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Pennsylvania eyes natural gas tax on biggest US find

Gas tax – or levy – gains momentum in Pennsylvania legislature. But governor opposes natural gas tax.

By Marc LevyAssociated Press / June 7, 2011

Filmmaker Josh Fox gives a speech outside of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbettís's chambers following a rally in the state capitol against gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation June 7, 2011 in Harrisburg, Pa. While protesters want to ban drilling because of suspected health and environmental effects, many state lawmakers are pushing for a natural gas tax or levy.

Bradley C. Bower/AP

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HARRISBURG, Pa. – Accusing the government of being unable to protect the environment or public health, more than 200 people rallied on Tuesday in the Pennsylvania Capitol for tougher laws — if not an outright ban — on natural gas drilling as pressure builds on state lawmakers to approve a levy on the booming industry.

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The rally comes on the heels of an announcement by two more Republican lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Legislature that they're sponsoring bills to impose a tax or fee on Marcellus Shale gas extraction.

More than 10 lawmakers have now introduced or said they plan to introduce a measure imposing a tax or fee as drilling crews fan out across large swaths of northern and western Pennsylvania.

It appears likely that lawmakers will force floor votes on a tax or fee proposal by trying to attach amendments to unrelated bills, as lawmakers rush to finish the state budget this month and depart Harrisburg for the rest of the summer.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati told Gov. Tom Corbett in a closed-door meeting Monday that the governor and the other top Republican lawmakers in the room had better figure out which proposal they're in favor of because of the likelihood that floor debates and votes are unavoidable.

"I think we're going to face votes here in the Senate and the House amending various bills (and) that's going to require various legislators to determine what they're for and what they're against, and should something ultimately be passed through both chambers, I think it requires input from the governor's office," said Scarnati, R-Jefferson.

The debate over a tax or a fee has dragged on since then-Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, first proposed it in early 2009, but ran into Republican resistance. Pennsylvania remains the largest gas-drilling state without such atax and Corbett, a Republican, opposes the imposition of one.

Corbett has said he would consider a fee that helps pay for the impact the industry creates on drilling communities, while clear majorities in the House and Senate appear to be in favor of some type of levy.

However, timing is an issue.

A growing number of lawmakers want approval of a tax or fee this month along with the budget, while Corbett has said that he first wants to hear what the panel he appointed, the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, reports back to him. He has asked for its report by July 22 — after the June 30 deadline for legislators to approve the state budget.

Many at the rally seemed uninterested in a tax and favored an outright ban on drilling. One of the speakers, Crystal Stroud, said a well drilled 1,200 feet from the home where she lives in northern Pennsylvania with her husband and 4-year-old son poisoned her well water and made her sick.

The company that drilled the well, Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas LLC, on Tuesday denied responsibility for Stroud's health problems, saying that its nearby Andrus well has not yet been hydraulically fractured, and that none of the chemicals or metals that Stroud says made her sick were used in the drilling process.