December 28, 2011 —
HARRISBURG, PA — The major municipal agencies in Pennsylvania are on record opposing gas drilling legislation presented by Governor Tom Corbett and the Republican majorities in both state houses.
As first presented, Senate Bill S-1100 and House Bill H-1950 would seem to weaken local municipality’s zoning powers to regulate in any way gas drilling within its boundaries. Some have even said that the effort in favor of the gas industry militates against “home rule,” a sacred dogma of state tradition.
Both the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) and the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs (PSAB) have warned their constituents of the possible negative repercussions of the legislation.
“We realize that something is coming down in legislation and that we are fighting to prevent the total elimination of local ordinances,” said Elam Herr, assistant president of PSATS.
Herr stopped short of accusing the state of an attack on home rule.
“We have to admit that the state has the power to establish rules on how much authority local governments have,” he said. In the past, the state has limited the extent of home rule but that hasn’t happened for years, he said. “If the state does impose limits on municipalities, we want them to be as minimal as possible.”
Herr said he didn’t have a problem with the measure taken against towns that impose rules that would make it nearly impossible to drill in all zones, stating that they could not expect to get any of the impact fees imposed on the industry.
“If a township doesn’t allow drilling, for example, why should they benefit from impact fees,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that.”
The PSAB is also advocating a similar position.
“The original version of the House legislation we opposed because it totally pre-empted local zoning,” said Ron Grutza, PSAB spokesman.
“I feel that significant progress has been made in both versions,” he said. “The best possible agreement could be made still allowing some type of local powers. Perhaps, a drilling company might have to submit to a conditional use hearing in some zoned areas, for example.”
Many, if not all, of the local municipalities in the area have sent letters to their elected representatives to work to save some controls of local zoning.
The legislation is now reportedly in conference committee to reconcile differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill.