Clean Water Action, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, PennEnvironment, and Sierra Club PA Chapter expressed outrage over the Pennsylvania budget and fiscal code that passed the Pennsylvania General Assembly and that most expect Governor Corbett to sign. The fiscal code bill that passed both chambers included a one-time influx of $95 million in revenue from reopening state forests and, for the first time ever, opening up state parks for new unconventional natural gas leasing.
“Days before July 4th, the legislature is putting picnic grounds, camping areas, and hiking areas for thousands of families at risk for toxic chemicals from gas drilling,” said Adam Garber, Field Director for PennEnvironment. “The Legislature’s budget is a devastating blow to Pennsylvanians of all political creeds that think our iconic, award winning outdoors should be preserved.
Many observers believe that Ohiopyle State Park and Ricketts Glen State Park, two of Pennsylvania’s most visited and beloved recreational areas are likely to be among the first public lands leased for natural gas drilling. These parks are visited by tens of thousands for fishing, hiking and camping with friends and family.
Each year, outdoor recreation generates $21.5 billion in consumer spending, 219,000 direct Pennsylvania jobs, $7.2 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue for Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth’s environmental and conservation community as well as the majority of the Commonwealth’s citizens opposed selling off these assets off for a one-time budget filler.
“It is unconscionable that the legislature has cut the General Fund budget for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to a small fraction of its total operating cost,” said Joanne Kilgour, Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter. “Making a conservation agency dependent on revenue from natural gas extraction on the very lands it is supposed to protect is a slap in the face to the Pennsylvania Constitution and to the real owners of our parks and forests – the citizens of the Commonwealth,” continued Kilgour.
“Poll after poll has shown that Pennsylvanians oppose this pillaging of state parks and forests,” said Josh McNeil, Executive Director for Conservation Voters of PA. “Ignoring common sense and the will of the people, Governor Corbett and the majority of our legislators sank the whole ship just so they could get to the life-preservers.
The Legislature also used the budget process to slip last minute language into the fiscal code that would require the creation of separate regulations for shallow conventional and deeper modern unconventional wells.
The organizations found it disgraceful that some legislators would circumvent the traditional legislative process in order to give gas drillers another way to ignore environmental protections. Conventional wells, like unconventional wells, pose significant risks to public health and the environment, including on or off-site spills of wastewater or other contaminants, methane migration, and other impacts. These risks are only likely to increase as more conventional operators begin using hydraulic fracturing and regulations on them become more lax.
When elected officials vote against the will of people and the protection of our environment, there must be consequences,” said Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus Shale Campaign Coordinator for Clean Water Action. “Our organizations, and the hundreds of thousands of members we represent, will hold our lawmakers accountable for their short-sighted, cynical, destructive decision.”