What Wolf’s win means for energy and the environment

MARIE CUSICK / STATEIMPACT PA

MARIE CUSICK / STATEIMPACT PA

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Now we know. Democrat Tom Wolf will indeed be taking the reins from Gov. Corbett in just over two months.

For the first time since 1954, an incumbent Pennsylvania governor did not either win re-election or cede power to someone from their own party. 

That’s an historic loss for Pennsylvania’s GOP, which has been supportive of the gas industry, so reaction to Wolf over Corbett broke down along predictable lines.

Lou D’Amico of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association says Wolf’s policies could lead to job loss.

Cindy Dunn, director of PennFuture said, “For the environmental voters, it was a referendum of Gov. Corbett’s handling of the gas industry.”

Let’s take a look at what Wolf’s win might mean for energy and environment.

Marcellus Shale tax battle lines

Wolf’s plan to replace the current impact fee with a 5 percent tax on the market value of natural gas may run up against more opposition than he seems to expect.

He says at current production levels this tax could bring in $1 billion, which is about $800,000 more each year than the current impact fee. He says he’ll use that money to help boost funding for the state’s failing public school systems.

But he’s got to contend with a Republican legislature. And ideas that poll well with voters during a campaign pre-election does not always translate well to momentum in Harrisburg post-election. Still, drillers are worried, and not so sure they’ve got the support in Harrisburg they need to head off a tax hike.

D’Amico, president of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, says some drillers are talking about leaving the state if Wolf succeeds in imposing a new severance tax. And although he says the industry does enjoy bipartisan support in Harrisburg, D’Amico worries about lawmakers from non-drilling areas like Philadelphia.

“If you’re not seeing your hotels full, if you’re not seeing the local Ford dealer selling trucks to drillers, then you’re not concerned as much in Philadelphia [with the potential slow-down of gas drilling] as you are in Bradford, Tioga, or Susquehanna counties where they are benefiting from us being here.”

D’Amico says the legislative battle over a Marcellus Shale tax may not be restricted to party lines.

“Part of it is going to be partisan,” said D’Amico.  ”And you’re going see regionalism involved. Both will pop up.”

And here’s where the industry and some anti-drilling “fractivists” may have similar goals, albeit different reasons for getting there. Maya van Rossum, from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, says she’s “cautiously optimistic” about Wolf’s win. But she too worries about a new severance tax.

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