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Top Pennsylvania Senate Republican Wants Marcellus Health Advisory Panel

A leading Pennsylvania state senator is once again seeking co-sponsors for a bill that would create a long-considered Marcellus Shale Health Advisory Panel to study the impacts of the unconventional natural gas industry and help inform public policy decisions.

Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, who represents eight counties in the northern part of the state that host Marcellus Shale development, issued a memo to Senate lawmakers late last month seeking co-sponsors for a bill he first suggested in 2012 (see Shale Daily, Oct. 1, 2012).

"There has been much discussion regarding the potential effects of Marcellus Shale drilling on public health and safety," Scarnati said in the memo. "The creation of an advisory panel composed of experts from a wide range of fields including doctors, scientists, academics and industry leaders will provide Pennsylvania with a critical asset in addressing any current or future impacts arising from the development of the Marcellus Shale."

A health advisory panel has garnered interest from state lawmakers in the past, especially during negotiations for Act 13 -- an omnibus energy bill passed in 2012 that updated Pennsylvania's oil and gas regulations for the first time since 1984 (see Shale Daily, Feb. 15, 2012). Current Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who lost his reelection bid in November (see Shale Daily, Nov. 5, 2014), has also recommended such a panel. The 30-member Marcellus Shale Advisory Committee that Corbett convened to help guide the Act 13 legislation backed the idea, too (see Shale Daily, July 25, 2011).

Scarnati said the panel would be tasked with investigating advancements in science, technology and public health data to provide elected officials, regulators and the general public with "information, analysis and recommendations regarding the safe, efficient and environmentally responsible extraction and use of unconventional natural gas reserves in the commonwealth."

He said the panel would consist of nine members, including the secretaries of the departments of health and environmental protection, as well as individuals appointed by the governor and general assembly leadership.

Scarnati introduced a similar bill early in 2013, but after making its way out of the Senate's Public Health and Welfare Committee it was tabled later in the year. At the time he first suggested the idea, Scarnati's aides acknowledged that it could be tough to create such a panel given competing interests in the legislature.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene for the 2015-2016 legislative session Jan. 6. With Democratic Gov. Elect-Tom Wolf taking office Jan. 20, energy is expected to factor heavily into debate over new laws during the next session (see Shale Daily, Oct. 31, 2014).

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