Disco Governor Wants Money, Money, Money

Money, money, money/Always sunny/In a rich man’s world.

Sung by ABBA in 1976. A governing mantra of Tom Wolf in 2018.

More tax dollars seem to be Gov. Wolf's answer to every problem in the commonwealth. A recent example is the governor’s budget proposal to hire 35 new regulators at a cost of $2.5 million to tackle a backlog of requests for natural gas well permits.

This comes after the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) succeeded in reducing backlogs through various procedural reforms like expanding the e-permitting system, rotating permits to regions with capacity, more clarity on how to complete applications, and targeted hiring.

Since this summer, the backlog of Erosion and Sediment Control General Permits (ESCGP), a key permit for drilling, has been cut in half and the department has reduced the overall permit backlog by more than 6,000 permits.

Despite this success, the administration insists it needs more revenue. The Governor has proposed a 150 percent permit fee increase—from $5,000 to $12,500.

In other words, drillers must pay more in order for DEP to follow the law.

Last June, Carl Carlson, director of government affairs for Range Resources – Appalachia, LLC, and a member of the board of directors, Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association pointed out DEP is facing a systems problem, not a personnel shortage:

History has shown that as the Bureau of Oil and Gas has grown in size, permit times have lengthened. Other states with far more drilling activity than Pennsylvania manage permitting activities with far fewer agency personnel. Rather than focus on the need for more people, the Department should focus on a more streamlined process and better use of technology to improve productivity.

Coincidentally, the House State Government Committee recently highlighted a slate of bills designed to assist in streamlining Pennsylvania's regulatory burden.

In addition to regulatory reform, lawmakers could revisit Act 13 and its allocation of impact fee revenues. After an initial $25.5 million for state agencies, 60 percent of impact fee revenues go to county and municipal governments. The funds are supposed to address the impact of drilling, but there are few guardrails in place. A recent audit found local governments spending impact fee revenue on SUVS, Christmas parties and local government office buildings.

Natural gas consumers, who ultimately pay bills imposed on drillers by government, would no doubt prefer reform over the governor’s approach. Which brings us to the opening lines of the song:

I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay

Ain’t it sad

And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me

That’s too bad

Lyrics from 1976. Today, a way of life for many Pennsylvanians burdened by government.