Pa. House members prepare for severance tax fight

     The House is combing over a revenue proposal the Senate passed to them on Thursday. (AP Photo)

    The House is combing over a revenue proposal the Senate passed to them on Thursday. (AP Photo)

    The state Senate’s revenue package includes a perennially-controversial severance tax on Marcellus Shale drilling — just one surprise in a proposal that turned out to be brimming with unexpected, tax-related components.

    It took a lot of compromising to get to this point. And as the House considers the plan, it’s clear a lot of lawmakers are far from convinced this shale tax is a good idea.

    Democratic Representative Greg Vitali of Delaware County has been backing a severance tax on Marcellus Shale longer than most lawmakers.

    But he thinks concessions Democrats made on the deal outweigh any benefit that the new levy — which is projected to fill $100 million of the $2.2 billion budget hole — could provide.

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    “It’s the most damaging set of environmental provisions I’ve seen in a long time,” he said.Environmental advocates are contesting changes to Department of Environmental Protection regulations that would let third parties review and approve permit applications.

    There’s no language on how to avoid conflicts of interest with those contractors.

    “What it would likely result in, is having go-to third parties who are known for their leniency, and would really be devastating for the environment,” Vitali said.

    Lawmakers are unhappy on the other side of the House aisle as well.

    Conservative members maintain the environmental compromises don’t justify a new tax on the gas industry, which they say could hurt business.

    Conflicts over the severance tax alone are setting the House up for a fight that could sink the Senate’s whole revenue plan.

    The chamber hasn’t yet taken an official stance on the package, but House leaders have warned that they don’t intend to serve as a “rubber stamp.”

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