FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
State Rep. Greg Vitali
A call to fix inadequate Marcellus Shale bills
HARRISBURG, Dec. 7 – Legislators, experts and local officials today called for significant improvements to two Marcellus Shale bills during a Capitol news conference hosted by state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware.
House Bill 1950 and Senate Bill 1100 were passed out of their respective chambers last month. House and Senate Republican leaders and Gov. Tom Corbett are currently negotiating differences in the legislation.
Experts from across the state explained flaws with the rate of the impact fee, the distribution of fee proceeds, the pre-emption of local zoning ordinances and other regulations, drilling location restrictions, Oil and Gas Lease Fund disbursements and air emissions from drilling. Among those attending were House Democratic Caucus Chairman Dan Frankel, Whip Mike Hanna and Policy Committee Chairman Mike Sturla.
Vitali noted that the effective tax rate of House Bill 1950 is only 1 percent and just 2.2 percent in Senate Bill 1100. Texas has a tax rate of 7.5 percent on gas drilling.
"Both bills are both woefully inadequate," Vitali said. "The impact fee they call for is significantly less than what other natural gas-producing states are collecting."
Former Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary John Quigley said the disbursement from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund in House Bill 1950 takes needed funds away from state conservation programs and will force Pennsylvania to lease more state forests for gas drilling.
"What we should be discussing is not defunding conservation, not disinvesting in the public lands, not subsidizing a well-heeled industry, but rather how Pennsylvania can wisely invest income from state forest leases in a way that will permanently strengthen Pennsylvania’s public lands, environment, economy, and quality of life," Quigley said.
Several speakers said the state should have a severance tax on the industry, instead of an optional local fee assessed by counties. Ronald Cowell, former chairman of the state House Education Committee and current president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center, said money generated by a tax could boost education funding in Pennsylvania, which lags many other states. Cowell noted that Pennsylvania provides $1,700 less in state funding per pupil than West Virginia.
Fred Bohls from Trout Unlimited said the bills should do more to protect waterways from pollution or they will face the same legacy caused by coal mining. He said setbacks from streams should be increased from 300 feet to 500 feet in the legislation, and setbacks from water supplies should be increased to 2,500 feet.
"Pennsylvania’s streams are still reeling from the last major energy extraction, and there are still more than 5,000 miles of acid-impaired waterways that need to be restored across the commonwealth," Bohls said. "We must make sure that Pennsylvania is taking every possible precaution to avoid facing another legacy of energy-related pollution."
State Rep. Robert Freeman, Democratic chairman of the House Local Government Committee, and Jim Dunn, chairman of the Armstrong Township supervisors in Lycoming County, said provisions that exempt gas drillers from local zoning and make the Pennsylvania Attorney General the judge if those regulations are proper should be dropped from the bills.
"Taking the authority to accomplish coordinated development, safety, health, general welfare and comprehensive planning away from local government and giving it to the state's attorney general is unreasonable," Dunn said.
Lauren Burge, an attorney from Group Against Smog and Pollution (G.A.S.P.), called for the legislation to do more to address the air pollution problem caused by Marcellus drilling.
"Emissions from the natural gas industry pose a significant threat to our air quality, and Pennsylvania is behind in addressing this problem," Burge said. "It is essential that we take steps as soon as possible to fully regulate emissions from this growing industry."
"The plans ignore real costs imposed by this industry on all of the state’s taxpayers – protection of our water, air, and wild spaces; degradation of state roads and bridges and state police protection," added Michael Wood, a researcher with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. "We can, and should do better than this."