Local Officials from Across State Urge Legislature to Protect Rights
Letter calls for rejection of any reduction in rights to pass local ordinances on gas drilling
(Harrisburg) – Municipal officials from a dozen different counties across Pennsylvania jointly wrote to the PA General Assembly today calling for a rejection of legislative proposals to reduce or eliminate municipal governments’ rights to enact local zoning ordinances concerning Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
Altogether, 46 local officials signed the letter. These officials were from the following counties: Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Delaware, Elk, Luzerne, Montgomery, Northampton, Washington, Westmoreland, and York. In addition, Cecil Township in Washington County, and Upper Burrell Township in Westmoreland passed resolutions opposing these attacks on their ability to enact local zoning ordinances.
Deron Gabriel, a South Fayette Township Commissioner who signed the letter, stated, “South Fayette like many communities has taken steps to protect itself from the dangers of drilling. Measures by Range Resources & Harrisburg to strip us of these rights is a power grab and infringement upon our ability to determine what is best for the families of South Fayette.” Range Resources is currently taking legal action against both South Fayette and Cecil for enactment of their local zoning ordinances.
Myron Arnowitt, PA State Director for Clean Water Action stated, “There has been a real outpouring of local support over this issue. We want to be clear about this – there is no patchwork of local regulation in the state. Our state government has already set standards and rules for gas drilling. What municipal governments are doing is what they have always done – using zoning to ensure that particular activities are appropriate for their communities. These officials are clear that they want our state legislators to reject any reduction in their rights to enact zoning ordinances.”
Dozens of municipal governments in Pennsylvania have enacted new local ordinances regarding Marcellus Shale gas drilling or are in the process of doing so. Local governments have used their zoning to keep drilling out of residential neighborhoods, to ensure proper buffer zones around schools, and to allow local officials a chance to review development plans prior to approval.
“The courts have upheld the right of municipalities to adopt ordinances to protect their communities from the natural gas industry’s activities. We oppose the out of state gas drillers who want to impose a “one size fits all” state-level regulation that would overturn the existing municipal authority. We believe that local governments know the local conditions better than some desk-bound bureaucrat in Harrisburg,” said Jeff Schmidt, Director of Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter. ”The gas industry’s state preemption approach would be like telling local governments that they can’t establish speed limits on winding township roads, because the statewide speed limit is 55 mph,” Schmidt continued.
“People and the environment are paying the price for irresponsible drilling and lax regulation, and the gas industry is using political pressure, financial influence, and intimidation to keep it that way,” said Nadia Steinzor of Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “Municipalities have an established right under Pennsylvania law to practice zoning and do what it takes to protect their communities.”
The State House is expected to take up HB 1950 today that would make local ordinances concerning gas drilling illegal. The State Senate is expected to soon take up SB 1100 which is likely to greatly restrict municipal zoning ordinances concerning gas drilling. Precise language on this issue is still being negotiated between the Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats.
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