Officials Decry State Regulatory Bill for Gas Drilling
Forest Hills Council members want local governments to have a say in drilling regulation.
The president of Forest Hills Council wants state lawmakers, each and every one, to know that the borough disagrees with a bill that would transfer all regulation of gas drilling to the state.
At a meeting Wednesday, council members passed a resolution to send state lawmakers a letter decrying the regulatory bills in the House and Senate, which have yet to be reconciled, as an assault on local governments’ rights. And President Frank Porco said he wants to know their voices are heard.
“I’d like to make sure that every member of the legislature gets a copy of this resolution,” Porco said.
Council member Devon Wood, reading the letter aloud, pointed to health and environmental concerns associated with drilling. Each community is unique, she said, and local governments should be able to serve their residents’ interests.
“In essence, both the Senate and House bills render local municipalities’ ability to zone where drilling occurs basically useless,” Wood said.
In October, council passed an outright ban on gas drilling in the borough. A legal team that helped draft the ban said it wouldn’t be affected by such legislation but admitted that, if challenged, there’s no guarantee courts wouldn’t rule against it.
State officials had hoped to reconcile the Senate and House versions of the bill before the holiday break but now plan to revisit the issue in January.
Council has rallied against the bills since they gained traction. Last month, it sent a letter to Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, who voted against a version of the bill passed in the House.
“This is just giving it a little more teeth,” Wood said of the effort to stop the bill.
When council heard public comment on the letter, resident Tom Meshanko said that while he agrees with council, he thinks the argument over health and safety concerns lacks evidence and is still controversial.
“It is controversial—to the industry,” Wood replied. “The way the drilling is occurring currently is posing significant risks.”
Councilman Bill Burleigh, a small business owner, likened the chance of water contamination to rolling a die.
Asked whether allowing local governments to impose regulations would hurt the industry financially, Burleigh said it would. But health is more important.
“Collateral damage is basically what the state is thinking,” he said. “I just don’t want Forest Hills to become collateral damage.”