White: State’s 'Hijacking of Impact Fees Shameful and Unlawful'

The lawmaker is calling on the Corbett administration and his counterparts in the Senate 'to urge the PUC to release the money in accordance with the law.'

The state Public Utility Commission’s choice Monday to suspend Marcellus Shale impact fee payments to townships challenging the state’s drilling law "not only amounts to political extortion, but is more importantly a clear violation of the law," state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil said in a statement.

Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson and South Fayette townships are noted as communities whose money is “withheld pending resolution of the requests for review of existing ordinances” in documents released by the PUC on Monday outlining a $204 million statewide disbursement of impact fees.

"However, Section 3308 of Act 13 states that municipalities would be ineligible to receive impact-fee funds only after the Public Utility Commission, Commonwealth Court or the state Supreme Court issues an order that a local ordinance violates the Municipal Planning Code."

While the PUC has challenged their ordinances, no determination has been made, and White said that led him to "condemn the PUC for improperly withholding the funds and calling on the Corbett administration and my counterparts in the Senate to urge the PUC to release the money in accordance with the law."

White added: “I don’t know what’s worse, the sorry and shameful hijacking and politicizing of the impact fee money, or the PUC’s blatant disregard for the law. To withhold impact fee money intended for critical needs such as road improvements and public safety from these townships at the epicenter of Marcellus Shale drilling activity isn’t just cruel, it’s clearly punitive and illegal.”

The four townships are locked in a legal battle against the state over zoning provisions in Act 13 that the communities believe override their constitutional right to use local zoning ordinances to regulate natural gas drilling.

The impact fees, as designed, are to be used for road and infrastructure improvements, police and fire protection and other measures local governments see fit to mitigate the impact of drilling in their communities. Cecil Township was scheduled to receive $246,098, Mt. Pleasant to receive $500,000, Robinson to receive $225,737.93 and South Fayette was to receive $2,731.39.

White said the impact fees should have nothing to do with the Act 13 challenge, which is based solely on the constitutionality of the zoning provisions in the law. White further noted that no drilling permit application has ever been denied in any of the townships in question, nor have any of the townships attempted to ban oil and gas operations.

“This is another of the divide-and-conquer techniques used by the industry, and by extension Governor Corbett, to split communities and drum up support for their own agenda,” the lawmaker continued. “How can any reasonable person look at this situation and conclude this is anything other than political payback?”

The PUC’s announcement comes just ahead of the oral arguments of the Act 13 challenge scheduled to be heard by the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, White noted.

White, in conjunction with the state House of Representatives Democratic Caucus, filed in September with the state Supreme Court a special legal brief, known as an "amicus curiae," to support Commonwealth Court’s ruling in July that the elimination of local zoning ordinances for oil and gas operations under Act 13 was unconstitutional.

Editor's Note: Cecil Township's attorney, John Smith, wrote a letter to the PUC Monday expressing his legal opinion that withholding the imapact fee money from those four communities violates Act 13. To read that story, click here.

