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Withholding of Impact Fee: Immoral by Range Resources and Illegal by the Corbett Administration

'(Range Resources) is willing to hold nearly $1 million intended for roads, police and fire departments and parks in order to exert enough public confusion and political pressure to do whatever they want, with no accountability,' writes White.

This week, two major events dealing with Marcellus Shale and our local communities took place; you decide if they’re related or not.

Today, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the Act 13 challenge, the lawsuit filed after all local zoning control over oil and gas operations was usurped by the Legislature.

The Supreme Court decision may be one of the single most important ones in the history of Pennsylvania, particularly in heavily drilled areas such as Washington County. The municipalities leading the charge are Cecil, Robinson and Mt. Pleasant Townships in Washington County and South Fayette Township in Allegheny County. I’m proud to say I represent all four of them as a state legislator.

On Monday, the Public Utility Commission announced the release of the Marcellus Shale impact fee money to counties and municipalities across Pennsylvania. But buried in the details of Gov. Tom Corbett’s press conference was a small detail: four municipalities will not be receiving their impact fee money, which should have been a combined $974,567.32.

Which municipalities are left out? You guessed it—Cecil, Robinson, Mt. Pleasant and South Fayette Townships. Quite the coincidence, huh?

Here’s what happened.

Under Act 13, any resident can challenge their municipality’s drilling ordinance to the PUC and demand a review to ensure the ordinance complies with Act 13.  One resident in each municipality filed a complaint with the PUC to challenge their respective ordinances, even though the municipalities in question have never denied a single drilling permit application and have never banned or blocked drilling activity. Robinson Township’s ordinance is exactly one sentence long—it makes drilling a conditional use in all zoning districts.

According to published reports, each of the residents who challenged the ordinances is a leaseholder with Range Resources, and Range filed its own challenge in South Fayette Township. This is the same company whose lobbyists basically wrote Act 13, including the zoning provisions struck down by the Commonwealth Court.

So Range Resources is claiming the ordinances in those municipalities makes it impossible for them to do business, which could be considered a fair point if it wasn’t such a blatant lie.

This week, Range will be moving forward with a conditional use permit to drill a new well in Robinson Township. Just last week, Range Local Government Affairs Manager Jim Cannon sent a letter to the Cecil Township Supervisors expressing a desire to drill more wells in the community, citing the successful completion of 10 horizontal wells and “the cooperation of the supervisors.”

So which is it, Range? You can’t cry publicly about not being able to drill while you are actively drilling here. Pick a lane and stay in it, please.

To be clear, all of this drilling is taking place under the local ordinances that would have been wiped out by Act 13, so can we please knock off the false rhetoric about these communities being anti-drilling? It’s simply not true. This isn’t a black and white, pro-drilling vs. anti-drilling argument—it’s about ensuring accountability, public safety and true best practices for an industry where some of the companies have been openly hostile toward any questions, no matter how legitimate.

So Range Resources, both directly and through a few handpicked leaseholders, had the ordinances of these four municipalities challenged for no reason other than political extortion. It wants to hold up the money from coming into these communities and mislead people into believing the Act 13 challenge is directly linked to the loss of impact fee money, when in fact the only link is Range’s own actions.

It is willing to hold nearly $1 million intended for roads, police and fire departments and parks in order to exert enough public confusion and political pressure to do whatever they want, with no accountability.

Hijacking public money in this way is a short-sighted, selfish, mean-spirited and totally unnecessary approach which exposes all of Range Resources’ “good neighbor” rhetoric as pure garbage.

Are any of the executives down in Fort Worth paying attention to how poorly this is being handled? Some fresh faces in the public relations department would be the single best move Range Resources could make right now, because the current crew is doing much more harm than good.

I watched the news conference in shock as both Gov. Tom Corbett and Sen. Tim Solobay stood in support of the PUC’s action to withhold the impact fee money from these communities. I was shocked because the PUC’s actions are not only immoral, but are also clearly illegal.

