By Iris Marie Bloom
Philadelphia Weekly Press
The Pennsylvania legislature may vote this week to allow Governor Rendell to force the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to lease yet another huge chunk of Pennsylvania state forests. At a Temple University teach-in attended by over 200 people last Thursday, DCNR Secretary John Quigley stated that Pennsylvania’s forests are "significantly threatened by this uncontrolled gold rush to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale."
The forest land already leased is one third of all Pennsylvania’s state forest land. All the state forest land left is sensitive and deserves special protection, according to the Pennsylvania Forest Coalition, PennFuture, Trout Unlimited, and other members of a wide-ranging coalition springing up to defend Pennsylvania’s forests and rivers.Pennsylvania Representative Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) has introduced a resolution, HB 2235, which would require a five-year moratorium on any further leasing of forest lands. Supporters have become more vocal and active this week, expecting the vote any day. In a March 22nd editorial, "Stop, Look, Assess Drilling’s Full Effects," the Pocono Record advocated for HB 2235: "Pennsylvania should not risk the integrity of the beautiful forests that gave the state its name… Pennsylvania has already leased…a whopping 700,000 acres. Let’s see how that goes before opening the remainder of this valuable public land to energy companies." Over 145 people attended a Poconos forum on Marcellus Shale drilling last month, sponsored by the League of Women Voters out of growing concern about forest fragmentation, water quality and other impacts.
Vitali’s bill would also authorize DCNR, rather than the governor, to decide whether to authorize further drilling after the five-year moratorium.
Legislators not particularly known for environmental advocacy may favor the moratorium for economic reasons: tourism is Pennsylvania’s second most lucrative industry, and that’s not all about people standing in line to see the Liberty Bell. According to the Appalachian Mountain Club, Pennsylvania has more maintained hiking trails than any other state.
The Pocono Record commented, "Responsible legislators also must weigh [shale gas drilling’s] substantial risks, which include chemical spills, water pollution, the incursion of new roads in pristine remote land and heavier traffic in rural areas. Our legislators have a sworn duty to protect Pennsylvania’s natural resources." The Record concluded, "Don’t let our historic forests become a cash cow for drillers."
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