Rendell halts gas drilling in Pa. forests

Flanked by environmentalists who catcalled him to do more, Gov. Ed Rendell signed an executive order that prohibits the leasing of state forests for Marcellus Shale natural-gas drilling.

Yesterday’s ceremony in Penn Treaty Park took on a distinctly political feel. Naming names, Rendell railed against state Senate Republicans for stalling action on a severance tax which Rendell declared “clearly is dead” last week. He broke down various tax-level proposals that went unheeded, noting that Pennsylvania is the only natural-gas-rich state without such a tax.

“The fight is not over. We’ve protected what private land we can,” said Rendell who, when chided by environmental activists calling for a statewide drilling ban, added, “Even if I was for a statewide ban, which I’m not because of the economic upside, there are not enough votes in the House and Senate to get it passed.”

Opponents say a tax would stifle economic benefits by chasing prospective drillers away; supporters say drilling companies should contribute to covering environmental, infrastructure and other costs. The non-partisan Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center estimates more than $100 million in revenues have been lost since Oct. 1, 2009 because a tax isn’t in place.

“It’s selfish of us to use up all of the natural resources we have for short-term gain,” said state Rep. Greg Vitali of Delaware County. “We want to raise revenues the right way.”

The moratorium has a limited effect, though. In the first nine months of the year, more than 2,300 drilling permits were issued.