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Better Regulating Natural Gas Drilling
And Imposing Fees
While there are several major, controversial issues on the legislative agenda, the one drawing the most public comment is the natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
On the one side, there are landowners and local officials who want to see drilling proceed, so that the jobs and economic benefits can be realized. On the other side, there are environmental groups and concerned citizens who want to see drilling blocked or at least severely restricted. The divide is very deep.
These conflicting views play out across every major decision to be made. Most people acknowledge that the setbacks from significant streams and drinking water sources in current law are insufficient. However, it is not easy reaching agreement on setbacks that are more protective, but not prohibitive from a practical standpoint. Since Pennsylvania has 85,000 miles of waterways, a substantial setback requirement would make much of the state off-limits for drilling.
Governor Corbett is a drilling advocate who opposes a tax. Since he decides whether to sign or veto whatever legislation passes, his views cannot be discounted. He has acknowledged the recommendations of his commission, which documented the local impacts and costs of drilling, necessitating tougher environmental and community protections and an assessment of fees. But the county-by-county approach on fees he favors does not do enough for areas such as ours that are downstream from where drilling is taking place.
After many months of public debate and extended negotiations, we are finally seeing legislative action. The state Senate approved a comprehensive bill that imposes fees on natural gas drilling and puts in place a series of tougher standards. Given that it adopts a reasonable fee structure and commits the bulk of the revenue to community and environmental protection purposes, I voted in favor of Senate Bill 1100.
It is something of a middle ground, as various aspects are objectionable to either pro-drilling or anti-drilling groups. While a solid package, it cannot be considered the final measure because the House of Representatives has approved a substantially different approach. These differences need to be ironed out in the weeks ahead, so the tougher standards on drilling and disclosure are in place and communities begin receiving revenue they need to cover their greater responsibilities.
There are more than a few people in our area who want to see a drilling ban or high tax rates that would discourage drilling. Given the much-needed fiscal restraint imposed on state government the past few years, it would be a mistake to set taxes or fees based on what interest groups want to see in the way of state spending. Linking fees to documented impacts has a better shot at becoming law. Because the Marcellus Shale underlies so much of Pennsylvania, this is not an instance where legislators from non-drilling areas can impose restrictions that would dilute the economic benefits for the drilling regions.
Even though this is a lengthy bill with many provisions, it is not the total answer. Pipeline safety is a key consideration that will be dealt with in separate legislation.
Saying "NO" Again To A Legislative Pay Increase
By law, a COLA of slightly over 3% takes effect for state officials on December 1st. As has been the case since my election, I am not keeping the money. My position is consistent with constituent insistence on spending control and greater accountability in state government.
Unfortunately, because of how the law is written and has been interpreted by the courts, there is no legal way to simply reject the raise. Instead, those who wish to decline the money must take an affirmative action to give it back. Therefore, I write a check giving the money back to the state Treasury.
As someone who operated a small business for twenty-five years, I understand that the situation and economic circumstances in the private sector are far different from the practices in state government.
Finding a more responsible and accountable way to determine pay for state officials is a much-needed reform.
Seeking Ways To Strengthen Millersville University
On November 3, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a public hearing on the Millersville University campus. The fundamental purpose of the hearing was to hear how the 14 state-owned universities are adjusting to funding cuts contained in the state budget approved last summer.
But as I pointed out in opening remarks, (Watch), there are a lot of policy issues beyond dollars that warrant discussion.
The Senate has begun moving a package of mandate relief bills that will enable the schools to avoid costs in some areas and realize savings in others. Included in this effort is Senate Bill 1322, which I sponsored, allowing the system to enter into cooperative agreements for the use of services and supplies.
With the new economic realities forcing many institutions to restructure or reform their operations, it is a good time to re-examine our state universities.