Let’s Make a “Local Impact” on PA’s Marcellus Shale Policy


MMC Public Hearing Set for Wednesday, August 24 at 6:30 PM at Canon McMillan High School; Public Participation Encouraged

As the Legislature prepares to return to session next month, there is no shortage of hot-button issues waiting to be dealt with. Controversial proposals to privatize the state liquor stores and implement experimental school vouchers are on the table, as well as variety of other matters of varying significance. But no one will be able to dip into this cornucopia of legislative priorities until we acknowledge the 800-pound gorilla in the room and address the question every legislator has been hearing all summer long.

“When are you guys going to do something on that Marcellus Shale?”

Nearly everyone agrees that Pennsylvania needs to do something to formulate a comprehensive policy approach to Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling; unfortunately, almost no one can come to a consensus on what that “something” should be.

Governor Corbett has made very clear his refusal to sign a natural gas severance tax, which means Pennsylvania will remain the only major gas-producing state in America without one. He has indicated he would be willing to sign legislation creating a “local impact fee” to offset the costs to local governments associated with drilling.

There far more questions than answers at this point. So what exactly would this fee look like? No one really knows. Legislators in drilling areas want the bulk of the money to remain local (put me in that category), while legislators from non-drilling areas want the money to be spread statewide. How much should the impact fee be? How should it be distributed? How can local governments determine the financial impact of drilling, and what costs should be considered an impact?

Buried beneath the surface of the impact fee idea are some pretty important policy decisions. A main sticking point is the idea of “preemption”, which would require a municipality to give up local control of zoning ordinances dealing with drilling in order to receive any of the impact fee. Major industry players say preemption is essential; some local government officials consider it little more than an extortion tactic designed to tear towns apart.

This is a major issue that will have an impact on Pennsylvania for generations to come. We need an informed and honest debate about how to promote the growth of the drilling industry to create much-needed jobs while taking steps to ensure the impact on our environment is minimized and the costs of drilling are not being passed on to local taxpayers. We all need to work together and we need to do it right now.

To help bring these issues out in an open forum, my Marcellus Municipal Co-op, a group of township and borough officials, both Democrats and Republicans alike, will be hosting a public hearing on the issue of local impact fees. I organized the MMC earlier this year, which is comprised of 18 local municipalities spanning three counties, to work on issues related to the natural gas drilling of the Marcellus Shale.

The hearing, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24 at Canon-McMillan High School, will include testimony from Kathryn Klaber, Executive Director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition; Michael Wood from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (a left-leaning policy group); Elizabeth Stelle from the Commonwealth Foundation (a right-leaning policy group); Andrew Heath from the Renew Growing Greener Coalition; and David Senko, Director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.

I urge you to try and attend the event, which will also include an opportunity for public comment at the end of the hearing. The hearing is co-sponsored by the Washington County League of Women Voters and will be televised statewide on Pennsylvania Cable News (PCN).

Both Republicans and Democrats have introduced local impact fee bills in the legislature. The hearing will focus on all proposals, allowing experts to share their thoughts on the best way to structure the fee. Each testifier will give a brief presentation followed by a direct question and answer session with members of the Marcellus Municipal Co-op.

If you have unanswered questions or unvoiced opinions, this hearing is the best opportunity you will have to make sure your voice is heard across the state. We have assembled a first-rate group of testifiers to give a passionate yet balanced perspective on an issue with a major local impact. The entire state of Pennsylvania is looking for us to be leaders on Marcellus Shale, and we can lead together by coming out on Wednesday August 24 and being a part of this crucial public debate. I hope to see you there!

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