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Senate Impact Fee Bill Still A Work-In-Progress; Vote Delayed Two Weeks

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The state Capitol

Last Wednesday, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jake Corman laid out an optimistic timeframe for a vote on a natural gas impact fee. “Hopefully we can have an agreed-to product by Monday, and get it out of here Monday and vote it on the floor Tuesday,” he said, as the panel unanimously approved language strengthening environmental protections.

Top Senate Democrats and Republicans met through the weekend to hash out language imposing and distributing an impact fee. They’ve got “more in common than not in common” at this point, according to Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati. But there’s not enough in common to stick to Corman’s timetable, and a Senate impact fee vote has been delayed until November 14th, at the earliest.

In an interview with StateImpact, Scarnati insisted Democrats and Republicans continue to collaborate on the language. But differences remain on many of the measure’s key portions, including:
-Whether a fee would be enacted and collected by counties or the state
-What level of fee to impose on each well
-How revenue would be distributed
-Whether or not to impose restrictions on local governments’ zoning of natural gas drilling

Scarnati has pushed hard to get an impact fee and improved regulations into law, and set an October deadline for a Senate vote earlier this year. On the last day of the month, it’s clear that deadline won’t be bet. But Scarnati said he was worried Corman’s timetable would rush the measure. “I would have loved to be ready this week,” he said, but if negotiations continued around the clock, rank-and-file members “wouldn’t see the amendment until today or tonight,” which would have made a Tuesday vote feel rushed.

It’s not clear whether a county or state-level fee plan is gaining momentum during negotiations. When it comes to local zoning restrictions, Scarnati maintained his interest in promoting “consistency” while maintaining municipalities’ autonomy, and framed his “model ordinance” language as a way to protect local governments from costly legal battles with drilling companies.

Under the bill’s current language, the Public Utility Commission would set a “model” local ordinance. Any municipality imposing stricter regulations would be barred from receiving impact fee revenue.

Governor Corbett has stayed vague on whether or not he supports Scarnati’s model ordinance. Meantime, former DEP Secretary Dave Hess blogged this weekend that the Corbett Administration has begun circulating a proposal that would go much further than Scarnati’s plan. According to Hess, the legislation would eliminate all local drilling regulations, and bar municipalities from passing their own drilling ordinances and laws, much like local governments can’t regulate firearms or cigarette sales.

Corbett’s office has not yet responded to calls for comment on Hess’ report.

We’ll have more reaction to the delayed impact fee vote over the course of the day.

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