This is the fifth 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: Tom Corbett
Party affiliation: Republican
Residence: Shaler, Allegheny County
Occupation: Governor of Pennsylvania, elected in 2010
Campaign website: www.tomcorbettforgovernor.com
Q: Your democratic opponents all support a severance tax on natural gas drilling. Why do you support the current impact fee?
A: The purpose of the impact fee was to obtain revenue for the areas that have been impacted on a daily basis by the drilling that is going on up there and as you know, to date we have gotten over $630 million in three years from that impact fee that is paid by the companies. [Those] funds come to the PUC to be distributed back out to the communities. Sixty-three percent goes to the counties and all counties get something out of this, but the 40 counties that have the impact of the drilling going on, which is to their roads and to their communities, get the majority of that. But even counties like Philadelphia receive funds from this even though there’s no drilling going on down there. And one of the reasons it went to the PUC is if it goes into the general fund, it could be spent anywhere and clearly those communities do have an impact from the drilling activity, a very positive impact, but also there’s some usage on the roads and there’s some infrastructure impacts that had to be dealt with. The communities are supportive of this and it was a fair way of treating the development of this industry with those areas that are being covered.
But I do want to remind everybody that all of these companies, like any other company and any other individuals, pay taxes to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It’s over $2 billion in taxes that have been paid to the Commonwealth by these companies and by the individuals working in these companies in a combination of corporate and net income tax, sales and use tax, corporate stock and franchise tax, personal income tax, so it’s not like these companies are not paying in, they are paying in.
Q: But your opponents argue the state is getting shortchanged by not taxing the production of natural gas, as opposed to the impact fee which is charged for every well drilled.
A: What my opponents are saying is they want more money to spend. They’re not looking at the growth of the industry, which as the industry grows, our economy becomes stronger. What they are doing is saying, “We want the money now, we don’t want to wait and see the industry grow.”
I do note that they always say it’s our gas and I have to take objection to that. It’s only our gas in the lands [where] the mineral rights are owned by the state. It’s the landowner who has the mineral rights. It’s their gas. So what I see is my opponents, and listen to their commercials, they want to spend more and more and more money, so they have to find revenue to do that, rather than bringing in some fiscal discipline. That would be going back to the past. I think it’s important that we help this industry as a whole, help the communities as a whole, help the state as a whole, help the taxpayers as a whole grow an industry that is really going to be a tremendous support to the entire economy of Pennsylvania 10 years from now.
Q: How is the state doing with environmental oversight of the gas industry?
A: Still, we’re very early on into it, but as you know, Act 13 was very important because it addressed three things. To my knowledge, we’re the first state that has done it this way and we have other nations coming to look at what we did here in Pennsylvania. We dealt with the environment, we dealt with the impact and we dealt with the zoning issues. When it comes to environment, we have the most stringent laws when it comes to drilling. It was the first major improvement to the environmental law since I think 1984. It improved the setbacks, it improved air quality. When we first started doing this, we went up to 10,000 inspections. We’re now up to 12,000 inspections on these wells. Some of the drilling has slowed with the value going down until we develop a greater market for the natural gas around the country and probably around the world. So as that drilling goes down we’re going to see a little less inspections in that regard, but at the same time our [Department of Environmental Protection] inspectors are doing a great job going out there. We increased the fines for the first time in a very long time, so this is a very measured approach.
Q: Following an explosion on a Chevron natural gas well site in February, the DEP says their trained emergency personnel were denied access to the site for nearly two days until Secretary Chris Abruzzo arrived.
A: He was sent by me to go down there.
Q: Is this something that needs to be improved?
A: Absolutely, but everything we do, we learn from mistakes. Obviously, that was a mistake there. We had a fire, we had a death. We will learn from that, but particularly with the fact that they gave pushback on us. We’re having conversations with the industry. You cannot give pushback to the DEP. We come, we’re going to be there or you’re not going to be working here in Pennsylvania.
