Pennsylvania’s Auditor General, Eugene DePasquale, recently said in an interview that the biggest problem with the state’s oil and gas drilling boom “was there were no rules in place on the front end of this.” He continued: “There was no process. It was everyone for themselves and the state has been playing catch up ever since.”
If the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has anything to do with it, we will never catch up. A bill currently moving through the House would allow any legislator to indefinitely stall new regulations, including rules that protect public health and the environment. Given the oil and gas industry’s influence with elected officials in this state, House Bill 965 would essentially allow special interests to beat the public interest every time.
On a parallel track, the drillers and their lobbyists are also pushing the legislature to kill a severance tax on natural gas extraction, even though most Pennsylvanians support a tax on gas drilling. Every other major gas-producing state has a severance tax, which ensures that the state’s residents earn a fair income from the extraction of their natural resources. Revenue generated by the severance tax could then be used to enforce strong rules that keep oil and gas operations in check – and even used for other public benefits like helping to increase public school funding --but only if strong rules aren’t held hostage by lawmakers who answer to powerful lobbyists over ordinary citizens.
Looking back at the oil and gas drilling boom, MaryAnn Warren, a Susquehanna County Commissioner, says the oil and gas drillers “came in like cowboys.” She notes that environmental regulators have not had the resources and staff to effectively monitor the impact of their operations and protect the public. “[The Department of Environmental Protection] needs more boots on the ground. They need to be more proactive than reactive,” she adds.
Pennsylvania needs to do better – we need to make sure that the package of oil and gas industry reforms, expected to be issued later this year, will be fully implemented next year. These reforms have been in the works since 2011 and have garnered more than 30,000 public comments. We also need to make sure that future proposals to protect public health, such as rules to limit methane emissions and comply with the state’s Clean Power Plan mandate, can’t be held up by legislative red tape. We need to make sure we don’t lose the ability of holding drillers accountable for polluting our air and compromising our health.