Pennsylvania Republicans unveil package of proposals to boost energy sector, state economy

Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg are moving forward with a plan they say will help both the state’s energy industry and the environment.

House members, along with representatives from the business community, touted their “Energize PA” initiative on Wednesday. The plan incorporates eight bills, one of which was passed into law earlier this year, that would reform both the tax and regulatory structures in the state as well as provide incentive programs.

“Through this initiative, we are looking to bring in and expand employment opportunities as well as allow our economy to continue to flourish,” state Rep. Jonathan Fritz, R- Susquehanna, said. “Thanks to affordable, abundant, clean-burning natural gas, Pennsylvania’s economic growth is being fueled by our very own natural resources.”

The proposals serve as the GOP’s counter to Gov. Tom Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania plan that would introduce a severance tax on top of the impact fee levied on natural gas production. Wolf’s proposal would leverage the revenue generated from the tax, create bond opportunities and encourage local communities to make various improvements, such as refurbishing downtowns, improving broadband access or shoring up infrastructure.

Republicans and the business community are wary that any tax would hinder growth of the state’s energy sector, which they claim is bolstering the state’s economy and opening opportunities across the Commonwealth.

Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said his group supports all seven bills remaining in the Legislature. He noted two studies that discuss Pennsylvania’s economic future.

One, by Wells Fargo, claims natural gas will help the state keep up with job growth. However, he noted the Brookings Institute said the state has not done enough to drive innovations needed to push the state forward.

“That (Energize PA) will help us bring that innovation,” Barr said.

The state’s impact fee generated a record $250 million last year, Republicans said. In addition, Pennsylvania farmers and property owners have received more than $12 billion in royalties from natural gas production. That money is helping to make a difference in communities across the state.

And Republicans say that’s not the only way natural gas is impacting the community. Speaker Mike Turzai said more needs to be done to encourage additional production of natural gas, which he said has half the carbon emissions as coal.

“We are creating a cleaner environment,” Turzai, R-McCandless, told the crowd.

On Tuesday, the House State Government Committee, by a party-line vote, passed two bills related to the permitting process, including one that would create a commission and remove the permitting process from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

State Rep. Timothy O’Neal, R-Washington, is pursuing the legislation because he claims the department is not able to either issue permits or enforce regulations effectively. He believes a five-member panel appointed by the governor and approved the state Senate would improve efficiency.

However, state Rep. Pam DeLissio, D-Philadelphia, countered that the reason DEP has been struggling in doing its job in recent years is that it has not received the proper funding to do it.

“They've been forced to carry a smaller complement, that complement is drastically reduced compared to about a decade ago,” DeLissio said in Tuesday’s committee meeting. “So, from a purely management standpoint, it's not surprising that their productivity may have suffered during this, because you can't take things away and expect necessarily a different and higher outcome.”