White: State’s hijacking of Marcellus Shale impact fees shameful and unlawful | Jesse White | supportjesse.com

White: State’s hijacking of Marcellus Shale impact fees shameful and unlawful

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State Rep. Jesse White

White: State’s hijacking of Marcellus Shale impact fees shameful and unlawful

HARRISBURG, Oct. 15 – The state Public Utility Commission’s choice to suspend Marcellus Shale impact fee payments to townships challenging the state’s drilling law not only amounts to political extortion, but is more importantly a clear violation of the law, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Allegheny/Beaver/Washington, said Monday.

Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson and South Fayette townships are noted as communities whose money is “withheld pending resolution of the Requests for Review of existing ordinances” in documents released by the PUC on Monday outlining a $204 million statewide disbursement of impact fees.

“However, Section 3308 of Act 13 states that municipalities would be ineligible to receive impact-fee funds only after the Public Utility Commission, Commonwealth Court or the state Supreme Court issues an order that a local ordinance violates the Municipal Planning Code.

Section 3308 of Act 13 clearly states an order must be entered ruling a municipality’s ordinance to be illegal before any Impact Fee Money can be withheld. Since no such order has been entered in regards to Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson or South Fayette Townships, the PUC’s actions are clearly in violation of the law.

“While the PUC has challenged their ordinances, no determination has been made, leading White to condemn the PUC for improperly withholding the funds and calling on the Corbett Administration and my counterparts in the Senate to urge the PUC to release the money in accordance with the law.

“I don’t know what’s worse, the sorry and shameful hijacking and politicizing of the impact fee money, or the PUC’s blatant disregard for the law,” White said. “To withhold impact fee money intended for critical needs such as road improvements and public safety from these townships at the epicenter of Marcellus Shale drilling activity isn’t just cruel, it’s clearly punitive and illegal.”

The four townships are locked in a legal battle against the state over blanket zoning provisions in Act 13 that the townships believe override their constitutional right to use local zoning ordinances to regulate natural gas drilling.

The impact fees, as designed, are to be used for road and infrastructure improvements, police and fire protection and other measures local governments see fit to mitigate the impact of drilling in their communities. Cecil Township was scheduled to receive $246,098; Mt. Pleasant to receive $500,000; Robinson to receive $225,737.93; South Fayette to receive $2,731.39.

This is the breakdown of the Impact Fee money going to the communities in the 46th Legislative District. The municipalities in red are the ones where their money is being illegally withheld by the PUC.

White said the impact fees should have nothing to do with the Act 13 challenge, which is based solely on the constitutionality of the zoning provisions in the law. White further noted that not one drilling permit application has ever been denied in any of the townships in question, nor have any of the townships attempted to ban oil and gas operations.

“This is another of the divide-and-conquer techniques used by the industry, and by extension Governor Corbett, to split communities and drum up support for their own agenda,” White continued. “How can any reasonable person look at this situation and conclude this is anything other than political payback?”

The PUC’s announcement comes just ahead of the oral arguments of the Act 13 challenge scheduled to be heard by the state Supreme Court on Wednesday.

White, in conjunction with the state House of Representatives Democratic Caucus, filed in September with the state Supreme Court a special legal brief, known as an “amicus curiae,” to support Commonwealth Court’s ruling in July that the elimination of local zoning ordinances for oil and gas operations under Act 13 was unconstitutional.

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