Wolf’s environmental chief questioned on gas tax, new drilling rules

  • Marie Cusick
Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley took questions from lawmakers at a House budget hearing Wednesday.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley took questions from lawmakers at a House budget hearing Wednesday.

Governor Wolf’s pick to head the state Department of Environmental Protection spent much of Wednesday afternoon defending the new administration’s proposed gas drilling policies at a state House budget hearing in Harrisburg.

John Maher (R- Allegheny) began by questioning acting DEP Secretary John Quigley about why the administration quickly disbanded the agency’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB).

Shortly after dismissing the board, the agency issued new, more stringent draft regulations for the oil and gas industry. A newly formed TAB is scheduled to meet next week to review the changes for Marcellus drillers. Maher asked Quigley who the TAB members are and questioned whether they’d have enough time to review the rules.

Quigley said he wasn’t sure who the new members are.

“You’ve talked many times about integrity and transparency,” said Maher, who was recently appointed chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy committee. “What I’ve seen in this case doesn’t exhibit either.”

Quigley later told reporters the advisory board was changed because a new law requires DEP to split its rule-making process for the conventional and unconventional drilling industries. He says the old TAB primarily represented the conventional industry.

The department will now have boards for both types of drilling.

“We needed some new blood on the advisory board,” Quigley said. “I forgot the names of the people who were appointed. I don’t do clerical work. The board is appointed by the governor.”

Shortly after the budget hearing, the DEP sent out a press release announcing the new TAB membership.

Wolf also hopes to raise over a billion dollars annually by enacting a new severance tax on the gas industry. Part of that revenue would go to DEP to increase environmental enforcement. Some Republican legislators took issue with tax.

“I have a big problem with taking the industry that is growing jobs, bringing in revenue– taxing them, and pushing them out of the state,” said Jim Christiana (R- Beaver). “I just think it’s bad economic policy.”

Quigley defended Wolf’s proposal and said Pennsylvania’s gas impact fee translates into one of the lowest effective tax rates in the nation.

“This tax is not driving anybody anywhere,” he told lawmakers. “The industry will not leave the most productive resource on earth, because where would they go? To another state that already has a severance tax.”

Wolf is proposing $147 million for the DEP from the state’s General Fund– a five percent increase over the current year.