HARRISBURG -- After an hour of heated discussion, a state House panel approved a Republican-backed drilling impact fee bill on a party-line vote this morning.
That 15-10 tally marked the first substantive action in that chamber on Marcellus Shale drilling regulation this session.
It also means that both the House and Senate have bills primed for quick floor votes when the General Assembly returns to session on Nov. 14.
The House GOP measure pushed through this morning closely matches the impact fee plan outlined by Gov. Tom Corbett and the environmental regulations suggested by his Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. It also includes a provision to use royalty dollars from gas wells on state-owned land to fund environmental initiatives.
But the section drawing some of the loudest concerns from Democratic members of the House Finance Committee was a provision stating that statewide rules would supersede all local laws for oil and gas operations. Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Luzerne, said that would strip municipalities of their ability to protect residential areas from drilling activity.
Republicans on the panel defended the move as similar to how the state regulates construction activities. Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, said if the state beefs up its Oil and Gas Act provisions to address issues like excessive noise and light, localities would feel less of a need to strengthen their own rules.
His hometown of Murrysville has been crafting a drilling ordinance that would address issues including noise, traffic and use of retention ponds.
"There's still work to be done," Mr. Evankovich said, noting that he's talked to his leadership and the Corbett administration about clarifying that section. "But it's a good start."
Senate lawmakers also have been working on their own version of a state-level zoning provision.
Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, had suggested that those local rules should be linked to receiving impact fee dollars, with the state putting together a model ordinance for municipalities to adopt. That provision, however, drew significant pushback in his chamber.
The House GOP provision to supersede drilling rules came from the Corbett administration. The governor has said publicly that he believes those local rules should be standardized, a request that drillers also have voiced repeatedly.
Laura Olson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-4254.