Section 3308 of Act 13 clearly states impact fee money can only be withheld AFTER it has been established that an ordinance does not comply with Act 13; such a determination requires an order from the PUC or the courts. In the instance of these four municipalities, no determination has been made as to whether the ordinance complies or not, so under the law the impact fee money cannot be withheld.

Otherwise, any resident or drilling company could file a bogus complaint at any time and stop the flow of money into the municipality, essentially taking the interests of everyone living in that community hostage.

But this is why the lobbyists who wrote Act 13 gave the power to the PUC— they’re not elected, they’re all appointed by the governor and are being given extraordinary power to act as a substitute for the legislative and judicial branches of government. The stunning lack of respect for separation of powers and the constitution only underscores the lengths being taken to rig the game against people who want to see the natural gas industry succeed, but not at the expense of our health, safety and welfare.

I am calling on Governor Corbett and Senator Solobay to join me in urging the PUC to respect and obey the law by releasing the impact fee money to the people of Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson and South Fayette Townships.

These petty tactics designed to divide and conquer our communities aren’t going to work—if anything, they will expose who is serious about developing our natural resources in a truly honest, safe and responsible way and who is willing to sell out the people of Pennsylvania by cowering to special interests based on the size of the next fundraising check.

John Moyer October 17, 2012 at 12:59 PM
The oil and gas industry will not protect you.
Jason Parks October 17, 2012 at 03:16 PM
You conveniently left out the part about you swearing up and down the impact fee wouldn't be touched if townships kept their illegal ordinances. Big coincidence that the four townships affected are places you personally got involved. Some fresh faces in Harrisburg would be a welcome change. Is this really how you spend your time and public money? Throwing wild allegations around? You say you're proud to represent the areas in which drilling happens but are you just a proud of your petty childish behavior? I can't believe people take you seriously.
Patrick Henderson October 17, 2012 at 05:27 PM
The article is as laughable as it is offensive. First, as Rep. White knows, the PUC is an independent entity from the Executive Office, so it is inaccurate to say that the "Corbett Administration" is withholding impact fee revenue. Second, and most importantly, it is wrong to state that doing so is in violation of the law. Under Act 13, impact fee revenue is not due to counties and municipalities until Dec. 1st. There is no "right" to receive money early; the PUC is simply exercising both common sense and some due diligence in recognizing matters before it for adjudication. If the matters are not adjudicated by Dec. 1st, then the municipalities will receive their money. It is a sad day when people condemn dedicated public employees, such as the PUC, for actually doing their job - especially when it comes from someone who knows better. Patrick Henderson, Energy Executive Gov. Tom Corbett's Office
Jesse White October 17, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Mr. Henderson, I can assure you that no one in these communities are laughing about this issue. Governor Corbett appoints members of the PUC, and since the PUC is specifically exempt from the Sunshine Law under Act 13, we have no way of knowing what deliberations are taking place between whom. Section 3308 of Act 13 is clear, and PUC internal policy should not and cannot trump a plain language reading of the statute. The theory behind withholding the Impact Fee is to stop a municipality from collecting fees while operating under an illegal ordinance; since Act 13 was not in effect during the time leading up to the disbursement, how could the ordinance have violated it? Judging by the fact that they have NEVER denied a single drilling permit application, coupled with the sheer number of wells drilled, it's fair to say the municipalities in question are some of the most pro-drilling in the entire Commonwealth. We all know what this is. Please don't insult the intelligence of my constituents by pretending it is anything other than political retribution. As always, I appreciate this dialogue and stand ready to work togther on common-sense solutions which promote energy development while protecting our communities. Jesse White State Representative, 46th District
Jason Parks October 17, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Someone at lunch told me Cecil is going to change their drilling ordinance so it lines up with act 13. So if the act is illegal, why would Cecil change it? Jesse, you just can't keep all your talking points straight. How does it feel knowing the townships you advised, including your hometown, won't get the money because of what you told them?
