Municipalities in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation have the right to pass zoning laws keeping drillers from extracting gas within their boundaries. They just shouldn’t expect any revenue from Republican Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati’s proposed impact fee.
Scarnati’s legislation would “prohibit a municipality that adopts a zoning ordinance which exceeds [a statewide model published by the Public Utility Commission] from receiving funding from the local impact fee,” according to an outline released Thursday. (The bill itself won’t be introduced until next week, at the earliest.) The legislation boils down to an argument that townships can’t have their cake and eat it, too – if they’re keeping drillers out, Scarnati doesn’t want them taking money from the $10,000-a-well assessment.
“We’re not trying to be heavy-handed on the local level. But at some point, if local officials want to do everything in their power to ensure that natural gas companies cannot drill in their jurisdiction, then at some point for us, there’s got to be a ramification for that,” explained Scarnati’s chief of staff, Drew Crompton. “We don’t believe that there should be a benefit from the impact fees to those few jurisdictions that may elect to ensure that drilling cannot occur in that jurisdiction.”
Pittsburgh is the most high-profile municipality to ban drilling. Its Council passed an anti-hydraulic fracturing ordinance in November.
The executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, Dave Sanko, said he’s “pleased with the concept” of Scarnati’s legislation, but he’s worried by the zoning language, especially if municipalities would lose revenue for simply passing restrictions that are tighter than the statewide standard. “If you start deferring those things to Harrisburg in these one size fits all solutions, and you do it for the gas industry, what’s next?” he asked. “Is Harrisburg going to start making zoning determinations for trailer parks or for adult book stores or for other things they don’t want the locals to handle? We’re the last line of defense for our residents in preserving and protecting the quality of life that they’ve come to expect. So we ought to have the ability to control those things.”