Divided House panel approves shale impact fee bill

A state House committee approved a bill to impose a so-called impact fee on gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

The 15-10 party-line in the House Finance Committee  was the first step taken by the state House to advance the state's first levy on the booming gas industry in Pennsylvania.

The House is out next week for the midterm elections, so the earliest the legislation could go to a vote before the full chamber would be Nov. 14.

Pennsylvania is the only active Marcellus Shale gas state without a extraction tax - something Gov. Corbett drew a hard line on during his campaign and for most of his first year in office.

But Corbett shifted his stance in recent months allowing that he would support an "impact fee" so long as it would only be applied only to communities facing the negative impacts of drilling, such as road wear and tear and water quality issues.

The bill mirrors the plan outlined by Gov. Tom Corbett wherein counties would have to decide whether to opt in on the fee and set it within certain parameters. But at the same time the bill establishes state pre-emption of local zoning laws, removing away the ability of municipalities to determine where and how drilling occurs.

That language prompted angry responses from House Democrats who said the provision strips local governments from the little power they have.

Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian Ellis (R., Butler), 75 percent of the revenue would be split between counties and municipalities. The remaining 25 percent would go a restricted account in the General fund for transportation, environmental and health-related uses.
It also includes a provision to use royalty dollars from gas wells on state-owned land to fund environmental initiatives.





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