CHC Update: Weak, Weaker, Weakest

Greetings friends!

Two important legislative policy updates, one on the county’s recommendations for a new ordinance in the CZ along with next steps, and the other on the House and Senate bills passed this week. And then of course the Fracking News.

Planning Commission Recommendations Weak (and getting weaker)

After additional analysis of the planning commission recommendations, it’s difficult to see where the new Draft ordinance voted on by the planning commission is an improvement on the old. Our friends at PennFuture found that the planning commission missed some obvious opportunities to protect the zone, things like wastewater processing facilities. In addition, despite efforts to avoid pre-emption by current law, attorneys Mark Syzbist and John Baillie found nine conditions for drilling in the CZ that are pre-empted by the Oil and Gas Act.  This includes good ideas like having the Indiana County Conservation District approve erosion and sedimentation plans, and language on Best Management Practices.

Obviously, the CHC/PennFuture amendment is stronger.  This is what we said from the beginning. It’s stronger protection for the CZ and the parks, and it’s stronger against legal challenges. As senior attorney John Baillie put it, “Prohibiting drilling in the conservation zone is clearly more protective than allowing it subject to restrictions that will be pre-empted anyway by state law.

This initial draft is a starting point, the county will continue to refine the draft in the coming weeks. Check the story in the Gazette from today here.

House and Senate Pass Legislation with minimal impact fee, significant restrictions on local authority.

This week HB1950, and SB1100 passed their respective chambers. To say these are sweetheart deals for the industry is an understatement. The tax in the House bill (sponsored by Rep. Reed) is actually less than what the industry asked for several months ago.  The Senate bill is only slightly higher.

Both also include significant restrictions on local authority for drilling. Under Reed’s House bill, all zones, including residential zones, must be open for drilling.  If you like legislation, check page 139 starting with line 27 on Reed’s HB1950.

The only silver lining for CHC is that the arbitration clause which gives the Attorney General the job of deciding if local ordinances pass muster came from our conversation with Rep. Reed. (Page 136, line 16). It’s a great idea, but a terrible bill none-the-less.

If passed as is, these bills will tie the hands of the county, so that significant portions of the planning commission’s watered down draft ordinance will be invalid – the good parts, like the part where they ban compressor stations from the CZ.  It’s a great idea, but Rep. Reed and the House say no.  It’s also bad news for the CHC/PennFuture ordinance.

In the coming weeks there will be a reconciliation with the House and Senate bills, and one bill will be presented to that Corbett to sign by mid-December. Chances are, that’ll be a sweetheart deal, too.

Next Steps

Mark your calendars for this VERY important date:

January 11, 7:30pm 

Public Hearing on Recommendations for drilling in the Conservation Zone. 

We need EVERYONE at this meeting, we need to make a strong statement with our numbers. We’ll be launching a number of outreach activities between now and then to make sure everyone in Indiana County knows what’s at stake. Talk to your neighbours friends, talk to your neighbours, get them involved. Despite the bad news around here, this week People Power shut down the Keystone XL pipeline, and shut down fracking in the Delaware River Basin!  WE CAN DO THIS!!


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