Republican Governor Tom Corbett and his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf shared a podium Wednesday night. The event, hosted by an environmental group at the Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia, was their first joint appearance on the campaign trail.
Both candidates were careful to keep their distance, even during a photo op orchestrated by their hosts, the nonprofit Pennsylvania Environmental Council. After an award ceremony for State Senator Edwin Erickson (R-Delaware) came the speeches and the campaign jabs.
Republican Governor Tom Corbett spoke first, recalling his days as a Boy Scout in the 1960s before the environmental movement began.
“I want you to think about how much the environment has changed in that amount of time,” he said.
Corbett praised his administration for how it has handled the Marcellus Shale boom by striking the right balance between economic development and environmental conservation.
“We need to be able to provide jobs, we need manufacturing, but we also need to be able to rely on the environment,” he said. “We need to be able to rely on our regulators.”
With the governor and members of his cabinet sitting just feet away, Democrat Tom Wolf vowed to hire what he called “qualified individuals” to run the state’s environmental agencies.
“These leaders will be people who care about science and will use facts, not politics or ideology to guide policy development,” Wolf said.
That seemed to be a reference to Corbett’s Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Christopher Abruzzo who was criticized for his views on man-made climate change during his confirmation hearing in December.Wolf also made the case for a “responsible” severance tax on natural gas production, which Corbett continues to stand against, even as some members of the Republican Party are warming to the idea in order to plug a more than $1 billion hole in Pennsylvania’s budget.
“Before I took office, most of the debate around Marcellus was about the ways that we could turn it into revenue right away for government to spend,” Corbett said. “Sure, everybody ought to pay their fair share and they do.”
Corbett credited his administration with figuring out how to get the natural gas industry to give back to the communities that host the drilling in the form of the impact fee, which has generated $630 million over the last three years.
Wolf said a severance tax would not only pay for education, but also for investments in environmental protection and renewable energy.
“One day, the carbon-based energy system we rely on right now will be a thing of the past,” he said. “What’s next and how we get there, those are questions we need to start answering today.”