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Pennsylvania Legislature Surrenders Municipal Rights to Fracking Industry

The Pennsylvania Senate on Tuesday, February 7, passed legislation that would all but eliminate the rights of Pennsylvania municipalities to ensure gas development occurs outside of residential and other non-industrial areas. The bill, which Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett has already pledged to sign into law, turns over to the gas industry the determination of where to frack in exchange for a tax on the industry that will be split between the state and municipal governments.

Counties would initially determine whether to levy the tax, although a majority of municipalities could override a decision not to. The bill, in turn, preempts municipalities’ current authority in Pennsylvania to establish zoning requirements for drilling in residential neighborhoods, and dictates extremely limited maximum setbacks that will force residents to live as near as 300 feet from fracking operations, threatening their health and safety. Myron Arnowitt, the Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, estimates that zoning laws in 100 to 200 municipalities will be at risk of being undermined or voided if Gov. Corbett signs this legislation as anticipated.

In New York, two lawsuits challenging the authority of New York townships to zone fracking within their borders are currently pending. There are also three bills under consideration this term (A.8557/A.3245/S.5830) in the New York State Legislature which would clarify that, under the current law, New York municipalities do have the authority to dictate if and where fracking takes place within their borders.

This huge power grab by the gas industry in Pennsylvania should serve as a warning for the New York Legislature to act swiftly to pass a bill that clarifies that local governments can control fracking operations that threaten the character of their communities and the health of their residents.

If you are a New Yorker, you can look up who your State Assembly Member is here and your State Senator here. Please call them and urge them to support local control over fracking, by supporting Assembly bills A.8557/A.3245 or Senate bill S.5830.

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