PennFuture urges legislature to reject irresponsible budget that will damage public lands

Shortsighted management of both the budget and public lands jeopardizes extraordinary assets for future generations; state parks face acute danger of accelerated drilling

Jun 30, 2014, 20:39 ET from PennFuture

HARRISBURG, Pa., June 30, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the Pennsylvania General Assembly considers passage of a $29.1 billion budget that is again balanced on the back of our public lands, PennFuture is urging legislators to stand up for the integrity of these assets and the interests of future generations by rejecting the first-ever leasing of state parks for gas drilling and further leasing of state forests.

"This budget is shortsighted and unsustainable" said Cindy Dunn, president and CEO of PennFuture, "and poses substantial risks to some of the most extraordinary ecological, economic and recreational assets of Pennsylvania. Rather than further enriching the gas industry, we should be asking them to pay their fair share in the form of a drilling tax, a measure that exists in every other major gas-producing state and which could raise far more revenue for the Commonwealth than leasing these priceless public assets."

Governor Tom Corbett lifted a moratorium on the leasing of public lands for natural gas drilling earlier this year and proposed generating $75 million in lease revenue. The state legislature has not proved immune to the lure of easy money and has now raised the stakes to $95 million in the current budget proposal despite considerable public opposition. But despite Corbett's executive order, the legislature could block the leasing proposal since it must appropriate any revenue from the leasing via the Fiscal Code bill that is part of the budget.

Dunn noted that the leasing proposal now moving in Harrisburg poses particularly acute dangers for Pennsylvania's state parks. "Our state parks welcome over 38 million visitors, provide over 13,500 jobs and generate over $1.2 billion for the state's economy every year. Because the Commonwealth does not control 80 percent of the subsurface rights, state parks have been vulnerable to gas drilling but have likely escaped harm because the gas companies and other parties that own the rights surely understand the affinity that Pennsylvanians have for the parks and the controversy that would ensue." 

"But what will happen to these parks, including some of our most iconic parks such as Ohiopyle and Ricketts Glen that lie above the Marcellus shale, if the Commonwealth leads by example, leases its rights to gas under the parks and brings substantial industrial activity to the doorstep of the parks?

"The question becomes, do Pennsylvania families want to picnic within the rumble of trucks and heavy equipment? Do we want to go hiking in sight of drilling rigs and compressor stations?

"Governing is about choices," Dunn said. "While the hour is late, there is still time to do the right thing for our public lands, our communities, our economy and our children. I urge legislators to consider the legacy they will leave and reject the leasing proposal that is set to be voted as part of the Fiscal Code."

PennFuture is a statewide public interest membership organization founded in 1998 with offices in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre. The organization's activities include litigating cases before regulatory bodies and in local, state, and federal courts; advocating and advancing legislative action on a state and federal level; public education; and assisting citizens in public advocacy.

Elaine Labalme

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SOURCE PennFuture