Don't Hold Your Breath On Act 13 Changes
Pennsylvania’s new natural gas drilling overhaul, Act 13, has only been in effect for a month. But legislators are already flooding reporters’ in-boxes with press releases announcing new bills that would change the law.
House Democrats have introduced six separate bills, framing the legislation as their “Marcellus Compact.” The bills would eliminate Act 13’s local zoning restrictions, impose a broader tax on gas extraction, and create broader environmental protections.
On the Senate side, Democrats Jim Ferlo and Daylin Leach have introduced similar amendments.
Some Republicans want a do-over, too: Senator Chuck McIlhinney recently told a meeting of constituents he’ll introduce changes clarifying that local zoning restrictions only apply to unconventional wells. (McIllhinney didn’t just promise to introduce the bill – he vowed it would be law by June.)
Will any of these amendments ever be brought to a vote? House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin cut straight to the point. “No,” he said. “There’s definitely no reason right now to take up any of this legislation. [Act 13] just became law and hasn’t even worked its full way through.”
Republicans currently hold a 20-seat advantage in the House, and GOP leadership controls which measures are and aren’t considered.
Republicans hold equal sway in the Senate, where the party enjoys a 10-seat advantage. Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati’s Chief of Staff, Drew Crompton, told StateImpact Pennsylvania attempted changes to the bill’s impact fee, zoning restrictions or environmental regulations “have no chance” of coming up for a vote. “We haven’t even collected the fee for the first time,” he said.
Crompton did, however, leave the door open for limited tweaks to the law. “Look, there have been some reasonable issues coming to light on what I call ‘minor areas’ of Act 13. I’m not guaranteeing they’re going to be remedied, but they’re issues that are focused, and may or may not be amended.”
He grouped McIlhinney’s proposal into that category, and said the controversial section imposing confidentiality agreements on doctors who gain access to “trade secret” chemical compounds may eventually fit the bill too. “We don’t even know if there is a problem” yet, he argued, pointing out no doctors have been confronted with confidentiality agreements yet. “If some day there’s an issue…I said from begin that’d be reasonable to look at. But at this point we don’t have any reason to address or come up with new answer to that issue, because we don’t know if it’s even a problem.”
House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said his party isn’t giving up hope. “While some Republican leaders would like to put the Marcellus issue in the rear-view mirror, it’s still front and center for most Pennsylvanians,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “The more that people learn about Act 13, the less they like it. A number of legislators in both parties are interested in reversing the local zoning preemption and the medical gag rule. Tax credits that reward hiring Pennsylvanians to work in the industry is an idea with broad bipartisan support. All Democrats are asking for is fair consideration of these commonsense proposals to protect people where they live, learn and work.”
Miskin pointed out Democrats failed to enact any of these measures when they controlled both the House and governor’s office. Broader taxes on gas drilling passed the House in 2009 and 2010, but were never considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.