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PA Rep. Introduces Bill to Retain Local Impact Fee if Severance Tax is Enacted

PA state Rep. Jesse White D, Cecil, recently introduced the legislation.

PA state Rep. Jesse White D, Cecil, recently introduced the legislation.

State Rep. Jesse White on Tuesday introduced legislation that would preserve the Marcellus Shale local impact fee if a severance tax on natural gas production is enacted.

The impact fee, which was enacted in 2012 as part of the state’s natural gas drilling law, Act 13, brought in an estimated $225.7 million in 2013.

The lion’s share of the impact fee goes to municipalities and counties most heavily impacted by drilling to mitigate road and infrastructure damage, and other effects from natural gas development.

White, D-Cecil Township, said that according to current law, if a severance tax is enacted the impact fee will go away by operation of law:

Title 58, Chapter 23: Unconventional Gas Well Fee, § 2318, Expiration:

(a) Notice.–The Secretary of the Commonwealth shall, upon the imposition of a severance tax on unconventional gas wells in this Commonwealth, submit for publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin notice of the imposition.

(b) Date.–This chapter shall expire on the date of the publication of the notice under subsection (a).

White’s legislation, House Bill 2403, would repeal that section of law to ensure any severance tax enacted would not eliminate the local impact fee.

“Like with any industrial operation, local communities and residents feel the impact of natural-gas development, whether it is damage to roads or increased demands placed on emergency-service providers and other resources,” White, whose district includes portions of Allegheny, Beaver and Washington counties. “The Marcellus Shale impact fee is essential for our municipalities dealing with these impacts, and we need to be absolutely certain the impact fee remains available to help lessen those burdens when Pennsylvania finally joins every other gas-producing state by enacting a reasonable severance tax.”

White said that with increased discussion and support from both Republicans and Democrats for a severance tax on natural gas drilling, the only way to be certain the impact fee remains in place is by amending or repealing the language within current law.

“This is a manufactured crisis created by Gov. Corbett and those in Legislature who voted for Act 13, and it must be fixed to ensure the communities impacted by natural gas drilling activity continue to receive the Local Impact Fee,” White said. “Instead of using the threat of losing the Impact Fee as an election year scare tactic, we need to put policy over politics and do the right thing by passing H.B. 2403 without delay.”

“I urge local municipal officials to make sure their voices are heard on this important topic,” White said.

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Act 13 Challengers: DEP, PUC Have No Basis for Supreme Court Reconsideration

Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan

Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan

By Amanda Gillooly

Editor

The law firm that led the legal challenge against a Pennsylvania law governing Marcellus Shale drilling activities this week filed a response to a motion two state agencies made earlier this month petitioning the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision that some of those regulations, collectively known as Act 13, were unconstitutional.

Attorneys for Smith Butz, the Southpointe-based firm that represented a handful of municipalities such as Cecil, Peters and Robinson townships, as well as a nonprofit and medical doctor in the challenge, filed the answer Tuesday, writing that, “Citizens respectfully request that this honorable court deny (their) request.”

In the 19-page filing, Smith Butz argues that the state Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Commission failed to demonstrate a compelling reason for the court to reconsider its position.

Attorneys wrote:

Reargument before an appellant court is not a matter of right, but of sound judicial discretion, and reargument will be allowed only when there are compelling reasons.”

(The DEP and PUC) presented no compelling reasons for extraordinary relief.

Attorneys from Smith Butz also wrote that the state agencies’ argument for reconsideration revolved around the standard the Supreme Court used to make its determination that portions of Act 13 violated the Pennsylvania Constitution – they specifically allege the court applied a “new” standard.

Smith Butz attorneys disagreed with this logic, writing:

(The standard used by the Supreme Court) follows the plain language of Section 27, which has been a part of the Pennsylvania Constitution for (more than) 40 years.

Agencies clearly recognized this standard, conceding that the Commonwealth…has a duty under Section 27 to conserve and maintain public natural resources.

Agencies also previously recognized that government agencies must ‘balance environmental and social concerns’ and even argued that the General Assembly did the appropriate balancing when it enacted Act 13.’

