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Scarnati Pours Cold Water on Corbett's Commission

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Joe Scarnati talks to reporters at last Friday's press conference.

Governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission issues its report tomorrow, but Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati isn’t exactly waiting for it with bated breath. “I can’t say I’ll read the report on Saturday,” he told reporters at the Capitol Thursday afternoon, “but I may start reading it on Sunday.”
You’d think Scarnati would be excited about a report that endorses his pet issue, an impact fee on natural gas drillers. But the top Senate Republican appeared frustrated and ambivalent when discussing the commission’s impending report. His comments are the most outward signs to-date the 30-member panel’s recommendations won’t exactly take the General Assembly by storm, once they’re public.
“I’m not a commission advocate,” Scarnati said, when asked whether he wished lawmakers had been given more input during the deliberative process. “Some of the people [on the commission] were fine people. I don’t dispute their qualifications or intent. But the bottom line is, I’m going to vote on the bill and would have liked to have input on what [was in the report.]”

“It’s nice we have a report,” he continued, “But we still need to have legislative interaction. And what [the commission has] done is it’s delayed that. We’ve delayed legislative action.” The Republican had lobbied hard to pass an impact fee alongside the budget last month, and admitted he was frustrated lawmakers left town without one. Corbett effectively stopped the impact fee push in its tracks in late June, when he vowed to threaten any measure that reached his desk before the commission report.
Still, Scarnati and a growing number of lawmakers from both parties want to pass an impact fee. And if the commission shapes what Corbett will and won’t accept in a bill, its input matters. While Corbett has remained vague on what he’d like to see in an impact fee, many of his advisors have expressed hesitance over any formula directing money back to Harrisburg. Statewide environmental efforts would be funded by Scarnati’s measure, but he hinted he’d be open to removing them, if that’s what it takes to pass a fee.   “I tried to work within [Corbett’s] parameters when I introduced Senate Bill 1100,” he said. “My goal is to get a bill through the legislature. …I don’t want to go through smoke and mirrors. I want to get a bill to the governor that he can sign.”

Scott Detrow / StateImpactPA

Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley and Energy Executive Patrick Henderson after Friday's commission meeting

And if Scarnati was ambivalent on the commission’s impact fee recommendations, he was downright hostile toward  its suggestion to “revisit” the 1961 law regulating “forced pooling” of mineral rights, which excludes the Marcellus Shale formation from conditions where drillers can extract gas from underneath a land owner’s property against his or her will. “I can tell you where property owners are” on the issue, He said. “Absolutely no pooling. It’s [been] very clear to me for over a year now that the issue is one that can be a deal-breaker. …If the commission wants to recommend pooling they are adding a fatal flaw.”
Scarnati still hasn’t seen the actual report. Administration officials will allegedly brief legislative leaders on the document just before it becomes public tomorrow. It’s unclear when Corbett will publically react to it. His press office has not returned calls for comment, on when to expect a statement from the governor.

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