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Speedy action urged on Pennsylvania drilling legislation

State lawmakers should separate oil and gas legislation into multiple bills to speed their adoption and push for stronger standards, according to a report released on Tuesday by the group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future.

New rules proposed in Harrisburg ignore the growing threat of air pollution from wide-scale shale drilling, fail to ban open-air wastewater pits, fail to protect government forests and parks and don't fund nearly bankrupt environmental programs, according to the Harrisburg-based conservation group. Putting all potential reforms in one bill undercuts the chance to pass stronger regulations, said Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive officer.

"The bills under consideration adopt a 'penny wise, pound foolish' approach, looking at only the immediate revenue with no thought of using any of the money for future needs," Jarrett said in a statement.

The report from Jarrett's group was one of several statements interest groups released to push legislators to act on oil and gas reforms. Nearly a year of bill-writing, advisory panels and debate could culminate in the coming weeks as legislators return to session with drilling reform at the top of the agenda. Both the House and Senate passed their own bills this fall and are trying to merge them.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, sent its own letter to legislators last week. They should stick to recommendations from the governor's industry-dominated Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission because going beyond that will become burdensome and could discourage investment, president Kathryn Z. Klaber wrote.

The state should stick with the House plan for a drilling fee, $160,000 per well, which is less than half the fee proposed in the Senate, Klaber wrote. The coalition asked for a uniform set of land-use rules around the state.

Several speakers joined a Capitol rally yesterday to oppose the proposal to pre-empt local land-use rules for locating and regulating oil and gas drilling. The groups attending ranged from Clean Water Action to the Sierra Club. "Kill the bill, kill the bill," people chanted.

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