Corbett wants special panel's July input on drilling policy

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HARRISBURG -- Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission is scheduled to send him a "blueprint" for drilling policy changes in July, but the new administration already has been doing a little regulatory rebuilding.

Tuesday's request that gas drillers stop hauling wastewater to municipal treatment facilities is the latest in a series of changes to how the Department of Environmental Protection operates. Earlier changes encouraged the economic development secretary to nudge those issuing permits to speed up their process, and required centralized approval of violation notices.

With those changes coming before the commission completes its work, and other discussion on regulations and revenue from drillers pushed back until after the panel's summer report, lawmakers and environmentalists are growing impatient for action on their priorities.

"The industry is not waiting for any commission recommendation," said Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive officer of the environmental group PennFuture. "It's speeding right along."

The governor has said his commission is tasked with reviewing the current environmental guidelines in order to make "very strong recommendations."

"You know, this industry's been here three years, four years -- nobody did anything like this," Mr. Corbett said after an event Monday. "Give me 120 days to have the commission come back to us."

He's also asked for "consistency" within the department's actions, which DEP officials say spurred their recent procedural changes. A spokeswoman said those internal changes have not stopped DEP from working with the commission, of which Acting Secretary Michael Krancer is a member.

Ms. Jarrett's group did applaud this week's change on water safety, stating in a news release that the agency's action had "exactly the right result -- to respond to new information quickly and definitively."

But she said that as more changes are put in place and Senate Republicans prepare to unveil impact fee legislation, "you do wonder what the charge of the commission is."

The Corbett administration does face pressure from an increasingly apprehensive public to respond quickly on drilling issues, said Franklin & Marshall College political scientist G. Terry Madonna.

"Being governor means you have to provide management and leadership," Mr. Madonna said. "You can't just say we're going to have a committee or a commission deal with it. [His administration] faces some decisions that they need to make now or they'll face criticism."

Lawmakers, also facing a critical public, are weighing their next steps. Senate Republicans are finalizing legislation on a locally assessed impact fee, which they had originally planned to package with some safety provisions.

With Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, saying he'll wait for the commission's report before acting on those safety measures, the caucus is faced with "a really delicate balance," said Drew Crompton, Mr. Scarnati's chief of staff.

"We have members that say, 'We're going to potentially vote for a fee and not consider safety?' " he said of the legislation, which they want to see passed with the budget in June.

Waiting for the commission's recommendations only lengthens an already lengthy process, Ms. Jarrett said. If new regulations are suggested, that process can take 18 months or more, she said.

At least on the impact fee proposal there will be legislative push to ensure that the governor isn't the only one speeding up changes.

"We're interested in the commission's thoughts," Mr. Crompton said. "But we believe we're going to press that issue before the completion of the commission's report."

Laura Olson: or 1-717-787-4254.


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