PennFuture is blasting a proposed impact fee that could be approved by the state Senate as early as tonight.
House Bill 1950 was agreed to by Republican legislative leaders and Governor Tom Corbett, without input from Democrats. It would require Pennsylvania's natural gas industry to pay an estimated $190 million in the first year. The impact fee would then rise and fall with the price of natural gas and inflation. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati says the total fee amount would increase as more wells are drilled.
PennFuture President and CEO Jan Jarrett said, under the bill, local governments would lose the ability to manage the impacts of drilling in their communities.
"The bill would force municipalities to allow gas drilling in all of the zoning areas of the municipality, including residential areas," said Jarrett. "So gas drilling would be allowed in residential areas, huge impoundments of both wastewater and freshwater that the gas drillers use would be forced to be allowed in all zones including residential, gas processing stations would be required to be allowed in industrial and agricultural zones and as a conditional use in residential zones. So really it allows the gas industry to just invade local townships."
She said counties have the option to opt-out of the impact fee so it is impossible to estimate how much money will go to communities that service natural gas companies.
Jarrett said PennFuture is advocating for several changes, including:
- A drilling tax modeled on other states including Texas, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Alaska
- Tax revenue to be invested in restoration, conservation, and protection
- The return of money to local governments so they can be compensated for damage to local infrastructure
She said revenue also needs to benefit all Pennsylvanians because natural gas drilling effects the entire state population.
"It's also appropriate if we use that revenue to fund other government services that right now are facing Draconian cuts, cuts to education, and cuts to human services," said Jarrett. "Although the revenue raised by a drilling tax wouldn't make those things entirely go away, it could go a long way towards helping. And that's the kind of thing we'd like to see."
According to Scarnati, the Senate could vote on the bill Monday night with the House following as early as Tuesday.