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Fee is for impact

June 20, 2013 Letters to the Editor

While reading the June 16 Eagle article about Butler County’s impact fee money, I couldn’t help but notice there was not one mention of actual natural gas drilling impacts (other than economic); you know, the impacts for which this fee was named and on which (at least originally) this money was meant to be spent (as opposed to things like Sunnyview).

The impact fee was established by Act 13 to repair damage done to communities by fracking. Section 2314(g) states “a county or municipality . . . shall use the funds received only for the following purposes associated with natural gas production from unconventional gas wells within the county or municipality.”

Butler County state Rep. Brian Ellis, prime sponsor of Act 13, has said, “They are only allowed to use the money for impacts that are felt in the region,” and “They can’t use it for anything else. We’re not giving them an additional revenue that they could spend willy-nilly.” Nonetheless, local officials, including the Butler County commissioners, want to use the funds to fill holes in their operating budgets. This is not just irresponsible; it may very well be illegal.

But maybe the reality is that there are no negative impacts from unconventional natural gas drilling, after all. How silly of me (and General Electric, the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, Ellis, etc.) to have thought otherwise. But if that is the case, then why does our state government persist in calling the ridiculously low (compared with other states) tax rate it charges drillers for the privilege of drilling in Pennsylvania an impact fee?

Either there are impacts that this money needs to be spent on or there aren’t. Either it’s a tax (and a poor one at that) or it isn’t. Please, make up your minds. And if the Butler County commissioners’ plans for the impact fee money are in fact illegal, will someone from the state (Rep. Ellis?) please step in and alert them to the error of their ways?