PennLive Relies on Sloppy Report, Omits Context to Advance Biased Narrative

A recent PennLive editorial regrettably missed the mark by relying on a sloppy report as support for a half-baked argument.

The report in question, “PA’s Marcellus Money,” was thrown together by SEIU, Sierra Club and other energy tax advocates under the banner of The Conservation Voters of PA, and it contained numerous serious and glaring errors that a quick data review easily revealed.

While the report claims to tally natural gas industry political contributions, it included amounts from wind, solar, nuclear, and coal companies. The long list of non-industry donors even includes a Pittsburgh-area Coca-Cola distributor. 

Last time we checked, Coca-Cola isn’t in the business of producing clean, abundant American energy. Neither are a federal credit union, the Humane Society of the United States, or a Pro-Life Women’s Group from Washington, D.C., all of which were recorded as “Marcellus” contributors.

What’s more, many contributions were double counted. With these basic, categorical errors, the report overstates the industry’s contributions by millions of dollars.

And yet PennLive just accepted the report as factual.

There’s no excuse for such blatant disregard for proper due diligence. It’s clear that PennLive did not exercise even a cursory attempt to validate the claims being put forth before blindly reporting their findings.

Or, perhaps they did and still chose to pursue the story. An injustice has been done in either case – lazy reporting or choosing to further a biased narrative at the expense of facts.

If they did care about well-rounded, responsible reporting – this is what they might have come up with.

Pa. Natural Gas Impact Fee

The underlying point of this editorial – and the anti-natural gas activists who compiled the sloppy report – is passage of a massive energy tax increase that will cost jobs and burden Pennsylvania families. Yet, what higher tax activists so-often ignore is Pennsylvania’s current natural gas tax – the impact fee. While critics often claim that the industry does not pay its “fair share”, a quick look at the books proves otherwise.

The impact fee has generated nearly $1.5 billion in new revenue – and that’s on top of all the other business taxes and fees assessed in the commonwealth. Most of that revenue bypasses the black hole of Harrisburg’s General Fund – instead going directly to local governments for community-enhancing, critical public projects. One township supervisor has gone so far as to call it “a godsend”.

Campaign Contributions of Tax Activists

While the PennLive editorial pushes for campaign finance reform, it fails to focus on the groups contributing the most dollars to elected officials.  

Contributions from public sector unions, for example, have totaled more than $53 million since 2010, according to data from the Commonwealth Foundation.

To be fair, that’s briefly acknowledged in the editorial. To quote:

“Critics most often point the finger of blame at public sector unions, who also wield outsized influence. That’s an interesting take. But it doesn’t change the fact that the industry is spending massive amounts of money to make its voice heard in Harrisburg.”

“That’s an interesting take”? In acknowledging the argument and dismissing it in the same breath, it’s clear that the paper rather focus its energy on advancing a narrow perspective based on a mere fraction of the campaign contributions and lobbying activity occurring in Harrisburg.

Let’s look at the statistics: In the 2016 election, government unions outspent the natural gas industry by $15 million. Just this month, Pa. government unions officially donated more than $10 million to Gov. Tom Wolf, according to the Commonwealth Foundation. When it’s all said and done, since 2007, public sector unions have spent $122.7 million on politics.

And let’s not forget that their calls for constant tax hikes threaten Pennsylvania’s competitiveness and puts thousands of good-paying energy jobs at sake.

The natural gas industry has always been – and will continue to be – transparent in our education and advocacy efforts. With hundreds of thousands of family-sustaining jobs at stake, along with a generational opportunity to revitalize manufacturing and stimulate enormous economic growth, it’s critical that policymakers act on fact-based, accurate information. Increasing the Commonwealth’s competitiveness and moving Pennsylvania forward depend on it.

Given what’s on the line, it’s disappointing that PennLive would blindly push a one-sided narrative and shirk its responsibility to deliver factual, substantive news to their readership.