Both impact fee proposals being considered by Pennsylvania lawmakers would deliver thousands of dollars to municipalities that host Marcellus Shale wells. However, other provisions in the bills have prompted a long list of local officials to launch efforts to stop the fee from becoming law. More than two dozen township managers, borough council members, and other officeholders spoke out against the legislation at a town hall-style meeting in Green Tree on Tuesday night.
They're concerned about language tying municipalities' hands when it comes to zoning and regulating natural gas drilling. Slippery Rock planner Rich Grossman told those gathered that his Butler County community, which hosts a university, has dealt with its share of zoning headaches and the city has already issued its first conditional use permit for a Marcellus Shale rig.
"The township's position on that is they plan carefully for where in this unique community the development of oil and gas can occur, just as they plan carefully in their unique community where appropriate places are for fraternity houses, light and heavy industry, and commercial uses," said Grossman.
Grossman is worried that the two impact fees would erode local power. "If the state legislature preempts the ability of a municipality to regulate this one industry, why not preempt the ability to regulate every industry?" Grossman said.
Supporters of the bills say that's already the case in many instances. They note that municipalities can't pass their own gun control laws in Pennsylvania, and local driving regulations are limited. Supporters also argue that drillers need to know that they are working under one set of standards rather than a "patchwork" of ordinances.
"The clarity, what is so important, is that you understand what's coming. And companies can plan for — and the natural gas industry plans for quite a few regulations and requirements," said Kathryn Klaber, Marcellus Shale Coalition Executive Director.
Several of the speakers at the meeting acknowledged the industry position, but countered that communities need clarity, too. Robinson Township Manager Richard Ward said that people want to move into a neighborhood knowing what is or is not allowed there by local rules. "It allows us to predict how and when and where things are going to happen in our communities. That, to me, is more important than balancing that against the needs of the industry," said Ward.
The crowd grew feisty as the meeting wore on.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields stirred the pot by railing on big energy companies for their large profit margins, and then blasting the impact fee's plan to let the state Attorney General decide whether local zoning measures are reasonable. Earlier in the day, Shields called on City Council members to fight against the proposed state laws.
The position may be too little, too late. The Senate has scheduled an impact fee vote for Wednesday. However, House and Senate leaders are still negotiating the final measure's details, and the Senate is set to recess on Wednesday night until 2012.