The recently-passed HB 1950, the so-called “impact fee” bill, promises mucho dollars for Pennsylvania's local municipalities; all they have to do is surrender local zoning control of where drilling can take place in their communities to the Pennsylvania PUC.
Can you spell “extortion”?
Lawmakers claim this money will help communities pay for the damaging impacts that drilling will cause. Critics say that the formulas used to arrive at those figures have nothing to do with the actual total impacts of drilling on local communities.
That may be because, unlike New York state, a comprehensive environmental impact study of shale gas drilling was never required of the industry by the state of Pennsylvania. Nor has a health risk assessment ever been conducted in the state re: shale gas drilling.
Negative public health impacts related to drilling were definitely not a part of the impact-fee formula.
While some environmentalists are thrilled that the bill requires drillers to disclose the toxic chemicals they use to doctors treating victims of gas-field accidents and exposures, many doctors, notably Dr. Jerome Paulson, director for the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment, claims the bill is unethical in that it prohibits doctors from informing the public of the toxic chemicals it is being exposed to. This provision of the bill protects the “trade secrets” of the gas industry.
If the industry's “trade secrets” are that toxic, that carcinogenic, that injurious to public health, and are part of operations being performed essentially in people's back yards, the industry has forfeited its rights to such “trade secrets.” Such substances in such close proximity to residences and water supplies should be banned, thus forcing the industry to adopt safer practices.
But, not to worry. We have the PA Department of Environmental Protection standing by to protect us in case anything should go wrong. Ah yes – that overworked, overwhelmed, underfunded, understaffed, sometimes seemingly under-motivated agency will certainly protect us from all harm. Its track record of late has been less than stellar, resulting in EPA intervention in both the northeast (Dimock Twp.) and southwest (Washington County) parts of the state. One wonders if Connoquenessing Township will be next.
Two state municipalities – Robinson and South Fayette townships in Washington County – are preparing to do legal battle with the state over HB 1950. Many other municipalities have expressed their strong displeasure and may soon be joining them. As of this writing, not a peep has been heard from any Butler County leaders re: objections to this bill. It's all been about the money, as if that were the only issue associated with this industrial development.
That's the way it is, here in Butler County: blindfolded, ears plugged and bags of money in both hands...