Pa. lawmakers urged to try again on drilling impact fee

    Environmental advocates are calling on Pennsylvania lawmakers to start over on legislation that would establish an impact fee on natural gas drillers.

    About 100 activists hoisting signs and chanting “kill the bills” gathered at the state Capitol Tuesday to oppose current proposals in the House and Senate limiting local governments’ ability to regulate natural gas drilling.

    Erika Staaf of PennEnvironment says local governments should be able to govern on their own.

    “How can they say that they have more expertise than a local community does over their – environment, health, over what their people want?” she said. “In some areas, the people might want a ban.”

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    House and Senate lawmakers are working to reconcile two versions of impact fee legislation.

    Under the Senate proposal, drillers who wish to contest a locally passed drilling law would take a complaint to the state attorney general, who would have final say over whether local drilling regulations can stand.

    That will pit the state against local governments, predicted Jeff Schmidt of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club.

    “The gas industry doesn’t have to challenge an ordinance, all they have to do is file a complaint with the attorney general’s office. And then the attorney general’s office takes over, spending taxpayer dollars to challenge local governments who have to defend their ordinances with taxpayer dollars,” said Schmidt. “The gas industry sits back, laughs all the way to the bank.”

    One top Senate aide says local officials have worked with legislative leaders on the language that will restrict local drilling regulations.

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