On March 20th the PA House Environmental Resources Committee held a hearing regarding the overreach of the Delaware River Basin Commission. Representative Jonathan Fritz provided the background for the reason that both he and Senator Lisa Baker view the actions taken by the DRBC against the landowners of the Upper Delaware River Basin represent a taking of property without just compensation.
Senator Lisa Baker’s DRBC takings bill, has been reintroduced as SB305, the “Delaware River Basin Commission Eminent Domain Activity Act." Rep. Jonathan Fritz introduced the bill on the House side as HB 827 to bring some much needed justice to landowners in the one neglected part of the Commonwealth where landowners are not permitted to develop and market their gas.
Tom Shepstone, Shepstone Management Company, offered comments supporting House Bill 827. Christopher Nestor, Overstreet & Nestor, LLC. said he is also concerned DRBC will use its authority to regulate all types of land use in the watershed, not just drilling for natural gas. Ned Lang, PA Septage Management Association, said DRBC has exceeded its authority on the proposed fracking ban, overriding the Department of Environmental Protection and Pennsylvania law and stated that he is concerned DRBC will use its authority to regulate on-lot septic systems and related services like land application of bio-solids.
During the questions by representatives to the testifiers, several items stand out regarding the perception of our downstate representatives
"My discussions with experts in DEP program tell me there is very little gas in Wayne County anyway and in the 8% of Wayne County not controlled by the Delaware River Basin Commission, there is no drilling there anyway, which supports the proposition that we are not talking about a lot of gas anyway"... Rep Greg Vitali
The opening statement "I can tell you that my constituents and most people in Southeast PA do not want gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin.", by Representative Vitali makes it clear that the rights of the citizens of the Upper Delaware River Basin would be abrogated to the will of those opposed to natural gas drilling and fossil fuels. Representative MaryLouise Isaacson stated that "I am worried about the rights of my constituents on the southern end ant the activities that perhaps that you are advocating for changes, what about their constitutional rights to the clean water and that is why I am supportive of the DRBC and the work they are doing to protect us from things like rising salt-line on the southern end and regulating water in the drinking water for our area.". Later in the hearing, Ned Lang responded to Representative Isaacson's comment explaining how the DRBC has allowed the Barnes Landfill in Barryville, NY to continue to allow dangerous leachate to run unimpeded into the Delaware River and unlike perceived potential pollution from natural gas drilling, the Barnes Landfill has been allowed to continue unimpeded by the DRBC and NY State for years.
This issue begs two important questions:
- Do the rights of a large voting block supersede the property rights of a rural population?
- Can the powers of an unelected, out of state organization overrule the authority of a state's elected legislature?
The Committee has scheduled a meeting for March 26 to consider House Bill 827 and 829 mentioned at this meeting as well as House Bill 828 (Fritz-R-Wayne) authorizes DEP to issue one permit for multiple gas wells on a single pad instead of individual well permits, extends the term of well permits from 1 to 3 years and allows well locations to vary within 50 feet of specific locations identified on the well permit. These reforms were included in a DEP white paper Gov. Wolf released in January of 2018. (1).