Well, one chamber of the General Assembly met its goal of voting an impact fee out of committee this week.
The House Finance Committee voted on a GOP-leadership-approved bill for boosting shale drilling regulation, authorizing counties to enact an impact fee, and paying for several environmental programs (which is key for gaining southeastern Republican support.)
Text of the bill was only available last night, and the committee meeting wasn't even listed on the Legislature's website this morning - a point for which Democrats were quick to scold their GOP colleagues.
The 15-10 party-lines votes sets the House a half-step ahead of the Senate, which is still scurrying to find agreement on a fee amount, distribution and solution for the controversial zoning issue. However, the Senate could send their bill to the House as soon as Nov. 15, while the House needs an extra day or so to send it through their Appropriations Committee.
Another interesting dynamic: the House measure is extremely similar to the governor's plan, and where it is not, appears to have the administration's thumbs-up. The Senate has had discussions and feedback from the Corbett administration, though their final product likely would require more convincing to get the executive branch on board.
If the House is able to send their bill to the Senate before the reverse occurs, that could leave the Senate as the odd-man-out among the three sides attempting to reach agreement.
From our breaking news page:
After an hour of heated discussion, a state House panel approved a Republican-backed drilling impact fee bill on a party-lines vote this morning.
That 15-10 tally marked the first substantive action in that chamber on Marcellus Shale drilling regulation this session.
It also means that both the House and Senate have bills primed for quick floor votes when the General Assembly returns to session on Nov. 14.
The House GOP measure voted this morning closely matches the impact fee plan outlines by Gov. Tom Corbett and the environmental regulations suggested by his Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. It also includes a provision to use royalty dollars from gas wells on state-owned land to fund environmental initiatives.
But the section drawing some of the loudest concerns from Democratic members of the House Finance Committee was a provision stating that all local rules for oil and gas operations would be superseded. Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Luzerne, said that would strip municipalities of their ability to protect residential areas from drilling activity.
Republicans on the panel defended the move as similar to how the state regulates construction activities. Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, said if the state beefs up its Oil and Gas Act provisions to address issues like excessive noise and light, localities would feel less of a need to strengthen their own rules.
His hometown of Murrysville has been crafting a drilling ordinance that would address issues including noise, traffic and use of retention ponds.
“There’s still work to be done,” Mr. Evankovich said, noting that he’s talked to his leadership and the Corbett administration about clarifying that section. “But it’s a good start.”
Senate lawmakers also have been working on their own version of a state-level zoning provision.
Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, had suggested that those local rules should be linked to receiving impact fee dollars, with the state putting together a model ordinance for municipalities to adopt. That provision, however, drew significant pushback in his chamber.
The House GOP provision to supersede drilling rules came from the Corbett administration. The governor has said publicly that he believes those local rules should be standardized, a request that drillers also have voiced repeatedly.