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Gas industry needs to pay its fair share TOM VENESKY OUTDOORS

The coal industry does it.

PENNDOT does to.

And so should the gas industry.

Charged with protecting fish, amphibians, reptiles and the habit in which they live, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has a pretty large workload. Part of it includes reviewing permits for any encroachments to those habitats, issuing violations and working with agencies to avoid them.

I spoke to PFBC executive director John Arway about that this last week, and he said some of those agencies contribute funding to help the Fish and Boat Commission remain efficient at what they do. PENNDOT, he said, provides funding so the PFBC can dedicate two staff members to review transportation permits.

And the coal industry, according to Arway, provides federal dollars derived from a tax that is allotted to the agency to help with the review of mining permits.

But the gas industry?

“We don’t get a nickel,” Arway said.

Considering that drilling for Marcellus Shale natural gas has created an enormous workload for the PFBC – to the tune of 5,000 permits annually which would cost the agency almost $2 million if it committed staff solely to review the permits, it seems fair that the gas industry should contribute something to help offset the cost.

Considering that PENNDOT and the coal industry do it, it seems obvious that the gas companies should as well.

And, according to Arway, they want to.

“An industry representative supports a share of an impact fee going to Fish and Boat,” Arway said. “They understand that by us getting funding, the permits would be reviewed and flow more quickly.”

But here’s where it gets sticky. Arway said there are a variety of bills that would enact an impact fee on the natural gas industry. Some of the bills include the PFBC as a recipient for some of the money that would be generated, while others leave the agency out of the mix.

Arway is adamant that an impact fee not only needs to be implemented, but his agency needs to be included.

He told Governor Tom Corbett just that during a recent kayak trip down the Susquehanna River.

“The governor’s office seems to be receptive to our needs,” Arway said.

And the needs are many.

Right now, the PFBC is taking staff away from their regular duties to handle gas industry permits and issues. Among those issues are Erosion and Sedimentation violations, which basically result from disturbed areas not being properly stabilized and allowing soil to erode away and enter waterways. By this spring, the number of E & S violations resulting from gas pipeline projects already exceeded the number of violations from all of last year.

With funds from an impact fee, the PFBC would be able to return staff to their normal duties so areas like law enforcement aren’t neglected, and hire more people to take care of the immense workload created by the gas industry.

It would put PFBC staff back where they belong and ensure that the 5,000 permits generated by the gas industry are handled efficiently and, most importantly, our aquatic resources will be better protected.

“The longer we go on without the fee, the greater the risk of an impact,” Arway said. “The industry came to Pennsylvania quickly and we weren’t prepared for it.”

As gas wells dot our landscape at a rapid pace, it’s time to make sure the PFBC is prepared.

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