Saturday, November 6, 2010

Or Well

Pennsylvania voters, God love ‘em, have just elected (by a sizable margin) a Republican governor and (in a squeaker) a Republican senator who share, among other loony opinions, the belief that taxes are evil and should not be imposed under any circumstances. Seems like folks in the Keystone State were sick an’ tired of them damn tax-and-spend liberals in Warshington and Harrisburg with their bailouts, stimyoolous plans, and what-not draggin’ our country and our economy down.

Never mind that without the bailouts of the automobile, banking, and lending industries, millions of jobs (not only in those industries but in all sectors affected by them) would have been lost. Never mind that without the stimulus, we’d be in a full-blown depression comparable to the Great one. Never mind that the deficit under Obama is actually lower than it was after eight years of Bushonomics.

Never mind any of that. The citizens hath spoken, and their word is law.

Now, from an environmental perspective, the most depressing part of this whole business is the governor-elect’s vow to resist imposing a severance tax on the gas companies that have descended on my state like a swarm of locusts. Every other state in the union that allows deep-well drilling (the “fracking” process you’ve heard me talk about before) makes the drillers pay such a tax, which the states use to support various programs including, most importantly, environmental clean-up from the drilling. Pennsylvania’s State House, controlled by Democrats, passed a severance tax last year, but its State Senate, controlled by Republicans, can’t seem to move this legislation out of committee. With the new governor at the helm, all hope for a severance tax is lost: even if, by some miracle, the Senate could be convinced to pass this legislation, the governor would surely veto it.

Those opposed to the severance tax say it will scare away the gas companies. If this were true, I’d say that's the best reason of all that we should impose a severance tax. But it’s not true: the gas companies will come wherever the gas is, and the gas is in Pennsylvania. They’ll pay the tax if that’s what it takes to mine our state’s natural resources, just as they pay it in every other gas-rich state across the land.

As you know, I'd prefer a permanent moratorium on gas drilling. That would be the ideal. But in the absence of that unlikely outcome, a severance tax is a minimal palliative against the environmental devastation drilling causes, as well as a minimal mechanism to level the playing field for alternative energy development. It’s a recognition that when drillers drill on public lands--as they’ve already begun to do in Pennsylvania’s state forests--they owe the people who own the lands, namely the citizens of the state of Pennsylvania, something in return. It’s a tax, sure, but it’s a tax that returns money to the citizens, not one that takes money away from them.

But in the Orwellian logic of our newly anointed governor and senator, any tax is a bad tax. The only exception they’ll make, the only tax they’re all too willing to impose, is the exorbitant tax on the health, the environment, and the communities of the very people who put them in office.

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