Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Public Utility Commission Delays Act 13-Related Order

Note: We’ve updated this post with a bit more information about what the delay means.

The partial impact fee injunction issued by Commonwealth Court this month did not apply to the fee itself – only portions of Act 13 restricting municipal zoning. But “due to ambiguity” in the ruling the Public Utility Commission is delaying its “final implementation order.”

According to the PUC’s statement, “the Court’s preliminary injunction did not provide enough direction for the Commission to proceed issuing its Final Implementation Order at this time. In an effort to receive clarity on the scope of the injunction, the Commission has filed an expedited application to modify the court’s Order.”

The PUC is charged with collecting fee money, distributing it to local governments, and regulating which municipalities’ drilling regulations overstep new statewide guidelines.

What does this delay mean? PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says it won’t delay fee collection and implementation. “Fees are not due to the PUC until Sept. 1 and disbursements were to occur in December,” she writes in an email. “We have enough of a buffer built into the process that it is not anticipated to impact the collection or the disbursement of the fees.”

So what’s the impact of this delay? “At this point, the postponing of the final order delays the availability of the final forms and direction needed by the producers and local governments to provide us with information to collect/disburse the fees,” Kocher writes. “It also delays the final processes for advisory opinions/reviews of local ordinances that regulate oil and gas operations.”

You can read the PUC’s full statement below:

HARRISBURG – Due to an ambiguity with an injunction imposed by the state’s Commonwealth Court, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today temporarily delayed issuing a Final Implementation Order on Act 13 of 2012, which, among other things, authorized counties to adopt an impact fee related to unconventional natural gas well drilling.

The Commission voted 5-0 to postpone finalizing its Implementation Order for Act 13 until a later public meeting due to questions surrounding the scope of an injunction issued by the state’s Commonwealth Court. The Commission issued a Tentative Implementation Order for comment in March. On April 11, 2012, the Commonwealth Court issued an Order that preliminarily enjoined portions of Act 13.

In a Secretarial Letter, the Commission said that the Court’s preliminary injunction did not provide enough direction for the Commission to proceed issuing its Final Implementation Order at this time. In an effort to receive clarity on the scope of the injunction, the Commission has filed an expedited application to modify the court’s Order.

On Feb. 14, 2012, Governor Corbett signed into law Act 13 of 2012, the Unconventional Gas Well Impact Fee Act, which amended Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.  The PUC is responsible for implementing the provisions contained in Chapters 23 and 33 of the Act. Chapter 23 provides for the imposition, collection and distribution of an unconventional gas well fee (also called a drilling impact fee). Chapter 33 governs local ordinances that impose conditions, requirements or limitations on oil or gas operations. The PUC has created a page on its website for Act 13 information.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities to ensure safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protect the public interest; educate consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; further economic development; and foster new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner. For recent news releases, audio of select Commission proceedings or more information about the PUC, visit our website at www.puc.state.pa.us.

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