Don't let fee boost landfills

Low oil and gas prices are good for consumers. But low prices also result in sharply reduced royalties paid to the state government by the industry to drill on state land. And that, in turn, is bad news for environmental protection projects that are funded with those royalties.

Gov. Tom Wolf and some of his environmentally conscious allies in the Legislature want to replace the revenue with an increase in the waste disposal fee, or “tipping fee,” that landfills pay for each ton of dumped garbage.

The governor has proposed a 29 percent increase in the fee, from $6.25 to $8 per ton for garbage classified as municipal waste. It also would apply to demolition and residual waste, which are exempt from the current fee. He would use $35 million in new revenue to cover the 40 percent reduction in royalties from oil and gas drilling. Money would go to the Environmental Stewardship Fund and Hazardous Cleanup Fund.

State Sen. John Blake, a Lackawanna County Democrat, also wants to use some of the funds to expand recycling.

These all are worthy initiatives but they also pose a long-term danger for Northeast Pennsylvania. It is a fundamentally dubious policy to make even more state revenue dependent upon one of the state’s most problematic industries.

Landfills must be taxed to compensate for their massive environmental and economic impacts. But that also makes the government dependent upon them for revenue. Consider the symbiotic relationship between the state government and the casino industry. Harrisburg smiles on gambling expansion without regard for its vast negative social impact because the state government itself is a croupier.

Mr. Blake says he wants to fund more recycling to help mitigate the impact of the proposed massive expansion of the Keystone Landfill in Dunmore and Throop. But he shouldn’t be focusing on mitigation. His object should be to stop the expansion, which is contrary to the public interest in many ways.

Dunmore Borough’s government already has demonstrated that it can’t cut its umbilical cord to landfill cash.

State officials should not create any new incentive to make the landfill expansion look attractive. It would be a blow to Northeast Pennsylvania whether the fee is $6.25 or $8 a ton.