2012-02-11 / Viewpoints

STOP LAP DANCING

By Ralph Kisberg

(A native of Williamsport, Ralph Kisberg is a founding member and board president of the Lycoming County-based Responsible Drilling Alliance. RDA is an education and advocacy coalition supporting the protection of the region’s economy, environment, health, safety and quality of life.)

Unlike the other 38 states that produce natural gas and impose a severance tax, here in Pennsylvania we are witnessing the spectacle of our legislature compromising over a woefully inadequate “impact fee.”

The opportunity to set ourselves up for much-needed, imaginative fiscal opportunities from an industry that brings with it huge changes to our landscape and lives (not to mention the risk of air and water quality degradation and perhaps eventually, our health) is slipping away without more than a dim murmur from the very few citizens who are paying attention.

Governor Corbett and the majority of legislators have bought into gas industry fear tactics, warning us of the risk of industry economic retaliation. They ignore the reality of the billions already invested here and our close geographical proximity to major markets.

They ignore the rationale behind tying up leases, drilling, fracking, pipeline and infrastructure projects and delivery contracts among the 80-some drilling operators in our midst.

In the meantime, the industry’s operational free-for-all is leading to a tremendous supply glut and the price drop for natural gas everywhere in the country.

What we need is a reasonable severance tax (a tax imposed by the state for the extraction of its natural resources to be used out of state) with a percentage rate similar to that of ragingly red state Alaska (22.5 percent), or at least that other bastion of liberalism, Texas (7.5 percent).

We must also persuade our Republican friends to come to their senses, return to their conservative roots, and halt the assault on municipal rights in the current legislation.

The governor and Republican legislative leaders have been pushing the gas industry’s agenda to require that oil and gas operations be a permitted use in all zoning districts in every municipality.

Masterful gas industry PR initiatives, lobbyists and our own short-sighted business boosters are running circles around our elected officials, our gullible media and those normally protective of local control of their community’s destiny.

Communities that want to hold certain areas of their zoning districts free from some or all gas operations should not be denied the decision. If they overstep their bounds, we already have a judicial system in place.

True, when compared to the hopelessly outdated Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, there are setback improvements in the proposed legislation. But how were these new setback distances derived, other than what energy companies have decided they can live with?

It is understandable why the industry desires to do business their way, but that doesn’t mean we have to perform a legislative lap dance for them. Tampering with local decisions is an endeavor those legislators with active consciences need to rethink.

Place a call and read your legislator the riot act. From the governor’s office to the halls of the General Assembly, those in control have done enough succumbing to gas industry seduction, threats and bullying. It’s time they act with a visionary look to the future of Pennsylvania instead of a fear-based reaction today.

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