Two Republican state senators are co-sponsoring a bill that they describe as an alternative to Gov. Tom Wolf's Restore Pennsylvania infrastructure plan.
Wolf earlier this year laid out a plan to raise around $4.5 billion through a severance tax on natural gas drilling to fund infrastructure improvements, address stormwater management and bring high-speed internet to Pennsylvania’s rural regions.
Sens. Camera Bartolotta (R-Canonsburg) and Pat Stefano (R-Somerset) have proposed a plan with a different source of funding. Instead of adding a severance tax, they would allow drilling for natural gas on state land, which would generate impact fees.
The bill would lift the governor’s moratorium on drilling in state forests and give the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources the authority to decide whether to enter into new gas leases.
“Approximately 1.5 million acres of the 2.2 million-acre state forest land are underlain by Marcellus and other shale gas formations, making it a key venue for developing this important energy source in Pennsylvania,” the senators said in a memo explaining their proposal.
Money raised from the impact fees from any new drilling would go into a fund to be managed by the Commonwealth Financing Authority and be used for infrastructure projects including blight remediation, storm water management and abandoned mine reclamation.
Funding would be available only if new drilling is approved.
Gov. Wolf's spokesman, J.J. Abbott offered a response to the senators' plan and its proposed use of impact fees.
"This proposal appears to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled that these revenues must be devoted to the conservation and maintenance of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources," he said. "This is not a realistic alternative to Governor Wolf’s bold plan to revitalize communities and fix critical infrastructure. This plan seems more aimed at helping the gas industry than helping Pennsylvanians."