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November Election Pits Tom Corbett Against Tom Wolf On Environmental Policy

The voters have spoken.  Tom Corbett is the Republican candidate for Governor and Tom Wolf is the Democratic candidate.  The environment, specifically Marcellus Shale development, will be key issues in the November election. 

Here are the responses the candidates gave in a recent Q/A with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council on environmental issues.

1.    The recent Supreme Court decision on Act 13 has tremendous implications for the way Pennsylvania regulates natural gas activity. But this ruling also extends to all environmental protection laws. What do you think this means for state and local policy makers moving forward? Do you support enhanced local control of environmental protection measures, even if they might be in conflict with state controls?

Tom Corbett

The Act 13 ruling has created much more uncertainty than existed before, and that is detrimental to both industry trying to foster economic development, and local officials trying to balance their own obligations. Fulfillment of the Environmental Rights Amendment is a state responsibility.

Protection of our natural resources should not be dependent on whether a local government chooses to adopt zoning; indeed, approximately 65 percent of natural gas wells drilled over the past two years are in municipalities that have not adopted local zoning.

Zoning has never been utilized as a means of environmental protection. It is also important to note that the Act 13 ruling retained the prerogative of state government to set environmental protection standards for natural gas development. In my view, the Environmental Rights Amendment and its responsibilities are so important that they deserve the oversight, protection and enforcement of state government, consistent across the Commonwealth.

Tom Wolf

We have to strike a balance between environmental protection, local rights, and economic development. With Act 13, Governor Corbett clearly got this balance wrong. Instead of standing up for Pennsylvania’s hardworking families, Governor Corbett gave his biggest donors and supporters free reign over Pennsylvania's natural resources and local communities.

The ruling presents an opportunity for us to push for new legislation that requires oil and gas companies to pay their fair share. As governor, I will institute a 5 percent extraction tax because it is simply not right that Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state in the country that does not charge a tax on oil and natural gas extraction-- states like Texas, Wyoming, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma charge extraction fees for natural gas to fund their key investment priorities. It is now long past time for Pennsylvania to do the same thing.

This tax is largely an exportable tax as it would be paid by consumers located outside of Pennsylvania. Revenue from the tax would allow Pennsylvanians to share in the benefits of natural gas extraction; it is an opportunity for us to have a safe and secure environment, and the ability to make critical investments in education, healthcare, economic development, and infrastructure.

I believe that local leaders should control zoning, and that the communities where drilling is taking place should continue to benefit financially from the activity. I will direct a portion of the revenue generated from the extraction tax to these communities.

2.    Pennsylvania still faces significant pollution legacy issues like abandoned mine drainage (AMD), with cost estimates exceeding $1 billion needed for restoration of AMD alone. With the continual reduction in federal and state funding for this work, what novel approaches would you support to address this need? Would you also promote a severance tax on coal or other fossil fuels?

Tom Corbett

While abandoned mine lands are a significant environmental challenge to Pennsylvania, it is important to note that funding for the Commonwealth has actually gone up, not down. Coal producers already pay a severance fee based on each ton of coal mined in the Commonwealth. The federal distribution formula has been changed to direct a greater share of dollars to address historic mining reclamation needs across the nation, including Pennsylvania, which is very appropriate.

As Governor, I also proposed and then enacted an impact fee on natural gas that has, to date, generated over $630 million in new revenue for the Commonwealth and its local communities. This funding includes the first infusion of new state money into the Growing Greener program, including funding for abandoned mine land reclamation, in over a decade. It also includes a new program under the Marcellus Legacy Fund that provides funding for high-priority abandoned mine land reclamation.

Additionally, as Governor I have worked with Pennsylvania’s waste coal electric generation industry on creative and innovative ways to spur their continued development, partnering with local electric utilities on cooperative agreements that help clean up abandoned mine piles and saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

Tom Wolf

I believe we need a multi-pronged approach to address the restoration of AMD. First, we need to enact tougher legislation to hold coal-mining companies responsible for clean up and environmental damages. Second, we need to engage Pennsylvania’s world-class universities and colleges as well as the private sector in developing cost-effective approaches to abandoned mine drainage restoration. Third, both the federal government and the state need to step-up and proactively address this issue by directing additional funding.

3.    Gamesa has announced that it will be closing its Ebensburg wind turbine assembly facility at the end of March 2014. What do you think the ramifications of this decision are for Pennsylvania?

Tom Corbett

Any decision to close a manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania is one I take seriously. This particular decision appears to be driven by a nationwide trend. I continue to work on fostering policies to improve our business climate in Pennsylvania, reform our tort and unemployment compensation systems, and other improvements that have helped Pennsylvania add over 150,000 private sector jobs and reduce our unemployment rate to its lowest point in nearly six years.

