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This Is Not 'The Right Way' on Marcellus Shale

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, said the recent Marcellus Shale bill that passed the House would effectively eliminate the right of local municipalities to pass reasonable ordinances dealing with natural gas operations, which also includes pipelines and

Last week, two bills advanced through their respective chambers in the Legislature. Don’t let anyone tell you these bills, Senate Bill 1100 and House Bill 1950, were “the best we could do” on the issue of Marcellus Shale.

When you consider all the time spent on the studies, hearings and commissions—coupled with the immense importance of natural gas development on the future of our region—these proposals are woefully inadequate in more ways than I can count.

I’ll focus on House Bill 1950, the bill our chamber passed. This bill is simply a horrific plan for anyone in southwestern Pennsylvania who cares about the effects of the natural gas industry on their local communities, which is why I voted ‘no’ on the bill.

This bill would effectively eliminate the right of local municipalities to pass reasonable ordinances dealing with natural gas operations, which also includes pipelines and compressor stations. It would eliminate any possibility of open and transparent decisions based on the individual needs of the community and its residents.

Although proponents claim the bill would make our communities safer, those claims do not stand up to reality. Making drilling a permitted use anywhere, allowing compressor stations to be built within 750 feet of homes, and no protection for school zones cannot be considered adequate by anybody with common sense.

We all recognize the economic growth that is being created by the natural gas boom, and local governments don’t want to overly restrict the industry. But nothing in House Bill 1950 would create new jobs for Pennsylvania residents or provide an economic benefit for anyone who wasn't benefitting already. Despite the claims of a 'balanced approach,' House Bill 1950 is as unbalanced as it gets.

The impact fee, considered to be a tax by many, is only 1 percent, which is lower than the 2.5 percent the gas industry itself recommended, and far below every other state in the nation. Furthermore, the fee will have to be enacted by the individual counties, which creates a totally unnecessary level of government bureaucracy.

This approach was widely believed to be taken in order to avoid the wrath of the no-tax pledge signed by many Republican lawmakers at the behest of lobbyist Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform group. For the record, Norquist still considers HB 1950 to be a tax—he sent a letter to all of us via email while we were debating the bill in the House chamber.

We also missed the opportunity to make some simple common-sense revisions to the law. For example, an amendment that would have increased road bonding requirements for drillers from $6,000 to a more realistic $250,000 per mile was defeated. The excuse was that the requirement would have been a “nail in the coffin” of the gas industry, which doesn’t pass the laugh test.

The bond would only have to be paid if a driller did not repair the roads on their own, so now any damage of more than $6,000 will have to be paid by the taxpayers. To put things into perspective, you couldn’t repave your driveway for $6,000, much less a mile of road. To actually rebuild a mile of road costs more than $1.25 million, which again will be passed directly on to local taxpayers.

Utter insanity.

Local officials were only asking for a common-sense level of accountability from an industry that is literally drilling in their own backyards. Unfortunately, common sense is considerably lacking in House Bill 1950, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either knowingly spewing propaganda or dangerously ignorant of reality.

Under this bill, the state effectively would be saying all of local rules related to gas drilling should be tossed out the window and replaced with incredibly weak standards put forth in the name of “uniformity and consistency." Such an approach is beyond ridiculous.

Although I had two amendments to House Bill 1950 that would have strengthened local control, the Republican majority used a parliamentary tactic of 'moving theprevious question' to cut off debate and block my—and other similar— amendments from being debated or voted on. That is not open and transparent government. That is not governing responsibly. And unfortunately, neither is House Bill 1950.

This bill is now headed to the state Senate where I would urge my colleagues to do the right thing and ensure that our local communities can retain some reasonable controls that will allow the economic benefits of natural gas drilling while preserving the health and safety of the people in towns across Pennsylvania.

Everyone says they want to promote natural gas development in “the right way”. The definition of “the right way” is broad and subject to debate and discussion, but cannot possibly include the short-sighted, unbalanced and anti-taxpayer provisions in House Bill 1950.

suzanne kennedy November 23, 2011 at 02:05 PM
Thanks Rep. White for a clear explanation of HB 1950 and its potential impact on the industry and local communities. My Rep. is John Maher, and he also voted against HB 1950, for many of the same reasons you explained above. Let's hope the Senate does better with SB 1100, and that ultimately a reasonable impact fee, with local zoning control in tact, is finally reached. The public needs to contact their state reps and senators about this matter. Within months, something will likely be passed and presented to Gov Corbett. Let's make sure our voices are heard through our representatives as to what is necessary to promote economic growth and also protect our towns. It does not have to be an either/or situation.
EC November 23, 2011 at 02:25 PM
I am in agreement with all you say Mr. Representative, I would like to add, the legislators who are willingly voting yes to this particular matter need to have there contributions for re-election inspected as well as their personal business dealing.
Phil Conklin November 23, 2011 at 02:28 PM
"This bill would effectively eliminate the right of local municipalities to pass reasonable ordinances dealing with natural gas operations, which also includes pipelines and compressor stations". Therein lies the problem. The gas companies don't have a problem with the "reasonable" ordinances, just the unreasonable ones! Most anti drillng people are those who don't own any mineral rights and hate the thought of a neighbor getting ahead of themselves. Don't want gas, show it by shutting off all your utilities and don't buy any gasoline. Go green!
Roger November 23, 2011 at 02:43 PM
I am hearing two timelines for this legislation. Some reports say it will all go down quickly, others say it will be many months before anything happens. In view of the meeting schedules of the PA legislature, what is realistic? Will there be any meetings in December and January, with the next consideration to begin in early February? Aren't members in recess during December and January?
Brad November 27, 2011 at 11:23 PM
Thank you for your vote, Rep. White.

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