CBF-PA: Any Severance Tax Should Help PA Meet Clean Water Commitments

June 17, 2014

On Tuesday, Harry Campbell, Director of the PA Office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, wrote to members of the House and Senate urging them to remember the commitments Pennsylvania has made to cleaning up its rivers and streams if they enact a natural gas severance tax.  The text of the letter follows-- With Budget negotiations currently underway and a looming deficit around $1.4 billion in our midst, discussions have begun, once again, on the introduction of a severance tax in the Commonwealth. While the legislature wrestles with the necessity of a severance tax, the amount of the tax rate, whether or not the impact fee should remain intact, and funding apportionment, one crucial, ongoing endeavor must not be forgotten—restoring Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams. The promise of hundreds of millions of dollars generated through an unconventional natural gas tax could easily appear to be the answer the Commonwealth needs to fill gaps and patch holes in the state budget. While no one doubts the state has numerous priorities, we must not neglect the fundamental necessity of clean water. Last fiscal year, the state collected nearly $220 million from the impact fee, with approximately only $28 million going to address Pennsylvania’s most serious environmental problems. Clean water, according to Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, is a right bestowed upon the residents of the Commonwealth, and it has lasting impacts on the health and economic well-being of all the citizens of Pennsylvania. Yet, the Commonwealth has roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams that do not meet water quality standards due to the impacts of certain agricultural operations (5,802 miles), the legacy of abandoned mine drainage (5,584 miles), and urban and suburban polluted runoff (4,325 miles) as the top three causes. While these numbers may seem daunting, in the majority of cases we know how to fix the problems and clean up our local rivers and streams. Every day, successes in pollution reduction occur on farms, infrastructure is being updated, and trees are being planted. But, in order to achieve a legacy of clean water, we must invest in the programs that result in the solutions. Any severance tax which is passed in the General Assembly and signed by the Governor into law must place a significant share of the revenues into protecting and restoring natural resources, specifically clean water. Making certain the Commonwealth prevents continued environmental legacy issues, such as abandoned mine drainage, demands funding from the enactment of a severance tax. In order to address these issues, the General Assembly and the Governor must ensure that any severance tax passed into law keeps more in mind than just the education of future generations, but also leaves our Commonwealth an economically robust, healthy, clean, and beautiful place to live.