Action Alert: Defend Municipalities’ Right to Limit Gas Drilling (Oppose SB 1100, Scarnati’s Impact Fees Bill), Call State Senators & Write Letter to Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer has published an editorial “Save Our Water” backing the introduction of a new bill that would impose a local impact fee on drillers in Pennsylvania.
Republican State Senator Joe Scarnati wants Pennsylvania to start charging gas drillers a local impact fee. While this may sound like an improvement over Governor Corbett’s opposition to imposing any tax on the industry, there are facts about this state senate bill (SB 1100) that must be understood. Weeks after first being introduced, details are now beginning to be digested. This bill includes a poison pill which strips local county and municipal governments of self-determination.
Local counties and municipalities already lack the necessary resources and powers to control what happens in their communities when it comes to Marcellus Shale development. SB 1100 would further limit this by requiring permit reviews to only 30 days or less. Local ordinances would not be allowed to restrict the hours of gas drilling operations at all. No restrictions on light, noise, or height could be imposed. And no restrictions on the vehicular access of routes for the heavy trucks could be implemented.
SB1100 would also strip local municipalities right to stop drilling in flood plains or to stop massive water withdraws from residential neighborhoods.
What little local power communities retain would be stripped away by State Senator Joe Scarnati’s new bill and would effectively put them at the mercy of corporate welfare.
If municipalities attempt to enforce more stringent local control, they would be disqualified from receiving any of these impact funds. Additionally, local municipalities disqualifying themselves would also be responsible for paying the cost of any infrastructure repairs or any other damages caused by the gas drilling industry. Budgets are already tight in many small communities and thinking about where these extra funds could be generated is haunting. How will local governments repair bridges and roads, protect waterways, or have the adequate staffing to review permits?
Senate Bill 1100, titled “An Act amending Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, imposing a natural gas impact fee and providing for a model zoning ordinance“, would provide money to counties and municipalities based on a per well fee ($10,000) and on an accumulation of drilling sites hosted. The more wells, the more funds potentially incoming.
This money coming into local communities affected by the gas drilling industry certainly sounds good at first and might be why the Philadelphia Inquirer is getting behind the idea. Here however is an excerpt from an analysis of SB 1100 from Jane Prettyman, who lives in the Upper Delaware River watershed and has been paying close attention:
“SB 1100 goes too far; it eliminates most PA town powers in relation to land use by the gas industry. ‘Injustice everywhere and no rebellion’ (Brecht). SB 1100 calls us to our moment of rebellion. It happens to involve shale gas drilling but it goes to the core of our democracy.
If towns want a share of revenues to help pay for environmental degradation and road repairs caused by gas drilling, they must accept the ‘Model Zoning Ordinance’ of SB 1100. This cookie-cutter ordinance rescinds most neighborhood decisions as to where gas wells can be located and (from the local community’s point of view) eliminates decision-making as to what distance of setbacks are appropriate from valuable environmental assets like rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, flood planes, forests, special geographical treasures (like the Delaware Water Gap, certain mountains and state parks) and from valuable structures like churches, schools, bridges, and historical buildings.In the age of shale gas, this SB 1100 law would, in essence, eliminate neighborhoods and introduce industrial zones across the entire state of Pennsylvania, supposedly for the sake of energy policy.”
Proponents of SB 1100 point out the many positives of the proposed legislation while not even mentioning the Model Ordinance Zone portion of the bill. On the surface SB 1100 sounds pretty good as selected excerpts from WITF “More details on SB 1100” show:
“About 60 cents of every dollar would go to counties and municipalities. The rest would be deposited into a grant program administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority, and used for environmental cleanup and infrastructure repair projects across Pennsylvania. Relatively small amounts of the fee’s revenue would also be designated for county conversation projects, the Motor License Fund, and the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund.
Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati’s bill requires local governments to use the money for infrastructure repairs, environmental efforts, and to fund their emergency response units and water treatment systems. Counties and municipalities could also, however, direct the money toward property tax rebates. The Republican’s chief of staff, Drew Crompton, said that’s a concession to the fact that drilling is changing the culture of rural communities. ‘We see most of that impact as a positive thing. But there is a negative side for those individuals that live in those districts. They are constantly behind water trucks and different deliveries. Noise is different. In some cases, even dust,’ he said. ‘It has impacted their way of life. And therefore, to account for that, we thought it was reasonable to try to incorporate a different approach, to some degree. And that is to allow counties and municipalities, if they so choose, to lower property taxes’.”
Please take a few minutes to call or write your state senators and write a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer in response to this editorial, letting them know you oppose SB 1100. This must be stopped in it’s tracks!
Find your PA State Senator if you are in the Philadelphia area: visit the Online Citizen’s Guide at Committee of 70 website.
Find your PA State Senator anywhere else in the state: visit the Pennsylvania General Assembly site linked here.
Send a written letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Office: http://www.philly.com/philly/about/feedback/
When sending letters to the Inquirer, include your address and day and evening phone numbers in order to be considered for publication. A good tip to keep in mind is that short letters get published more often than long ones. To send your letter via email: email@example.com
Reprinted here in full is Protecting Our Waters Director Iris Marie Bloom’s letter to her Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony H. Williams (which you can use for inspiration and useful ideas when writing your comments to your PA State Senator or to the Inquirer):
Dear Senator Williams,
I’m writing to urge you to oppose SB 1100, Sen. Scarnati’s bill which would use “impact fees” as a way to prevent municipalities from Pennsylvania from having any say whatsoever about gas drilling operations, condensate tanks, pipelines, water withdrawals, and other aspects of gas extraction from shale and other deep, unconventional gas deposits.
As you know, the technology used for gas extraction is radically new and dangerous. Increasing numbers of people are reporting illnesses from both air contamination and water contamination; methane migration is reaching such extremes that 60 families are going without drinking water right now in Bradford County, except the water supplied by the gas drilling companies that is. A home blew up in Bradford Township a few months ago due to methane migration. And of course you are aware of repeated blowouts and fires.
Municipalities in PA MUST retain the right to review for more than 30 days any such damaging and dangerous activities, but SB 1100 would not allow more than 30 days. Municipalities MUST be able to limit or prevent drilling in floodplains, a vital right which SB 1100 would take away. Municipalities must be able to prevent water withdrawals in residential neighborhoods.
In effect, SB 1100 turns PA municipalities into powerless beggars for the impact fees; it would punish any municipality attempting to assert any rights to clean air, clean water, or quality of life for its residents — by threatening not to give any impact fees to those “disobedient” municipalities, forcing them to repair their own roads — torn up by the gas drilling trucks — at their own expense.Senator Williams, there are over 2040 people, businesses and organizations in the Philadelphia area on Protecting Our Waters’ list and we would like to know where you stand on SB 1100. We hope to hear that you stand opposed.
Thank you for considering these very serious issues.Sincerely,