The governor's budget address usually sets the legislative agenda for the year, but today, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's speech may be overshadowed by news of a Marcellus Shale fee structure.
The House and Senate are primed for final votes on the issue that has hung over the Capitol since 2009. The measure would place a fee on every Marcellus Shale well, overhaul Pennsylvania's natural gas regulations, and restricts local governments' ability to zone and regulate drilling.
Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati said the language prevents municipalities from effectively banning drilling through harsh zoning. "You can't spot zone. You can't treat this industry any different than you would, say, a powder metals manufacturer with all the requirements," said Scarnati.
A conference committee approved amendments to the bill last night, after weeks of private negotiations between top Republicans. House Democrat Mike Hanna complained his party wasn't involved.
"We've basically been left in the dark through this entire process," said Hanna.
Senate Democrat John Yudichak is not very pleased with what looks to be the final product. "This conference report, this bill, represents the art of 'maybe,'" he explained. "Maybe a fee is imposed by a county. Maybe we have a job creation policy. Maybe we have environmental regulations that protect our land, air, and water."
The Senate will likely vote today. The House is expected to vote tonight or Wednesday.