Letter: Don’t Trade Environmental Protections for Severance Tax

This letter was sent to all members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Tuesday, November 21st.

Dear Representatives:

Last night the House amended House Bill 1401 to include a number of provisions that unreasonably roll back environmental protections in exchange for a severance tax.

We respectfully request that you oppose House Bill 1401. There are a number of important reasons for this, not the least of which is that the bill would eviscerate important environmental protections without allowing for an airing of the underlying issues. In other words, by including these provisions, the General Assembly fails its responsibility to act with deliberate consideration of important policy issues facing the Commonwealth. Furthermore, this legislation now contains language that potentially violates one or more provisions of our state constitution by subverting environmental protection for increased revenue.

House Bill 1401 is now a vehicle that curtails key community and environmental protections, undermines the responsibilities of the Department of Environmental Protection, and flies on the face of the state’s responsibilities under Article 1, Section 27 of the Constitution. It does this through amendments:

  • Providing for the automatic approval of permits, regardless of whether those permits were complete or properly evaluated. [Amendment A04214]
  • Restricting the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from increasing its permitting fees, which are used to cover agencies operating expenses, until 2021. [Amendment A04208] and
  • Allowing gas operators to move the surface location of a well, and alter the subsurface path of a well bore, without further analysis provided to DEP of whether those changes increase the risk of pollution incidents. [Amendment A04203]

It is likely more adverse amendments will be offered today during debate.

We are more than happy to address and consider any of these issues under the full light of an appropriate, deliberative process, and encourage you to do the same.

While we understand the need to find monies to address budget shortfalls and recognize that a severance tax on the natural gas industry has become a politically demanding issue for the legislature, House Bill 1401 has now become much more than a revenue bill.

Thank you for your consideration.

Davitt Woodwell
President, Pennsylvania Environmental Council