A year or so back there were public input meetings being held here and there around the area as members of the Pennsylvania legislature sought feedback from their constituents concerning a proposed bill to regulate exterior wood-burning furnaces.
Absolutely unnecessary! A matter better left to local governments to handle as they ee fit! Yet another instance of the state trying to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on small, rural communities! Obviously something that would favor certain industries, and drive many wood-burning country folks into the arms of the greedy gas companies! Fie! So exclaimed local officials and state legislators, in chorus.
When the Rendell administration proposed extraction or depletion taxes, those currently in charge in Harrisburg said such levies were a bad thing. The relevant industries, used to those charges elsewhere, would never tolerate them here; Pennsylvania would lose its great Marcellus advantage. Or something like that.
Governor Tom Corbett has been adamant about not burdening the energy companies or drillers with taxes or fees. Meanwhile, rural townships have been bracing for road and bridge damage and the headaches of getting highways bonded by the exploration, drilling and production companies and frack water and brine haulers.
As it is, without any new legislation, municipalities do have the power to impose regulations and fees. Many are preparing to enforce existing ordinances and tweak or augment them to handle the emerging need economic safeguards and protection of the infrastructure.
Our state senator, Joe Scarnati, who is also president pro tempore of the state Senate, has come galloping to the rescue. He has proposed a natural gas impact fee. Under his bill, the revenue would be collected by a state agency, and would be distributed to communities where drilling is going on.
After rosy presentations of this legislation, some officials and citizens in those municipalities have read the proposed legislation, and they have concerns. It does appear that the bill would limit local control over drilling and related operations within their boundaries.
Even ordinances not enacted with drilling related activities in mind could be partially nullified. The noise and light and other nuisance factors, regulated in many local planning and zoning ordinances or municipal codes, would not be allowed to be applied to drilling activities, or compression and transport.
The proposed impact bill would prohibit or pretty much cancel the effect of local measures creating restrictions on overweight vehicles that are more stringent than the state code.
Time allowed for reviews of permit applications for gas-related development would be limited. If a municipality’s applicable ordinances are tougher than the model ordinance in Scarnati’s bill, guess what. That municipality would not be eligible for money from the impact fees.
Scarnati seems to have great concern for the oil and gas industry. As a member of his staff explained, it is a hardship for the industry to have to deal with various sets of rules, from one municipality to another.
According to Scarnati and like minded legislators, uniformity would be far better. Consistency is the name of the game. The various players in Marcellus Shale development should not have to deal with all these different rules. These create “difficulty in the industry’s functioning throughout the commonwealth.”
Who should be in charge of keeping the drillers and haulers and producers in line, and making sure they pay for damage and other problems they cause in the various localities where they operate?
Why, the Public Utilities Commission, of course, say Scarnati and his aides. The PUC is very good at regulating things for us, and setting rates for gas and electrical power and so on. Under Scarnati’s bill, the PUC would draft the model ordinance, and would be in charge of collecting and distributing the largesse from the impact fees. Scarnati’s office considers the PUC “a neutral arbiter.”
I’d just as soon see our local officials be on our side, rather than neutral in the sense that they feel an equal duty to look out for the energy companies, drillers and truckers. Are those companies locally based? Are they invested in the communities, in the sense of being part of the local scene and planning so to remain? Do they fear having to comply with the same regulations other industries and our local companies are expected to obey? Are they concerned for the interests of the landowner and residents?
This bill looks and smells like yet another instance of pandering to the energy industry’s wishes and practically begging big energy and friends to come in and mess with the environment and local infrastructure in whatever ways and to whatever degree they find convenient.
Meanwhile, whatever happened to our legislators’ repugnance for “one size fits all,” state imposed regulation?
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