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Vitali: Natural gas industry spent $3.7M on lobbying Pa. legislature this year

(Nov 20, 2017)

HARRISBURG, Nov. 20 – An updated report posted today shows the natural gas industry has spent over $3.7 million lobbying the Pennsylvania legislature through the first three quarters of this year, said state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery. According to Marcellus Money and the Pennsylvania Legislature , which was first released by Vitali in February, the industry has spent $65 million on lobbying activities in Pennsylvania since 2007. The data also show that natural gas interests have given the Pennsylvania General Assembly over $7.7 million in campaign contributions since 2007. Senate President Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, was the highest recipient collecting $483,500 over the past 10 years. “In light of all of this money directed at the Pennsylvania legislature, it’s no surprise that that Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax,” Vitali said. “It’s also no surprise that current discussion regarding a severance tax includes provisions that would severely hamper the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s ability to regulate the gas drilling industry.” According to Vitali, these provisions include delegating the issuance of environmental permits to third parties, requiring permits be deemed approved after a certain number of days have passed – even if they have not met legal requirements – and, in effect, blocking part of the Wolf Read more

 

Severance Tax Not Worth the Price

(Nov 06, 2017)

As a longtime supporter of the severance tax, I find myself in the unusual position of now opposing it. Although it would provide much-needed revenue for the commonwealth, it is clear that Senate Republicans will not allow even a modest severance tax without exacting provisions that would significantly compromise the state Department of Environmental Protection’s ability to regulate the natural gas industry. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax. It has been fiercely opposed by the drillers since it was first proposed by Gov. Edward Rendell in 2010. Since then, drillers and their representatives have spent $46.6 million on lobbying and $14.5 million on strategic campaign contributions to legislative leaders and key committee chairs, according to the Inquirer. But despite the gas industry’s opposition, the commonwealth’s dire financial situation has sparked serious discussion about a severance tax to help fund the budget. In July, the state Senate passed a tax-code bill that contained a severance tax of less than 1 percent. But the bill also included three provisions that would make it much more difficult for the DEP to regulate the natural gas industry. The first provision would provide that any unconventional oil and gas permit application the DEP does not process fast enough would be “deemed approved” regardless of whether it meets legal standards for approval. Arbitrarily forcing the DEP to Read more

 

Viewpoints: Gas-tax supporter now against it because of tradeoffs on health, environment

(Oct 24, 2017)

State Rep. Greg Vitali writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer that proposed environmental trade-offs placed him in an unusual position against a severance tax. Read more

 

Senate budget legislation would cripple environmental protection

(Aug 14, 2017)

A bill package recently approved by the state Senate to help pay for the commonwealth’s spending plan contains provisions that would cripple environmental protection in Pennsylvania. Even though these bills provide some needed revenue, the House and Gov. Wolf should reject this legislation. The most damaging provisions are contained in the tax code. One provision would privatize the environmental permitting process, allowing gas drillers and other applicants to seek permit approval from third parties rather than the Department of Environmental Protection. This would eliminate a core protective function of the DEP, introduce conflicts of interest that would weaken protections for public health and the environment, remove public participation from the permitting process, and deprive DEP of the application fees it needs to support the staff who protect all of us. Another provision would establish a politically appointed advisory committee to decide on air quality permits for unconventional gas well sites. This is a direct attack on the methane-reduction strategy proposed by Wolf last year. Reducing fugitive methane emissions is one of the most important things Pennsylvania can do to address climate change and protect public health in the gas fields. Former Republican DEP Secretary David Hess writes that these changes would “emasculate the ability of the Department of Environmental Protection to regulate pollution under any of its programs.” Tucked in Read more

 

Gas industry spent $1.3M lobbying Pa. legislature in 2nd quarter of 2017

(Aug 03, 2017)

HAVERFORD, Aug. 3 – The natural gas industry spent $1.3 million lobbying the Pennsylvania General Assembly during the second quarter this year, state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery, announced today. The latest figures, based on a review of the quarterly lobbying reports filed by 43 gas companies in Pennsylvania, also show that those companies spent more than $35,000 in gifts to undisclosed recipients in the second quarter. Range Resources spent $166,420 in lobbing – the highest among drilling companies, followed closely by Marcellus Shale Coalition, who spent $154,033. The second quarter numbers raise the total lobbying expenditures to more than $2.7 million in 2017. According to Vitali, the gas industry has now spent over $65 million dollars lobbying Pennsylvania government in the past decade. These lobbying efforts along with campaign contributions have resulted in legislation favorable to the gas industry, Vitali said. Vitali said that a damaging provision contained in the proposed Pennsylvania Tax Code, which passed the Senate last week, would privatize the environmental permitting process and allow gas drillers and other applicants to seek permit approval from third parties rather than the Department of Environmental Protection. Another provision in the Tax Code bill would allow a politically appointed advisory committee to decide on air quality permits for unconventional gas well sites. This provision is a direct attack on Read more

