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.
Much of the refrain we hear from the House Majority in D.C. over the government’s proper regulatory role over fracking emphasizes local control. Too often the rhetoric references faceless and unaccountable Washington bureaucrats imposing a one-size-fits-all solution that stifles innovation and efficiency. Beyond the mere rhetoric, we often here fracking proponents argue that local geology calls for local regulation. That is, those elected and regulatory officials closest to and most familiar with the geological differences between, say Texas and Colorado, are best equipped to design a regulatory regime to fit.
Curious then, what we see from the Keystone state. The state legislature in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is debating a pair of industry-supported bills designed to remove a municipality’s zoning power to curb drilling operations. Instead, faceless and unaccountable Harrisburg bureaucrats will decide where, when, and how many drilling wells will appear near schools, hospitals, and senior centers in small townships all over Pennsylvania.
Apparently it’s not enough for the gas industry in Pennsylvania to turn a profit; receive hundreds of new permits a year; have special exemptions from U.S. environmental laws; and be fined for only a tiny fraction of violations committed. According to Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Klaber in the Philadelphia Inquirer, local zoning should also be eliminated for “posing a threat” to the industry.
But Ms. Klaber—along with Governor Corbett in a letter to legislators as they debate bills this week to gut local control in exchange for small drilling revenues—got a basic fact wrong. There is no patchwork of local regulation; the state has set, and will continue to be the entity to set, standards and rules for gas drilling.
Over the weekend, I blogged on efforts in the Pennsylvania Senate to make a devil's bargain through a bill that would establish an impact fee on gas drillers--but greatly restrict the rights of municipalities to take measures (like zoning) to protect communities from the damage caused by drilling. Thanks to widespread push-back, including from the PA Campaign for Clean Water, the Senate has postponed the vote.
But today, the House declared its own willingness to sell the souls of Pennsylvania's communties for some quick revenue--introducing a bill that would strip local governments of any say over any aspect of drilling.
It’s often said that getting anything done in government requires compromise. But in their continued give-and-take over Senate Bill 1100, Pennsylvania legislators are poised to go too far and sell out communities.
Amendments were made to the bill this week that could result in some much-needed improvements to the state's outdated Oil and Gas Act, but it still rests on a faulty and unjust premise: forcing cash-strapped municipalities to give up their zoning rights in exchange for revenues from an “impact fee” charged to gas drillers. And linking these two issues now makes any legislator who wants to improve protections from damaging drilling party to the gutting of local control.
Pittsburgh, PA, September 27th -- Today, hundreds of families and concerned citizens gathered at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh for the first of only three public hearings held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on a proposed safeguard to reduce harmful air pollution from the extraction, transmission, and storage of oil and gas. These are also the first-ever federally proposed safeguards aimed at cutting harmful air pollution from hydraulic fracturing.
Such federal laws are critical because they provide consistent standards that -- through oversight and enforcement by the EPA and other agencies -- can help to ensure that all Americans nationwide have basic protection from significant risks to their health and environment. As the oil and gas industry rapidly expands into new areas and uses new technologies to develop unconventional sources of fossil fuels, current standards and practices haven't kept pace and revision is necessary.
I just caught a train, hoping to reach upstate New York before Amtrak shuts down more lines due to flooding. The tail of Tropical Storm Lee is whipping the Northeast even as the region struggles to recover from Hurricane Irene. And on the other extreme, Texas is drying out and burning.
Mother Nature (that is, the natural and climate systems the concept represents) certainly has cause to be furious, like the insatiable human appetite to burn energy and pollute. But at least she’s not alone—as was clear from the gathering of several hundred people for Shale Gas Outrage in Philadelphia over the last two days.
At a rally and march yesterday, landowners spoke about the toll that gas development is taking on their properties and health. Elected officials called on their colleagues to be influenced more by citizens and less by campaign-contributing corporations. Musicians rocked the crowd with tunes about the air and water we all need, now and for the future.
After months of meetings, hearings, and fanfare, the issuance of recommendations by Pennsylvania s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission was underwhelming in its predictability. There was hardly any doubt that the industry-packed Commission would seek to boost drilling s prospects and quell calls for greater protection of health and the environment.
Yet it s hard to not be disappointed anyway, as the Campaign for Clean Water expressed clearly in a press release and press conference yesterday outside Governor Corbett s office. While some improvements on the regulatory front were made, the Commission s ideas pale in comparison to the truly protective recommendations put forth last week by the coalition.