Yesterday, Pennsylvania state legislators returned to Harrisburg after a long winter break—and were given a resounding welcome from nearly 200 residents and representatives of environmental and citizens organizations.
The rally in the Capitol Rotunda sent a loud and clear message to kick off the 2012 legislative session: Kill the Bill that would allow gas operators to do what they please in communities—local rights and protections for people and property be damned.
Having passed the Senate and House late in the 2011 session, the bill (currently SB1100 and HB1950) was initially developed to establish impact fees on drillers, seen as a politically winnable baby step toward making gas operators pay for the damage they cause. (As opposed to a meaningful severance tax, unlikely with gas-loving Governor Corbett in office.)
But then the bill entered the sausage factory of lawmaking, and out came provisions designed to satisfy the hunger of gas companies to drill everywhere, anytime. The rationale given is the wish for consistency in gas development, rather than a “patchwork” of local rules—an ironic position given the industry’s strong resistance to complying with federal laws and oversight and real reform of state regulations.
Municipalities across Pennsylvania have in place (or, in response to the Marcellus gas rush, are working to adopt) measures that protect air and water quality, public health and safety, and private property, such as gas facility location and setbacks and limits on noise and hours of operation. SB1100/HB1950 would trade this well-established municipal right—supposedly in exchange for limited impact fees and regulatory changes.
Fortunately, many municipal officials and residents of the Commonwealth aren’t interested in making such a lopsided deal, and are speaking out against the bills in letters and petitions. If committees from both Houses reconcile differences in the two versions of the bill, legislators casting their final votes would be wise to listen more to the people who elect them than the companies that try to buy them.
Pennsylvania residents: you can continue to take action to Kill the Bill by calling your state legislators. Visit PennEnvironment for more information and a sample message.