 

Senate budget legislation would damage Pa environment

(Jul 28, 2017)

HARRISBURG, July 28 -- A package of bills approved by the Pennsylvania Senate yesterday to help pay for Pennsylvania’s $32 billion spending plan contain numerous provisions harmful to Pennsylvania, said state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/ Montgomery. Vitali is calling on Gov. Wolf to reject this legislation According to Vitali, the most damaging provision, contained in the Tax Code, would privatize the environmental permitting process allowing gas drillers and other applicants to go to seek permit approval from third parties rather than the Department of Environmental Protection. “This would create a clear conflict of interest,” Vitali said. "Also allowing application fees to go to third parties would deprive the DEP of a much needed source of funds to run its programs." Vitali also said he is troubled by a provision in the Tax Code that would allow a politically appointed advisory committee to decide on air quality permits for unconventional gas well sites. "This provision is a direct attack on the methane reduction strategy proposed by Governor Wolf in January 2016," he said. "Reducing fugitive methane emissions from gas drilling operations is one of the most important things Pennsylvania can do to address climate change." Vitali also noted that the Fiscal Code bill the Senate passed also contains a provision to repeal the Oil and Gas Lease Fund Act of 1955. This fund collects monies from drilling on state lands and Read more

 

July 2017 Newsletter

(Jul 25, 2017)

My Summer 2017 Newsletter is available online. Read more

 

Wolf allows special-interest coal mining bill to become law

(Jul 22, 2017)

HARRISBURG, July 22 – Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf allowed S.B. 624 to become law Friday. The new law reduces protections to streams where coal companies seek to mine underneath them and interferes with pending litigation, said state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery. The bill passed both the Pennsylvania House and Senate and was presented to the governor on July 11. He had until Friday to either sign it, veto it or let it become law by his inaction. “This is a triumph of special-interest group influence over good environmental policy,” Vitali said “The law is also unconstitutional.” Vitali said S.B. 624 violates Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which prohibits special legislation. Senate Bill 624 is directed at one particular coal company, Consol Energy, in one particular location, Ryerson Station State Park, Vitali said. Introduced by Sen. Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, the bill directly affects a pending case before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB Docket No. 2014-072-B) relating to Consol Energy’s longwall mining activity in and near this Greene County state park. Vitali said the law also violates Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (the Environmental Rights Amendment), as recently interpreted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Longwall mining activity by Consol Energy under Ryerson Station State Park has already caused permanent damage to Read more

 

Wolf urged to veto special-interest coal mining bill

(Jul 10, 2017)

HARRISBURG, July 10 – State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery, urged Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf today to veto S.B. 624, which would reduce protections to streams where coal companies seek to mine underneath them and would interfere with pending litigation. The bill passed the Senate today and is expected to be on the governor’s desk soon. “I urge you to veto this bill,” Vitali wrote in the letter . “The legislation is both unconstitutional and bad public policy.” Vitali said S.B. 624 violates Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which prohibits special legislation. Senate Bill 624 is directed at one particular coal company, CONSUL in one particular location, Ryerson Station State Park, he said. Introduced by Sen. Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, the bill would directly affect a pending case before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB Docket No. 2014-072-B) relating to CONSOL Energy’s longwall mining activity in and near this Greene County state park. Vitali said the bill also violates Article I section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (the Environmental Rights Amendment), as recently interpreted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Longwall mining activity by CONSOL energy under Ryerson Station State Park has already caused permanent damage to the park. In 2005, mining by CONSOL permanently damaged Duke Lake in the park. “In addition to Ryerson Station State Park, the bill Read more

 

Vitali Honors Championship Lacrosse Team

(Jun 27, 2017)

Pa. state Rep. Greg Vitali honors the Archbishop Carroll girls lacrosse team, who recently won the PIAA Class 3 state championship. Read more

 

Governor Wolf Should Veto Plastic Bag Bill

(Jun 15, 2017)

