Friday, December 16, 2011

Analysis: Harrisburg Ends Another Year Without Final Action On Marcellus Shale Issues

Inspite of the flurry of movement on Marcellus Shale legislation in the last few weeks, the bottom line is the General Assembly and the Governor have let another year go by without getting their act together to pass a Marcellus bill, a shame now equally shared by both Republicans and Democrats.
            In spite of almost daily meetings between Senate and House Republicans and the Governor's Office, a compromise on the drilling fee issue and a laundry list of additional environmental protection measures has completely alluded the negotiators.
            Harrisburg is looking alot like Washington, D.C. these days except those in leadership positions in the Senate, House and the Governor's Office are all Republicans.
            Of course Democrats have also taken their turn and struck out.
            It was three years ago when Gov. Rendell first proposed a natural gas severance tax.  Although the Democratic House passed a tax included in a placeholder budget, it never went any where and the House failed to pass a severance tax in any serious budget bill.
            The Rendell Administration, unlike a flurry of bills in the General Assembly from both parties, did not propose any legislation with additional environmental protection measures.
            Particularly noteworthy in the 2010 budget settlement was the promise, in law-- Act 46 of 2010-- saying the Senate (Republican) and House (Democratic) Leadership would pass legislation "that raises revenue from the extraction of Marcellus Shale natural gas by October 1, 2010 with an effective date for  implementation no later than January 1, 2011."  Look it up, it's on page 155.
            Before someone tries to sue the General Assembly for breach of promise, that section of Act 46 expired on December 1, 2010.  They wrote that in there too.
            Marcellus Shale is a serious issue demanding serious leadership in Harrisburg.
           The first Marcellus Shale natural gas well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 2003, eight years ago.  Since then the Department of Environmental Protection has issued 9,325 Marcellus Shale well permits (3,225 just this year), 4,381 Marcellus wells have been drilled (1,797 this year) and hundreds of miles of pipelines lain and billions of gallons of water used for fracking.
            Pennsylvania's economic and environmental landscape is being changed, irreversibly, while we wait for action.
            Pennsylvania's 1984 Oil and Gas Act remains essentially the same, regulating these high-tech wells like they were the shallow wells Col. Drake drilled in Titusville in 1859.
            Meanwhile environmental initiatives like the award-winning Growing Greener Program begun in 1999 by Gov. Tom Ridge to help Pennsylvania meet its federal Clean Water Act obligations is broke and needs the funding a drilling impact fee, like one proposed by Sen. Scarnati in Senate Bill 1100, or an allocation from drilling royalties on State Forest land like the provision Republicans proposed in the House-passed version of House Bill 1950.
            Poll after poll has shown overwhelming support for a drilling impact fee and the need for more protective environmental requirements.  Just this week a Muhlenberg College/Allentown Morning Call poll found 71 percent support a drilling tax.
            And by the way, the issue of whether Grover Norquist considers either the Senate impact fee or the House optional county impact fee a tax is mood.  He said both were so the powers that be are free to design a system that actually works and is not optional.
            But still, there is no agreement.
            There is lots of talk these days about government setting priorities and returning to core missions.   What's more basic than protecting our water, our air and our land?  In fact, it's a right guaranteed uniquely by Pennsylvania's Constitution in Article I, Section 27.
            Another year has gone by without action on critical issues related to the safe development of Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale natural gas reserves.
            Will we get the leadership we need on this issue in 2012, an election year?  Or will we suffer the same paralysis we've had?
            We can only hope there will soon be an outbreak of common sense on this issue, rather than the non-sense we've had for the last eight years.

Related Links
Analysis: What We Lose If There's No Final Action On A Marcellus Shale Bill
Analysis: Should Taxpayers Spend $75 M A Year On Zack & Miri Make A Porno?
Analysis: Senate, House Each Passed Marcellus Bills, Where Do We Go?  Easy!
Analysis: Will We Get A Chevy Or A Pinto Out Of Marcellus Shale Debate?
Analysis: Is 8 Years Long Enough To Wait To Update PA's Drilling Law?

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