EARTHWORKS

Environmental Groups Concerned About Senate Impact Fee

StateImpact/NPR | Scott Detrow

October 28, 2011
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The direc­tors of five envi­ron­men­tal advo­cacy groups — Clean Water Action, Delaware River­keeper Net­work, the Sierra Club’s Penn­syl­va­nia branch, Earth­works and Pen­nEn­vi­ron­ment — have sent a let­ter to state sen­a­tors, in advance of next week’s vote on a nat­ural gas impact fee.

They’re con­cerned about SB 1100’s “model ordi­nance” lan­guage, which would bar munic­i­pal­i­ties from receiv­ing fee money, if they past strict reg­u­la­tions on drilling.  The groups also want to see stronger envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and setbacks.

Octo­ber 28, 2011

Dear Mem­bers of the Penn­syl­va­nia State Senate:

We are writ­ing con­cern­ing Sen­a­tor Scarnati’s bill to address Mar­cel­lus Shale issues, SB 1100, which was recently amended and voted out of Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee.  Our orga­ni­za­tions have two con­cerns we would like to draw to your attention.

First, the signed orga­ni­za­tions of the attached let­ter (sent to all mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture on June 3, 2011) are writ­ing you to reaf­firm our posi­tion that we strongly OPPOSE any efforts to limit a municipality’s abil­ity to pro­tect itself, to weaken or stan­dard­ize munic­i­pal zon­ing author­ity, to pun­ish com­mu­ni­ties that choose to exer­cise their rights, or to give the Attor­ney Gen­eral the power to cir­cum­vent a tra­di­tional court process and deter­mine the fate of munic­i­pal zon­ing laws.

Munic­i­pal­i­ties all across Penn­syl­va­nia are work­ing to enact or have enacted mea­sures designed to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment and health, safety, and wel­fare of their com­mu­ni­ties and its res­i­dents in light of the rush to drill for nat­ural gas in the Mar­cel­lus Shale. In addi­tion, Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court rul­ings have made it clear that the state Oil and Gas Act does not pre­vent munic­i­pal­i­ties from apply­ing zon­ing codes to gas wells.

Our pre­vi­ous let­ter referred specif­i­cally to a pro­vi­sion in the orig­i­nal ver­sion where the receipt of rev­enue from an impact fee was tied to adop­tion of a model zon­ing ordi­nance. Recently, efforts have begun to amend this leg­is­la­tion. Whether nego­ti­a­tions result in the preser­va­tion of this “one size fits all” pro­vi­sion or pro­duces new lan­guage that would attempt to weaken a municipality’s abil­ity to pro­tect its res­i­dents, the result is still the under­min­ing of the cen­tral pur­pose of local ordi­nances: to address the par­tic­u­lar needs and con­cerns of munic­i­pal­i­ties, which vary greatly with regard to nat­ural resources, pop­u­la­tion loca­tion and den­sity, com­mer­cial sec­tors, and other aspects.

We request that you stand with us and your munic­i­pal­ity in this cause and encour­age your lead­er­ship to do the same. It is essen­tial that we pre­serve a municipality’s abil­ity to deter­mine what is best for their com­mu­nity and its’ res­i­dents and we hope you will call for the strongest decision-making pow­ers pos­si­ble for local communities.

Sec­ond, we are con­cerned that the cur­rent lan­guage in the amended ver­sion of SB 1100 does not pro­vide enough pro­tec­tion for Pennsylvania’s drink­ing water sup­plies. Both the recently released Cen­ter for Rural Penn­syl­va­nia study and the pre­vi­ously pub­lished Duke Uni­ver­sity study found that drink­ing water wells had increased con­t­a­m­i­na­tion when Mar­cel­lus Shale gas wells were drilled within 3,000 feet of the water sup­ply.  Unfor­tu­nately, the cur­rent lan­guage only increases pri­vate well set­backs to 500 feet and pub­lic water sup­ply set­backs to 1,000 feet.

While SB 1100 does increase the zone of pre­sumed con­t­a­m­i­na­tion to 3,000 feet, a set­back of at least that dis­tance, and ide­ally 5,000 feet, would pro­vide real pro­tec­tion to res­i­dents.  Increas­ing the zone of pre­sumed con­t­a­m­i­na­tion pro­vides landown­ers with greater legal rights; how­ever, in prac­tice many res­i­dents are unaware of their rights and as a result can­not ben­e­fit from this change.  While it is pos­i­tive that more res­i­dents would receive replace­ment water sup­plies under this change, it would be far more ben­e­fi­cial to sim­ply pre­vent the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion from tak­ing place through a set­back pro­vi­sion.  Replace­ment water sup­plies are a bur­den on res­i­dents and often result in a loss of prop­erty value.

We would urge you to sup­port a greater set­back for pri­vate and pub­lic drink­ing water sup­plies, with 3,000 feet being a min­i­mum dis­tance that is sci­en­tif­i­cally backed and 5,000 feet as an even more pro­tec­tive setback.

Thank you for your atten­tion to this issue.

Tagged with: subsidies, regulation, pennsylvania, impact fee

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