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Session Daze - July 22, 2011

Shale commission report released today
Emerging from its controversial veil of secrecy, Governor Corbett's Marcellus Shale Commission released its report of recommendations today. The recommendations include environmental protections, forced pooling, public safety, economic development and an impact fee.

Commonwealth and common sense
Lt. Governor Cawley forbade members of the commission to discuss whether or not to recommend a drilling tax. That narrowed the discussion to the cost to local governments to repair damage from drilling and for increased demand for local government services. The resulting recommendation is for an impact fee that would direct money only to host municipalities which could prove that drilling caused "uncompensated damages" to their communities.

The notion that the impact of drilling on Pennsylvania is limited to these "uncompensated damages" to host communities is absurd. Drilling has significant impacts on the entire Commonwealth. Drilling and pipelines affect parks and forests, our air and water and those who live downwind or downstream, species and ecosystems, tourism, roads and bridges far beyond the immediate drilling areas, capacity at our landfills, landscapes and open space, and the potential for environmental disasters and taxpayer-funded cleanups.

We need a drilling tax or impact fee that makes the drillers pay their fair share and for the costs of their activity, makes significant investment in statewide environmental programs such as Growing Greener, and ensures that every citizen in the Commonwealth benefits from the drilling activity. Oh, and by the way, every other major gas producing state has a drilling tax or fee with statewide benefits.

Natural gas an alternative energy?
One really bad recommendation would make natural gas-fired electricity eligible to receive Tier 2 credits under Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act (AEPS). The AEPS requires 18 percent of all of our electricity to come from alternative energy sources by 2020 with 10 percent coming from Tier 2 sources like coal waste plants, large hydro-electric dams and municipal waste incinerators. Right now we get about a quarter of our electricity from natural gas and including that in Tier 2 would destroy the value of the alternative energy credits for the other sources.

Senator Scarnati on point again
Senate Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, has already downplayed the impact of the shale commission and its report. Yesterday Scarnati told Capitol reporters that it would be difficult to move impact fee legislation that lacked a statewide environmental component.

PennFuture and Senator Scarnati have disagreed on our share of issues, but we've become fans of the senator's direct and honest style. Scarnati called out anti-government zealot Grover Norquist and his attempts to bully Pennsylvania officials from his perch in Washington.

Yesterday, Scarnati was asked about Norquist and Governor Corbett's Transportation Funding Commission. Corbett has signed Norquist's "no-tax" pledge. The commission unanimously recommended $2.7 billion in new revenues to address Pennsylvania's deteriorating roads and bridges.

Here's the video of Scarnati's pointed response.

We'll see the drillers (one, anyway) in Court even if the Commission won't act
We can't see into the future, but it's no surprise that the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission made no recommendation about protecting air quality around drilling operations. This is a huge gap in protecting our public health.

Yesterday, PennFuture took action by filing a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against Ultra Resources, Inc., for the air pollution at its Marcellus Shale drilling sites which violates the federal Clean Air Act, Pennsylvania's State Implementation Plan (the "Pennsylvania SIP"), and Pennsylvania's New Source Review regulations. PennFuture also filed a formal request with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for all records of air pollution at drilling sites throughout the Commonwealth.

The drilling is risking the health of all citizens downwind with its noxious NOx pollution, and is also risking the entire state's ability to meet clean air standards. Even short-term NOx exposures, ranging from 30 minutes to 24 hours, cause adverse respiratory effects including airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory symptoms in people with asthma. And this air pollution also leads to more fine particle pollution, which can cause heart attacks and other deadly illnesses.

The driller failed to get the necessary permits, and is also not operating with modern, clean equipment that reduces air pollution as the law requires. We are taking them to court to force them to obey the law. And because this appears to be business as usual for many drillers here and in Texas, Wyoming and elsewhere, PennFuture wants the air pollution information on ALL drillers in the state.

Rafferty unveils green building legislation with broad support
Senator John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, has introduced green building legislation with the support of 23 senators - nearly one-half of the Pennsylvania Senate. Senate Bill 1136 would require high-performance green building standards for future construction projects at most state-owned buildings and in rapidly growing public school districts. Green buildings are a winner for the environment and taxpayers alike.

PennFuture enthusiastically supports SB 1136.

Dry streams curtail drilling
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission has temporarily suspended 36 water withdrawals in 10 Pennsylvania counties to protect the health of rivers and streams during a time of extreme heat and diminished stream flow. Most of the suspensions are for water withdrawals for gas drilling.

F & M shows its sunny side
Pennsylvania's colleges and universities helped finance and support the early days of our state's wind industry by making voluntary purchases of wind energy. Now Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster is lending a hand to help build the largest solar project in Pennsylvania. F & M, which has purchased wind energy credits since 2002, has agreed to purchase solar energy credits for seven years to support the development of Community Energy's 6 MW Keystone Solar Project in East Drumore Township, Lancaster County.

Our Climate Digest has a new look
A Climate for Change is PennFuture's biweekly digest of climate change news from Pennsylvania and beyond. Visit our digest archive for past issues. And don't miss an issue of this or any of PennFuture's other e-publications by subscribing today.

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