Pennsylvania

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Top Republican Floats Proposal To Create Marcellus Shale Health Panel

Scott LaMar / WITF

Pennsylvania's Capitol

Early versions of the law that became Act 13 earmarked money for research into natural gas drilling’s medical impact, but the final version didn’t set any money aside for health-related studies.

At the time, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati’s top staffer, Drew Crompton, supported the move. He warned  a study could be “dangerous” if it wasn’t handled properly. “Imag­ine liv­ing near a well, and everything’s fine, and you get a let­ter in the mail ask­ing to take part in med­ical tests,” he told StateImpact Pennsylvania in February. “And then those peo­ple are like: ‘Why do I have to get tests? What could be wrong with me?’”

Now, however, Scarnati is asking other legislators to co-sponsor a bill creating a panel “tasked with thoroughly investigating and studying advancements in science, technology and public health data in order to provide…information, analysis and recommendations” for natural gas drilling.

What changed? Not much, said Crompton. “The format of this advisory board is different. It’s not simply the Department of Health doing what they want to do unbridled. And that really was the essence of [Scarnati’s concerns],” he said. “Give us a couple million dollars and we’ll go do some research.” The new panel, he said, would include “legislative and executive input. It would not just be health employees, but individuals coming from all affected communities.”

The proposal hasn’t been turned into a bill yet, and even if it were, it likely wouldn’t be passed before the 2011-2012 legislative session ends. The Senate only has six remaining voting days scheduled, after all, and bills can’t carry from one session to another.

Instead, “this was to start the debate,” Crompton said. “The real reason we put it out was to garner discussion from both sides of [the issue]. Health advocates obviously, as well as Democrats.”

The goal would be passage next spring. Read the full memo below:

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