Two weeks before Election Day, it’s no surprise to see a flurry of campaign appearances and news releases from Gov. Tom Corbett.
His best showing in any recent polls puts him 7 points behind Democrat Tom Wolf of York County; most polls put the gap at twice that figure.
But some people might find a few surprises in one of the news releases issued this week. The Commonwealth Financing Authority approved $16.4 million in grants for conservation efforts across the state. The money all came from impact fees paid by natural gas companies under Act 13.
Much of the attention on these per-well fees has focused on the millions that go back to counties, townships and boroughs. The state also takes a chunk of change for environmentally focused programs, many of which appeal to the loudest critics of drilling.
According to the financing authority, Act 13 money has paid for $3.9 million in flood mitigation projects over the past three years, including a few in Washington and Westmoreland counties. Another $14 million has gone to the state’s H2O PA flood control and water treatment programs.
Trails have been the biggest beneficiary. Almost 200 park and trail projects have shared more than $26 million. Another $7 million went to watershed programs.
Just this week, some big projects in Pittsburgh — where drilling is banned — got big drilling money: Riverlife Pittsburgh got $250,000 to help make the last bike trail connection near the Mon Wharf; The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy picked up another $250,000 for its rehab of the Frick Environmental Center; The Nine Mile Run Watershed Association got $150,000; The URA received $150,000 for parks in Larimer and East Liberty.
None of these groups appears to make a big deal of the fact that gas money is funding their projects. Maybe that’s not a big surprise, given how politicized the industry and way it’s taxed has become during this election.
Don’t be surprised to see this funding stream dry up, though, should Wolf win election Nov. 4. He has promised to enact a severance tax on gas production to raise up to $1 billion to prop up state finances and education. The law that established Act 13 says the impact fee disappears off the books the day a severance tax takes effect.