Pa. citizens weigh in on extraction tax

By Eric Gibble
October 19, 2010

Local community members, students and faculty converged on the campus of Cabrini to discuss the economic ramifications for Pennsylvania if it does not enact a natural gas severance tax.

The issue has become a key topic recently due to relatively new technological advances that has allowed us to extract natural gas in the Marcellus Shale sedimentary rock formation.

The discussion was led by three keynote speakers in the Grace Hall board room on Oct. 15.

Dr. James Schmid, an environmental consultant, noted that the industry took advantage of Pennsylvania’s infrastructure without contributing towards its upkeep.

“For every dollar spent by the industry, $2 dollars is received. But once the resource is gone, what do we do?” Schmid said. “Right now the industry can take our resource without paying a cent.”

Roberta Winters, Marcellus Shale specialist of the League of Women’s Voters of Pennsylvania, focused the difficulty between balancing personal rights, public interests and industrialization.

“We need more oversight so we’re working for the common good and not the industry’s good,” Winters said.

Fossil fuel industries typically receive 12 times the amount of subsidies as solar and windmills do in Pennsylvania according to Winters.

Winters further stated that by enacting a fair natural gas extraction tax and putting the funds towards infrastructure and alternative energy sources, Pennsylvania will be able to maintain secure jobs when the resource is exhausted in 20 years.

Winters also believes that because big gas companies will be transporting the natural gas by our roads and bridges with their trucks, a portion of their profit should go towards their maintenance.

“Forty-one percent of trucks in Pennsylvania were also found to be in violation of regulations by having faulty breaks, leaking tanks and insecure equipment,” Winters said.

This summer an Oct. 1 deadline was set by legislators to enact a natural gas severance tax. The agreement was not met due to concerns from Republican leaders that the tax will drive industry to other states. However Winters believes this concern is unwarranted since the resource is too valuable for them to ignore.

“To think that the severance tax will make the gas boom go away is, I think, completely ridiculous,” Winters said.

Dr. Shelby Hockenberry was one of the faculty members in attendance who were concerned with the long-term consequences of a non-renewable energy source.

“You don’t want to base your economy on a finite resource,” Hockenberry said, citing the economic downturn in many cities across Pennsylvania when the coal and steel industry collapsed in the 1970s.

However, Hockenberry said that Pennsylvania needs to look towards investing in the future through alternative energies. Bethlehem, Pa. is one of the cities that has invested in other income-producing areas in order to ease the economic hardship when the steel industry virtually disappeared.

“We’re seeing some of these towns coming back through green industries and education,” Hockenberry said.

Winters urged people to contact their legislators so that communities and the environment are protected.

“It’s up to people like you to combine what you know with your voice to make a difference,” Winters said.

Eric Gibble

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