Pennsylvania

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Local Zoning Changes: Preemption Language Returns To Impact Fee, And PUC Takes Charge

Scott LaMar / WITF

Pennsylvania's Capitol

How will Pennsylvania’s new impact fee restrict local regulation of natural gas drilling?

The latest iteration of the bill makes several key changes to the local zoning restrictions lawmakers approved in December. That’s according to a draft copy of the bill obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania.

StateImpact Pennsylvania has posted the draft impact fee bill and highlighted the new local zoning restrictions. Click here to read the document.

Most notably, the Attorney General will no longer be the arbiter of which local zoning regulations are “reasonable.” The Public Utility Commission will now play that role. If the PUC, Commonwealth Court or Pennsylvania Supreme Court decide a municipality’s zoning or ordinances go beyond the framework set up by the legislation, the local government would lose its fee revenue.

Language “superseding and preempting” local drilling regulations is back in the legislation. The initial House impact fee contained a similar section when it was first introduced in November, but House Republican leaders quickly amended it out of the bill.

The Corbett Administration has pushed for the preemption language since the governor first introduced his impact fee proposal in October.  In a November letter to lawmakers, Corbett argued it’s a reinforcement of already-existing Pennsylvania legislation, and not a power grab by the state government.

Like previous versions of the fee, the bill requires municipalities to allow drilling in all zoning districts. The new draft includes a loophole to the requirement: local governments can bar gas wells from a residential zone if “a well site cannot be placed so that the wellhead is at least 500 feet from any existing building.” CORRECTION: This provision had been included in previous versions of the bill.

The residential drilling mandate had become a political flashpoint, and led nine Senate Republicans to write a letter voicing their concerns about the impact fee’s local zoning restrictions.

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