Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is asking state lawmakers to hold firm on local zoning restrictions included in legislation to impose an impact fee on natural gas drillers.

If Pennsylvania is to take full advantage of the Marcellus Shale, "it is paramount that the final legislation under your consideration contain uniform standards that balance the high regard we hold for local governance in Pennsylvania with the predictability and consistency that any business needs to grow and thrive, as well as the priority we place on the private property rights of our citizens," Corbett wrote in separate but identical letters to leaders of the state Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Until recently, those "uniform standards" were among the few provisions that Senate and House leaders agreed on as they haggled over details of House Bill 1950, the impact fee bill. That changed last week after nine Republican senators broke ranks to say the restrictions amounted to a "model ordinance" because they explicitly spelled out what local governments could and could not prohibit (see Shale Daily, Jan. 27).

Corbett disagrees, saying the legislation doesn't pre-empt local authority but merely "provides guidance and establishes parameters to provide a reasonable degree of certainty and uniformity from municipality to municipality. It recognizes and preserves the traditional role of local zoning, and provides for a fair and impartial review of ordinances to make sure that they are consistent with the laws you have enacted."

The provisions are "limited in number and afford local governments considerable discretion to impose conditions, requirements and limitations on oil and gas operations that are no more stringent than the ones that they apply to other industries," he wrote, adding that the bill allows local governments to continue to regulate their roadways.

Pennsylvania is lagging New York, Ohio and West Virginia, its competitors for capital in the region, according to Corbett. "To our immediate north, west and southwest, our neighboring states have all adopted strong -- and in some cases total -- pre-emption of local ordinances governing oil and gas development," he wrote.

But in Pennsylvania, 115 municipalities and 17 counties have adopted or are in the process of adopting 145 oil and gas ordinances that limit development, according to Corbett. "The most restrictive of these ordinances completely bans natural gas drilling or any activity critically related to the development process, depriving citizens of jobs, income and the enjoyment of their own property rights," he wrote.

Although lawmakers hoped to have a bill passed before Corbett delivered his budget address on Tuesday (Feb. 7), they have made no public moves toward that goal since returning from their winter recess. "There's a real sense of urgency," the Allentown Morning Call quoted Drew Crompton, a senior aide to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, as saying. "We're narrowing it down. But nothing is ever settled until everything is settled."

Opponents of the bill, including environmental groups, have increasingly picked up on the local zoning restrictions as a point of contention (see Shale Daily, Jan. 19).