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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lawmakers rated on Marcellus shale votes

Several local lawmakers — even one who fared well on the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Scorecard — say they don't place a lot of weight on the environmentalists' grades for legislative voting related to natural gas well drilling.
"With all due respect to the environmental groups, I'm not preoccupied with scorecards," said Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Pittsburgh, who received a perfect score.
Four environmental advocacy organizations -- Clean Water Action, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, PennEnvironment and Sierra Club -- in March scored all state legislators on their votes on Marcellus-related legislation that came before the Legislature in 2011.
The scorecard reflects eight votes in the Senate and 13 in the House leading up to and including passage of Act 13, formerly known as House Bill 1950, which established impact fees on gas wells in exchange for more universal drilling regulations.
The environmental groups oppose Act 13, which they say "tramples" municipal zoning laws, does not provide adequate separation between building and gas wells, and enacts extraction fees that are too low.
Adam Garber, a field director for PennEnvironment, said the scorecard was the first collaborative effort among the four organizations. It also was unique in that it focused on one issue rather than many.
"This year we decided that because Marcellus shale gas drilling would have such a huge impact on Pennsylvania's environment and the health of its citizens, that it was worth just focusing on that issue," Garber said. "(Passing the bill) was such a saga, that it was worth making sure constituents understood where their legislators voted throughout the process, who tried to fix the bill, who didn't and how everyone voted in the end."
Garber said the results were somewhat unique in how party politics and regionalism factored into the scores compared to past environment-based report cards.
Whereas some Republicans have received low grades on past scorecards, the highest Republican score was 50 percent on Marcellus issues, Garber said. Conversely, Garber said there were Democrats who received failing grades this time around.
"Some of the usual environmental champs this time decided to side against their constituents' interests and with drilling companies," he said.
Kathryn Klaber, president of Pennsylvania-based trade group Marcellus Shale Coalition, objected to the industry being categorized as unconcerned about the environment.
"We live, work and raise our families in these communities, and are absolutely committed to ensuring that our air, water and public health are protected," Klaber said. "There is no higher priority. And as President Obama recently said, 'The development of natural gas (is) proving that we don't have to choose between our environment and our economy.'"
Perfect scores
Locally, three legislators received a perfect score on the environmental scorecard: Sens. Ferlo and Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, and Rep. Dom Costa, D-Stanton Heights.
Ferlo said he recognizes the importance of energy independence and that sources such as natural gas play a role, but he'd like to see more emphasis on the development of cleaner, renewable sources.
He also believes it's possible to craft regulations that support the economy and protect the environment -- something he doesn't think Act 13 does.
"It is a horrendous piece of legislation: weak on environmental protections and in no way raises the necessary revenue," Ferlo said. "It's completely contrary to Republican rhetoric on property rights. It decimates the power of local people and local governments."
At the bottom of the scorecard was Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, the only local legislator to receive a zero.

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