After months of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf promoting a sweeping infrastructure plan funded by a tax on natural gas drillers, some Senate Republicans have come up with an alternative.
It would fund a smaller slate of infrastructure improvements by opening up more gas drilling in state forests.
The Senate proposal comes from Republicans Camera Bartolotta and Pat Stefano, of Beaver and Fayette Counties respectively. It hasn’t been formally introduced yet, but an official bill is expected out in the coming days.
Bartolotta and Stefano say they can raise about a billion dollars annually for things like parks and flood control by lifting Wolf’s moratorium on new gas drillers leasing state land.
Pennsylvania’s state forests were once largely wiped out. Now the state manages about 2.2 million forested acres, and a large portion is already open to drillers.
Bartolotta said she doesn’t think more drilling would be invasive, since it’s largely done underground.
“This is in no way putting a drilling rig in the middle of a forest,” she said. “Three miles away, these things can be done. And it’s six thousand feet underground.”
Conservationists have raised concerns that even non-surface drilling damages habitats and can introduce invasive species, thanks to well pads tamping down soil and roads being carved through the trees.
If passed, Wolf’s plan would raise $4.5 billion.
His spokesman said the Senate plan doesn’t do enough. But so far, his severance tax is a nonstarter among Republicans.
Bartolotta called it unrealistic.
“If you go into a municipality where half of their township has been flooded, yes they’re going to cling to any kind of hope that they have been offered,” she said. “But you know what, you can’t dangle a carrot in front of someone when there isn’t a buffet.”
Likewise, Wolf’s spokesman said Bartolotta and Stefano’s bill doesn’t meet the state Supreme Court’s requirement that any revenue from state forest drilling be routed toward environmental initiatives.
The proposal, he said, “appears to be unconstitutional.”
Bartolotta said she believes the infrastructure initiatives are targeted enough that they would all count as conservatory in nature.
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WESA, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.