Inauguration Day

Media outlets in Pennsylvania have picked-up on proposed “disruptions” of Tom Wolf’s inauguration next week in order to promote a ban on “fracking.” Clearly, protesters have every right to do so within the bounds of the law. But it begs the question of why this should happen at the inauguration of a new governor who, while he has stated support for the extraction of shale gas, has also made statements about reinstating a moratorium on development on state land, increased environmental regulation, and has nominated cabinet choices that appear to reinforce those statements?

Davitt Woodwell photo 2016 (3)
Davitt Woodwell

The disrupters’ goal is focused on obtaining a moratorium on unconventional gas extraction along the lines of New York’s recent ban. In Pennsylvania, the current moratoria are in the Delaware River basin, the City of Pittsburgh, and on approval of further state forest lands for surface development. Otherwise, it is pretty clear that a statewide moratorium is not going to happen. The fundamental reason is that the Commonwealth does not have the same laws as New York allowing for such a ban on private property.

That said, there are still a number of areas where PEC continues to advocate for improvements to the current state of Pennsylvania’s regulation and management of unconventional shale gas development, as well as other environmental programs. Three years after its passage, Act 13 still does not have regulations implementing improved environmental protections. We also believe the regulations prepared by the state to-date must be improved. We are urging the Commonwealth to enact leading controls for reducing methane emissions. We have consistently fought against cutbacks to DEP’s budget that have left the agency with gaps in its abilities to implement and enforce environmental protection programs, especially in the area of water quality. We called upon both Governor Corbett and General Assembly to reject rollbacks of important watershed protections with the removal of buffer requirements, and new requirements to separate regulations for conventional well operations through last second legislative maneuvering.

But we won’t disrupt the inauguration – a ceremonial event with no impact on the laws of the Commonwealth – to do so. What matters is what Governor Wolf does after he is sworn in. As with any administration, we look forward to seeing what the Wolf administration sets out on these and other issues including pressing climate change planning requirements and overall management of state lands. As those priorities and strategies develop, we will see whether and where our interests do or do not align and make our opinions known.

While we could easily make our current opinions known at the inauguration, we intend to give the incoming Governor and his supporters the opportunity to celebrate a hard-earned election victory. They deserve the opportunity to take a deep breath as they officially assume ownership of a plethora of difficult issues that will still be there waiting for them the next morning. Communities experiencing development must be heard, and their concerns should be strongly considered by our new governor. But the time for that will be when the state undertakes its legislative and regulatory work. We certainly will be there to push for better environmental protection in Pennsylvania, as we have with every governor over the past forty-four years.