This time it is our democrat governor Thomas Wolf that is commanding our attention. He is attempting to circumvent the legislative process and take executive actions on key issues that will impact Pennsylvania energy future. Pennsylvania from its very beginning codified into law that mineral resources of property such as coal, gas oil and timber belong to the property owner not the state.
The governor heady with his COVID proclamations equates urban driven mandates as good and sensible for all Pennsylvanians. As he has in the past he is calling for a severance tax to be passed to balance an inflated state budget. He masks it as COVID relief and workforce development that will equally benefit us all. But first consider what gives him the power to levy a tax and let alone on a mythical concept that the government has rights to tax property recurring times? This seems archaic and back to feudal times when the king needing extra revenue would arbitrarily enact creative taxes. It is all well and good for the southeastern part of the state to seek a disproportionate amount of revenue and resources from the state and clamor for more. But by what right do they claim additional taxes from this resources natural gas that is not the states. Pennsylvania law is unique that it recognizes three distinct estates in land and the mineral and gas estate are attached to the property, belonging to the property owner not the state. The state taxes the lease payment income of the property owner, the royalties received, the corporate business and have an established Impact Tax assessed to the industry. Perhaps if he designated the money to go to back to the community instead of the general fund it could be more tenable. The state legislature has resisted Governor Wolf’s recurring call for more tax on natural gas development, so the pendulum swings. Let the Governor seek more fees from the gas extracted from state owned land and gas rights. Let the elected state Representatives and Senators determine the merits of additional taxes.
Another arbitrary action of Governor Wolf needs to be questioned. The Governor is circumventing the Legislature and seeks by an issue biased committee to commit Pennsylvanians to joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. (RGGI). According to the article in the Pittsburgh Business Times, RGGI seeks to control greenhouse gas emissions through the marketplace, cutting down on pollution from fossil-fuel power generation plants while increasing investment in cleaner sources of energy. Each power plant in a RGGI state has to calculate the tons of greenhouse gases emitted and get enough allowances to cover itself, with the state capping the amount it can emit overall. Environmental advocates support the states joining the group of eleven states. “Leadership in the economy and the environment are precisely the reasons why Pennsylvania should jump into RGGI, said Robert Sroufe, Murrin Chair of Global Competitiveness in the Duquesne University MBA Sustainable Business Practices Program. In the past, he said, greenhouse gas emissions have been given no value and not accounting for the actual consequences to health and the environment. Pittsburgh, he said, has some of the dirtiest air in the U.S.”
Conversely, “RGGI is a tax on CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel generation. What is different from Pennsylvania and all these other states is that these other states import all their electricity,” Rachel Gleason Executive Director of the PA Coal Alliance said. “Pennsylvania is an exporter, and we’re very different from all the other RGGI states because we participate in PJM (the regional transmission grid).” Businesses — and a majority of the state Legislature — have been upset by the manner in which Wolf and the administration has been implementing RGGI. Pennsylvania, unlike other states that have joined RGGI, chose to do it through executive action, instead of legislatively.
Given the somewhat covert action of the Governor, the important and direction changing RGGI debate seems to be lost in the confines of the committee and lacks adequate public scrutiny. In the quiet should public sentiment be measured or ignored? This illustrates another example of the diminishing power of representative government. Somewhere in Harrisburg RGGI rulemaking is underway, and the pendulum swings.