Pennsylvania State Senators Camera Bartolotta (Washington County) and Pat Stefano (Fayette County) have just beaten PA Gov. Tom Wolf at his own game. Wolf has been gallivanting around the state like Santa Claus promoting a plan called Restore PA, a plan that will get rid of lead paint in schools, fix flooding, repair old roads, give rural residents internet access, and just about any other goody you can think of. Wolf wants to pay for it by slapping a severance tax on the Marcellus industry. Bartolotta and Stefano are introducing two bills that would fund Wolf’s folly–but do so by allowing new shale drilling on state land. Game, set, and match!
If Wolf really wants to accomplish all of the things he says he wants to accomplish (which we seriously doubt) in the Restore PA plan, then he should welcome this alternative form of funding. What does he care where the money comes from, as long as it funds the plan. Right?
Bartolotta and Stefano’s bills will smoke Wolf out–make him reveal his true colors and whether or not he *really* wants to fund these myriad causes. Or perhaps he just wants to tax shale drillers so he can later redirect that money for other uses–like Philadelphia teacher’s unions. Which we believe is his true aim. Claiming he wants to fund fixing schools, etc. is just the lame excuse Wolf is using to get a severance tax passed.
At any rate, in a case of brilliant political pivoting, Bartolotta and Stefano are calling Wolf’s bluff. They issued the following co-sponsorship memo, outlining in broad brush strokes what the two bills will do:
Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 – 2020 Regular Session
Posted: April 8, 2019 03:24 PM
From: Senator Camera Bartolotta and Sen. Patrick J. Stefano
To: All Senate members
Subject: No-Tax Alternative to Restore PA Plan
In recent months, Governor Wolf proposed a plan called Restore PA, which would use a job killing energy tax to fund a bond to provide funding for blight remediation, stormwater infrastructure, flood prevention, brownfield cleanups, green infrastructure and repairing the Commonwealth’s back roads among other projects. While Governor Wolf’s focus on these important issues for Pennsylvania’s communities is worth applauding, we believe the proposed funding source for these initiatives is reckless and counterproductive. The Governor’s proposed severance tax will only cost jobs and increase energy prices for Pennsylvanians.
In the near future, we will introduce two bills in an effort to end Governor Wolf’s moratorium on non-surface disturbance natural gas drilling on state forest land and direct any new revenue towards funding conservation projects such as those referenced in Restore PA.
This legislation will end Governor Wolf’s moratorium on non-surface disturbance natural gas drilling on state forest land. It will allow the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to decide whether to enter into new gas leases.
For seventy years, DCNR has managed the responsible mineral extraction of natural gas on state land. According to the Department, “Approximately 1.5 million acres of the 2.2 million-acre state forest land are underlain by Marcellus and other shale gas formations, making it a key venue for developing this important energy source in Pennsylvania.”
Restoring DCNR’s ability to provide new natural gas leases in a safe and responsible manner will produce much needed, new revenue. This legislation only removes the Governor’s moratorium; it does not require DCNR to authorize new non-surface disturbance horizontal drilling.
This non-tax revenue option should be made available once again. It has the potential to generate significant funds for important environmental efforts without asking taxpayers to pay higher taxes.
This legislation will setup a special fund to be managed by the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA). Any revenue generated from new gas leases on state forest land will be placed into this fund. The CFA will create guidelines and an application process for funding to be awarded in the following categories:
- Blight Remediation – When the blight to be replaced is an environmental hazard or will be replaced with green space. These grants will be available to Land Banks and Redevelopment Authorities with land bank capabilities.
- Critical Flood Control Infrastructure – Funding will be made available to replace high hazard dams and conduct stream restoration and maintenance.
- Stormwater Infrastructure – Pennsylvania’s storm water infrastructure is aging and federal EPA mandates are causing storm water fees to be put in place to replace or install storm water systems.
- PA Back Roads – Funding will be made available for paving and repairing of dirt and gravel roads, and helping to reduce the sediment in our streams.
- Green Infrastructure – Funding will be made available to state, county and municipal parks for new outdoor recreational opportunities for residents.
- Abandoned Mine Reclamation Projects – Funding will be made available to conservation districts and organizations seeking to undertake mine reclamation to improve waters flowing into our waterways. (1)
Wolf signed an executive order in January 2015 reinstating a moratorium on new leases for oil and gas drilling in state parks and forests (see PA Gov Wolf Signs Exec Order to Ban Drilling Under State Land). He did so to fulfill a 2014 campaign promise. Putz. So there’s no way he will sign these two bills into law. We need a veto-proof majority to pass them.
Let’s say we get a veto-proof majority and the bills become law. Wolf’s lackeys are saying if these bills do become law, they will not stand up to a court challenge. PA courts have, over the past few years, ruled that any money raised by the state via drilling must be used solely for environmentalist wacko purposes (see PA Supreme Court Hands Antis Partial Victory re State Land Drilling).
Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott, however, said the proposed legislation “appears to be unconstitutional” based on a state Supreme Court ruling that requires such revenue be applied to the “conservation and maintenance” of public natural resources.
“This is not a realistic alternative to Gov. Wolf’s bold plan to revitalize communities and fix critical local infrastructure,” Abbott said. “This plan seems more aimed at helping the gas industry than helping Pennsylvanians.”
The first bill proposed by Bartolotta and Stefano would end Wolf’s moratorium on nonsurface disturbance gas drilling on state forest land, allowing the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to make decisions on new gas leases.
“This nontax revenue option should be made available once again,” they wrote in the memo. “It has the potential to generate significant funds for important environmental efforts without asking taxpayers to pay higher taxes.”
A second bill would create a special fund that would be managed by the Commonwealth Financing Authority and that would capture the revenue from new gas leases on state forest land.
The authority would establish an application process for funding to address blight remediation, flood control, stormwater management, paving dirt and gravel roads, outdoor recreational offerings in local, county and state parks, and abandoned mine reclamation. (2)
We love this effort by Bartolotta and Stefano to make Wolf reveal his true intentions about Restore PA. Top marks for both Senators!
(1) Pennsylvania State Senate (Apr 8, 2019) – Senate Co-Sponsorship Memoranda – No-Tax Alternative to Restore PA Plan
(2) Beaver (PA) Beaver County Times (Apr 9, 2019) – Bartolotta, Stefano propose severance-free alternative to Restore PA
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