Yesterday, six House Democrats introduced bills that they call the Marcellus Compact aimed at addressing the most egregious shortcomings of Act 13, the dreadful drilling bill.
· Minority leader Rep. Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) introduced HB 2412 that would restore the ability of local governments to manage the impacts of drilling in their communities through zoning ordinances;
· Democratic Whip Rep. Mike Hanna (D-Clinton/Centre) introduced HB 2413 that would significantly raise the impact fee on the extraction of natural gas;
· Rep. Santarsiero (D-Bucks) introduced HB 2414 that would double the bonding requirement for gas wells, increase the setbacks from wells and water resources and repeal Act 13’s requirement that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must grant variances to setbacks;
· Rep. Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) introduced HB 2415 that would ensure physicians have access to information about toxic chemicals used in fracking that their patients have been exposed to and allow them to share that information with the patient and other medical professionals;
· Rep. Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne) introduced HB 2416 that would put a moratorium on dumping gas well wastewater into streams, prohibit drilling in floodplains, create an online cradle-to-grave tracking system for gas well wastewater, requires drillers to get permits to control soil erosion at wells and require DEP, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Fish and Boat Commission to study the overall statewide impacts of current and future drilling.
The Republicans who control the House have no appetite for revisiting Marcellus bills for the rest of this session. They hope the issues, with few exceptions, are settled. And they will simply bottle the bills up because they can – there will not even be committee hearings on these bills. House Democrats tried to raise most of these issues and force votes on them during the debate over Act 13, but Republican leaders would not allow the debate or uncomfortable votes.
Given the certainty that these bills will never see the light of day in this session of the General Assembly, why should Democrats go through the motions? One practical reason is that these bills will be ready to be offered as amendments on related legislation providing another opportunity for debate or for the Republicans to demonstrate once again their unwillingness to even engage in thoughtful consideration of the merits of these bills. But the more important reasons are to continue to articulate a pointed critique of the awful shortcomings of Act 13 and to offer sound alternatives that would better protect natural resources, public health and communities from the negative effects of gas drilling.
Since the Republicans won’t bring up the Marcellus Compact bills, they need to answer these questions; why take away local control over gas drilling impacts; why have one of the lowest extraction taxes in the country; why allow gas drilling too near water supplies and in floodplains; why keep vital information from doctors and patients exposed to toxic drilling chemicals; why not allow the public to find out what drillers are doing with their wastewater?
Voters will be waiting for answers to these questions in November.