The Corbett administration has announced that no new natural gas leases will be issued under state parks and forest land while the case of PEDF v. Commonwealth progresses in court.
The decision is part of a settlement, which includes the continued funding of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The suit was brought by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation.
“We are asking the court to stop the governor from using the Oil and Gas Lease fund for general fund purposes and to [stop] operating DCNR from that fund,” said John Childe, an attorney for PEDF.
In recent years, the amount of funding from the Oil and Gas Lease fund to DCNR has increased while funding from the state’s general fund has decreased. In fiscal year 2009-2010 the state appropriation for DCNR was $92 million; for FY 2013-2014 it was $30 with $106 million transferred from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund. The latest budget, for FY 2014-2015 appropriates $14.54 million from the general fund and a transfer of $117 million from the Oil and Gas Lease fund.
“We’re proposing that they stay in the Oil and Gas Lease fund as part of a trust to protect and enhance our state forests and the natural resources on our state forests and parks,” said Childe.
Commonwealth attorneys and the PEDF have negotiated the settlement that will allow the DCNR to continue to be funded. In a statement, Gov. Tom Corbett said that “without this settlement, DCNR’s capability to preserve Pennsylvania’s natural treasures would have been decimated. We cannot allow our commitment to protecting Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests to be held hostage during the duration of this lawsuit.”
Childe said the intent of the suit is not to gut DCNR.
“We had asked the court to enjoin the governor from using the Oil and Gas Lease fund to operate DCNR with the purpose in mind that he would pass a severance tax on the gas industry to make them pay for it, instead of taking the money from the people,” he said.
Corbett must respond to PEDF’s motions no later than August 29, PEDF then has until September 14 to reply to the governor’s brief. The case will be argued in Commonwealth Court in October, and Childe said a decision is anticipated by the end of the year.