Putting a price on self government
June 2, 2011 —
Since we’ve been arguing for some time in favor of natural gas severance taxes for New York and Pennsylvania, you’d think we’d be delighted with a new bill introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate, SB 1100 ( tinyurl.com/5rpzv2q ), which would collect impact fees on production from unconventional gas wells.
Impact fees are not quite the same as a severance tax.In the latter case, the revenues go to the state, whereas impact fees go directly to conservation districts, towns and counties according to a formula spelled out in the legislation. If anything, you’d think that would be even better than a severance tax—and so it might be, as far as distribution goes. The purposes for which the funds could be used range from remediation of damage caused by drilling (e.g. preservation and reclamation of surface and subsurface waters and water supplies) to the totally unrelated (e.g. tax reductions—if you smell a bribe on this one, read on: you may be right.)
So what’s not to like?
The relief offered by the fee system comes as part of a devil’s bargain: towns will only be eligible to participate in the program if they adopt zoning ordinances that are no more stringent than a model ordinance specified by the legislation. SB 1100 sponsor Senator Joe Scarnati (R) omitted this caveat in his press release announcing the bill, and we don’t blame him, given the template ordinance’s principal provisions. It would authorize oil and gas development as a permitted use by right in all zoning districts except residential districts; allow oil and gas development in residential zoning districts by conditional use or special exception; allow compressor stations by right in all agricultural, industrial and commercial districts and as a conditional use in all other districts. Yup, that’s right, you could have your very own neighborhood compressor station. The model ordinance would also limit the towns’ abilities to impose restrictions on noise, lights, hours of operation, security fencing and the like.
Anyone care to make any bets on how many lobbyists spent how many hours helping to draft this bill?