A decision rendered last month by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reinterpreted the commonwealth’s obligations under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, known as the Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA). The Supreme Court sided with the appellant, Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (PEDF), in PEDF v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvani a, 10 MAP 2015, and held that the commonwealth had violated the fiduciary duty imposed on it by the ERA. Pursuant to this decision, Pennsylvania and its agencies must prohibit the degradation of public natural resources resulting from state or private activity, and must act affirmatively by passing legislation intended to protect the environment. These duties do not, however, prohibit outright the commonwealth from utilizing its public property in ways that promote the general welfare of its citizens. Included in the commonwealth’s fiduciary duty is the duty of prudence, requiring it to “exercise such care and skill as a man of ordinary prudence would exercise in dealing with his own property.” This duty tempers—somewhat unclearly—an interpretation of the ERA requiring preservation of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources to the exclusion of their reasonable use.
Read more from my article in The Legal Intelligencer supplement, PA Law Weekly, by clicking here.