Pennsylvania impact fee for gas drillers comes with a catch

Posted: February 12, 2012

When legislators agreed last week to charge impact fees for the natural gas industry, generating millions of dollars, the money came with a catch.

The measure also imposed statewide zoning and land-use rules for pipelines and wells - summarily killing off dozens of local land-use ordinances in the process.

Gov. Corbett had pushed hard for the measure, saying the industry needed standardized rules to flourish. The governor wrote a Jan. 31 letter to top legislators saying some communities had actually banned drilling, depriving citizens of "jobs, income and the enjoyment of their property rights."

Corbett also noted that the states surrounding Pennsylvania already had taken steps to preempt local laws and centralize control of zoning rules for the natural gas industry.

Among other provisions, the new law, which is awaiting Corbett's promised signature, stipulates that wells and pipelines must be permitted in every zoning district, including residential neighborhoods.

It also forbids communities from making drilling operations a "conditional" use, a zoning tool many communities already have employed. That allows communities to impose strict conditions on where and how the lines can be built.

In an interview, Myron Arnowitt, state director of Clean Water Action, an environmental group that helped mount a losing effort to block the zoning-for-fees trade-off, estimates that the new law will immediately void as many as 200 local ordinances as illegally restrictive to the industry.

One such community whose zoning ordinance that is no longer enforceable is Robinson Township, located in Washington County in Western Pennsylvania. The township's measure made all drilling activity a conditional use.

"It's void," Brian Coppola, a Republican township supervisor, said Friday. "Everyone's ordinance in this state has become void. They threw the whole system of government out of the window."

In Coppola's view, the industry was happy to trade paying a form of taxation in return for a statewide set of land-use rules that makes it easier for it to do business.

"They would have paid double the impact fee to get the preemption," he said. "It was always about getting the local zoning and land use out of the way."

Contact staff writer Craig R. McCoy at 215-854-4821 or

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