Pat Henry October 16, 2012 at 10:14 AM
The Representative continues to make statements to municipalities stating that they have no obligation to change their ordinances to meet the state law. In his world having an illegal ordinance is OK and breaking the law is just fine. He complains when the DEP allegedly doesn't follow the rules, but suddenly its OK if its Cecil or Mt Pleasant? Where's the consistency here? There is none nor logic for that matter. As long as Rep. White continues to make blatantly false statements in this column he needs to be taken to task and become personally liable for paying back the nearly $1,000,000 that may be withheld. In my world I would lose my PE for making such an egregious error. Apparently you can give bad advice that costs your clients millions or causes job loss is OK if you are a legislator or lawyer though . I look forward to the excuse of the representative's when he's called to task about his best efforts at killing the cracker plant and all the jobs. Jesse does best at attacking industry for not hiring locals but he doesn't seem to have an issue at preventing locals from even having an opportunity in the first place. http://triblive.com/state/marcellusshale/2409927-74/shell-plant-carlson-company-business-able-county-ethane-officials-whether#axzz27fIkzLta
Jesse White October 16, 2012 at 11:26 AM
This anonymous commenter repeatedly calls me a liar on this site without any facts whatsoever to back it up. Please either give specific proof that Section 3308 of Act 13 is not being violated or redact your claims. Thank you and God Bless.
cecil resident October 16, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Their wouldn't be any arguments right now if a handful of elected officals didn't take it upon themselves to start sueing. They claim they are doing what is best for the citizens but is it a handful of citizens or the majority of the taxpayers in Cecil Township. When people tried to speak at meetings about their concerns they were either shut down or ignored. Our elected officals when they are running for office and want your vote and money all you hear is what are your issues let me help. After the elections they don't want to hear anything you have to say and go so far as passing policy to try and shut you up. This group of concerned taxpayers don't be fooled are not a small group and we will do what ever it takes to help get people in office who want to work with the people even after the elections and have the welfare of the community as a whole when they make important decision .
Pat Henry October 16, 2012 at 03:42 PM
You fail to mention that the PUC also has a duty to review ordinances based on Section 3305 and do so within 120 days. It is not convenient for you to read this legislation in whole as it is meant to be. It would be completely inappropriate for the PUC to provide impact fee money when there is an outstanding question to validity. Since you seem to believe that there is no issue with any of these ordinances why don't you act as a responsible mediator and recommend the money be placed in escrow until a determination can be made? You won't do that because you know the ordinances are invalid and you've done nothing to encourage reform of those ordinances. You sir are 100% responsible for this situation. Had you provided better counsel to the municipalities in your district to bring their ordinances into compliance there would be no case against these ordinances. Rather you allow your ego to triumph so that you can beat your chest and claim that you are taking on the big bad gas industry. You have failed every one of your constituents once again. 4% passage rate of legislation, $1,000,000 loss of impact fee money and the potential loss of thousands of jobs with the cracker plant due to your actions. Actions do speak louder than words and yours speak volumes.
A Robinson Resident October 16, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Pat - you're missing a couple very important points. First, while section 3305 says the PUC has to act within 120 days, section 3308 states that money is withheld if they detrmine a municipality is in violation. No determination has been made yet. Therefore withholding money is premature and seems to be a political move to punish those municipalities who chose to stand up for their citizens and challenge the state's take-over of local zoning related to the gas industry. Second, Commonwelath Court determined the local zoning portion of Act 13 to be unconstitutional and there was a 120 day injunction issued. Municipalities don't have to come into compliance until December. But, why would you change your ordinances, which cost time and money to do if the Act forcing you to has been determined to be unconstitutional? Until the Supreme Court rules on this, the municipalities are in compliance and not violating anything. Therefore, they are entitled to the impact fee money. Get your facts straight before slamming local officials and legislators whose interest is in protecting the residents of these municipalities from the State's attempt to take over and favor the industry. The industry paid big money (and were quoted saying so) to create and pass HB1950. Who do you think they are looking after??? I assure you it isn't the people of the municipalities.
Cindy queen October 16, 2012 at 07:48 PM
If the gas companies had not pillaged our communities, we would not need their money. After all the natural resources are taken, the only thing left will be the sun, air and water. Solar and wind power should be our focus, because at the end of the day, that is the answer for our future generations. I pray that we have enough clean air and water for our children and grandchildren.
Roberta Garn October 16, 2012 at 09:05 PM
It seems like the legislators will hold the muncipalities to vote their way. The impact fees would have helped in this area. If you do not dismiss the lawsuit you can not get any money, is this right? People will have their water destroyed but who cares? Roberta Garn
