Wagner takes aim at severance tax during energy industry support rally
State Sen. Scott Wagner thinks Pennsylvania's drillers are about ready to get the shaft.
That's how the York County Republican and likely gubernatorial aspirant feels about a proposed severance tax on natural-gas drilling in Pennsylvania, which cleared the House Finance Committee Wednesday by a 16-9 vote.
Wagner had strong words for lawmakers backing the move — including some fellow Republicans — when he spoke Thursday afternoon at a pro-energy industry rally in Dauphin County.
"They are about ready to shaft the industry," Wagner told an audience of several hundred business leaders and construction workers gathered beneath a massive American flag outside Cleveland Brothers Equipment Co. in Swatara Township.
Wagner urged his listeners to "start calling up" their Republican state lawmakers to express opposition to the tax.
"We are going to fight for this industry," he said.
The event was organized by Energy Builders, a coalition with industry links that bills itself as "representing the entire natural gas and oil production and infrastructure supply chain."
Cabot Oil & Gas spokesman George Stark acted as emcee for the event, whose speakers also included state Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster County), state Rep. Steve Bloom (R-Cumberland County), U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne County) and officials with Cleveland Bros., which supplies heavy equipment and services to the gas industry.
Bloom also took aim at supporters of the severance tax, arguing that it would destroy "good, family-sustaining" jobs created by the gas industry.
"I fought them yesterday in the Capitol," he said. "We've been winning, but they're getting closer and the stakes are high," Bloom said.
Wagner: 'Don't Expect Permits'
Wagner's concerns were not merely with fellow Republicans, however.
He referred to the state Department of Environmental Protection as "Don't Expect Permits," and predicted that if Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is re-elected next year, "he is going to ban fracking in Pennsylvania, just like they did in New York."
Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott called that "nonsense," saying Gov. Wolf does not and never has had any plan to ban fracking.
As for DEP, two major pipelines now under construction in the state — an apparent reference to the Atlantic Sunrise and Mariner East 2 lines — were granted permits by DEP during Wolf's tenure, he noted.
"In general, DEP has worked extremely hard to improve the permitting process under this administration," Abbott said.
Many at the rally expressed frustration with the permitting processes at the state and federal levels.
Barletta said "we have to back off some of these energy regulations" to make the construction of energy infrastructure easier to accomplish in Pennsylvania.
"We have a president in the White House who understands infrastructure," Barletta said, adding that he supports President Donald Trump's desire to streamline the permitting process for infrastructure projects nationwide.
Barletta, from the state's Northeastern coal region, said he would like to see Pennsylvania tap deeper into its anthracite coal resources, saying that key minerals found in the fuel can be used in manufacturing, but are now supplied mostly by China.
"We can extract (those minerals) and become a leader," he said.