Yet now, agencies claim that they did not have an opportunity to show how Act 13 satisfies Section 27, and even argue ignorance of a balance test.

To the extent (the DEP and PUC) failed to raise argument in defense of Act 13, they cannot do so now.

A majority of the court recognized that Act 13 reflected that the General Assembly made no effort to account for local concerns or to mitigate localized impact of shale gas on the people ad their public natural resources.

…(the Supreme Court opinion) explained that Act 13’s primarily stated purpose is not to effectuate the constitutional obligation to protect and preserve Pennsylvania’s natural environment. Rather, the purpose of the statute is to provide a maximally favorable environment for industry operators.”

SmithButz attorneys also argue that the request should “be rejected because it would compromise the finality of court’s decision.”

They wrote:

“The court should not sanction an approach to the resolution of cases that does not comport with basic fairness and ultimately erodes finality and judicial economy. Because no compelling reason exists to justify reconsideration, (the DEP and PUC’s) current request fosters undue delay and creates the specter of uncertainty regarding the outcome and effect of this landmark case.”

Editor’s Note: I am having some issues with Scribd at the moment – will get a copy of this thing online ASAP. Sorry for the inconvenience! -amanda

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Report: Pittsburgh Region has Cancer Risk Among the Highest in Nation from Hazardous Air Pollutants

People living in a 10-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania have a significantly higher than acceptable risk of developing cancer because of exposure to toxic air pollution released by manufacturing processes, energy production and diesel combustion, according to a new report.

The Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threats Analysis Report—funded by The Heinz Endowments and completed by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities—analyzes publicly available data on hazardous air pollutants.

Air toxics include about 200 pollutants identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as respiratory, neurological and reproductive disorders. The report is the third in a series as part of a project examining major threats to human health and the environment in southwestern Pennsylvania.

While the region as a whole experiences a constant burden of air toxics, the report found that people living in Allegheny County have a cancer risk more than twice—and in some cases 20 times—that of those living in surrounding rural areas,” said senior author James Fabisiak, associate professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “In fact, the county ranks in the top 2 percent of U.S. counties in terms of cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants.”

The report also found that census tracts with the very highest risk levels are clustered in the southeastern corner of Allegheny County in the heavily industrialized Liberty-Clairton area, as well as in the neighborhoods downwind from Neville Island and Downtown Pittsburgh.

This study reinforces in sobering detail what we already know: The Pittsburgh region still has one of the most serious air pollution problems in the country,” Endowments President Robert Vagt said. “Our aspirations for truly becoming the most livable city cannot be realized if our health and environment are threatened by dangerous levels of air toxics, which is why the work of the Breathe Project coalition to solve this problem is one of our highest priorities.”

The top cancer drivers from hazardous air pollutants in southwestern Pennsylvania include diesel particulate matter, formaldehyde, benzene and coke oven emissions, according to the report, which uses the latest available EPA National Air Toxics Assessment data. Lesser, but still significant risk, is posed by carbon tetrachloride, acetaldehyde, arsenic and chromium.

Using data from previous direct monitoring of pollution in three Allegheny County locations (Downtown, Oakland and South Fayette), the report noted that air toxics released from stationary point sources, such as the coke works in Clairton and on Neville Island, pose a greater cancer risk over a wide geographic area extending miles beyond the factories where they are emitted.

In addition, unprecedented expansion of unconventional natural gas development using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the Shell Chemical ethane cracker facility proposed for Monaca, Beaver County, are examples of new and potential sources of hazardous air pollutants identified in the report.

This report underscores three of the major air quality challenges facing the region—diesel emissions, large point sources and a potential transforming pollutant mixture from unconventional natural gas drilling operations,”said lead author Drew Michanowicz, a Pitt Public Health research assistant. “Our findings serve to better focus our future research efforts, as well as support response actions by community-based advocacy groups and other stakeholders to meet these challenges.”

Editor’s Note: The full report can be viewed by clicking here.

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