Jesse White October 18, 2012 at 07:16 AM
Oh, if someone at lunch told you, it must be true. What was for lunch at the Range Resources cafeteria today? You keep trotting out the same misleading line in the hopes it will gain some traction. The Impact Fee money being withheld is because Alan Rank, a township resident and Range leaseholder, filed a complaint with the PUC, and the PUC is ignoring Section 3308 of Act 13 by refusing to release the money. I had nothing to do with Mr. Rank's appeal, which is more than I can say for Range. I'm trying to get Cecil their money. Range, the Corbett Administration and Senator Solobay support withholding it. So who is looking out for Cecil residents again?
Pat Henry October 18, 2012 at 11:00 AM
Once more Jesse doubles down in his intransigence. I learned a good lesson many years ago which was that its just easier to admit your wrong rather than continuing to perpetuate the same lie. Fact of the matter is that you failed all of your constituents though by not informing them of their responsibility to modify their ordinances. Had you done your job, as even PSATs had, rather than continue to tell them that everything will be fine, this current situation would not even have occurred. Instead you align yourself with the likes of extreme NIMBY types rather than doing your job responsibly. By all means, continue to waste taxpayer dollars by avoiding real issues and focusing on pet adoption tax credits. It may be the best thing you can do. By being so irrelevant the only people you harm are those in your district and not the entire state. Incidentally, Cecil did post that they would change their ordinance. It's in their PUC filing. You should also remember that sometimes the things you hear at the lunch cafeteria are just as accurate as when you ask around town and randomly happen to find out someone's name based on an email address.
Jason Parks October 18, 2012 at 11:12 AM
Oh, so this isn't about zoning "rights" but it's about money. Thank you for finally being honest, Mr White. If you had said that months ago I bet this site would have been pretty quiet. Are you saying Cecil is not changing their ordinance? That's what you imply. I thought you'd be flattered that I followd your lead. You know, when you "asked around" to magically find out the name of someone posting here under an alias. So what's for lunch at the Patch cafeteria? Love how you're now blaming someone else for this mess. It's DEP. No, it's corbett. Wait, it's Range. No, no, it's the PUC. Oh, it must be Alan Rank..at some point you'll run out of others to blame for your mistake. The fact is you told cecil they would get the money no matter what. You were either wrong because you don't understand law or you lied. Pick one and admit it.
Jason Parks October 18, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Amanda, I need to ask something. Recently you took down one of my comments and wrote something like "just a reminder to be civil and respectful". I don't recall what I wrote that would have been uncivil? For the most part you've done a good job in letting the discussion continue. But here's my question. Do you think its responsible to keep giving Jesse White a platform in which he outright accuses people of crimes? He accused the governor of collusion. He accused range of comitting extortion. He has called out people by name. How is that respectful and civil but maybe calling him a liar (because he refuses to provide facts) is not civil and respectful? You seem to nbe walking a dangerous line with this guy.
Roger October 18, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Jason, Rep White is the best thing for Patch. It is a harmony relationship. Rep White wants a platform, Patch wants site traffic. He chooses to use Patch as his platform, and Patch gets traffic because of his writings, and the follow-on comments. If Patch shuts him off, they loose the traffic. It is their best interest to give him lots of slack. If Rep White shuts down his writing, he would have to seek another platform. It works well for both parties, so don't expect it to change. What other local political figure spends their time on sites such as Patch?
Jesse White October 18, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Once again, I remind everyone of my repeated offer to contact me at my office (the number is 724-746-3677) and I will be glad to sit down and discuss any issues you may have. Amazingly, none of the handful of anonymous users who have devoted considerable time and energy to attacking me endlessly have shown the intestinal fortitude to pick up the phone and call. I think that speaks volumes.
Keith McDonough October 18, 2012 at 01:49 PM
