House Republicans want to boost Pennsylvania’s rapidly growing energy industry by expanding the number of natural gas-powered vehicles on the state’s roads.
They’ve introduced a package of bills providing tax credits, grants and loans to mass transit agencies purchasing buses that run on natural gas. The tax credits total $30 million, including a $5 million effort aimed at increasing the number of natural gas fueling stations. Overall, the “Marcellus Works” plan would cost $47.5 million.
Majority Whip Stan Saylor said the proposal has three goals: “This is about cleaning up our environment, spurring an industry, and the creation of jobs.” How’s “Marcellus Works” different from the various incentives, grants and mandates Saylor and other Republicans decried as “state government picking winners and losers” throughout the Rendell Administration? “This is only a short program to get [the natural gas market] started,” Saylor said. “After that, it’s going to be on its own.”
The bills would clean up the environment by speeding up mass transit agencies’ transition from diesel to natural gas-powered buses. “[Diesel] emissions are particularly problematic for human health. They contain toxics, they contain soot pollution, which is really harmful for humans’ lungs. Those are things that have been really hard to clean up,” said PennFuture’s Jan Jarrett, who’s usually opposing Republicans on drilling issues, but endorsed the “Marcellus Works” plan on Wednesday. (Jarrett did reiterate her support for a natural gas severance tax during her comments, drawing a disapproving head shake from Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawely, who also spoke at the event.)
Jeff Schmidt, the director of Pennsylvania’s Sierra Club, wasn’t swayed by that argument. He said lawmakers need to be focused on the environmental impact of gas extraction, not consumption. “No one at today’s press conference acknowledged the serious problems we’ve got going on with the drinking water in places like Susquehanna and Bradford County,” he said. “The fracking water that’s being discharged into the Susquehanna River. We’ve got to deal with that first.”
Saylor said he’s hoping for votes on the seven bills this fall, after the General Assembly wraps up work on the budget. Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Commission is also studying ways to increase demand for natural gas, and will issue a final report this summer.