The group fighting to conserve Pennsylvania’s public forest and park lands asked the state’s highest court for help again today. The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation obtained a landmark ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court six months ago. The court declared that money from the sale of natural resources such as natural gas on Pennsylvania’s public forest and park lands cannot be used to fill gaps in the state budget.
The Foundation has today filed with the Supreme Court a Petition for Extraordinary Jurisdiction. After its landmark ruling in June, the high court returned the case to the Commonwealth Court with direction to address the issues raised by the Foundation consistent with the high court’s ruling. The Commonwealth Court has not taken any action to date and the latest budget, which was finalized after the high court’s ruling, spends at least $96 million from the sale of public natural resources to pay general government expenses for the current budget year.
Under Pennsylvania’s constitution, public forest and park lands are part of a public trust owned by the people of Pennsylvania. The government must protect the natural resources of this public trust and cannot sell them to balance the budget, as it has done since 2009. Yet the budget just finalized for this fiscal year continues this trend. To date, more than $1.1 billion from the sale of public natural resources has been used to fill gaps in the state budget.
The Foundation argues in its filing that without the high court’s oversight, the government will not heed its ruling and will continue to degrade public forest and park natural resources to balance the budget. New budget negotiations for the upcoming fiscal year begin in February.