Oil & Gas Revenue from Allegheny County Airport Property Must Further Interests of Citizens under Environmental Rights Amendment

PennFuture demands that Allegheny County Airport Authority stop violating the public’s constitutional rights.
July 2, 2018 (PITTSBURGH, Pa.) – PennFuture today issued a letter to the Allegheny County Airport Authority demanding that it immediately take action to ensure that any future revenue collected from oil and gas development on County property be used to further the interests of citizens protected by the Environmental Rights Amendment in the PA Constitution.
“Under Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (the Environmental Rights Amendment), the County and Authority hold public natural resources located on their properties in trust for the people of Pennsylvania.  Any revenue from the sale or lease of those public natural resources, including oil and gas on the property, is governed by Section 27 and must be used solely to further the rights guaranteed by Article I, Section 27, namely, the right to clean air, pure water and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment,” said George Jugovic, Jr., Vice President of Legal Affairs at PennFuture.
In February 2013, the Authority executed a lease with CNX Gas Company LLC (CNX) for the exploration and development of natural gas on the Pittsburgh International and Allegheny County Airport properties.  Upon execution, the Authority received a “bonus payment” of $46.3 million. 
According to an independent Annual Financial Report, the Authority began receiving royalty payments from mineral production during 2016. For the year ending December 31, 2016, the Authority received $2,839,342 in royalty payments, and for the year ending December 31, 2017, the Authority received $13,247,598 in royalty payments. Separately, the Authority received surface and ground rents for the well pads of $857,000 in 2016. 
The Authority’s Report further indicates that it will continue to receive additional payments as well pads are completed. The Report states that revenue from the development of gas rights is being used “to reduce airline rates and charges and for capital expenditures … at the Airport.”
Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides: The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.  Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.  As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that all branches and levels of government are bound by this constitutional provision, and that oil and gas on public lands, as well as revenue from the sale of those resources, belong to the citizens of the Commonwealth.  Section 27 establishes a public trust for those natural resources, with the government as trustee, which must manage the resources to further the public’s interest in clean air, pure water, and to otherwise further the interests protected by the Environmental Rights Amendment. 
PennFuture’s letter notifies the County and Authority that the use of revenue from oil and gas being developed on Airport properties is currently being used in a manner that violates Section 27, and it demands that the Authority take immediate steps to come into compliance with its constitutional obligations.
PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania and beyond. We are protecting our air, water and land, and empowering citizens to build sustainable communities for future generations. For more information, visit www.pennfuture.org.
Stephanie Rex
Director of Communications