Saturday, September 26, 2009

More Pa. House Democrats opposing plan to expand natural gas drilling in state forests

Associated Press
09/25/09 3:40 PM PDT

HARRISBURG, PA. A top state House Democrat said Friday that more than two dozen of his colleagues signed a letter to caucus leaders expressing grave concerns over a plan to expand gas drilling in Pennsylvania forests.

Finance Committee Chairman David Levdansky said he did not want to release a copy of the letter or disclose who signed it. He said the letter was signed by 28 representatives, including himself, and three other House Democrats added their signatures after the original was sent.

"Raping our state forest system is not a wise fiscal or environmental choice, and we're sending the message that it needs to be fixed, and it can be," Levdansky said.

The week-old deal struck by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and leaders of three of the Legislature's four caucuses includes leasing more land in state forests to gas drilling companies to help fill a multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall.

The agreement anticipates $115 million in revenue from leasing land over two years.

Combined with House Republican opposition to the budget, Levdansky said the letter's signers represent enough votes to defeat the still-evolving budget proposal. There are 104 Democrats in the House, which has 203 seats.


Levdansky said the letter's signers oppose the idea of ordering the state's forests department to come up with a set amount of money from leasing land, saying that ignores sound science and forestry conservation practices.

He also said the signers oppose the use of the land-leasing money for the state's general budget needs, instead of putting the money toward state forest and park improvements, as has been the practice for decades.

The signers prefer to see the state impose a severance tax on the exploration companies that are flocking to Pennsylvania to drill into the potentially lucrative Marcellus Shale formation, Levdansky said.

Rendell proposed a natural gas severance tax but backed away from it after Senate Republicans, who control the chamber, rejected the idea on grounds that a tax would hurt the growth of the industry.

Pennsylvania is one of the biggest — if not the biggest — natural-gas producing states that does not tax the methane drawn from its ground.

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