cecil resident October 17, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Solar and wind is beautiful but if you think this is going to take over all the energy needs in this country you are living in a fantasy land. What solar and wind vechicles do you see in the future are their any trucks, cars, planes, and trains. The items that are used to make solar panels and the steel for the wind mills guess what they are made of and how they are manufactured gas and oil. the majority of the things in your home the computer you are typing on are manufactured with by products of oil and gas.Lately in all the local papers their have been articles on how good the air quality is how clean the rivers are.This country has been drilling for oil and gas for over 150 years and I bet you trees and grass are still green and the water from your faucets is clear and not running as black as oil. If you drink that wonderful bottled water guess where the plastic bottle came from gas and oil.
Pat Henry October 17, 2012 at 10:33 AM
You fail to understand the ruling of the court. Only 3304 was ruled against, sections 3302 and 3303 are still enforceable. 3302 is exactly the wording of the previous law. The point is these municipalities have been in violation for years and now there is a mechanism easier than going through the ZHB and Commonwealth Court to challenge an ordinance. These municipalities have been caught and are now crying. If I were John Smith I'd be protesting because suddenly I'm on the line responsible for paying back this money and making up every excuse possible. There was a simple solution for all of this though. John Smith should have advised his municipalities to strike the provisions which always have been in violation. Jesse White should have recommended the same knowing the requirements of the law. Their actions were to instead to ignore the law and damn the consequences and cry foul in the end. These municipalities are violating Ch. 32, 33 and the MPC and Jesse is perfectly fine with this. It suits his political purposes to continue with the chaos so that his record of failure won't be on display.
Roger Wilcoe October 17, 2012 at 05:34 PM
@proud American, it was the same thing here in Mt. Pleasant when we attended the meeting to decide whether to enter into the lawsuit. None of our questions were answered, none of our ideas were entertained, I daresay most of us in attendance were opposed and the king of the supervisors literally said "the few rule the many." This is the mentality we're dealing with, so I, for one, am glad that the money is not in their hands yet. I shudder to think of the idiotic ways it will be used, because heaven knows we the citizens will have ZERO say in it. If people actually met and talked to these supervisors in person, I think they'd be shocked by how incompetent they are. Mr. White & Mr. Smith took advantage of the ignorance of those supervisors and the sad thing is, the whole argument is just a grudge match and political BS. It's not about the safety of the citizens.
cecil resident October 17, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Roger maybe it is time for the different township to get together and keep each other informed.
b-sure October 19, 2012 at 10:54 PM
It cost approx. $250,000 to pave a few miles os road. How much to fix water treatment facilities? How does Bucks county get over $530,000.00 when there is a moratorium on gas drilling there? So many questions and the only answer I can come up with is CORRUPTION !
Be October 22, 2012 at 11:48 PM
why would communities who ban drilling feel entitled to "impact fee" money. if you dont want to be in the game, i have no issue with that. if youre not playing, why should you get paid? no community that bans drilling should get anything. philthadelphia, shitsburgh, nothing nada zero. get in the game or stay out. fine either way. what kind of mental illness is it that makes these people believe they should get anything?
A Robinson Resident October 23, 2012 at 03:25 AM
Be - You're missing the point. These townships that are having their money withheld do not ban drilling. They regulate it the same as they regulate any other business that wants to operate in their communities. There were 4... only 4 municipalities whose money is being withheld. Ironically, it's the same 4 municipalities that are parties to the lawsuit. Go figure!!! It's nothing more than a strong-arm tactic by the Corbett Administration to punish them for standing up to the State. Corbett and his cronies are scared because they lost at the Commonwealth level and they are worried they will lose at the Supreme Court Level. This is nothing more than an attempt at revenge and is pure politics.
A Robinson Resident October 23, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Pat - So what you're saying is that the Gas and Oil industry is special and should be treated differently from every other business operating in PA? Going through the ZHB and Commonwealth Court is the method for challenging a municipality's ordinances. What makes this industry so special that they deserve special treatment? The lawsuit argues that that is exactly what Act 13 does. It gives special treatment to one industry, and is a violation of the State Constitution. That's what Commonwealth Court ruled. The municipalities haven't been caught doing anything. They all allow drilling and related facilities, but do so as a conditional use. That allows them to regulate aspects that may pose health and welfare issues for their residents. The Court decision essentially says that the staus quo will continue, so how can you say that municipalities "got caught?"
Amanda Gillooly October 23, 2012 at 03:57 AM
I'd like to confirm that - drilling has not been "banned" in the communities mentioned.


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