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PA Green Groups Rate Lawmakers On Marcellus Shale Legislation Voting

Pennsylvania state Representatives and Senators received an overall failing grade on recent Marcellus Shale gas drilling votes, according to a new score card released today.

Environmental groups— PennEnvironment, Clean Water Action, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, and Sierra Club— graded all 253 Pennsylvania state lawmakers on how they voted on HB 1950.

The environmental groups called the bill "a significant step in the wrong direction that leaves [Pennsylvania's] communities, health, and environment at continued risk."

Between November of 2011 and February of 2012, the Pennsylvania state legislature held a series of votes on HB 1950, which restricts municipal zoning of drilling operations while establishing the nation's lowest impact fee.

Under the impact fee law, elected officials in counties with shale gas wells have until mid-April to enact a fee or choose not to collect. If the county officials refuse the fee, individual municipalities have 60 days to override the decision.

If a county adopts the impact fee, it must accept drilling in all types of zones except densely-populated residential areas.

Overall, 42 state Representatives and 14 State Senators received perfect scores, while 2 Representatives and 19 Senators got zeroes from the environmental groups.

Clean Water Advocate for PennEnvironment Erika Staaf says the voting on the bill was partisan in nature.

"It's no surprise that legislators are gonna largely vote with their parties leadership," Staaf said. Of course there are some cases where legislators voted against their party…and that's where you get the variation in votes."

One Senator who voted against his party was Democrat Tim Solobay (D-Allegheny) who received a 13 percent environmental score, and was one of only two Democratic Senators to receive a failing grade.

Despite passage of this bill however, Staaf feels things can still change.

"This is not the end all be all," Staaf said. "There is still time for legislators to take action on this issue, on other environmental issues, and in the next environmental score card that we release, [legislators] have a chance right now and an opportunity to better their scores, and to demonstrate to the public that they can be better environmental stewards."

The score card gave a positive or negative based on how a lawmaker voted on the measure itself and proposed amendments. Defeated amendments to the bill included raising fees on drillers to better fund statewide environmental programs and increasing the minimum distance between drilling wells and homes.

Every amendment that was considered pro-environment was voted down.