This is the first in a series of interviews with the gubernatorial candidates on issues related to shale gas development in Pennsylvania.
Meet the candidate in a brief video, and read a more detailed transcript of our interview below. Both the video and transcript have been edited, separately, for length and clarity. The primary is on May 20th.
Name: Rob McCord
Party affiliation: Democrat
Residence: Bryn Mawr, Montgomery County
Occupation: State Treasurer, elected in 2008
Campaign website: www.robmccord.com
Q: Do you support a severance tax or the current impact fee on natural gas extraction?
A: The courts have told Tom Corbett what I think most of the public already knows and that’s that the local impact fee is bad law. I think it ought to be replaced with a drillers’ tax. Some call it an extraction tax. I realize sometimes people get a glassy look and it’s like, “You don’t know what we’re talking about when we say this, right?” So it’s a drillers’ tax and it would be imposed on those are drilling a natural resource that cannot be drilled from outside the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a core point here when we’re talking about job creation. We would hold harmless, by the way, the local communities that have enjoyed revenues for real impacts, real costs on these local communities and counties and infrastructure projects and so forth, but we’d have dramatically increased revenue from $200 million to $1.63 billion under the McCord proposal for a drillers’ tax, a 10 percent fee and the lion’s share of that would be earmarked for investing in education, education, education, but we would also have enhanced revenue for environmental protection.
Q: Is a 10 percent tax politically feasible?
A: My experience in the business world and as an elected leader allows me to have some sensitivity, for example, to the notion [that] if these legislators are going to vote for a drillers’ tax, they don’t want to have to go back and vote for an increase to it, so a big, bold number that gives them a reliable, predictable revenue stream for what? For investing in education, which there’s a growing, bi-partisan mandate to do. It looks different in cities than in does in rural areas and suburban areas, but we can build the consensus because people need a revenue stream that can be created that will be reliable that doesn’t hurt job creation and doesn’t hurt Sally Q. Taxpayer out there.
Q: How is the state doing with environmental oversight of the gas industry?
A: The fact is there is a debate in the democratic party. There are people nicknamed “fracktivists” who say “stop it now, ban it now.” I am with the caucus of people who say that there is a moderate, innovative, reasonable way to pursue this, but we have to engage in appropriate environmental protection and we have to measure and engage in the quest for evidence. So what does that mean? That means, first of all, we need to understand when we’re explaining to people sort of to my left on the issue that we’re hoping to get people to substitute a way from worse sources of energy. So when you’re talking about global climate change and the very compelling recent report about the ongoing tragedy there, to say, “Look, we’re getting people to substitute away from coal” makes sense, but guess what else we need to do – we need to address fugitive gas emissions, we need to be thinking about alternative fueled vehicles, but public-private investment and research that would drive down the methane emissions.
Q: Do you support any changes to any of the current moratoriums? Note: There is currently a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in state parks and forests and on hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River Basin.
A: I do not. I recognize the real fragility of these environmental situations and I think there’s more than enough land available for fracking.
Q: How would you ensure Pennsylvanians benefit from oil and gas jobs?
A: We would embrace innovative approaches to worker training programs the first two years out of high school for example, they don’t have to always be four-year degrees, and we would invest in both state-related schools, Penn State, Temple, Lincoln and state schools.
Q: Could the state be doing more to protect the interests of royalty owners?
A: First of all, I would enforce the laws and regulations. In some of these cases, it sounds like companies knowingly violated prohibitions in their contracts so they can say, “Oh, look at the contract, it’s right here.” It’s like yes, but the law said you couldn’t put that into the contract.
Also, obviously by having a generalized drillers’ tax, communities in general profit. It’s not just sort of the one at a time, you’re lucky, you got hit by the laser profit and you, on the other hand, have all the hassle of all the traffic and no real gain in your community.
Q: What are your views on man-made climate change?
A: I’m deeply concerned and I think we’ve had an appropriate debate, but the debate has now been addressed. The people who like to create clouds of doubt are fully funded by those who have a for-profit interest in creating the doubt.
The thing that it saddens me is whereas I’m certain I can build a consensus to get a drillers’ tax and I’m certain I can earmark some of the increase in revenue in environmental protection and yes, in innovation in technology development that will help somewhat to remediate the emissions that can lead to global climate change, I am far from certain that Pennsylvania or the United States of America as a whole will finish fully doing the right thing and I do think this is one of the saddest chapters in human history that we’re writing.
What happens is you don’t have the incentives to do the right thing in foreign countries and you have places like Fox Broadcasting say, “Well most of the problem is being caused abroad, so let’s do nothing” and it becomes a kind of a race to the bottom. It’s certainly one where I sign up to be a teammate, but I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver as to what a McCord administration will do.
Q: Describe your long-term vision for Pennsylvania’s energy economy.
A: Well, first of all, that the use of natural gas generates long-term resources substantially to improve the quality of environmental protection and the use of innovative technologies that protect the environment and protect people who live near the places where natural gas is being drilled and fracked.
Second, where you’re generating resources to invest in something that is of steep value to all Pennsylvanians so that we stop ripping off the people of Pennsylvania and instead reward them and include what a business person would call an escrow account for unintended consequences because we’ve seen this movie before where a natural resource is extracted and whether it’s 5,000 miles of streams that run pink or flooding after deforestation and so forth. We probably don’t know all of the consequences. We might say it’s safer than coal, it’s worth doing on balance. That’s different from saying we have perfect, 20/20 vision for everything, so we need an escrow account.
The other thing I would say is I hope that we can embrace a fundamental shift in the way we think about consumption. Instead of thinking as my generation was raised to – I just want the biggest, fastest cars, I want the biggest houses, I want McMansions, I want to live in the exurbs – instead celebrate much more work-live-play environments, less reliance on consumption in a way that creates carbon emissions, more celebration of lifestyles that are more considerate of future generations. To the extent that we can celebrate green economic development I think we’re culturally, as well as economically doing the right thing for Pennsylvania.