Special treatment: How did two counties rate a ban on gas drilling?
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The more details that emerge, the more the whole thing stinks.
Republicans in charge of state government -- in the governor's office and the Legislature -- sold the notion early on that Pennsylvania must take a uniform approach to Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
What that meant was state law, in terms of industry access, safety regulation and revenues to be collected, had to be the same statewide, even though many localities argued that they deserved special protection or separate treatment because of unique characteristics.
The Corbett administration and legislative leadership rejected the calls for exceptionalism, and the Post-Gazette generally agreed, welcoming this relatively new industry and its jobs to Pennsylvania so long as it received effective state regulation and contributed adequately to state coffers (one area where Act 13, the new drilling law, failed).
The state's we're-all-in-it-together approach was shattered two weeks ago when, in the General Assembly's flurry of activity to pass a $27.65 billion budget, seven paragraphs were slipped into the fiscal code giving Bucks and Montgomery counties a moratorium on Marcellus Shale drilling.
This special carve-out, championed by Republican Sen. Charles McIlhinney of Bucks and sought by other lawmakers from that region, said the state cannot issue drilling permits for gas in the South Newark Basin (beneath those counties) until 2018, or until the state completes an impact study; and until the Legislature sets rates for a local impact fee.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that, although Mr. McIlhinney had spoken publicly in April about his desire for a ban, no legislative hearings were held and little substantive debate took place on it while lawmakers rushed to finish the budget by the July 1 deadline.
The senator said quick action was needed to get the exemption because a study released in late June by the U.S. Geological Survey described for the first time his area's drilling potential. Understood. But why weren't other parts of the state, which have long known their drilling desirability, able to get their own exemptions from the Legislature? Would Sen. McIlhinney and other Republicans have voted for that? The hypocrisy is astounding.
After the southeastern Pennsylvania drilling ban was approved, Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Cecil, Washington County, asked the right question: "What makes Bucks and Montgomery so special?"
The governor and legislative leaders -- Pennsylvania's staunchest backers of Marcellus Shale development -- have yet to offer a satisfying answer.
First Published July 15, 2012 12:00 am