New drilling tax may be answer to funding Pa. conservation districts

HARRISBURG, Pa. —The Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts is hoping the General Assembly sees what they see and institutes a severance tax to support them.

Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts members held a Capitol Day legislative event March 17. One of the top issues to be discussed was the need for consistent funding for the state’s 66 conservation districts.

Association members are pushing a severance tax idea copied from several other states.

Oklahoma has a gross production tax on oil, a small portion of which is earmarked for natural resource protection. Wyoming has a severance tax that subsidizes their state’s general fund, thus indirectly partially funding conservation district activities.

Tax implementation

The Pa. severance tax would be implemented on the companies extracting natural gas and oil.

The suggested tax would be 5 percent of what comes out of the ground or would be equal to 4.7 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas.

Under the suggested plan, the conservation district would receive 3 percent of the income generated. It would mean $5 million in the first fiscal year.

Funds generated

By 2014, the tax would generate an estimated $14.3 million for the conservation fund. It would be the only funding necessary to fund the conservation districts that year.

The state association estimates it would take $10 million a year to fund all of the district programs. Any remaining income would go into the state general fund.

Brenda Shambaugh, communications director for the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, said two things are needed for the tax to become a reality. The first is legislation; the second is the specific request within the legislation to define where the money generated from the tax would go and that 3 percent of the money would go to fund conservation districts.

Shambaugh said the reason why conservation districts feel the tax needs implemented is because of the Marcellus shale boom and other drilling happening in Pa.

Proactive vs. reactive

According to the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, mineral extraction will cause land disturbance, and conservation districts will be on the frontline working with landowners to minimize any negative effects from drilling.

By providing funding to conservation districts, the Pa. General Assembly will lessen environmental threats connected with mineral extraction, Shambaugh said.

According to the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation District, since there is a direct link between the removal of natural resources and natural resource protection activities, it makes sense to consider allocating a portion of a severance tax for these operations.

Projects and services

Many of the projects, the Pa. Association of Conservation District member districts work on include agricultural best management practices, streambank restoration, clean water restoration, abandoned mine drainage treatment, abandoned mine reclamation, dirt and gravel road improvements.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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