It's encouraging that Gov. Corbett may allow local impact fees on natural-gas drillers, but this potential step only addresses part of the problem.
Local communities have incurred significant costs due to the Marcellus Shale drilling boom, including road repairs and added emergency services. The affected towns and counties deserve to be compensated.
Corbett said last week that he would "listen" to proposals that address the local impact of drilling. That doesn't mean it will happen, but hooray for listening.
The governor is still tone-deaf, however, to the notion of requiring oil and gas companies to pay their fair share to the state for reaping a valuable natural resource. He apparently doesn't care that a production tax is levied by every other gas-drilling state.
"Money that goes into the general fund? No," Corbett said. The general fund, you see, is conservative code for a black hole of wasteful spending. Forget that the money helps to pay for public schools and services for disabled people.
The governor is stuck in a political box purely of his own making. He pledged during the campaign last year not to raise any taxes. But impact fees wouldn't violate that pledge, technically, because they'd be imposed at the local level and wouldn't be called a "tax." Some people, Corbett included, are comforted by such semantics.
One of the spurious arguments against a state production tax is that it would chase away the drillers. Never mind that this tax hasn't driven them out of other states. Local impact fees won't discourage them, either, because there are vast sums of money to be made in Pennsylvania.
There's no logic to allowing a local tax but refusing to charge a state tax. The impact of Marcellus Shale drilling doesn't end at a township's border. Drillers' trucks also use state roads and they travel on state bridges. They dump wastewater at treatment plants, possibly contributing to pollutants in rivers, streams, and public drinking water.
The rapid expansion of drilling has put a burden on state regulators and environmental protection agencies that oversee their activities. Pipelines, staging areas, and increased traffic have turned some rural areas into industrial sites that degrade the surrounding environment.
Many of those costs are borne by the state, or will be borne by it in the future. The number of wells could multiply more than tenfold in the next few years.
Under former Gov. Ed Rendell, the state did raise fees for drilling permits. Drillers also pay the state for leases on state land. And the thousands of jobs created by the industry are contributing more taxes to the state treasury.