The tentative budget agreement counts on raising 60 million dollars by leasing out Pennsylvania forest land for natural gas drilling.
Governor Ed Rendell says that can be accomplished with 80,000 acres or less—but environmental advocates are skeptical.
Some House Democrats and environmentalists said last week that they were worried the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources would have to lease up to 200,000 acres of state forests to raise the needed funds, but Governor Rendell says the actual amount of land would be far below that.
Rendell says the commonwealth will use seismic imaging to identify especially lucrative plots of land.
"When we do that we believe we’ll actually be able to lease less acres. But the value of the acres, because of the seismic imaging, will go up. Because the companies will know that there’s a much greater certainty of a return."
That promise isn’t soothing the fears of David Masur, the director of advocacy group PennEnvironment. He says no matter how much land is involved, it’s wrong to force the DCNR to lease off land for activity he calls “potentially destructive” to Pennsylvania’s state forests.
"We would not say, the commonwealth needs to raise an extra hundred million dollars from selling liquor and beer, so the Liquor Control Board better start hitting the pavement and making sure people buy more whiskey and vodka. That’s not how we would do this."
Legislative leaders say DCNR officials would be the ones making final decisions on the leasing, though.