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Democrats Decry Senate Shale Bill

With a late-night vote on Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Senate passed the first comprehensive natural gas drilling bill since the explosion of Marcellus Shale drilling, but it did not come without a heated debate. The measure essentially takes away a municipality's ability to limit drilling within its borders and creates a $50,000 fee for each well drilled in the state. That fee will decrease over time.

"This bill, upon final passage, would run roughshod over the rights of local elected officialdom throughout the commonwealth," said Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Pittsburgh).

During floor debate Ferlo argued that municipalities should be allowed to issue "appropriate limitations" on drilling. The measure passed 29-20, despite the objections. The House has also modified its shale drilling bill to more closely mirror the senate bill.

Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks County) argued against the bill as a measure that runs counter to the interests of Pennsylvanians. "Instead of putting this industry to work to achieve economic growth, this bill will give us one of the lowest effective tax rates in the nation," said Schwank. "I believe the natural gas industry could be a sound economic engine for the commonwealth. I don't think this proposal harnesses it, and it leaves us in danger of being trampled by it."

The fee proposed by the legislation would raise an estimated $94 million this year and ramp up to about $225 million by 2014.

Earlier in the debate, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarniti (R-Cameron County) said that the goal is to find the "sweet spot" when it comes to collecting fees and regulating the industry. Senator Andy Dinniman (D-Chester County) mocked the statement by saying that the bill hits the sweet spot for "global companies," not the citizens of Pennsylvania.