Robinson to contest new law

2/14/2012 3:30 AM

McDONALD – The same day Gov. Tom Corbett added his signature to the state’s new natural gas impact fee bill, one local municipality took steps to challenge the new statute.

The Robinson Township Board of Supervisors voted Monday night to have its solicitor take action to protect the township’s zoning rights related to House Bill 1950.

The bill passed the House Wednesday and calls for gas extraction companies to pay a fee for drilling in the state, but pre-empts local zoning ordinances that determine where the activity can take place. Under the new law, gas drilling would be permitted in residential areas and setbacks would be less than what many local municipalities now allow.

Township Attorney John Smith, of Smith Butz of Canonsburg, said the township is concerned about its mandate to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. One major provision for that has been local zoning, he said.

“So the question becomes, can they still fulfill their statutorial obligations?” he asked.

He plans to research the state’s Municipality Planning Code in relation to Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act.

“The focus has always been in defeating the bill and now that the bill passed, each municipality is now focusing on what they are going to do,” Smith said.

In December, Robinson Township hosted a meeting to explain the proposed legislation and what it would mean for local townships, boroughs and cities. Attending were representatives of 44 municipalities, most of whom oppose the bill.

But supporters say it provides statewide drilling standards in the Marcellus and an estimated $180 million in revenue in just the first year.

Brian Coppola, Robinson’s board chairman, indicated other municipalities may want to challenge the new law.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” fellow Supervisor Russell Dysert responded prior to the vote. Copyright Observer Publishing Co.