Bucknum Law is an experienced litigation and regulatory law firm with a focus on providing high quality legal services to the agricultural industry. We care first and foremost about achieving the best possible results for our clients. We do this by partnering with our clients to understand the problems they face, evaluate their options, and execute a strategy to obtain their goals.
Experience and Knowledge Matters. Choose an Attorney You Can Trust.
Before founding Bucknum Law, Susan Bucknum served as a Senior Deputy Attorney General for the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General for nearly ten years. In that role, Susan single-handedly built the ACRE (Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment) program. The ACRE program involves reviewing municipal ordinances imposing requirements on agricultural operations to determine if the requirements are prohibited by state laws and regulations
Knowledge of Agricultural Production
Through her work, Susan learned about many different types of agricultural production operations. Susan worked closely with professors at Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State Extension educators, and state agency personnel to become well-versed in production operations, technical standards, best management practices, economic concerns, regulatory issues and other aspects of everyday business in the agricultural industry. She has also toured farms throughout Pennsylvania, participated in research tours with Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and attended Ag Progress Days each year.
Knowledge of the Laws Protecting and Regulating Agriculture
In addition to learning about agricultural production, Susan also mastered the substantive requirements and real-world application of over 14 statutory schemes, 18 state regulatory programs, and numerous professional technical manuals pertaining to agricultural, environmental, land development, and zoning issues. She established a network of consulting experts from Penn State and state regulatory agencies to assist her with learning highly technical areas of agricultural and environmental regulatory requirements. Susan understands the state regulatory programs and the permits, plans or licenses required for various agricultural operations.
Knowledge of Municipal Law
The ACRE program also required Susan to become proficient in zoning and land use development law. Municipalities have only the powers granted to them by state laws and there are limits placed on a municipality’s authority to regulate agricultural operations. These limits on municipal authority and the existing broad state regulatory programs place significant restrictions on the requirements a municipality can impose on agricultural operations through local ordinances. Susan is experienced in working with municipalities, understanding the process for obtaining zoning and land use development approvals, addressing issues with concerned residents, and knowing what a municipality can and cannot require from an agricultural operation.
Experienced Litigator and Negotiator
Susan’s vast knowledge of state laws and detailed regulatory programs combined with her litigation experience earned her a state-wide reputation for successfully challenging municipal ordinances that imposed illegal requirements on agricultural operations while serving the Commonwealth. Susan successfully litigated ACRE cases in the original jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. She obtained precedential decisions by the court on issues involving animal operations and land application of biosolids.
During her tenure, Susan became a highly respected authority on agricultural and environmental issues for agricultural operators and stakeholders, other state agencies, state legislators, municipal officials and concerned citizens. She has given numerous presentations and published course materials for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute programs and agricultural stakeholder events.
Prior to her work with the Commonwealth, Susan practiced law as a trial and appellate attorney in a variety of civil litigation areas, including product liability, breach of contract, personal injury, business torts, insurance disputes, civil rights, and other areas. Susan has experience in state and federal courts from the trial through the appellate levels. She has presented oral argument before the Superior and Commonwealth Courts of Pennsylvania and the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Upon graduation from law school, Susan served as an appellate judicial law clerk for a one-year term with the Honorable Peter Paul Olszewski of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Before attending to law school, Susan worked for several years as a litigation paralegal and assisted attorneys handling a variety of personal injury lawsuits.
