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Corbett Backs Fees For Natural Gas Drilling In Pa.

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(Credit: KDKA)

(Credit: KDKA)

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Gov. Tom Corbett says he’s adopting some major recommendations of his Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Commission.

If the legislature approves, it will include a new impact fee on shale drilling. That raises questions about whether Corbett has violated a campaign pledge not to increase taxes or fees.

Touting jobs, Corbett toured the Carpenters Training Center in Collier on Monday where job-seekers are learning skills to work in the natural gas drilling industry.

“Energy equals jobs. Energy equals jobs, and we sit on top of energy,” the governor told a gathering of building trade union officials and workers.

It was backdrop to his long-awaited announcement that the governor now supports an impact fee on Marcellus shale drilling.

“The fee will be used by local governments, the counties, and state agencies that must respond to issues surrounding Marcellus Shale gas drilling.”

Under Corbett’s plan, which must be approved by the General Assembly, each well pays up to $40,000 first year, decreasing in later years of the well’s use. The total impact fee over 10 years could be up to $160,000 per well.

“Estimates show the fee will bring in about $120 million in the first and $200 million within six years,” Corbett says.

Corbett is asking the legislature to approve a 75 – 25 split, with most of the money going to the county and municipalities where the drilling pads are located.

Of the tax money retained locally, 37 percent will be kept by those municipalities, 36 percent will be retained by the county in which the drilling takes place, and 27 percent is distributed to all communities, based on population and highway miles, within the drilling impacted county.

Corbett said he also wants to strengthen some environmental standards — like increasing the setback requirements — or the distance between wells and drinking water and other bodies of water.

As for jobs, Corbett said he would use persuasion — not regulations — to encourage gas companies to hire more Pennsylvanians, not Texans.

“I’m sure we’ll be able to convince them — use the talent pool that is already here.”

But in embracing an impact fee, is Corbett violating a campaign pledge featured prominently in TV ads last year and repeated just days before his election?

“I intend not to raise taxes. I intend not to raise fees because we’re going to cut them so we can grow the jobs in Pennsylvania,” candidate Corbett told a gathering on the South Side last Oct. 4, 2010.

That promise was part of a pledge candidate Corbett made in writing and discussed with KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano on March 8, 2010.

Delano: “Can you be precise as to what you mean?”

Corbett: “Well, the pledge as it’s written, and I don’t have it written here, is no tax increases during the course of the next term. That’s exactly what it says. That’s what we are going to aim for. No tax increases, whatsoever.”

Delano: “And that would include fees?”

Corbett: “Those are state, those are state…”

Delano: “…fees on use of services, and things like that?”

Corbett: “That’s right.”

Delano: “Everything?”

Corbett: “That’s right.”

But responding to Jon Delano’s questions today, Corbett as governor says there’s a difference.

The impact fee won’t go into the general state revenue fund, says the governor, but rather “to get resources to the localities, to the municipalities, and a portion – 25 percent — to the state to help, if you think about it, to help make that industry grow.”

In Corbett’s view, this impact fee is something different.

Corbett: “This is a fee to operate, to drill that well, and to operate it.”

Delano: “So as far as you’re concerned, any increases in fees do not amount to any kind of violation of your campaign pledge?”

Corbett: “No.”

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