Pennsylvania trade secret rule in jeopardy, thanks to one committed physician

We’ve often discussed how state laws are tilted in favor of oil and gas companies, but some laws are so outrageous they need to be held up to special public scrutiny. When such laws are passed, it becomes a civic responsibility of citizens to challenge them.

In 2012 Pennsylvania passed Act 13, an overhaul of the state’s oil and gas law. One of the key provisions of the law is that it allows oil and gas companies to claim “trade secrets,” and keep information about the chemicals they use from being released to the public.

This is true in federal law and in other states, but the provision of the Pennsylvania law that goes beyond the pale is the “doctor gag rule” that requires physicians to sign a non-disclosure form in order to see a full list of drilling chemicals for the purpose of treating patients. But the language in the law also prohibits them from sharing that information with their patients and other doctors.

Imagine that. We now have a substantial amount of information that links drilling to negative impacts on human and animal health. Yet, in Pennsylania at least, doctors are prohibited by law from telling their patients or the doctors who treat them what is making them sick. The law in question is Section 3222.1(b)(10) and (11) of Title 58 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.

In July of last year, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld this “doctor gag rule” with a majority of the judges ruling that physicians have nothing to worry about when it comes to treating patients who may be exposed to fracking chemicals.

Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez

Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez

This law has been challenged in a suit by Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez, who, in his latest appeal, argues that this law violates his rights under the First Amendment to disclose information regarding fracking fluids to his patients and the remainder of the medical community. The suit has been dismissed twice by the US District Court, which ruled that Dr. Rodriguez lacked standing to challenge the law.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PDEP) has filed a brief in response, requesting dismissal. They say Rodriguez’s claims are hypothetical because he has never requested the protected information or been denied the information. (Click here to read PDEP brief.)

We should applaud Dr. Rodriguez’ commitment to getting rid of this ridiculous law. There are times when citizens need to stand up to challenge laws that are fundamentally unfair.

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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