A Statement by the Rev. Mitch Hescox
President/CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network
Pennsylvania House Bill 1401, the Severance Tax Bill, proposes a tax on natural gas production that would raise up to $250 million a year to help close Pennsylvania’s $2.2 billion budget gap and break the budget stalemate in PA’s Assembly. Anti-environmental amendments/riders are expected if the bill reaches the full House for debate and vote.
These pollution amendments must not pass. We cannot trade our children’s health for any deal that allows this natural gas tax to move forward, but only if the state makes it easier for the natural gas industry to pollute. Such an outcome runs contrary to the wishes of over 100,000 pro-life Christians in PA, who have joined us in supporting clean energy and reducing pollution from natural gas infrastructure.
Politics has created this unnecessary budget crisis, which has resulted in a downgrading of PA’s credit rating, while numerous programs lack funds. Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) has sponsored a bill, HB 1401, that would generate up to $250 million through a severance tax on natural gas, which is paid by the producers. HB 1401 has passed out of Committee and is awaiting action on the floor. Currently, PA, the No. 2 natural gas producing state, is the only one without a severance tax.
We favor HB 1401 as it was passed out of Committee, without anti-environmental riders.
However, we have a deep concern that amendments offered on the House floor would make changes to the state’s permitting process, which would create more pollution. Such anti-environmental riders were included in a Senate bill passed over the summer. We need a strong permitting process by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that protects our children and the unborn from methane pollution and other toxic pollution associated with natural gas production.
Medical research shows that living within 0.5 miles of an oil or gas production facility is correlated with cancer, respiratory illness, birth defects, and brain impacts. Within 0.5 miles almost 311,000 children attend school, and over 1.5 million people have homes. In addition, over 30,000 kids each year suffer asthma attacks caused by methane and VOC’s leaking from natural gas production and transformation.
Trading our children’s health for a short-term budget fix is foolish and unjust. The Pennsylvania House should pass HB 1401 — but without any anti-environmental amendments that make it easier to pollute.