As a life long replublican I have to come to know Jesse White over the least few years as one of the most honest and trustworthy elected state officials I have ever had the honor to know. He has the longest record of state government experience with the Marcellus industry in this state. I know for a fact he has many times met with Range and other Marcellus companies over a multitude of issues as he has with concerned citizens. He is the one that brought local municipalities together in an attempt to build a comprehensive strategic response to serve the industry and the citizens. Now, because of the citizen's trust he has worked so hard to deserve, he is attacked by some that see him as a threat to the industry. News flash, this industry and especially Range, has a lot of work to do to prove they deserve to be trusted; that they have any concern at all for citizen's safety, health and private property rights. My advice to the industry would be to align immediately with Jesse and work to prove to citizens this is not all about the profits of one industry over all else and that the citizens of this state are not collateral damage to be rolled over. He is one of the best PR opportunities the industry has and they are blowing it. They have so much to learn about what it takes to be a good corporate Pennsylvania citizen but they continue the path of mistrust over trust, which will be their undoing.
Ed Vicheck October 18, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Jason, Independence Township Wash. Co. Had done the same thing, They wrote the ordinances so they comply either way this decision comes down from the court. It is the smart thing to do. That way a municipality has only spent $208.00 in advertising to get their $300,000.00 in impact fees. I have spoken with a few of my sources(and yes they are lawyers who are well aware of this case and what has just transpired) and they agree with the way that Jesse has handled this whole mess.
Jason Parks October 18, 2012 at 02:52 PM
There he goes again, folks...jesse, every time youkre about to lose the argument, you pull the "call my office" nonsense. No. You're the one who spends time starting public fights and throwing around wild allegations with no facts. So let's keep it out in the open. Now answer the question--if Act 13 is, as you've said, illegal, why on earth is Cecil going to change their ordinance? You told them the impact money would still flow regardless. You were wrong. So is the Cecil issue actually about zoning or is it about money? If it's about zoning, then tell them, as you did before, to stand their ground. You say the act isn't legal so really they have nothing to worry about right? And Ed, I know a lot of lawyers and they laugh out loud at White and his antics. Oh I see Solobay got ANOTHER piece of legislation passed. Jesse, what exactly is it you do all day other than hang out on patch and facebook and take potshots at people? Nothing, that's what.
Jesse White October 18, 2012 at 04:55 PM
You're right- here we go again. I put my name on what I do, and go to great lengths to explain it, and cowardly anonymous internet trolls spend all day trying to deflect and divide people by telling blatant lies. So when I do the responsible thing and offer to talk with people face to face, I get blasted for that too? The ONLY thing that prevented Cecil and the other communities from getting Impact Fee money is the action of Range and it's leaseholders. I read Mr. Rank's complaint, and it was clearly written by someone in the industry. Deny it all you want, but it's obvious. Then the PUC decided to blatantly disregard Section 3308 of Act 13 by withholding the money from these communities, which is clearly designed to give the haters a false weapon to try and make this somehow my fault. The last time I checked, I'm the only one, including government and industry, who has stood up and called for these communities to get their money. I've reached out to the PUC for clarification with no response. The pushback by the anonymous posters on here with a clear pro-industry tilt and an agenda to smear me only serves to prove that this piece hit a little too close to home. I think you doth protest too much. Say whatever you want, but the people know I'm the only one actually promoting responsible drilling and fighting to get them their money.
Jesse White October 18, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Here's something else to consider: No municipality in PA has been in compliance with Act 13, because Act 13's zoning provisions have never been law due to the Commonwealth Court's decision. (Again, this was a Republican-majority court, so I don't want to hear about partisanship.) It's impossible to be in compliance with parts of a law that is not enacted and is therefore not enforceable. And for all the talk about these nameless lawyers who are so critical, would these be the same industry lawyers who have gotten routinely spanked in Court by these communities, despite charging huge fees? I can't imagine why they would be critical of me.
Amanda Gillooly October 18, 2012 at 05:37 PM
All right folks, this thread has become increasingly volatile. I am shutting off comments simply because I do not have the time to constantly monitor these comments. However: If you would like to blog or write a letter to the editor, please feel free. My email is amanda.gillooly@patch.com.

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