Several major state environmental groups sent another letter to all members of the General Assembly today outlining their budget priorities for the coming budget conference committee.
The undersigned organizations believe the following policies must be part of any final state budget agreement:
1. Enacting the proposed natural gas severance tax and dedicating a portion of these funds to the Environmental Stewardship Fund and to affected local governments.
In these tough economic times, as Pennsylvania’s residents pay their fair share of taxes, it’s critical that the natural gas industry pays its fair share as well. Yet Pennsylvania remains one of only two states that allow natural gas drilling but do not assess a severance tax to compensate for the depletion of a nonrenewable resource and for damage to natural resources and public infrastructure. The severance tax would not create any greater disincentive to drilling than in other states; consider also that the vast majority of extraction companies do not pay the state’s corporate net income tax because of their corporate structure. As you probably know, the proposed tax rate is five percent of the value of the natural gas at the wellhead, plus 4.7 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas removed. Please call on your party leadership to make this a part of any final budget agreement.
2. Ensuring that the budgets of Pennsylvania’s two environmental agencies, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), are not subject to cuts disproportionate to other state agencies.
While the undersigned organizations understand that in these tough budget times all of the Commonwealth’s agencies will have to tighten their belts and make difficult financial decisions as part of any budget agreement, we believe that it is essential that the budgets of DCNR and DEP receive cuts that are fair and comparable to other Pennsylvania agencies. Conversely, the undersigned organizations will oppose any efforts to deliver budget cuts that are deeper and more harmful to these two environmental agencies than other state agencies. We ask you to advocate on behalf of DCNR and DEP when holding budget discussions with your leadership.
3. Safeguarding State Forest lands from proposals to open additional publicly owned acres to gas drilling until potential impacts can be assessed and appropriate protections can be put in place.
The impacts of gas drilling on the 660,000 acres of publicly owned State Forest already open for drilling have yet to be assessed. The undersigned organizations strongly oppose proposals that would open up hundreds of thousands of additional acres of State Forest lands to drilling until it can be demonstrated that new leases will avoid environmentally sensitive and ecologically important areas and minimize impacts of drilling and related activities on other forest values and uses as well as assure that the revenue derived will be reinvested in conservation, recreation and flood control projects as has been state policy through the past 54 years and seven recessions.
Much of the additional state land that would be opened to drilling is wholly unsuitable for resource extraction; a concern that becomes all the more compelling given the rise in environmental damage occurring as Marcellus Shale drilling increases. The potential long-term consequences of this action would be: scarring of public lands, degradation of our most pristine water resources, and destruction of wildlife habitat.
Take the example of one company’s gas well drilling in Washington County’s Cross Creek Park: a leaking waste water pipe polluted a tributary of Cross Creek Lake killing fish, salamanders, crayfish and aquatic insect life -- and degrading water quality for area residents. Or the example of another company which received a cease and desist order from DEP this July for more than 320 violations of environmental laws and regulations. These two examples will be magnified enormously -- with significant consequences for our public lands and waters. For these reasons, the undersigned organizations will vocally oppose any final budget deal that puts short-term financial gain ahead of the responsible management of Pennsylvania’s public lands including protection of its environmentally sensitive resources.
In these tough economic times, it is critical that legislators from both chambers and both parties work together to protect our environment and continue the Commonwealth’s strong legacy of environmental protection and conservation. These policies will ensure that Pennsylvania may continue on this course.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of the undersigned organizations with questions or if you need more information. We appreciate your work to protect Pennsylvania’s environment.
Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future
Montgomery County Lands Trust
Natural Lands Trust
Pennsylvania Environmental Council
Pennsylvania Land Trust Association
Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society
Sierra Club, Pennsylvania Chapter
The Nature Conservancy, Pennsylvania Chapter
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy