Andy Loza

is executive director of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association

Gov. Rendell has a great opportunity to boost the economy using existing revenue and authority already provided by the General Assembly.

The opening of our publicly owned forests to drilling by private companies for Marcellus shale natural gas recently generated $190 million for the state's Oil and Gas Lease Fund.

Through seven recessions and five decades, the Oil and Gas Lease Fund has supported conservation, recreation, dams and flood-control projects. The $190 million influx to the fund provides the governor with a golden opportunity to make job-creating capital investments in Pennsylvania's green infrastructure.

Our state parks and forests are badly in need of these investments. The governor could contract with Pennsylvania companies to repair and replace old dams, improve trails, clean up damage from past drilling and mining, restore floodplains and wildlife habitat, rebuild roads and parking lots, and insulate and upgrade buildings.

These infrastructure investments would build on the long-standing achievements of the 1930s' Civilian Conservation Corps, benefiting Pennsylvanians for generations to come.

Most immediately, our economy would benefit from the construction work and the associated jobs that would be created.  The commonwealth's recreational, sporting and tourism businesses also would benefit, preserving many service-sector jobs.

When the General Assembly created the Oil and Gas Lease Fund in 1955, our leaders adopted a farsighted policy of taking the money from the sale of nonrenewable oil and gas resources owned by the state and reinvesting this money in public conservation assets that would last for generations.

They established a funding stream to reinvest in the magnificent system of public conservation lands they inherited from their predecessors. They showed respect for the generations yet to come who deserved to inherit more than empty gas wells and degraded public lands.

Fifty-three years of honorable precedence may come to a close with Rendell's proposal to redirect the Oil and Gas Leasing Fund to support the day-to-day operations of government.

I urge the governor to reconsider. I do this as a father who wants his children and grandchildren to inherit a public park and forest system undiminished and hopefully stronger than the one I received.

I also do this as part of a coalition of tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians, working through 80 charitable community organizations, who want to conserve Pennsylvania's special places and build sustainable economies.

The state's Growing Greener 2 bonds are all but spent. The state's Environmental Stewardship Fund has been drained to pay debt service on the Growing Greener 2 bonds. The state's Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, supported with realty transfer taxes, has dried up.

In short, the state's resources for reinvesting in our parks, forests and other green infrastructure have evaporated just when public-works efforts could be most beneficial to the economy.

The Oil and Gas Leasing Fund, because of the exploitation of our publicly owned forests for Marcellus shale natural gas, is the one exception. Our green infrastructure and economy need this funding.

As one of 12.4 million Pennsylvanians who own a share in our 2.4 million-acre state forest and park system, I want our forests and parks to be well-managed. When they are exploited for their natural riches, I want to be sure we reinvest in them so our children and grandchildren can benefit from their bounty too. I also want our economy to rebound and people to have jobs.

Allowing the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to invest in green infrastructure will help fulfill all of these wants.

E-mail Andy Loza at aloza@conserveland.org.