Tom Wolf

I believe we have an opportunity to use the Marcellus Shale as a bridge to a clean energy future. Gamesa’s decision to close its Ebensburg facility is a step in the wrong direction – we need to be expanding the use of renewable energy sources. As governor, I will work to create market conditions that encourage the increased use and development of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies in Pennsylvania.

4.    Using the potential Shell ethane cracker plant in Beaver County as an example, how would you, as governor, balance environmental and human health protection with key economic development opportunities?

Tom Corbett

First and foremost, Pennsylvania must continue to position itself to attract world-class manufacturing facilities as the one proposed by Shell for western Pennsylvania. That is why I have worked hard, and in a bipartisan manner, to foster continued improvements to our economic and business climate in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is now on the map for consideration of these projects.

The balance of protecting the environment while encouraging job growth must start with the premise that these two objectives are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, we can and must protect the environment while attracting capital investment opportunities. Fostering new manufacturing opportunities can help to reuse existing brownfields, limit greenfield development, and generate new revenue to help address legacy environmental needs. Additionally, early engagement with prospective project developers – like I have done with Shell – enable us to lay out clearly the environmental expectations to protect our air, water and land resources and to work through the permitting process in a manner that ensures those protections are met.

Tom Wolf

The Marcellus Shale provides a great opportunity to grow and transform Pennsylvania's manufacturing economy. One specific example is the potential Shell ethane cracker, plant where natural gas would be broken down to create ethylene. Because ethylene is used in 90 percent of all manufactured goods, there is a huge potential to attract new manufacturing businesses to the state and for those already here to expand.

But we must do it smartly and fairly. For instance, it's simply not right that Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state in the country that does not charge a tax on oil and natural gas extraction--even Texas does. And we must be vigilant about public health and safety in the process of tapping our natural resources. If done correctly, this is an opportunity for Pennsylvania to have good-paying energy jobs; a safe and secure environment; and the ability to make critical investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure through a tax on oil and natural gas extraction.

5.    Do you think federal regulation of natural gas operations is appropriate?  If so, why?

Tom Corbett

States are best equipped to regulate natural gas operations. We have a proven and strong history of oversight in Pennsylvania, and states are best equipped to account for their unique and individual geology, geography, topography and other factors that may vary from state to state and make a national, cookie-cutter regulatory approach unwieldy and ineffective. Under my administration, oversight and inspections are up, and out of proposals put forth by my Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission – on which the Pennsylvania Environmental Council was a key contributor – I proposed, championed and then signed the most sweeping and comprehensive enhancement to our environmental protection laws in over twenty five years.

This hands-on, personal interaction – where Pennsylvanians put forth concrete proposals that fit Pennsylvania’s needs – demonstrates the preference in continuing the decades of success of state primacy of natural gas regulation.

Tom Wolf

One of the roles of government is to enact rules and regulations that are in the collective interests of both current and future residents. This includes regulations on natural gas operations to protect our environment and keep residents healthy and safe. In this vein, I will work with Senator Casey to promote policies to protect our fresh air and clean water.

As governor, my focus will be to take a responsible approach to natural gas drilling that includes enacting a five percent extraction tax and taking actions to protect our environment. Specifically, I will increase funding for the Department of Environmental Protection so that it is sufficiently staffed and able to provide proper oversight of drillers, and bringing greater transparency to the fracking process by requiring drillers to publicly disclose chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, and lifting the current gag order on physicians.

6.    What specific actions would you take in your first 100 days as governor to address the most significant environmental issues you believe are facing Pennsylvania?

Tom Corbett

I would continue my strong commitment to environmental protection, which has to date included proposing and then enacting some of the highest and most sweeping environmental law protections in the nation; propose a budget that allows the Department of Environmental Protection and our other agencies to fulfill their mission and responsibilities (as I have done with DEP, reversing eight years of budget cuts under the prior administration, and unlike the final three years of the prior administration, not furloughing any DEP employees to balance the budget). I would also ensure continued accountability, strong leadership, and commitment to problem solving from our key environmental protection officials, both in our central office and across the Commonwealth.

Tom Wolf

Within my first 100 days in office, I will:

-- Appoint qualified individuals to lead the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. These leaders will be responsible for bringing greater transparency to the fracking process, proactively addressing climate change, and promoting policies that are in the best interest of current and future residents -- not special interests;

-- Submit a budget that includes additional funding for the Department of Environmental Protection so that it is sufficiently staffed and able to provide oversight of natural gas drillers; and

-- Introduce legislation to enact a five percent extraction tax on natural gas.


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