John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, stopped into the Erie Times-News a few weeks back to talk to the editorial board about the agency’s views on a Marcellus Shale Severance Tax (see editorial here).
Arway and Erie’s Ed Mascharka III, the recently installed District 1 commissioner, laid out a convincing and logical plan that would see drillers pay through a tax for the oversight and policing of the extraction work.
Why should the Fish and Boat Commission be concerned when the likes of the EPA and DCNR are around? Because, Arway pointed out, the PFBC has had law enforcement authority over water pollution in this state since 1909. Your local waterways conservation officers and biologists might be the first responders to any water pollution incident.
Additionally, so many drilling permits are being filed these days, the PFBC can’t keep up with the necessary environmental review procedures. The agency is budgeted to review 1,400 permit applications at a cost of $1.6 million, but is receiving 2,900 applications and anticipates steady growth to 4,000 applications annually. Two PennDOT employees now work on the project out of the PFBC offices in Harrisburg.
“The industry is taxing us right now,” Mascharka said.
There are costs that comes with the arrival of hydraulic fracking in Pennsylvania. Every well drilled by that procedure forces a loss of 1.5 million to 7 million gallons of fresh water from a nearby source. That’s recreational water owned by the state’s residents. Without a severance tax or an alternative funding source, the real and environmental cost will be borne by anglers and boaters in the way of higher license fees and/or reduced opportunities.
Arway doesn’t want to see either occur. He’s thinking in an entirely different direction.
“I’d love to be the first director in the country to reduce the cost of a fishing license,” he said.
At the same time he’s politicking for the severance tax, he’s also investigating alternative funding sources and additional revenue ideas. One, a family fishing license, he sees a possibility in the future. Such a license might entice people back into fishing, negating an ongoing downturn in license sales. In the mid-1990s, there were 1.2 million licenses sold in the state. Now the figure is 800,000.
The timing of any such revenue-producing changes is unclear at best. Arway said he’s been told by the state Senate that it will not approve new fees or licenses, and that the Fish and Boat Commission is “in line” behind the Pennsylvania Game Commission for such consideration. “It’s their turn next,” he said.