Fright night at the state capitol

    There are unsettling developments in Harrisburg, as the administration of Pennsylvania’s Republican governor Tom Corbett takes shape and the details of his budget proposal emerge.

    And I’m not even talking about the Corbett administration official who equated the Academy-Award nominated documentary Gasland with Nazi propaganda.

    The investigative journalists at Pro-Publica discovered last week that tucked in an obscure paragraph of Corbett’s 1184-page budget, the governor gives his Secretary for Community and Economic Development authority to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

    That would appear to permit him to meddle in environmental regulation of the coal, oil, and gas industries. The Secretary granted this authority is Alan Walker, a Pennsylvania energy executive who contributed $184,000 to Corbett’s campaign.

    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Sunday that Walker’s companies have often run afoul of state environmental regulations. In 2002, after three of Walker’s companies told regulators they could no longer afford to treat polluted water from 15 inactive mines, the state Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection went to court and wrote this in an e-mail to his staff:

    “We have to take strong action against some folks who just don’t get it when it comes to fulfilling their environmental obligations. And that’s exactly what happened this week to a mine operator who told us he wasn’t going to spend a dime treating over 173 million gallons of polluted mine water. It’s unfortunate with all the discussion nationally about corporate irresponsibility that we have a homegrown environmental example right here in Pennsylvania.”

    That was from David Hess, the DEP Secretary of a Republican governor.

    The Post-Gazette story also focused on the fact that Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission has 13 people with ties to the gas industry and only four environmentalists.

    There’s presumably another side to these stories, but no Corbett administration officials contacted by Pro-Publica or the Post-Gazette would comment.

    And then there’s Corbett’s continued refusal to consider a tax on extracting gas from the Marcellus Shale.

    The Allentown Morning Call’s John Micek had this insightful riff on that:

    “If the governor wants to turn PA into the ‘Texas of the natural gas boom,’ as he said during his budget address, we’ll point out that the Lone Star state currently taxes natural gas at a rate of “7.5 percent tax rate on the market value of gas. The market value is determined at the mouth of the well from which it is produced. In the early 1970s, the Mobil v. Calvert case defined ‘value at the mouth of the well’ as producer gross receipts minus the costs necessary to move the gas from the wellhead to the point of sale.’ That’s from the state of Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. We hope this little talk has helped.”

    You can read Micek’s Capitol Ideas blog here.

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