One Month Later, Corbett Stays Vague On Marcellus Report's Recommendations
It’s been a month and a day since Governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission issued its 137-page report.
The Republican charged the panel with setting his agenda, when it comes to regulating and expanding Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry. But in late August, Corbett is staying vague on which of the commission’s 96 recommendations he’ll stick with, and which he’ll cast aside.
“We’re still reviewing it in detail,” he said at the Elizabethtown Fair, in rural Lancaster County. “We’re looking at the entire report, not just any one aspect. Breaking it down, as to what can we do without legislation? What may require regulation. What’s the time frame in that.”
The comments mirrored what Corbett told reporters on July 28: “I’m still reading it,” he said at the time. “I’m looking to see that which I agree with and there’s maybe one or two things I don’t agree with, and things I don’t know if I agree with or not that I have to get some more information on. But I’m also looking at that which we can do as the executive branch and implement quickly, or is there something short-term medium-term or long term, but also that which we can give to the Legislature.”
Corbett’s delayed response on the report could be viewed as further proof the panel was nothing more than a stalling tactic – a charge Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, a Republican, levied after Corbett halted the push for an impact fee on gas drillers in its tracks this summer, by threatening to veto any bill that reached his desk before the commission issued its recommendations. (Scarnati is a major proponent of a low-level fee against drillers.) Alternatively, the lag could be seen as the latest example of the deliberative, unhurried approach the career prosecutor has taken to governing. This is, after all, the governor who all but disappeared between his January 18th inauguration and March 8th budget address, offering little, if any, hints about his spending plan’s details until the day before his speech to lawmakers.
At the fair, Corbett ducked a question on whether he’ll support a fee, now that his panel has endorsed the idea. “We’re taking a look at how they measure the impact. How much the impact fee would be,” he said. Corbett also sidestepped a query on whether or not he supports Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Alan Walker’s recent call for expanded drilling on state forest land. “Right now we’re looking at the whole Marcellus – the report,” he said. “That’s not part of the report.” (Two recommendations did address drilling in forests, though neither explicitly called for expanded leasing. One urged environmental caution, if additional forest land is auctioned off for drilling. The second recommendation prodded lawmakers to reexamine where to spend money in Pennsylvania’s burgeoning Oil and Gas Lease Fund.)
The governor was direct on one issue: whether the commission’s recommendation to reassess pooling laws had swayed his opposition to the proposal to, under certain circumstances, allow drillers to extract gas from underneath the property of unwilling landowners. Would Corbett support a pooling bill? “No,” he said.
So what happens next? In July, Corbett Administration staffers suggested the governor would hold a formal press conference in August or September, spelling out his next steps on gas policy. Corbett disputed the plan Monday night. “I don’t know that we need to do a full press conference. …When we start introducing pieces [new regulations or bill proposals] you’ll be able to figure it out,” he said. “Some of it we might be able to announce that we’re going to do this through regulation, or just through policy.” On whether or not Corbett expects the General Assembly to send him an impact fee by year’s end, Corbett said, “I think that you’ll see something – some legislation about Marcellus – in the fall.”