The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) has filed a brief with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of itself and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, urging the court to lift a restriction preventing certain coal companies from mining coal or pay them the fair compensation guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
This case arises from a Pennsylvania regulation that allows the Commonwealth to declare certain areas unsuitable for coal. Acting on a petition filed by local environmental activists, Pennsylvania declared several hundred acres of coal fields in an area called Goss Run unsuitable for coal, thereby preventing the companies from extracting the coal. The owners brought a lawsuit against the Commonwealth on several grounds, including a claim for compensation under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. After several years of litigation, the Commonwealth Court largely invalidated the regulation as applied to the owners, finding that the restriction on mining amounted to a taking of the owners’ property, for which the Constitution requires “just compensation.” However, the court ordered the coal owners to seek a remedy for their loss through the remedial process established for eminent domain. The owners then appealed that part of the ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, while Pennsylvania appealed the court’s finding of liability.
In its brief filed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, WLF raised three arguments. First, it argued that the Takings Clause, on which the owners rely for relief, actually reflects the widely-held belief by the Founders that a good government must secure property rights. Second, WLF argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has curbed the discretion of land use authorities by reinvigorating the Takings Clause. The Court’s decisions have repudiated an earlier legal regime that was hostile to property rights, allowing land use authorities to get a free pass by courts. Third, WLF urged the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s ruling with respect to the remedy ordered. As WLF pointed out, once a regulation has been declared a taking, as in this case, nothing more remains to be done to establish the liability of the government. No further proceedings are necessary to show that Pennsylvania owes the owners “just compensation” for the losses they have suffered while they have been prohibited from extracting their coal.
“In this age of rolling blackouts and soaring prices, energy resources are simply too valuable to be left unused,” said Shawn Gunnarson, WLF’s Senior Counsel for Litigation Affairs. “We trust that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will lift the restriction on coal mining and order the Commonwealth to fairly compensate the owners for their losses.”
The Washington Legal Foundation is a public interest law and policy center with supporters in all fifty states. It devotes a significant portion of its resources to defending and promoting the principles of free enterprise and individual rights.
* * *
For further information, contact WLF Senior Counsel for Litigation Affairs Shawn Gunnarson at (202) 588-0302.