Widener University School of Law, J.D., May 1998 (Graduated 1st in class)
|Law Review:||Widener Journal of Public Law, Administrative Board|
|Honors:||Widener Scholar, Pennsylvania Bar Foundation Scholarship, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, Certificates of Achievement in: Constitutional Law, Criminal Procedure I, Legal Methods/Advocacy, Legislation, Property, Remedies, Sales & Leases and Torts|
Shippensburg University, B.S., Criminal Justice, May 1991
Admitted to practice before all Pennsylvania state courts, the United States District Court for the Eastern District and Middle District of Pennsylvania, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Pennsylvania Bar Association
Advisory Board Member for the Environmental Law and Sustainability Center at Widener University Commonwealth Law School, Harrisburg, PA (June 2016 to present)
Publications and Presentations
- Forestry Task Force meeting held by the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee presented: “Regulatory Relationship Between Forestry Industry and Local Governments” (September 2016)
- Municipal Law Forum for Berks County municipal officials and bar members sponsored by Kozloft Stoudt Attorneys presented: “ACRE — Guidance for Municipal Compliance” (September 2016)
- Pennsylvania Farm Show meeting for agricultural stakeholders held by Office of Attorney General presented: “Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment (ACRE) Statute Discussion” (January 2015)
- Pennsylvania Bar Institute 2014 Land Use Institute presented and published course materials: Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment (ACRE) Ch. Fifteen, Section 1 (PBI No. 2014-8404) (June 2014)
- Pennsylvania Bar Institute 2014 Agricultural Law Forum presented and published course materials: Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment (ACRE) Ch. Four, Section 4 (PBI No. 2014-7725) (February 2014)
- Pennsylvania Bar Institute 2011 Municipal Law Colloquium presented and published course materials: Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment Ch. Fourteen, Part 1 (PBI No. 2011-6630) (June 2011)
- The Office of Attorney General’s Administration of the Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment (ACRE) Statute PBA Environmental & Energy Law Section Newsletter Vol. 1, Issue 1 (April 2011)
- Pennsylvania Bar Institute 15th Annual Environmental Law Forum presented and published course materials: Act 38 of 2005 — Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment (ACRE) Vol. 2, Ch. HH, Part 1 (PBI No. 2010-6058) (April 2010)
- The U.S. Commitment to Agenda 21: Chapter 11 Combating Deforestation — The Ecosystem Management Approach 8 Duke Envtl. L. & Pol’y F. 305 (Spring 1998)
- Trumbull v. Workmen’s Compensation Appeal Board (Helen Mining Co.): The Commonwealth Court Construes the Burden of Proof in Proceedings to Reinstate Suspended Benefits 6 Widener J. Pub. L. 987 (1997)
Notable Court Decisions:
Commonwealth v. Locust Township, 49 A.3d 502 (2012) (en banc). Ms. Bucknum filed an action to challenge an ordinance regulating “intensive animal agriculture,” including the requirements to obtain special exception approval for the use. The Commonwealth Court granted summary judgment on several claims and held that:
- Township could not require small animal operations (below the animal density of a concentrated animal operation) to provide emergency contingency plans and odor management plans required under the Nutrient and Odor Management Act.
- Township could not impose a 500 foot setback on animal operations because the requirement was preempted by the Nutrient and Odor Management Act and exceeded Township authority under the Municipalities Planning Code.
- Township could not require water study and use reporting requirements because the requirements were preempted by the Water Resources Planning Act.
- The Municipalities Planning Code does not authorize municipalities to impose water withdrawal and use requirements on agricultural uses.
Commonwealth v. Richmond Township, 2 A.3d 678 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010). Ms. Bucknum filed an action to challenge an ordinance regulating “intensive agricultural operations,” including the definition used for “intensive agriculture” and the requirements to obtain special exception approval for the use. The Commonwealth Court granted summary judgment on all claims raised and held that:
- Township definition for intensive agriculture was vague, ambiguous, and inviting of discriminatory enforcement because a person could not read the definition and ascertain whether a particular agricultural activity would be considered intensive.
- The Township’s required 1500 foot setback from other zoning districts or residences was:
- preempted by the Nutrient and Odor Management Act as to any facilityregulated under that program (i.e, manure storage facilities and animalhousing facilities).
- imposed an unreasonable restriction on farm structures in violation of the Agricultural Area Security Law; and
- exceeded Township authority under the Municipalities Planning Code.
- The Township’s prohibition on commercial composting and limiting the use of on-site composting to the premises where it is made and produced was:
- preempted by the Nutrient and Odor Management Act and Domestic Animal Law.
- imposed an unreasonable restriction on farm practices structures inviolation of the Agricultural Area Security Law; and
- exceeded the Township’s authority under the Municipality Planning Code.
- The Township’s requirement that solid and liquid wastes shall be disposed of daily in a manner to avoid a public nuisance was preempted by the Nutrient and Odor Management Act and violated the Right to Farm Act.
- Pursuant to the Municipalities Planning Code, agricultural operations that comply with the Nutrient and Odor Management Act, Right to Farm Act,and/or the Agricultural Area Security Law do not constitute an operation that has a direct adverse effect on the public health and safety.
Commonwealth v. East Brunswick Township, 980 A.2d 720 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2009). Ms. Bucknum filed an action to challenge an ordinance regulating the land application of biosolids. The ordinance duplicated and exceeded the DEP’s regulatory requirements and imposed its own enforcement scheme, which included criminal penalties. The Commonwealth Court overruled the Township’s preliminary objections and held that:
- A township cannot duplicate the regulatory regime established in the Solid Waste Management Act and cannot impose more stringent requirements than under the Act.
- Ordinance requirements that are redundant of or stricter than those in the Solid Waste Management Act are preempted.
- The Solid Waste Management Act does not authorize the Township to set up its own sewage sludge police force to enforce the Solid Waste Management Act and the Department of Environmental Protection’s regulations.
- Township did not have authority to adopt many, if not all, of the provisions of the 2008 Ordinance by reason of the Solid Waste Management Act.