Senator Yaw Talks about Gas and Jobs
By Rick Hiduk
Pennsylvania state Senator Gene Yaw made a point of stopping by the Rocket-Courier office on Dec. 9, in addition to meeting with constituents in Susquehanna and Bradford Counties. Over the course of an hour and a half, Yaw expressed his views on a number of topics, some of which were brought up by this reporter and editor/publisher David Keeler, and others related to Yaw’s current endeavors in Harrisburg and throughout his legislative district.
While many had suggested that state lawmakers were getting close last week to approving broad new legislation to better manage the Marcellus shale gas industry in Pennsylvania, Yaw indicated that the two versions of the bill were stalled in Harrisburg as the state’s congressional and senate leaders await mediation to resolve key differences in both the scope of impact fees and the distribution of funds to the areas where most of the drilling is taking place. Neither package suggests that the state’s percentage of the fees collected would go into the general budget, but that the money would instead be earmarked for housing, conservation, and environmental protection.
The senate version of the bill (SB1100) imposes a higher per-pad fee and a longer term of collection from gas companies for each drilling site than does the house version (HB1950). Yaw explained that, while the senate’s rendering has been criticized for earmarking only 55 percent of revenues to counties and local municipalities, there would be more money in the course of 20 years for both the commonwealth and individual counties in the end with $360,000 per-pad collected.
Members of the state’s House of Representatives have proposed that 75 percent of the revenue go to local interests, but their plan calls for only 10 years of collecting smaller per-pad fees, resulting in only $160,000 per pad in the long run, according to Yaw. The senate, he explained, essentially took the guts out of HB1950 and replaced much of the language and financial statistics with their own, which forced the legislation to a conference committee, where a compromise can be reached.
“I think there is significant pressure (on the committee) to do something before the governor gives his budget address,” said Yaw, in reference to an address slated for Feb. 7.
He acknowledged concerns by local lawmakers that imposing a fee on gas companies might affect the verbal and contractual commitments that have, to this point, provided many communities with better roads and substantial contributions to emergency responders, the arts, and in other areas. Yaw doesn’t feel that gas companies will take the “I gave at the office” attitude.
“As long as the taxing is reasonable, they will continue to act as they are now,” he stated. In fact, he added, most of the gas company representatives with whom he has spoken about the pending legislation appear to welcome it as a matter of consistency. In effect, Yaw suggested, they are looking for a set of rules and a level playing field.
“Pennsylvania is probably one of the most environmentally regulated states in the country,” he remarked, adding that many of the “infractions” by gas companies starting up in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania are due to the fact that other states don’t exercise nearly as much control over drilling activity. Ohio, for example, permits deep-well injection of used frack water and allows for total preemption of local zoning ordinances.
In Yaw’s words, gas company representatives are saying, “Just tell us the rules, and we’ll figure it out.”
Although the senator has a sincere interest in the natural gas boom, he seems just as anxious to see what lies beyond it. He views the proposed gas-fired power plant in Asylum Township as the perfect example of the type of value-added industry that can follow the flurry of activity experienced in the area as a result of drilling.
“That’s what we should be courting here,” said Yaw. “I’m looking forward to that.” By the same token, the senator did not come across a big fan of harnessing energy from the wind or the construction of wind farms, stating, “I don’t think that they would be doing it if it wasn’t subsidized. It’s not very efficient.”
In the meantime, the senator has also focused on ways to pair agriculture with tourism, using a term that he calls “cluster marketing.” One example he offered is the growing number of wineries and tasting facilities in the 23rd District, which, he noted, have become the basis for winery tours that send guests with money to spend into nooks and crannies that they wouldn’t likely find on their own. On a similar note, Yaw is pleased to be involved in legislation that paves the way for micro-distilleries, which should become law in less than two months.
(Additional subjects covered in the meeting with Sen. Yaw, including his efforts to keep a state police aviation unit in Williamsport from closing, will be addressed in Rocket-Courier feature stories in the coming weeks).