HARRISBURG — More funding for Pennsylvania state parks could be coming as the result of a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
On July 21st, the Supreme Court ruled the Commonwealth unconstitutionally appropriated funds generated from the State Forest oil and gas leases, which are natural resources protected by the Environmental Rights Amendment.
From 2009, the Commonwealth had used money from the leases to balance the general budget instead of conservation and maintaining the natural resources. The Supreme Court declared these funds must be returned to the trust.
“These natural resources have to be protected outside of all the Commonwealth responsibility,” said John E. Childe, counsel for the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (PEDF). “So Commonwealth can’t take those resources and convert them to money and use that money for the general fund to replace tax funds, because they’re protected as part of the inalienable rights of the people. You can’t do that.”
In the filing, which we have attached below, the PEDF itemized the amount of money transferred for non-trust purposes every fiscal year from 2009 to 2021, which total over $1.3 billion. This was submitted to Commonwealth Court.
Since the lawsuit listed the Commonwealth, Governor Tom Wolf, and Pennsylvania Secretary of the Treasury Stacy Garrity as defendants, any one of these three could challenge the Supreme Court’s ruling, so a timeline for approval of this amount is not set.
“We need to take it from there to enforce that the funds need to be returned to the trust,” Childe said. “Commonwealth Court should issue an order, as we request it in our petition, to return the funds and then issue an order to keep the Commonwealth from doing it again.”
The State Forest oil and gas leases add money to the public trust fund from royalties, an upfront bonus payment and rental payments to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed initially to the misuse of royalties in 2017, but the general assembly and the Supreme Court wanted to know if the other two types of funds should be returned as well. Thus, the latest battle in court that led to the July 21st decision.
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