirms that the Commonwealth has no proprietary interest in those resources.
“And, it reaffirms that any decision the Commonwealth makes regarding the uses of our State Forest must be based on protecting the rights of the people to the clean air and preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic value of our public natural resources.”
The PA Supreme Court said--
“We find that the Commonwealth Court’s holding is at odds with our decision in PEDF II, principles of private trust law, and the plain language of the ERA [Environmental Rights Amendment].
“As explained in this opinion, we agree with the Commonwealth Court that all three revenue streams at issue qualify as incomes generated from trust assets.
“However, the viability of the Commonwealth Court’s holding turns on its erroneous conclusion that the ERA created successive beneficiaries in the form of life tenants and remaindermen with entitlement to income.
“Another remand is unnecessary, however, as the record is now sufficiently developed and based upon that record we hold that the incomes generated under these oil and gas leases must be returned to the corpus.
“As a result, we reverse the decision of the Commonwealth Court.”
The Court also said--
“We rejected the Commonwealth’s averment that revenues generated from the sale of
trust assets may be redirected to general budgetary matters (i.e., non-trust purposes) on the theory that the ERA was silent on that point.
“We stated that argument was “plainly inaccurate, as Section 27 [Environmental Rights Amendment] expressly creates a trust, and pursuant to Pennsylvania law in effect at the time of enactment, proceeds from the sale of trust assets are part of the corpus of the trust.” Id. at 933.”
The Court concluded--
“We conclude that the bonus payments, rentals and penalty interest qualify as income and not the sale of trust assets. Since the ERA does not create an entitlement to income in the beneficiaries, the revenue generated from these Marcellus Shale leases must be returned to the corpus to benefit all the people.
“Accordingly, we hold that the income generated from the revenue streams at issue must be returned to the corpus as a matter of trust law.
“As a result, Sections 1604-E [$60 million] and 1605-E [$180 million], as well as Section 1912 [$143 million] of the Supplemental General Appropriations Act of 2009, are facially unconstitutional."
Click Here for a copy of the opinion.
[Note
 

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Im not sure what all this REALLY means?!?
It means the state was stealing money meant for conservation and maintenance of the public natural resources, including our State Forest. They where using the money for everything else but conservation. They don't have to pay back the money they already stole. They are just not allowed to steal it going forward.
 
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