MSC in the Philadelphia Inquirer: Don’t Derail Natural Gas Boom

As Memorial Day kicks off the “summer driving season,” families across the region and the nation will be hitting the road. This year, thankfully, consumers are paying less at the pump while realizing significant energy-related savings – from home heating to electricity bills – due to responsible shale development. And in today’s economy, every bit of savings counts.

Consider this: Pennsylvania is now producing enough natural gas to meet more than 20 percent of America’s total demand. Operators in the commonwealth are safely producing record amounts of clean-burning natural gas right here at home, creating meaningful cost-savings for consumers, families, retirees, small businesses, manufacturers, schools, hospitals, and local governments. In fact, according to a recent Brookings Institution study, more affordable and stable natural-gas costs tied to domestic shale production have “improved the economic well-being of consumers by $74 billion per year.”

While nearly a quarter of a million Pennsylvania jobs are supported by or tied to natural gas, Greater Philadelphia – with its talented workforce, coastal access, and infrastructure – has a unique opportunity to capitalize on abundant energy supplies, particularly in relation to manufacturing and chemical production, both of which are an integral part of the region’s economy. These benefits are already taking hold at Marcus Hook, for example, where well-paying union jobs – which were once in jeopardy – have been saved.

Not only is shale development improving family budgets as well as our entire economy, but this energy revolution – led by Pennsylvania – is boosting the nation’s energy security and improving its environment. As the Associated Press reported, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have “fallen dramatically” to the “lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is . . . cheap and plentiful natural gas.” Likewise, a White House report released earlier this year highlights the fact that “natural gas is already playing a central role in the transition to a clean-energy future.” That same report also notes that “lower natural-gas prices around the world have a positive geopolitical impact for the United States.”

Unfortunately, some want Harrisburg to put additional energy taxes on the backs of the commonwealth’s energy consumers, manufacturers, small businesses, and producers. They conveniently overlook the fact that shale development has generated more than $2.3 billion in various state and local taxes. And Pennsylvania’s unique impact fee – which overwhelmingly benefits local communities in every county as well as important environmental programs – has generated $850 million in revenues over the past several years. In addition, nearly $1 billion in lease payments and royalties have been generated for Pennsylvania from shale development on taxpayer-owned land.

Given how critical these revenue streams are for the commonwealth, it’s no wonder local leaders are speaking out against proposals that would take these tax dollars, which are currently dedicated to communities, and redirect them to Harrisburg to redistribute.

Local union leaders agree that an additional tax is misguided. “Shale became a lifesaver and a lifeline for so many of our working families,” said Laborers’ International Union of North America executive Dennis Martire, who has cautioned leaders in Harrisburg that higher energy taxes “risk hurting employers, workers, and communities across this state.”

Further, as The Inquirer, Associated Press, and other news outlets have reported, revenue-related promises from advocates of higher energy taxes have proven to be wildly overstated and simply unsupported by the facts and market realities.

What’s worse, these proposed energy-tax increases, according to an Independent Fiscal Office analysis, would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher electricity and heating bills.

“Natural gas is creating jobs and lowering families’ heat and power bills,” President Obama has said, noting that it also “has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”

Pennsylvania’s leaders must focus on commonsense policies that aim to expand the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas, rather than adding higher energy taxes that threaten jobs and the region’s manufacturing potential – and of course the important energy savings that are helping families enjoy and make possible a summer getaway.

David Spigelmyer is president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

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