Monday, December 12, 2011
Marcellus Shale Development: Let’s Get It Right
December 12, 2011
by David M. Sanko
Executive Director, Pa. State Association of Township Supervisors
Over the past two years, there has been much discussion about the impact of natural gas development in Pennsylvania. In recent weeks, this has reached a fevered pitch as state government leaders try to finalize a new law before the end of the year. There are many moving parts and issues on the table. Emotions have run high on all sides, and occasionally, facts and sound science have become the casualties. There have been compromises and accommodations all through the process, but the cake remains unbaked!
As elected officials, everyone in this process shares a collective responsibility to Penn’s Woods and its people. That includes the members of the General Assembly, the governor, and members of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, which represents 95 percent of the land mass of the commonwealth. In this current sluggish economy, PSATS certainly welcomes the jobs and economic development opportunities that natural gas development brings, as well as the opportunity to reduce our national dependence on foreign oil. However, PSATS is also interested in preserving the quality of life of Pennsylvanians and our environment. That said, we support the benefits of exploration and production of our commonwealth’s natural resources as long as they are done safely.
Much has been offered about House Bill 1950 and Senate Bill 1100, the two primary bills before the General Assembly that deal with the issue of natural gas development. Both bills, in their original form, were unacceptable to PSATS. In fact, they were unacceptable to ALL local government associations because they sought to strip local government of any role in this process, and we said so. Both bills have been amended, and each one now has parts that are more reasonable and represent a positive step toward maintaining appropriate and traditional local control. Each, however, also has substantial flaws that prevented PSATS from endorsing either.
As we move toward the final days of debate, I thought it important to share PSATS’ guiding principles and motivations from a local government perspective.
To summarize, we support enhancements to current law to better protect our environment (land, water, and air). We support the creation and enhancement of pipeline standards to provide for the safe transport and distribution of these resources. We support the development and enhancement of public safety mechanisms and emergency response plans that will ensure the maximum protection of Pennsylvanians. We support market development programs to encourage greater use of natural gas. We support the distribution of a local impact fee where a significant majority of the revenues remain in affected communities, enabling them to deal with development-related costs today and in the future and to avoid local property tax increases. And most importantly, we oppose the total elimination of local control, including land use. Instead, we support the maximum possible retention of local decision making authority to provide for the reasonable development of natural resources consistent with law.
In the last century, in the “race to embrace” coal, timber, oil, and steel, Pennsylvania didn’t necessarily “get it right” when it came to responsible development of those natural resources. In a new century, we have a new opportunity to “get it right this time.” Shame on everyone if we miss THAT boat.
* * *
About the author: David M. Sanko is the executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. With a broad background in local and state government, Sanko oversees an organization that is the primary advocate for the commonwealth’s 1,455 townships of the second class, home to 5.4 million Pennsylvanians.