One-hundred-billion plastic bags pass through the hands of U.S. consumers every year — almost one bag per person each day, according to Earth Policy Institute. But only about 1 percent of these bags are recycled, leaving the rest to litter our streets, pollute our waterways and stress our landfills. Yet, despite opposition from numerous municipalities, municipal associations and environmental groups, the Pennsylvania House and Senate recently passed legislation that would prevent local governments from enacting laws to address their plastic bag problems. House Bill 1071 now sits on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk awaiting either his signature or veto. This bill would prohibit Pennsylvania cities, counties, townships and boroughs from imposing a ban, fee, tax or surcharge on single-use plastic bags at retail stores. This legislation is being driven by Novolex, the world’s largest manufacturer of single-use plastic bags. Novolex owns the Helix Poly plant in Milesburg, Pa. – an area that is represented by one of the prime sponsors of the bill. Novolex has been active in promoting this type of legislation in other states. Some 165 municipalities across the United States have adopted some form of single-use plastic bag legislation, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City, according to the Plastic Ban Bag Report, a national advocacy group. The evidence shows that this legislation has been effective. Following implementation Read more

 

Special interest coal mining bill approved by Pa. Senate

(Jun 08, 2017)

HARRISBURG, June 8 – Legislation that would reduce protections to streams where coal companies seek to mine under them passed the Senate 32-17 on Tuesday, said state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery. Senate Bill 624, introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, would directly affect a pending case before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB Docket No. 2014-072-B) relating to Consol Energy’s longwall mining activity in and near Greene County’s Ryerson Station State Park. Vitali said Scarnati introduced S.B. 624 on April 13 two weeks after receiving a $5,000 contribution by Consol. The Ryerson State Park case was brought three years ago by the Center for Coalfield Justice and Pennsylvania Sierra Club. A hearing was held in August 2016, and a decision from the state Environmental Hearing Board is expected soon. Senate Bill 624 has a retroactive effect and would directly affect this case. According to Vitali, Scarnati’s chief counsel, Drew Crompton, acknowledged that the bill is a response to the pending Consol case. Consol contributed over $136,000 to the Pennsylvania legislature in 2016, according to Vitali. According to records, in 2011, Consol paid for Scarnati’s trip to the Super Bowl in Texas. After media criticism, Scarnati repaid Consol. “Confidence in government erodes when special-interest groups contribute to elected officials who in turn advance legislation favorable to those Read more

 

Gas industry spent $1.4M lobbying Pa. legislature in first quarter of 2017

(Jun 02, 2017)

HAVERTOWN, June 2 – The natural gas industry spent $1.4 million lobbying the Pennsylvania General Assembly during the first quarter this year, state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery, announced today. Chesapeake Energy led in lobbying expenditures with $211,602. The latest figures, based on quarterly lobbying reports from 43 gas companies in Pennsylvania, bring the total in natural-gas lobbying spent since 2007 to more than $64 million. “Regrettably the citizens of Pennsylvania pay the price for the undue influence of the gas industry on the legislature,” Vitali said. Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state in the country without a severance tax. According to the state Department of Revenue, Pennsylvania will lose $153.4 million in fiscal year 2016-17 by not having a severance tax. Additionally, Vitali said, commonsense conventional drilling regulations that protect public health and the environment have been derailed due to natural-gas industry influence. “Conventional drilling regulations have been blocked by the legislature for years despite overwhelming public support and a finding by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission that these rules are ‘in the public interest,’” Vitali said. “The Wolf administration’s methane-reduction strategy also continues to be delayed in the face of industry pressure. This important step in reducing greenhouse gas is particularly important in light of Read more

 

Consol Energy contribution to Scarnati creates appearance of impropriety

(May 23, 2017)

HARRISBURG, May 23 – State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery, said a campaign contribution by Consol Energy to state Sen. Joseph Scarnati and the introduction two weeks later of legislation specifically targeted to benefit Consol creates the appearance of impropriety. According to Vitali, on March 29, Consol Energy Inc. PAC made a $5,000 campaign contribution to Scarnati, R-Jefferson. Scarnati introduced S.B. 624 on April 13. Senate Bill 624, according to Vitali, would reduce protections afforded to streams where coal companies seek to conduct longwall mining operations underneath them. The bill was voted from the Senate Environmental Resource and Energy Committee on Monday along party lines. Senate Bill 624 would affect a pending case before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB Docket No. 2014-072-B) relating to Consol’s mining activity in and near Greene County’s Ryerson Station State Park. The case was brought three years ago by the Center for Coalfield Justice and Pennsylvania Sierra Club. A hearing was held in August 2016, and a decision from the state Environmental Hearing Board is expected soon. Senate Bill 624 has a retroactive effect and would directly affect this case. According to Vitali, Scarnati’s chief counsel, Drew Crompton, acknowledged that the bill is a response to the pending Consol case. “This legislation is coming on the cusp of a decision. It blatantly undermines the expertise of the Read more

