Discussions around energy policy garner attention in national politics every four years.
In Pennsylvania, it’s been an ongoing debate for about 12 years, starting not long after the Marcellus shale was first tapped in Washington County.
One would think after all this time we might be closer to settling on something close to an energy policy, or even just a natural gas policy in the country’s No. 2 natural gas producing state.
Listen to the different sides in the debate, though, and it seems they aren’t speaking the same language.
In Harrisburg, Gov. Tom Wolf and some lawmakers have translated “energy policy” to mean “taxes,” according to Rep. Jim Christiana.
“That’s been the extent of energy policy in Harrisburg for the past 24 months,” the Beaver County Republican said during a recent Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce forum in his district.
Because lawmakers four years ago decided to call the state revenue stream from gas wells a “fee” instead of a “tax,” we’re stuck in a debate over words and how to increase that revenue stream, instead of looking at the best ways to balance safe and reliable production with increased demand, Christiana said.
“We’ve got to have a serious conversation about energy policy,” said Christiana, who has opposed a severance tax on production but this year proposed that very thing as an attempt to end the debate.
The Wolf administration continues its push to add a tax to the existing impact fee. It also says Wolf wants to see the gas industry flourish in Pennsylvania.
That’s one reason he gathered a task force to help with the pipeline buildout the industry needs, Denise Brinley, special assistant to the secretary of the Department of Community & Economic Development, said during the same chamber forum.
“The governor recognizes the need to get the gas to market,” she said, calling shale gas an opportunity for economic growth even outside the Marcellus footprint.
Administration officials have echoed this sentiment, causing some in the industry to scratch their heads. Such words of support for gas are incompatible with what they consider an onerous tax policy and regulatory scheme.
Scott Roy, a vice president at producer Range Resources, pointed out to Brinley what he sees as a disconnect between Wolf’s words and “what we see in the field.”
“The pipelines won’t matter if there’s no gas to flow into that pipe,” Roy said. Wolf’s policies stifle production, he said.
“We can’t have a 230-mile pipeline bisecting the state with no off-takes for Pennsylvanians,” Brinley responded, a possible reference to the Mariner East pipeline, which delivers Range’s ethane to a terminal south of Philadelphia for export overseas.
And the debate goes on.