Scranton Times-Tribune: Toomey talks shale in Wyoming County

BY JOSH MROZINSKI and ROBERT L. BAKER

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey on Monday said he is introducing legislation in September to repeal a federal mandate that requires municipalities and states to replace road signs.

The congressman announced his plans after meeting with local officials at Scranton City Hall the same day he met with business leaders in Wyoming County.

“It’s an expensive solution,” Mr. Toomey said. “These communities don’t have the money to do it.”

At the meeting, Mr. Toomey said discussion centered on other mandates facing municipalities that are “strapped for cash,” including stormwater.

Mr. Toomey said he thinks he will have bipartisan support for his legislation to repeal the federal sign regulation.

The sign mandate requires municipalities to assess their existing signs and, within four years, develop a plan to replace them to meet reflectivity standards. Communities have until 2015 to replace warning and regulatory signs and until 2018 for guidance and street-name signs.

In Scranton, the mandate could cost $1 million, Mayor Chris Doherty said, adding that the city cannot afford the project.

In Waverly Twp., officials say they also cannot afford to meet the federal mandate.

The township’s street signs are white posts with black lettering.

“The street signs would be a terrible problem,” said township Manager William White.

The state Department of Transportation District 4-0 expects to spend more than $1 million next year alone to comply with the federal mandate, spokesman James May said.

District 4-0 comprises Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming, Lackawanna, Luzerne and Pike counties and has 79,000 signs, Mr. May said.

‘Badly dysfunctional’

While the stock market was going through an economic meltdown Monday afternoon, Mr. Toomey admitted to Wyoming County business leaders that “our government is badly dysfunctional.”

“I am disgusted with this process,” Mr. Toomey said at the outset of an hourlong meeting arranged through the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce at the new Comfort Inn near Tunkhannock.

He said he found it “shocking and ridiculous” how much Congress had changed from when he left the U.S. House in 2005 to when he joined the U.S. Senate in January.

Shale ‘bright spot’

Mr. Toomey acknowledged a “bright spot in this gloomy economic picture” is the region’s developing Marcellus Shale.

“In my view, this may be the biggest economic opportunity within Pennsylvania in 100 years, and it needs to be developed responsibly,” he said.

Tunkhannock businessman and former congressman Don Sherwood said the Marcellus had been a “game changer” in the region, and asked Mr. Toomey if maybe it could have an even greater reach if the country adopted an energy policy that supported vehicles using compressed natural gas, which costs about half of that for gasoline.

Mr. Toomey said that for the first time since the advent of the automobile, “We do indeed have a credible substitute for gasoline.”

Chesapeake Energy’s Brian Grove expressed a concern that some members of the public were advocating greater review of the hydrofracturing process.

“To give the Environmental Protection Agency regulatory powers over and above what DEP does,” Mr. Toomey said, “I think that’s a bad idea. We don’t need the EPA creating a whole new overlay.”

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