And there you have it: in the span of a few hours tonight, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly made more progress on Marcellus Shale legislation than it has in the last three years combined.
The Senate passed a broad bill imposing an impact fee and strengthening environmental regulations on a 29-20 vote. It’s the first time the chamber has voted on any sort of natural gas levy. (The House passed severance tax legislation in 2009 and 2010, but the Senate never acted on either bill.)
Republicans defeated a series of Democrat-sponsored amendments before the final vote. The most high-profile challenge came from Allegheny County Democrat Jim Ferlo, who offered an amendment wiping out the bill’s restrictions on local zoning.
Ferlo’s language failed on a 22-27 vote, leaving in place a section requiring municipalities to keep drilling ordinances in line with their zoning regulations for other construction and manufacturing projects within their boundaries. Under the Senate bill’s scheme, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General would be the arbiter of whether or not a municipality’s ordinances are “reasonable.” If a driller appeals to the AG’s office and wins, a municipality wouldn’t be eligible for its share of a $50,000-$10,000-per-well impact fee.
Meantime, the House debated late into the night on a dueling impact fee bill. The chamber eliminated the measure’s most controversial section, language “superseding and preempting” all local drilling ordinances, by approving a Republican leadership-backed amendment on a 110-85 vote. The new language adopts a plan similar to the Senate bill’s, where the Attorney General rules on whether or not specific local ordinances are “reasonable” or fair to the drilling industry.
(We’ll have a more detailed look at the amendment on the StateImpact website tomorrow.)
The House vote comes just four days after Governor Corbett urged lawmakers to support the local preemption language, arguing the section would help grow the drilling industry within the commonwealth.
It’s not clear when the House will hold a final vote on the measure. Leaders initially hoped for a vote by Wednesday, but a spokesman says that timetable has now been nixed. What happens when the House does send its bill over to the Senate? A lot of behind-the-scenes negotiations.