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September 17, 2014
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editorial

Putting a price on self government


Remember that in Pennsylvania, townships do not have the option to ban natural gas drilling in all zones. That means that any township that wants to have more protection than the model ordinance provides may still be forced to have drilling, and its effects, within its borders. And given the nature of the activity, the water, air and roads all over the township can be affected by operations that take place in only one or two zones. In the same way, if such a township lies adjacent to another that has adopted the model ordinance, it would suffer environmental and infrastructure consequences created by its neighbor, while being unable to get any compensation.

In short, in this bill the state and its industry cronies are asking townships to give up their right to control land use in exchange for money.

So what’s wrong with that, if the money is adequate to remediate any damage done by the drilling? First, it’s not clear how much money will actually be available. At a minimum, anyone even thinking of passing this bill would need to do an analysis to show how much revenue is likely to be raised and compare it to some projection of the cost of damages.

But more importantly, there is a lot of damage that can’t be fixed by money, especially if drilling were allowed indiscriminately all over the landscape as the model ordinance would allow. As we have noted in previous editorials, aquifers once damaged can generally not be restored. The resulting impact on property values in the long term would be devastating. Air pollution from substances such as benzene is linked to a high incidence of diseases like cancer; what amount of money could compensate for that, even if the bill specified that the fees could be used for such a purpose? (It doesn’t.) And what value—or system of compensation—can you put on the destruction of neighborhood character, or the elimination of biodiversity, or the devastation of tourist-related businesses?

This bill is a strong-arm tactic to elbow local input aside and see to it that the guiding principle of land-use decisions in Pennsylvania becomes making the biggest profits for the gas companies—all under the guise of a generous giveaway to the people. Don’t fall for it.

The impact fee idea is probably a good one; the extortion tactic of the model ordinance is unconscionable. SB 1100 has been referred to the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, on which Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) sits. You might want to get in touch with her (570/675-3931) and tell her that this one needs to be strangled in its cradle.

The Editorial, and Ms. Prettyman's comment

Such clarity of thought, and expression of it, is inspiring. Thank you. It makes me want to just cut and paste and send off to Senator Baker.

Drilling vs Democracy

We saw this SB 1100 bill coming when the Marcellus Shale Coalition lobbied Harrisburg hard to squelch zoning restrictions on drilling, anticipating Gov Corbett’s July 22 final report of his industry-heavy Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission (http://tinyurl.com/5wmgura). Lo and behold out of the Senate popped SB 1100 delivered reliably by Mr Scarnati, hiding a "model zoning ordinance" in the last 3 pages of the bill, hoping nobody would notice, not even mentioning the requirement to accept the ordinance in exchange for Impact Fee revenues in his press release.

These people are a piece of work. Mr. Scarnati wants to avoid resistance to his bill by hiding the truth of an outrageous attempt at extortion and the gas industry wants to avoid resistance to its wells and compressor stations by hiding all sorts of truths about their lack of safety to human and animal health, the environment, air and water -- and the climate -- and now by suppressing attempts to zone out or restrict drilling in the few ways currently permissible by state law. The Soviet Union has nothing over American energy corporations. They move right in, not only into local communities like we’re all little Polands and Yugoslavias, but into our federal and state and governments, simply by buying elections.

How dare these little towns all over PA stand up on their hind legs and prohibit gas drilling and compressor stations in certain zones (or outright throughout the town) or insist on setbacks from schools or hospitals farther than the next town? These variations from one municipality to the next are "inconvenient" and make the industry work harder, their lobbyists argue (which diminishes their profits but they don't mention that). And they will be able to drill fewer places. Industry bosses must be wondering, gee, why can't all townships in PA be more like Damascus where all three supervisors hold gas leases and made a unanimous decision to allow drillers and compressor stations into virtually the entire township with extremely few exceptions? No resistance there. When asked how he could let this happen, one supervisor said, "Well, you know, there's just a lot of trees and stuff."

SB 1100's "model zoning ordinance" is not aimed at “consistency” or "convenience" but at profit enhancement at expense of our health, safety and freedom of self-government.

Pro-drillers will argue resistance will "cost jobs" but if we keep backing into this lame excuse for industrializing the landscape, we'll end up stepping on our democracy (we've already stepped on its heels) which was founded on self-government and home rule. There’s tyranny at the core of SB 1100 and that’s no exaggeration.

We should be going in the opposite direction, enhancing our democracy, not enhancing profits of industry. The extortive “model zoning ordinance” attached to SB 1100 is such an over-reach that it should serve as a slap in the face to wake us up. SB 1100 is an ideal pivot point for the people of PA to turn around and re-write the old Oil & Gas Act to create a New Energy Act to reverse priorities: sustainables first, carbon last. The New Energy Act will reinstate home rule and self-government in regulating land use (zoning) in energy development. An awakened citizenry in itself, with inspiration of enlightened leadership of people like Andrew Boyar and Carol Roig of Highland and Barryville NY (just to name two), will help to create jobs. The excitement of taking back our country, of coming out of this corporate sleep we’ve fallen into, will have an energizing effect.

Pie in the sky? Tell that to Tom Paine, Ben Franklin, Tom Jefferson and George Washington when they fought for and won home rule in the Colonies (PA townships are NOT colonies of the gas industry) and this nation -- this democracy -- was born.

This is one of those moments to flood Sen Lisa Baker's office with letters against this bill and to march on the Capitol in Harrisburg June 7 at noon.

Jane Prettyman
Honesdale PA

Constantly recurring themes

Be afraid, be very afraid. Indiscriminate drilling on the landscape. Viewscape? Who's viewscape? unfixable damaged aquifers, diminished property value lie, devastating impacts, cancer galore, destroyed neighborhood characters, all important biodiverstity, and even God forbid, unhappy tourists! Actually unhappy tourist is most likely the given name of the author of this piece. Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

If you want to control land use, my friend, it is going to take money.