Q: Why do you support any changes to 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: As you know, Governor Rendell had a moratorium on going in and leasing more land [in state parks and forests]. We have said there is gas under the state forests that we can get to without coming onto the state forests. In many instances, the natural gas company is drilling right next door to the state forest and while they’re there they can run a drill 6,000 feet below the surface and go over into a certain area and tap the natural gas from that and we would get the royalties. That money would go to the general fund. So we said we should go and get that without disturbing the forest itself because once the gas company has completed its drilling at that site, they’re not going to come back and that would be stranding a resource that we would have been able to get.
We’re going to do another executive order soon, but that will reinforce we’re not going to do surface impact drilling on our state forests and lands.
Q: And what about the moratorium in the Delaware River watershed? Can you give us an update on where the negotiations stand at the Delaware River Basin Commission?
A: As you know, one of the states clearly is opposed – New York – because of New York City primarily. We’ve been working with New Jersey, we’ve been working with Delaware in order to be able do that [write regulations for drilling] because we believe we can do it there safely. We’ve been doing it safely everywhere else along the other different watersheds and we ought to be able to do it there. And the unfortunate part for Pennsylvanians who had leases with the companies up there, those leases have run out and they have not had the benefit of receiving the royalties, nor has Pennsylvania received income from that with having people working up there, with seeing taxes on the royalties of the individuals.
Q: How do you ensure Pennsylvanians benefit from oil and gas jobs?
A: Pennsylvanians are clearly benefitting. We’ve been talking with the Marcellus industry and you can talk to workforce investment boards. You can talk to the labor unions. The trades unions are working with these individuals to get the training. Now, initially when this industry came to Pennsylvania, there was a lot of skill that we had no knowledge of here. They originally brought in people who had experience on rigs in other locations to do this here, but at the same time, we’ve started the training to get [our] people there and it is growing.
Q: Could the state be doing more to protect the interests of royalty owners?
A: Well, what you’re bringing up is basically what is happening with the company called Chesapeake. As you know, I have written and called them. I support Senator [Gene] Yaw’s movement and legislation. I think it is more indicative of more of one company than it is all the companies. In fact, the complaints that I have received are if not 100 percent, 99 percent about that one company and I think you need to deal with that one company. For those individuals who have not been getting the royalties the way they think they should, I think they may be and I recommended that they call the Attorney General’s office because the Consumer Protections office is there and I’m sure the Attorney General’s office will follow up.
Q: What are your views on man-made climate change?
A: I think everybody is taking a look at this. I think some people believe that it is clearly evident and it’s coming very, very quickly. I think there are others who are equally qualified that disagree with that. It’s a subject of debate. I do know that what we’re doing in natural gas — and I’m going to keep this to the natural gas side at the moment because we’re heavily involved in that — is helping. As you know, carbon dioxide is down, nitrogen oxide is down and many of the pollutants are down at that regard, so I think we’re doing our best to clean up the environment.
I have to tell you, when you drive around this state, you see it is. We’ve been at environment since 1972, it’s really been an issue in this country. Where I live in Pittsburgh, we didn’t see a lot of things in the way of wildlife that we see today because we’ve cleaned up the environment and it’s a good thing to do.
I also understand that we are only a portion of the issue here in the United States compared to the entire world and we have to get the entire world on with us. We have to get China, we have to get India on with us. We cannot solve the problem alone here in the United States.
Q: Describe your long-term vision for Pennsylvania’s energy economy.
A: Let’s look at the present. Energy has clearly become an important part of our economy and it will grow and my goal is to see that grow because it makes us competitive with the rest of the country and the rest of the world in lowering the cost of energy for housing, for heat, for bringing manufacturing to Pennsylvania and developing manufacturing. So the goal is to grow this energy economy in a responsible way, and I believe we are, but in a way that is going to put more and more people in Pennsylvania to work, that will bring in more revenue for Pennsylvanians to have personally and will bring in revenue for the state in order to meet some of our obligations.