Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus economic has brought tremendous opportunity, and a few challenges, to Pennsylvania. With proper oversight, we can continue to make economic gains without damaging our natural resources.
Our first priority should be enacting a real severance tax on gas extraction. Governor Corbett has failed the people of Pennsylvania by not forcing large corporations to pay their fair share out of the enormous profits they are making. Every other state has a similar tax, including more politically conservative states like Alaska, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Natural gas is public resource that belongs to the people of Pennsylvania. We should all benefit from it too.
Such a tax will not hurt the gas industry, as they pay it everywhere else. Additionally, many companies are structured in a way so that they only pay our much lower personal income tax rate, not the corporate tax rate that they should be paying. New wells produce more gas at the beginning of their lives, meaning companies are making big profits now and we are missing out on the revenue. Pennsylvania is a desirable place to drill because we are so close to the population centers on the east coast and it costs companies less money to transport the gas.
I support a severance tax of 10%. That tax is projected to produce more than $1.5 billion per year, and increase as well production increases. Our first priority with that new revenue should be to fund the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Second, we need to restore the $1 billion worth of cuts that Governor Corbett made to our K-12 education system. Third, I propose creating a Pennsylvania Promise scholarship program that will help young people fund their education after high school. It is critical that we appropriately fund and staff DEP. The Department needs enough staff positions to make timely, thorough inspections and have enough time to process new permit applications safely. Inspectors must have the power to shut down operations that are unsafe or breaking the law.
We need to have laws and regulations in place to protect our water and health. Drilling shouldn’t happen in our state parks and forests and it should be kept a safe distance from waterways. Disposal of fracking fluid must be strictly regulated and enforced. Companies shouldn’t be able to keep their chemicals a secret and doctors shouldn’t be banned from discussing the impact of those chemicals with their patients. Additionally, we need to lobby our federal officials to change the laws that allow loopholes for the natural gas industry in Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act.
Local communities need to have adequate resources to address the impacts of drilling. They should be able to set their own zoning laws. Smaller communities, particularly those with volunteer fire departments, need to have the funding and resources available to develop emergency management plans and train for those scenarios.
Pennsylvanians should be getting the jobs in this industry. We need to work with community colleges to create training programs and with organized labor to create trades apprentice programs. Job sites should be built by union workers.
Natural gas is a great opportunity, but wells don’t produce indefinitely. We should continue to develop a diverse mix of alternative energy sources so we don’t become overly reliant on one fuel source. Investing in new energy sources will attract new businesses, bring more jobs and offer more partnerships with universities, keeping young people in Pennsylvania.
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