In a recent U.S. News and World Report ranking states on the quality of their natural environment, Pennsylvania came in 45th out of 50.
Of course, our Republican lawmakers defend the poor air and water quality within our dangerous natural environment by claiming that this is the price that we pay for a healthy economic environment – particularly with respect to jobs. Yet another U.S. News Report published in February of this year ranks Pennsylvania 43rd out of fifty states with regard to employment.
The Marcellus Shale drilling provides a perfect example of Republican magical thinking in this arena. Former Republican Governor Tom Corbett estimated that the drilling created 250,000 new jobs, but these figures included many jobs that had already existed at the time the drilling commenced in the Marcellus Shale. Newer numbers from Governor Wolf’s office range from 30,000 to 80,000, the higher number representing jobs ancillary to the industry such as those of architects, engineers, physicians, and restaurant employees. Some of the new jobs emerging as a result of this new industry are those of gas regulators – jobs that are financed by us, the taxpayers, rather than from a tax on the Marcellus Shale extraction, which currently does not exist. On the State’s ledger, therefore, the Marcellus Shale gas drilling ends up being an expense rather than a revenue.
OK, so gas drilling has not created that many jobs, and shows up as an expense on the State budget, but what about the poor farmers who depend upon those royalties that they’ve enjoyed due to the leasing of land to the gas companies. For many of the farmers and other landowners, those royalties have not been commensurate with their expectations. Due to a 2010 State Supreme Court decision, drillers can deduct those costs that are incurred long after the gas has been extracted from the wells. As a result, there are landowners who have been paid virtually nothing for leasing their land, and in some cases, they have actually been billed by the gas companies for these post-production costs.
West Virginia’s situation was very much like Pennsylvania’s, until the State legislature overwhelmingly passed legislation that would prevent gas companies from shifting these post-production costs onto the landowners. The bill was signed into law last month. Rather than lick its wounds, at least one gas company, EQT, doubled down by informing land owners in more fossil fuel friendly states – Pennsylvania being one of them – that it might actually deduct more of these costs from the royalties due. It is doubtful, however, that our current legislature will have the political courage to pass legislation comparable to West Virginia’s. State Senator Gene Yaw (R, Lycoming County) summarized this sentiment by stating “The fix that people are looking for is not a legislative issue. It’s a contract issue. It’s going to be resolved through litigation. There are probably a thousand different contracts out there, and everyone of them is a little different, and to try to fix that issue legislatively is an impossibility,” an opinion no doubt nurtured by the fact that Cabot Oil & Gas was one of the top contributors to Yaw’s campaign in 2016.
Despite all the facts that suggest that gas drilling and other insults to Pennsylvania’s environment has had a negligible or even a negative impact upon Pennsylvania’s economy, Republicans believe that they can continue to promote a false narrative, and the citizens of Pennsylvania will continue to accept it as fact. Last year, Scott Wagner, the Republican State Senator and candidate for Governor, claimed that global warming was the result of the earth getting closer to the sun every year, and also by the warmth of our ever increasing human population.
With regard to the natural resources, Paul Mango’s response was “We have some of the largest, cheapest deposits of natural gas and coal in the world.” Laura Ellsworth, the third Republican contender for Governor, has no published opinions at all.
The clueless nature of these Republican contenders stands in stark contrast to the opinions of Pennsylvanians around environmental issues. Sixty-nine percent of respondents in a recent Franklin & Marshall poll believed that the State should be doing more to promote renewable energy, and 51% disapprove of the way the state legislature has handled the issue of natural gas development in the state, while 55% believe that potential environmental risks outweigh the potential economic benefits. Although respondents were not asked about a severance tax on gas, 67% of the respondents believe that Pennsylvania needs to strengthen its laws to assure that landowners are properly reimbursed for the land that they lease to gas companies.
According to this Franklin and Marshall poll, therefore, the electorate is pretty clear about the negative impact that our lawmakers have had on the environment. Our task is to turn those opinions into votes this coming November.