Green Groups Split on Support for New PA Drilling Law

New drilling legislation, including an impact fee, has passed the Pennsylvania Senate and debate began last night in the PA House. Debate will continue today. Passage is expected this week, perhaps as early as today. As MDN pointed out yesterday, the mostly anti-drilling organization Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) gave the new legislation a lukewarm, half-hearted endorsement as “the best thing we can get right now” (see this MDN story).

However, the mostly anti-drilling Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), which works closely with the PEC, gave the legislation a more positive endorsement, calling it “a tremendous step forward.” From the CBF press release:

Matthew J. Ehrhart, Pennsylvania Executive Director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and a member of the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, today issued the following statement in response to the final Marcellus bill being voted out of conference committee.

"HB1950 represents a tremendous step forward for the Commonwealth in managing current and future drilling operations in the Marcellus Shale formation. This bill combines the best of the environmental protection provisions from both SB1100 and HB1950, and improved upon them. The result is a package that while not perfect, will help protect Pennsylvania’s environment.

"This bill is the only option we have to increase protections to the environment and our communities. CBF supports much of the proposed language of HB1950, and encourages the General Assembly to work together to pass this legislation.

"We are encouraged by the attention paid to increased environmental protections. Specifically, the Bill would provide: protective setbacks from wells, public drinking supplies, structures, streams, and wetlands over one acre; post-construction management plans; floodplain protections; water management plans; for required erosion & sediment inspection before drilling can begin; for required best management practices for chemical storage; standards for drill-site containment practices; clear authorization to DEP for the management and oversight of wells; and increased fines and bonding.

"The Bill also provides tremendous financial resources to the Growing Greener program and other environmental interests such as water infrastructure, sewer infrastructure, and watershed projects. CBF does, however, believe that a significantly higher impact fee is warranted.

"There are a few issues that were left out of this legislation and that we will work to resolve. These include: a more inclusive definition of water and water bodies; required disclosure of fracking chemicals for all drilling operations, not only unconventional wells; and requiring complete public disclosure of waste water manifesting. Additional concerns, as previously addressed by the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Commission will continue to be key topics for further discussion.

"CBF encourages the leaders of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate to move HB1950 forward. If we don’t pass this legislation now, we are postponing actions to protect our environment and our communities, which is something we simply should not do."(1)

Among so-called green groups who oppose passage of the new legislation? Clean Water Action, which urged lawmakers to reject the new legislation.

Clean Water Action raised concerns about the bill’s limits on local zoning laws.

"Never before has one industry been given full rights to do as they please, without recognizing the needs of other businesses, residents and our environment," the group’s state director Myron Arnowitt said.(2)

Also against the new legislation is the reliably anti-drilling Jan Jarrett (Democrat) from Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future. From the PennFuture press release:

Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) decried the passage of the so-called “compromise” drilling bill, House Bill 1950, in the Pennsylvania Senate as a major giveaway of the people’s legal rights, natural resources, and money to the Marcellus Shale drillers, and Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget, which raids a longstanding environmental conservation program to help balance the budget.

“In the space of an hour, the Senate and the governor granted the wishes of the gas drillers, but denied taxpayers, communities, and our environment basic needs,” said Jan Jarrett, president and CEO of PennFuture. “First, the State Senate passed the drilling bill, which had been written behind closed doors by Gov. Corbett, the Republican legislative leaders, and the drilling industry. The bill adopts one of the nation’s lowest extraction fees, weakens environmental protections over drinking water and our streams and wetlands, confers special stature on the drillers over other businesses in Pennsylvania, and destroys local rights to use zoning ordinances to manage drilling and withholds funds from any municipality that attempts to use those rights. This bill is a crippling blow to the solar plexus of our communities and our environment.

“The second punch was the presentation of Gov. Corbett’s budget which cuts spending on the environment, higher education, public assistance, and other key functions of government,” said Jarrett. “Many of these cuts will trickle down to our counties and municipalities, which are already forced to raise local taxes to make up for earlier cuts.

“The Corbett budget also steals money from environmental programs to fund the rest of government,” continued Jarrett. “For instance, he calls for taking $38.851 million from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund – totally zeroing it out – and moving it to the General Fund. The one bright spot is that the governor did not remove the moratorium on new drilling leases in our state forests, and for that, we are very grateful.

“Throughout his budget address, the governor repeated the theme, ‘We will not spend more than we have. We will not raise taxes,’” said Jarrett. “But until the governor stops giving the drillers sweetheart deals on fees and regulations, money for programs Pennsylvanians need and want will have to come from our families and small businesses, and programs that conserve the environment. We cannot let this happen.”(3)

(1) Chesapeake Bay Foundation (Feb 6, 2012) – PA General Assembly: Move HB1950 Forward

(2) The Scranton Times Tribune (Feb 8, 2012) – Green groups split on protections in drilling bill

(3) Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (Feb 7, 2012) – Bad day for Pennsylvania’s families, economy, environment, but great day for big oil and gas