Talking Points for House Bill 464

* Industry is attempting to push through too many major changes in one piece of legislation.  This bill should really be three different bills. Instead, it’s one large and very bad bill. There are so many problems that need to be addressed:  local control issues, water grabs, and injection well issues; that frankly, the Senate Resource and Environment Committee should kill it.

* The gas industry and the State have essentially coerced counties into supporting bad legislation.

* House Bill 464 is a direct attack on local control and citizen involvement in land use regulation.

* How can the gas industry call this a “compromise bill” when the only county in Idaho with a gas and oil ordinance wasn’t invited to the negotiations?

* The impacts of the gas industry will be felt most acutely at the local level.  Local governments must absolutely retain authority over siting, setbacks, noise, odor, road use, etc., and the ability to use the special permitting process to create site-specific conditions that may, at times, require stronger regulations than the state’s.

Addressing Industry’s Arguments for passage of the bill:

1) “The state controls all natural resource development in Idaho, therefore local governments should not have authority over this type of development.”

Though the State does control mining, timber, wildlife and water, the oil and gas industry is unique in that unlike other resources, this industry is coming into areas that have already been established for other uses (residential, agricultural, etc.).  And therefore, the impacts of oil and gas development will be significant to communities.  Last I checked, the timber industry wasn’t logging in town… and I haven’t seen any mine shafts dotted around either.  So, oil and gas development is in fact a local land use issue – specifically in relation to siting, and placing extra  regulations to protect health, safety, quality of life and property values.

2) “Local Governments do not have the resources or expertise to regulate all aspects of oil and gas.”

Local governments have no desire to regulate the technical aspects of oil and gas.  Surface casing, mechanical integrity testing, blow out prevention, etc. should be regulated by the state.  What the industry is hoping our legislators don’t realize is the fact that we are talking about TWO different types of regulation:  1. Technical and sub-surface regulation ;  2.  Land use/surface regulation.  (Although I personally would argue that local governments should reserve the right to prohibit certain practices such as fracking with carcinogens.)

3) “This bill does not take away local control over land use.”

This is one of those statements that is technically true, but incredibly misleading.  Sure, the bill does not take away every last ounce of local control.  However, what it does is severely limit a local government’s ability to regulate oil and gas development in a meaningful way.  First, the bill contains language barring local governments from prohibiting oil and gas development ‘actually or operationally.’  That alone should concern all of us.  This bill essentially states that a city cannot say that they don’t want gas wells, evaporation pits or dehydration stations within their borders.  If you think that gas development is something that only happens out in the boonies, you are incorrect.

Second, the prohibition language is vague.  Is a setback considered a prohibition?  A county might not think so, but the industry may.

The bill allows for local governments to create ordinances, but only if they are ‘reasonable’ and ‘not repugnant to law.’  Well, who decides that?  The courts, of course.  We in Washington County know first hand that the Idaho Petroleum Council found every single section of our ordinance to be “unreasonable” and “in conflict with state law.”

The bill allows for local government permitting – but only administrative permitting, with a time limit of 21 days.  So, instead of a special use permitting process and all that would entail (planning and zoning commission review, public notice, public hearing, site specific conditions), the gas industry would have the privilege of limiting a county to conditions that must pre-exist in an ordinance, and the burden of the review would fall on the planning and zoning administrator.  The time limit of 21 days is also an attempt to side step a public hearing – as it would be impossible to meet the notice requirements and fulfill a meaningful investigation of an application in this brief amount of time.

4) “This bill does not limit citizen involvement in land use decisions.”

This bill eliminates the public hearing process from gas and oil development.  The industry has argued that public hearings would take place during the creation of an ordinance.  That’s true, but public hearings should take place for all activities that qualify as special use.  The public has much to offer about site-specific concerns.  If this bill passes, citizens would have more input on the siting of a cell phone tower than a gas well or evaporation pit whose impact is much greater.  Also, without a public hearing process, the ability of a citizen to appeal a decision would be in question.  Planning and Zoning Commissions and permitting processes have been in place for over 35 years, and have proven to work to effectively mediate citizen, government and industry land use issues.  There is absolutely no reason why the gas and oil industry should be treated any differently.

5) “This bill was endorsed by the Idaho Association of Counties, whom we worked with to reach an acceptable compromise.”

Dan Chadwick, the director of the IAC is quoted in the Statesman saying that counties were told if they didn’t get on board and endorse this legislation, then they would be written out completely.  That sounds a lot like coercion.  And frankly, if an industry is threatening local governments in this way I think we have a pretty good idea of the intent of this industry-written legislation.

Washington County – the only county in Idaho with a Gas and Oil Ordinance – was not asked to the negotiating table.

(By Amanda Buchanan)

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