 

House bill would prevent municipalities from addressing plastic bag problem

(Apr 26, 2017)

HARRISBURG, April 26 – Despite opposition from numerous municipalities and environmental groups, the Pennsylvania House yesterday passed legislation that would prevent local governments from enacting measures to address problems caused by disposable plastic bags, said state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery. House Bill 1071 would prohibit Pennsylvania cities, counties, townships and boroughs from imposing a ban, fee, tax or surcharge on the use of disposable plastic bags at retail stores. The bill passed the House by a vote of 102-82. “This is a bill driven by national plastic bag manufacturer Novolex, who owns the Helix Poly plant in Milesburg, Pa.," Vitali said. "Milesburg is represented by one of the House members sponsoring the bill." Novolex has been active in promoting this type of legislation in other states, Vitali said. "Unfortunately good public policy has been trumped by special-interest influence in Harrisburg, once again," Vitali said. Currently, 165 municipalities across the country have adopted some form of single-use plastic-bag legislation, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Following implementation of a citywide bag fee in 2010, the presence of bags in Washington, D.C., decreased by 67 percent. "Pennsylvania municipalities should have the tools of a plastic-bag fee or ban at their disposal to help deal with such local problems as litter, the clogging of storm Read more

 

Vitali opposes proposed cuts to DEP in House Republican budget proposal

(Apr 04, 2017)

HARRISBURG, April 4 – Citing concerns for public safety, state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery, voiced his opposition to House Republicans’ $8.9 million cut to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in their proposed 2017-2018 budget, which passed the House by a vote of 114 to 84 today. “The gross underfunding of the DEP continues to put the public at risk,” Vitali said. “The DEP has already been warned by the federal government that it is not adequately staffed to enforce safe drinking water, air quality and pollution standards. Since 2002, state funding for the DEP has been cut by about 40 percent, leading to staff being reduced by 600 positions. These proposed cuts will only serve to further endanger the health and lives of the people of Pennsylvania.” Vitali says these cuts are particularly dangerous as the DEP struggles to meet its minimum enforcement obligations. According to a letter from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the DEP has failed to conduct the minimum number of sanitary surveys of water systems, has a severely understaffed Air Quality Monitoring Division and has failed to meet required inspection compliance rates among other issues caused by understaffing of the agency. Last March the U.S. Department of the Interior warned DEP that it had an insufficient number of Surface Mining Compliance Inspectors. DEP’s failure to inspect its Read more

 

Opinion: DEP cuts put public health at risk

(Mar 27, 2017)

Chronic underfunding of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has compromised its ability to protect public health and the environment. Since 2002, state funding for the DEP has been cut by about 40 percent. Staffing has been reduced by about 600 positions. Safe Drinking Water DEP does not have sufficient staff to adequately inspect its 8,500 public drinking-water systems. The average workload of a DEP inspector is now double the national average. In December the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned DEP that this inadequate staffing could have “serious public health implications.” Air Quality DEP doesn’t have sufficient personnel to monitor air quality. A 2015 EPA audit determined DEP’s Air Quality Monitoring Division was severely understaffed. This understaffing has increased the risk of harmful pollutant discharge. Fewer companies are now being monitored and the air monitoring data is being viewed less frequently. Stream Protection DEP’s Division of Water Quality Standards does not have enough water-protection biologists to monitor the waters of the commonwealth. According to a DEP source, at least 12-18 more biologists are needed in the regional offices. This lack of staffing has increased the risk of improper pollutant discharges into Pennsylvania waterways. Chesapeake Bay The EPA has determined that Pennsylvania has not made sufficient progress in reducing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus Read more

 

Marcellus Money and the Pennsylvania Legislature

(Mar 10, 2017)

There are 203 lobbyists registered as working for the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania – coincidently one for each state House member. The gas industry spent more than $7 million last year and more than $60 million since 2007 on lobbying in Pennsylvania. Read more

 

Vitali: Chronic underfunding has compromised DEP

(Mar 09, 2017)

Calling it paramount to restore proper funding to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery, testified before the House Appropriations Committee today highlighting numerous statistics and consequences that show the agency’s ability to protect Pennsylvania’s environment is being severely handicapped. Read more

 

Vitali Report: Gas industry influence costs taxpayers money, affects public health and the environment

(Feb 10, 2017)

The natural-gas industry in Pennsylvania spent more than $7 million last year in lobbying expenses and more than $62 million in lobbing expenses since 2007 to influence the Pennsylvania Legislature, according to state Rep. Greg Vitali’s recent report: “Marcellus Money and the Pennsylvania Legislature.” Read more