A Marcellus legacy
I write in support of your editorial view expressed on Tuesday regarding the proposal being crafted in West Virginia to set aside a portion of the income from that state’s severance fee on the gas industry for future generations.
I support it because two years ago, I made a similar proposal during the debate over a severance fee in Pennsylvania. Although the severance fee was dismissed in favor of a less costly impact fee, the logic remains the same. Permit me to restate the argument I advanced previously.
Pennsylvania’s rich history is replete with stories of industries that have prospered here and then left us with the unsightly scars and environmental handicaps which are the byproduct of their work. In the early 1900s our forest land was exploited by the lumber industry and when the harvest was complete, the woodlands had been ravaged and the reclamation was left to the government and private individuals and foundations. The gob piles, abandoned strip mines, and acid mine drainage are the aftermath of the coal industry, and steel gave us water and air degradation and numerous abandoned vacant buildings.
To allow another industry to visit its deleterious impacts on the commonwealth without the foresight to demand that funds be set aside to pay for the immediate problems they cause and provide for reclamation would be short-sighted and unconscionable.
It seems that there are two distinct facets to such a fee. The first is to pay for the damage to roads, bridges and other immediate costs related to the extraction activities. It appears that the impact fees are accomplishing this task. The second, and I would argue, more important aspect, is a legacy fund that would be set aside in recognition of the fact that the industry is depleting a non-renewable asset. We have all heard by now the sage observation of an American Indian philosopher who admonished us to be aware of the fact that we have not inherited the earth from our parents, but, rather, we have borrowed it from our children and grandchildren. To mine a once-and-gone asset with no consideration of the fact that we are, in essence, depriving future generations of the opportunity to use that asset would be like the parent who has dinner before the kids get home from school so that they don’t have to share any of the food. Obviously, we would not consciously do that to our children.
It is my belief that it is the moral and legislative responsibility of the Pennsylvania Legislature to establish a legacy fund that would address the needs and aspirations of future generations. These uses might be in the environmental, health, education, natural resources, or historic preservation arenas, but they should all have a demonstrable impact on future generations. Once such a fund is established, a board of governors could be selected to determine appropriate uses for the funds and a mechanism whereby requests for funding would be vetted and whereby the fund could remain solvent in perpetuity.
On a local level, county and municipal officials have a comparable responsibility to create a legacy fund.
Editor’s note: Burns is a former Washington County commissioner.