DN Editorial: No gas light on impact fee

Posted: February 14, 2012

What follows begins an occasional series of editorials that we will be excerpting or running in full from newspapers around the state. We're doing this to provide readers (and ourselves) a deeper perspective on state issues, and as a reminder that Philly is part of Pennsylvania, though we sometimes pretend it's not. The following is from Matthew Major, opinion editor of the Chambersburg Public Opinion:

THE Pennsylvania Senate voted last week to enable an optional fee to offset environmental and infrastructure damage caused by Marcellus Shale natural-gas drillers, sending the bill for a House vote that could place the bill on Gov. Tom Corbett's desk this week.

After years of frenetic activity which has so far produced some 4,000 natural-gas wells in Pennsylvania, and just as many years of legislative inaction - this is all that Pennsylvania citizens are getting in terms of regulation and taxation of a highly destructive industrial endeavor.

House Bill 1950 has many flaws, and it generally represents a shameful subversion of the interests of Pennsylvanians for the sake of the gas drillers who bankrolled much of Corbett's election campaign.

But let's start with the secretive way legislative leaders reconciled the different versions that passed each chamber into the final version approved Tuesday by the Senate.

According to PennFuture, a Pennsylvania environmental advocacy group, lawmakers negotiated and circulated a draft conference-committee report on HB 1950 before they formed the actual conference committee. (A conference committee is a group of House and Senate members who iron out the differences in similar legislation passed by each chamber into a final version that gets rubberstamped by each chamber once more before the governor signs it into law.)

By negotiating a final version of the impact fee before forming the actual conference committee, lawmakers skirted an open-government law that would have subjected those negotiations to public review.

Had the conference committee been formed prior to the negotiations that produced the draft report, the state's Sunshine Act would have required them to open the meetings to the public.

And you know, we just couldn't have that, could we? That would have provided information to those who think it's wrong to trade local regulation of drilling for a measly few bucks, assuming counties opt to levy the fee in the first place.

Did we mention the fee is optional?

It's hard to hold much hope for a desperately needed law when lawmakers hide the negotiations, the compromises, the trade-offs that got it passed.

But as observers delve into its details this week and beyond, anyone who pays attention will understand why they did so.


(Follow Major on Twitter @MattMajorPO; find more at publicopiniononline.com/opinion/ci_19922397)

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