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DAVID SPIGELMYER

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GINA SUYDAM

The Marcellus Shale Coalition heard from elected officials at the Wyoming County 911 Center on Friday about how natural gas impact fees have benefited Pennsylvania and its northeast counties.

The state government enacted Act 13 in 2012 to improve environmental laws related to shale gas development.

Through Act 13, natural gas producers pay Pennsylvania counties an annual impact fee for each well where spudding or drilling has occurred.

Since 2012, impact fees have generated $1.7 billion in the state.

At Friday’s discussion, Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce President Gina Suydam said the Endless Mountains region “continues to see sustained growth thanks to the natural gas industry and the small businesses that support the industry.”

Wyoming County and its municipalities have received $24 million in impact fee tax revenue.

“It’s money used by our local elected officials to fund critical community projects and to bring natural gas utility infrastructure here in Wyoming County,” Suydam said.

This includes the chamber partnering with the state to receive $2 million in PIPE grant funding to bring natural gas to Tunkhannock Borough through UGI, she said.

Wyoming County Commissioner Tom Henry agreed that the natural gas industry has “helped Wyoming County incredibly.”

Impact fees have been put toward improvements to the 911 center, and the first phase of the pipeline project will bring natural gas to the building, as well as the county courthouse and jail.

“We’d be lost without the impact fee,” Henry said. “We’ve really come to depend on it and use it for the safety of the citizens.”

Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith had a different perspective on the impact fee.

“We have no production wells in Wayne County,” he said, as the Delaware River Basin Commission put a moratorium on the process of getting natural gas out of the ground.

Despite this, he said the impact fee has still benefited Wayne County.

“There was a lot of wisdom that went into the creation of the impact fee,” Smith said. “We all capitalize on pools of money that were set up in this process.”

Smith used the Wayne County Conservation District as an example, which receives $85,000 for salaries and administration costs through certain pools.

“There are a lot of counties in the state of Pennsylvania that don’t have production that still need to have these funds to allow us to move forward,” he said.

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23rd District) spoke of issues with renewable energy in light of the global climate strikes occurring that afternoon.

“You hear all the time, ‘Freedom is not free,’” he said. “I think the same thing applies to renewable energy. It’s not free.”

A windmill, for example, takes tons of steel, concrete and plastic, according to Yaw.

“Where does it come from? Somebody’s got to make it,” he said.

Yaw also questioned how to recycle renewable energy equipment such as solar panels when they reach the end of their lifespan.

“What amazes me is people don’t think any farther ahead,” he said. “Maybe they’re necessary, but then let’s be realistic about it, and that’s one thing I don’t think that people are.”

“It makes no sense to not embrace the gas industry, which we’ve done here, and look at the benefits,” he added.

MSC President David Spigelmyer said today, 20 percent of the nation’s supply of natural gas comes from Pennsylvania, with the northeast region being a leader.

“Many of our towns have lost their businesses that are industries and the ability to gain state funding to do those important projects,” he said, complimenting the state legislature for finding a way to invest funds in these areas.

Spigelmyer also said he realizes that bringing natural gas to underserved communities has taken longer than many have hoped.

Commodity prices hit record highs in 2008, but rates for natural gas have decreased between 56 to 76 percent, depending on the utility.

“Those savings to consumers are real and they’re important and we’re really proud to be a part of that,” he said.