Everett won’t give up fighting for landowners

State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, has been trudging uphill to pass a gas royalties bill for the past three terms, and while there still is a long way to go he promised he is not giving up anytime soon.

“I’m going to try to find a way to get these landowners paid fairly. More fairly at least,” Everett said. “I not only want to get it resolved this session … I want to get it done before we break for the holidays.”

For six years, Everett has been working with landowners in his district and fellow legislators to create a method that requires gas companies to provide a 12.5 percent of minimum royalty payments to the landowners. Currently, many landowners are not seeing their total payment because the gas companies are lessening the royalties by deducting post-production costs from it.

Everett drafted a new version of the bill for the 2017-18 session, but it currently is sitting in the Environmental Resources and Energy committee. Everett said the likelihood of the bill passing in its current format is slim, but even if it did pass, the ensuing court battle with the gas companies may stop it in its tracks.

“What we don’t want to do is gamble everything on the bill as it exists now,” Everett said.

Naysayers to Everett’s bill say that it is unconstitutional for the government to impose a law that impairs contracts already set up between landowners and private companies. While many legislators agree the problem of improper royalty payments exists, they don’t all agree that Everett’s bill is the best way to fix it.

“We’re not supposed to be able to pass laws that impair contracts,” Everett said, acknowledging the conundrum.

To overcome the constitutional hurdle, Everett said a new incarnation of the bill could “restrict the company’s ability to take unreasonable deductions.” While this may not give landowners the full 12.5 percent, he said it will give them more than they currently are getting.

Additionally, Everett hopes the legislation will provide people with a legal remedy that does not now exist.

“Landowners have no legal recourse,” Everett said about the law as it stands. “Taking these people (gas companies) on is not realistic.”

As it stands, an arbitration process is all that landowners have to use if they believe they are not getting their fair share of the royalties. But this is a cumbersome and expensive process, Everett said. He hopes a new law would allow them an easier, less expensive, way to petition through the local courts.

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