BGT’s Statement on Exemption Granted to Bucks and Montgomery

Kutztown, June 30:  Thanks to language inserted into the Fiscal Code bill (SB 1263) that was just passed into law by the PA House, Bucks and Montgomery counties are exempted from Act 13, the controversial law that strips municipalities of local control over gas drilling operations everywhere else in the state. “We are outraged that the counties where the Department of Environmental Protection’s chief and the Lt. Governor live are receiving this special treatment,” says Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth, the grassroots community organization leading a campaign in Berks County to ask municipalities to pass resolutions opposing the law.

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Senator Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks, Montgomery) got the exemption added to the bill even though he voted for Act 13 earlier this year. His lack of understanding of the law he had helped pass was evident in an op-ed he wrote the day after the law was enacted. “As we worked to craft a compromise, protecting the environment and preserving local zoning control were two of my primary concerns. The final legislation accomplished these goals, earning the support of Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors, other local government organizations and the state’s Growing Greener Coalition. While not perfect, it is a balanced and thoughtful approach to protecting our environment and regulating an industry that is here to stay in Pennsylvania. It does not affect Bucks County’s townships, like Nockamixon Township. It would only pertain to non-conventional wells.” When he learned that the law removes local control over all gas drilling operations, including those related to pipelines, compressor stations, waste disposal and others, he vowed to amend the law, but appeared to take no action. The announcement from the U.S. Geological Survey last week that the South Newark Basin that covers much of both counties is rich in shale gas prompted him to get the language into the Fiscal Code bill at the eleventh hour.

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According to the exemption stated in the bill, the Department of Environmental Protection is not allowed to issue well permits until “a study is completed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, in consultation with the municipalities located in the South Newark Basin, evaluating the practical resource recovery implications of the report under subsection (A) and the fiscal impact of oil and gas operations on the South Newark Basin.” The report referred to is the USGS report issued last week. “Studies are not being conducted before drilling begins anywhere else in the state, including here in Berks County where we are in the Utica Shale,” says Feridun, ”nor are studies being conducted on the potential impacts of the pipeline operations already coming here.”

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Representatives of Berks Gas Truth have been attending municipal meetings across the county, encouraging local leaders to pass resolutions opposing Act 13 and supporting a lawsuit that was filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network calling the law unconstitutional. The Commonwealth Court granted an injunction in April and has already heard testimony on the issues.

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To date, Kutztown Borough, Lower Alsace Township, Mt. Penn Borough, Alsace Township, and West Reading Borough have passed resolutions. Another municipality has already committed to passing a resolution at its July meeting and several other are considering it. “We’ve heard from some municipalities that they have been discouraged from passing resolutions by the PSATS (Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors). We find it hard to believe that a group representing municipal officials would discourage them from fighting to maintain local control, especially over operations as dangerous as those related to drilling,” says Feridun. “PSATS has come under fire for its role in the passage of Act 13.”

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“By its vote, the PA legislature made it clear that it understands that gas drilling brings with it risks that should be considered by the state and the municipalities involved before it can commence.  Today’s vote is a vote against the draconian restrictions in Act 13. This admission by our state legislators should encourage all municipalities in the state to fight to overturn this dreadful law.”

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