Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A history lesson

MARK NALE, PA Outdoor Writers Association
Sun., Sept. 6, 2009

It is amazing and sad to realize what $1 million in lobbying effort will buy in Pennsylvania. Our state budget is still not settled. The state is strapped for revenue, so it seems that it would be a no-brainer to tax the billions of dollars of natural gas that will be extracted from the very-deep Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania. A proposed 5 percent tax was expected to generate $90 million in this fiscal year alone.

According to Richard Martin of the Forest Coalition, Pennsylvania is the only major fossil fuel-producing eastern state that does not levy a mineral resource extraction (severance) tax.

On Aug. 31, Gov. Ed Rendell announced that he was dropping his plan to impose such a tax. According to the Associated Press, Rendell told reporters that “conversations with (read ‘lobbying by’) the major gas producers convinced administration officials that imposing such a tax at this early stage could hurt the industry.”

The idea of a tax was first proposed in February, won support in the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, but faced strong Republican opposition. It is amazing what $1 million worth of lobbying can buy — this figure is based on information from the Pennsylvania Forest Coalition, an environmental watchdog group.

Let’s back up for a moment and look at Pennsylvania’s sad history of resource extraction. By the late 1800s, almost the entire state had been stripped of its timber, with no thought to the future. Fires raged in the aftermath and billions of tons of high-quality topsoil were forever lost to the fires and erosion.

The oil boom started here with the drilling of Drake’s well in 1859. Prior to 1901, one-half of the world’s oil supply came from Pennsylvania. This resulted in more erosion and streams polluted with sediment and oil.

Then, there is the legacy of “King Coal” — over 10 billion tons of coal have been mined from 21 counties in this state over the past 200 years. Environmental regulations and bonding were inadequate. The industry left behind hundreds of unreclaimed strip mines and over 3,000 miles of dead streams — polluted with sulfuric acid, iron, aluminum and manganese. Millions of dollars are spent each year in attempting to correct this wrong.

We are now rushing headlong into the Marcellus Shale “boom,” yet again with inadequate environmental protection and little thought to the future. Pennsylvania’s forests, ground water and trout streams are once more on the line. Have we learned anything from our past mistakes?

With environmental concerns at the forefront, the state of New York put a one-year moratorium on Marcellus shale drilling until they could study the process and put proper environmental safeguards in place. Not heavily-lobbied Pennsylvania, though — we would not want to hurt the industry.

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