The associations representing Pennsylvania's counties, townships, boroughs and cities lined up Monday urged lawmakers to reconsider language in House Bill 1950, PN 2689, that would strip local governments of all decision-making power over oil and gas operations in their communities, including where these operations could be located.
In a joint memo to members of the House of Representatives, the groups made clear their opposition to this bill. They also proposed revisions that would meet the legislature’s goal of establishing uniform regulations while maintaining a reasonable level of decision-making ability at the local level.
PSATS joined with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities, the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, and the Pennsylvania Association of Township Commissioners in detailing how the existing proposal would impact local governments and local communities.
“We applaud the legislators' intent to address issues raised by the development of the state’s vast Marcellus Shale resource and its inclusion of an impact fee to help offset at least a small measure of related local expenses,” PSATS Executive Director David M. Sanko said. “However, the language in House Bill 1950 is an attack on local land use decisions. It’s so far-reaching that it would prohibit virtually any local regulation of the natural gas drilling industry and possibly void existing ordinances, resolutions, and even contracts — all of which were implemented with the health, safety, and welfare of residents in mind.”
The groups say that the unintended consequences of such strong language, which they call “both unprecedented and unwarranted,” could affect emergency management planning, the training of emergency responders, and the validity of highway maintenance agreements between municipalities and drilling companies.
“It throws out the time and taxpayer dollars that local governments like Lycoming County have spent in developing model ordinances that meet the needs of both industry and the community,” the memo states.
The local government groups advocate a two-part approach to amending the language: providing for pre-emption of local authority comparable to that in existing statutory and case law and establishing a common set of local zoning standards.
“Our stance on this issue is nothing new,” Sanko says. “The local government groups have been working with the industry for almost a year to address any concerns about uniformity in local regulation. The drilling industry in Pennsylvania has a great potential to benefit our entire state, and we know that balancing community impact with environmental protection and economic development opportunities is absolutely doable.
“PSATS will continue to work with the other local government associations and the legislature to make sure we’re moving toward the same goals: what’s right for our communities and what’s right for Pennsylvania.”