Pennsylvania budget is a mixed blessing for the environment

Posted: March 09, 2011

When it comes to natural gas, the most interesting items in Gov. Corbett's budget proposal were the ones not there: No severance tax on drilling companies. And no indication that the governor intends to lease more state forest for drilling.

But he did say it was time for the state to embrace drilling. "Let's make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural gas boom," he said in his budget address. "I'm determined that Pennsylvania not lose this moment. We have the chance . . . to grow our way out of hard days."

The absence of a tax was expected. Corbett had said all along he would not support one.

But the reprieve for state forests was a surprise and, for many, a relief.

"The governor is to be commended. He showed restraint," said John Quigley, who under Gov. Ed Rendell was secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), which oversees state forests.

Of the 2.1 million acres of state forest, roughly 725,000 have been leased. Although the acreage is largely a working forest, not a park, and portions of it are logged, a DCNR report concluded that additional leasing would compromise its ecological integrity.

Quigley said more leasing would jeopardize the forests' sustainability certification, a designation that contributes to 90,000 forestry jobs and a premium price for timber.

State Rep. Greg Vitali (D., Delaware) also was relieved, "but we certainly have to stay vigilant," he said. "This could be inserted at a later date."

On Wednesday, he plans to introduce legislation - identical to that passed last year by the House - that would place a three-year moratorium on state forest leases, then allow leases based on sustainability, not the agency's need for money.

Jan Jarrett, president of the environmental advocacy group PennFuture, called the absence of forest leasing the budget's "one bright spot."

As for the lack of a severance tax, she said: "There is no sane argument to let drillers off the hook."

Corbett has said a fee or tax would scare industry away. "What Pennsylvanians will gain is the jobs, the spin-offs," he said Tuesday.

But others noted that Pennsylvania remains the only major gas-producing state without a tax. Vitali said a tax similar to West Virginia's could generate $200 million a year, "and that could save a lot of programs."

Across the aisle, Erik Arneson, spokesman for Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), said Pileggi, while "respectful of the governor's position, believes there is room for a reasonable and competitive assessment."

While the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, did not address Corbett's budget proposal, its president, Kathryn Klaber, said, "We have to get this historic opportunity right, and we applaud Gov. Corbett for his continued leadership."


Shale Commission's Invited Members

In Tuesday's budget address, Gov. Corbett announced a Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission "to oversee how we can build around this new industry and how we can make certain we do this while protecting our lands, our drinking water, our air - all the time growing our workforce." It is to be led by Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and to produce a report in 120 days. Invited members are:

Mike Krancer, acting secretary of environmental protection.

George Grieg, acting secretary of agriculture.

C. Alan Walker, acting secretary of community and economic development.

Barry Schoch, acting secretary of transportation.

Patrick Henderson, the governor's energy executive.

Robert Powelson, chair, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Glenn Cannon, executive director, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Association.

James W. Felmlee, president, Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.

Clifford "Kip" Allen, president, Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities.

Gene Barr, vice president, government and public affairs, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

Terry R. Bossert, vice president government and regulatory affairs, Chief Oil & Gas L.L.C.

Jeff Wheeland, Lycoming County commissioner.

Vincent J. Matteo, president Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.

Terry Engelder, Pennsylvania State University geosciences professor.

Matthew J. Ehrhart, executive director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Pennsylvania office.

Ronald L. Ramsey, senior policy adviser, Nature Conservancy, Pennsylvania chapter.

David Porges, chief executive officer, EQT Corp., a gas drilling company.

Christopher J. Masciantonio, general manager, state government affairs, U.S. Steel Corp.

Cynthia Carrow, vice president, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

David Sanko, executive director, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.

Dave Spigelmyer, vice president, government relations, Chesapeake Energy Corp.

Randy Smith, U.S. government affairs manager, ExxonMobil Corp.

Ray Walker, chairman, Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Chris Helms, NiSource Gas Transmission & Storage.

Terry Pegula, energy executive and Pennsylvania State University benefactor who owns shale land.

Jeff Kupfer, Chevron Corp.

Gary Slagel, chairman, Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association.

Anthony S. Bartolomeo, chief executive, Pennoni Associates, and chair, Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

Nicholas S. Haden, vice president, Reserved Environmental Services, a Marcellus wastewater firm.


Contact staff writer Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147 or sbauers@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Amy Worden contributed to this article.

 

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