A panel of judges on Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court overturned two key and controversial provisions in Act 13, the state's major re-write of regulations pertaining to hydraulic fracturing that also authorized "shale impact fees" to municipalities in the Marcellus Shale region. The law, which was passed in February 2012, prohibited communities from passing zoning ordnances to limit or restrict oil or natural gas drilling that were more strict than state standards. The judges also struck down a section that allows the state to waive set-back requirements that limit where wells can be located if it approves a driller's resource protection plan.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is nearing agreement with the local Native American tribes in the Flathead Valley of western Montana to manage the National Bison Range - an 18,500 acre wildlife refuge that is home to over 400 bison. Should the preliminary agreement become finalized, it will be the first wildlife refuge to be managed by Native Americans. The decision, however, is opposed by a group of employees from state and federal conservation agencies called the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) because they fear the agreement gives the tribes too much control over wildlife management policies in the range.

Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder recently signed into law a bill which caps the amount of land the state can own at 4.65 million acres until the legislature approves a strategic plan for buying and selling land in the future. 

Federal regulation of fish stocks outside of state waters has been a source of contention between the commercial fishing industry, recreational anglers, and environmental groups for a long time. A group of scientists, state regulators, and fishing interests are developing a new proposal to tailor the federal regulatory model under the Magnuson-Stevens Act to meet the different conditions in each individual state in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Friday, the Vermont House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a ban, by a vote of 103-36, to become the first state to enact an outright prohibition on the use of hydraulic fracturing. Last year, New Jersey's legislature passed a similar fracking ban that was initially vetoed by Governor Chris Christie and a temporary, one-year prohibition was passed in its place. Vermont's Governor, Peter Shumlin, is widely expected to sign the legislation, which was heralded by environmentalists and opposed by industry groups that viewed it as reactionary and unnecessary since there are no active permits to use the fracking process in the state.

The Wall Street Journal features a front page story highlighting that four states and three Native American tribes have received $180 million in federal funding with few strings attached to clean up abandoned mines when their reclamation worries have been largely fixed. At issue is a change made in 2006 to the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program and a fund made up of fees imposed on coal companies meant to help clean up old sites and for reclamation efforts. The legislative change  made disbursements to states "mandatory" instead of "discretionary" through the Congressional appropriations process, and consequently there is little funding left for other states with long-term clean up projects that may take decades. 

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that The Council of State Governments calls on Congress and the Administration to enable and encourage federal agencies to enter into partnerships, including memorandum of understandings, with state governments to provide for the better management of land in and around military and other federal facilities.

A voluntary program that helps Michigan farmers ensure that they are complying with environmental regulations and implementing soil- and water-conservation measures has become one of the state’s newest laws.

CSG this week issues a new brief in our Capitol Research series entitled “Transit-Oriented Development.” Using the possibility of development around future high-speed rail stations as a jumping off point, it examines the policy options available to states to try to shape how that development occurs. While high-speed rail has suffered a number of political setbacks in recent months, it remains on track in some parts of the country. But regardless of whether high-speed rail is coming to your state any time soon, there is a great deal of useful information in the brief about the role states can play in shaping the kinds of communities Americans say they want and that best serve our citizens, the environment and the economy. I encourage you to read the brief, which examines the benefits of transit-oriented development, the role of state governments in encouraging it, and the experiences of California and many other states in adopting related policies. If the brief piques your interest, there is an abundance of other worthwhile reading I can point you toward as well.

I’ve written a fair amount over the last year or so about the intersection of transportation and the environment in public policy, about Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth, about Climate Change and Transportation and about Green Transportation. Several new reports on related issues have come across my desk in recent weeks. Here’s a rundown.

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