Former Governor Ed Rendell became a bit of an unwelcome guest during the Marcellus Shale Coalition's natural gas convention in Philadelphia, Wednesday.
After a day's worth of speakers praised the economic benefits of natural gas drilling, Rendell took the stage and called energy companies' refusal to embrace a severance tax a "great disappointment" and argued that opposition is hurting their public image. "The fact that the shale companies do not pay a severance tax has become well-known by virtually every advocacy group in the commonwealth," Rendell said. "And, it is the whipping boy for those groups."
Earlier in the day, former Republican Governor Tom Ridge derided concerns over the safety of drilling practices as "phony hysteria." Ridge is now a consultant for the drilling industry.
Rendell said the anti-drilling protestors who picketed the convention had legitimate concerns. "People care about the air they breathe, they care about the water that they drink, they care about the waterways that they fish in, and they swim in."
Rendell told the audience drilling opposition grows every day. "And the things they're talking about are not incorrect. They're raising serious and legitimate issues," Rendell said. "They express the fears of not just a few militants, but the fears of a lot of good, hard-working Pennsylvanians. About what's going to happen to their neighborhood. About what's going to happen to their water supply. About what's going to happen to their waterways. Those are things that we can't continue to ignore."
Rendell supported a severance tax during his administration, but took the issue off the table during 2009 budget negotiations. When state legislators return later this month a state impact fee on drilling is at the top of their agenda.