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There are many tragic and terrible things happening in America’s gas patches. Often residents say that elected officials—ostensibly charged with protecting the public interest—seem to care more about gas industry campaign contributions than the lives of their constituents.

Sadly, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, 101 State Representatives, and 31 State Senators just declared them right.

With their votes in favor of a bill called HB1950, these legislators have done away with zoning rights designed to give communities the ability to protect health, property, and quality of life. In so doing, they effectively told the gas industry it’s just fine to drill anywhere, anytime—and effectively ignored the flood of phone calls, letters, and rallies from citizens demanding that they “kill the bill.”

Earthworks and its allies lost no time in decrying this blatant lack of concern for communities, health, and property. So did committed and vocal legislators who spoke out against the bill during floor debate.

HB1950 is a big gift to gas companies, supposedly made in exchange for “impact fees” on gas wells. Yet the fees are so small and restricted that they are unlikely to alleviate the damage that municipalities suffer from the wheels, rigs, emissions, and toxic chemicals that gas companies bring to town.

To top it all off, Governor Corbett’s proposed state budget reduces funding to the environmental agencies tasked with protecting land, air, and water and overseeing the gas industry. Now more than ever, their coffers will depend on the acceleration of dirty drilling to generate permit fees and royalties.

The vote is over, but the fight for the public interest has just begun. The citizen outcry against the passage of HB1950 will be loud and furious—and focused on November’s State House and Senate elections.

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