Local Impact Fee Bill Gets Mixed Reviews
State ponders whether to place a fee on Marcellus Shale wells
Residents in places such as Cecil Township experience all the inconvenience of Marcellus Shale drilling: Noise, dust and the added taxpayer expense of solicitor fees from drawing up drilling ordinances.
And while township Manager Don Gennuso said he didn't get a chance to sift through all the details of a bill introduced by state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, he agrees with the concept in theory (see attached PDF for a breakdown of how the fee would be distributed).
"The (fee) should go to the local communities that are impacted the most," he said.
Peters Township Manager Michael Silvestri agreed, saying he supports the bill.
"I would support any bill that provides funding to municipalities for impacts of gas drilling and that does not tie that funding to a statewide model ordinance on gas drilling," he said. "Municipalities have long had the authority to regulate zoning matters and it has not unduly impeded various industries.
"Similar to cable franchising, that industry eventually realized it would need to work with municipalities and have successfully done so. The gas drilling industry needs to accept the reality of local government authority in zoning matters and work with the municipalities to move forward."
Meanwhile, state Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane, said he sees the bill as a step in the right direction.
"I think it's important that the communities impacted the most by Marcellus Shale play see the benefit from revenue that is raised by a local impact fee," the freshman legislator said. "Rep. White's bill seems to keep the revenue with the local communities and also distributes it throughout the state, where the impact is often seen the most."
But not all White's colleagues in the state House were as optimistic about the bill.
State Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon, scoffed at White’s provision in the bill that would offer compensation to school districts. He said he did not think White’s bill “has much of a chance” because, he said, it does not fall totally in line with the 30-member Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommendations.
“I don’t think the (local impact fee) money should go to the school district,” Mustio said. “I don’t see how the school districts are impacted by this. I think the money will go to the municipalities and for environmental concerns.”
Gov. Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission suggested a local impact fee rather than any extraction tax on the natural gas drilling industry. Some controversial recommendations include forced pooling in which the drilling company can unilaterally acquire land from people who do not want to lease it if enough neighboring property owners sign leases.
State Rep. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, said he would prefer a severance tax but might be able to support legislation that implemented a local impact fee. However, he thinks the majority of the money should go to environmental oversight and local municipalities most impacted by drilling.
“I would be more comfortable with it going to the municipal side because I think those are the entities that are responsible for all of the possibly harmful infrastructure issues,” Smith said. “I don’t think the school districts are bearing the brunt like most of the municipalities are.”
State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said whether legislators support that specific legislation or not, action needs to be taken on the issue.
And he said he plans to lobby the governor to call the Legislature back into session prior to the fall to get a measure—whether it's an impact fee or severance tax—in place.
"We've been messing around with this for two or three years," he said. "I'm saying let's go back a week or two early."