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Saturday, November 14, 2015

So we tax grilling, but not drilling. Is this a great state or what?

House Democratic Whip Mike Hanna, D-Clinton, said it may be hard for Democrats to support a deal in which companies like Exxon Mobil Corp. — a major gas-exploration company — will not pay more, but every resident will when they buy everything from a car to an outdoor grill.
"Here's the thing: When it comes to fracking for natural gas in Pennsylvania, there are two ways we can go. We can follow the lead of our neighbors to the north, New York State, and ban fracking altogether. And there's a powerful argument for doing that. Over the summer, a series of scientific studies -- including two in Pennsylvania -- found that living near a fracking rig is linked to increased cases of cardiovascular hospitalizations, low birth weight and congenital heart defects. That these reports didn't generate bigger headlines speaks to the fact that most of us have already come to accept the idea that fracking is bad for you. But it's not realistic to expect Pennsylvania to ban fracking at this stage -- the industry is too entrenched, and too politically connected. To justify its continued existence in the Keystone State, however, Big Oil and Gas needs to 1) accept much tighter regulation, amid signs that the Wolf administration is doing exactly that and 2) pony up and pay their fair share in taxes. It's been said many times before, but let's re-visit this: Pennsylvania is the only one of the 15 biggest energy-producing states without a severance tax on natural gas production. The fact that it still isn't -- even at a time when lawmakers want YOU to dig deeper in your wallet every time you go to Costco -- simply boggles the mind. 
Aerial view of a Marcellus Shale drilling operation near Waynesburg, Pa.

How does that happen? It's easy. For a number of years, Pennsylvania has a governor and legislature that was bought and paid for by the energy lobby. Then in 2014, Gov. Wolf was elected with a promise to impose a natural  gas severance tax and use some of the proceeds for our underfunded public schools. Which means we now only have a legislature that was bought and paid for by Big Oil and Gas. Which is more than enough. I mean, maybe if YOU had flown Sen. Joe Scarnati to see the Steelers in the Super Bowl in 2010, then you might now be the one saving a few bucks on your new gas grilll. But you didn't send Scarnati to the Big Game. Consol Energy did. As some have pointed out, the fracking industry is in a downward trend right now, thanks to falling energy prices. It's pretty obvious that a severance tax would never have raised all the money that's needed to achieve the goals of boosting school aid while lowering property taxes. But it would have mitigated the sales tax hike on consumers. And there's a bigger point: Fairness. Right now, the politically wired natural gas industry is hitting the Daily Double of polluting our air and water while not even paying taxes even as it does in ultra-conservative "small-government" states like Texas or Wyoming. 

 Face it, Pennsylvania. You can change the governor...but you're still getting fracked."