Report: Lawmakers’ poor environmental performance

Long Pine Reservoir.Three conservation organizations have released their 2014 environmental scorecard, giving Pennsylvania lawmakers poor grades for protecting the environment in which we all live.

[pullquote]Place the right industry near the creek and the effect of all that work is gone.[/pullquote]

The report had been delayed to await the results of a Senate vote on a House initiated bill that essentially makes voluntary previously mandatory requirements that developers protect the state’s high value waterways as they pursue corporate profits. The Senate approved, and as I write this the bill awaits the signature of Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Marcellus, to turn it into law.

HB 1565 is the latest in a string of actions falling under the category of “who cares about preserving the environment when there’s money to be made” actions taken by the governor and the state legislature.

The report, compiled by the Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, Clean Water Action and Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, particularly notes the commonwealth’s lawmakers’ success in blocking EPA clean air standards and stymieing the efforts of two of the most environmentally important state agencies.

Corbett opened his first term with creation of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, led by Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley. The commission overpoweringly represented pro-industry interests, made clear it would honor Corbett’s campaign promise to block any proposed taxes on the natural gas industry, and recommended opening state forest land to natural gas production.

The then-new governor appointed an unsuccessful Commonwealth Court judge candidate to head the Department of Environmental Protection. Mike Krancer, whose environmental bona fides were virtually non-existent, hogtied the department’s enforcement efforts and fast-tracked drilling permits before quitting to take his position in a law firm that specializes in supporting natural gas drillers.

Nine months later, Corbett appointed Chris Abruzzo, a deputy Chief of (Corbett’s) Staff and a former head of the Attorney General’s Drug Strike Force, to replace Krancer. Abruzzo told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing he had “not read any scientific studies that would lead me to conclude” humans have had “adverse impacts” on the planet’s climate.

The result was predictable. In July, a report by the state Auditor General said DEP was guilty of poor record-keeping, failure to provide the public with accurate information about drilling results and violations, and posting data received directly from operators “without checking to see if the data is valid and reliable.”

The governor also dismantled a citizen advisory committee charged with acting as a liaison between the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the public, and fired the head of the commission.

Meanwhile, the legislature finally adopted, and Corbett signed, HB 1950 (Act 13 of 2012), which allowed natural gas drilling close to schools and residences, removed municipalities’ historical authority to determine zoning within their boundaries, and codified Corbett’s non-taxation promises to natural gas producers, which had contributed heavily to his election campaign.

The state reportedly sits on the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, but we continue to be told if we tax natural gas extraction, companies will abandon the riches and go elsewhere, an amazing claim given that Pennsylvania is alone among the gas producing states in refusing to collect an extraction tax.

Legislators, with Corbett’s approval, also gouged DEP and DCNR funding, moved $10 million from alternative energy investment, created tax breaks to subsidize natural gas development and markets, and signed off on a nearly $4 billion subsidy to encourage Royal Dutch Shell – the largest fossil fuel company in the world – to build a natural gas processing plant in western Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a nonpartisan, statewide policy research project, has estimated the plant will create about 400 permanent jobs, and cost Keystone State taxpayers about $165,000 per year per job.

Close to my home, conservation-minded folks – using volunteers and money from a fine levied several years ago on Westinghouse, a major industrial employer in the county until it was found to have been sanctioning burial of toxic wastes in the county’s water supply – to create buffers on Marsh Creek. Place the right industry near the creek and the effect of all that work is gone.

We taxpayers still are paying to mitigate coal runoff from mines nearly a century unused.

It takes large amounts of time and money to preserve our resources, and no time at all to destroy them. We regularly listen to politicians say they wish to preserve the environment for our grandkids, but clearly the environment of which they speak is not the one from which we draw breath and hydration. We need lawmakers who will prevent, rather than aid, industrial destruction that leaves the rest of us, and future generations, to clean up the mess.

2 thoughts on “Report: Lawmakers’ poor environmental performance”

  1. Great commentary and information, John. Virginia received a similar report card. It seems all the states are caving in after all those years of hard work after our first Earth Day.

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