Wolf, Corbett square off for first time

PHILADELPHIA — In what was, by all accounts, their first public appearance together since winning their parties' nominations in the May 20 primary election, Gov. Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf outlined their competing environmental stances Wednesday night at the annual dinner meeting of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

Both spoke of the need for balance — how environmental protection and economic development are not mutually exclusive.

But they differed in how to get there — most notably, but not surprisingly, on whether there should be an extraction tax on natural gas development in the state's rich Marcellus Shale formation.

And each lauded the council as a voice of reason. As opposed to scrappier environmental advocacy groups that demonstrate outside a governor's office, this is a group that gets invited in.

Its board has Democratic and Republican leaders, a who's who of business, law firms with strong environmental teams, and environmental consulting firms.

Mr. Corbett, who took the stage first in the Crystal Tea Room of the former Wanamakers department store building in Philadelphia, praised the group repeatedly, saying its members were “people who truly understand the importance of the real world.”

Mr. Corbett waxed somewhat nostalgic, talking of boyhood days canoeing the Allegheny River and being in the Boy Scouts. “We got to see the environment,” he said.

He spoke about how much better things are now, however. How he always sees eagles along the river, and wild turkeys — “and I'm not talking about politicians, I'm talking about real turkeys” — in his backyard.

“We all have the same goal, and that goal is the better environment we've all been talking about, a stronger, more prosperous Pennsylvania for our children and our grandchildren.”

Mr. Wolf spoke of how “too often, environmental discussions are zero-sum affairs that end up in stale battles and inconclusive results. ... . Neither economic growth nor wise stewardship ever comes out of those discussions.”

He said it was time “for a conversation and a plan.”

His is a seven-point version, starting with appointing “qualified individuals” to the Environmental Protection and the Conservation and Natural Resources departments, ones who would base decisions “on facts, not politics.”

He said he wants to work “collaboratively, not antagonistically,” with local governments and would accelerate investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

As for the much-debated tax, Mr. Corbett steered clear of a direct reference, choosing instead to laud the existing impact fee, saying the $630 million it has generated in the past three years “is working for people across the state and at the local level.”

Mr. Wolf came at it head-on, saying a severance tax would “provide certainty for the industry and will help Pennsylvania’s schools” and that it could “help mitigate some of the damages to the environment and our infrastructure that the industry might inadvertently cause.”

Their host, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, has remained silent on whether there should be a tax, although its latest policy statement on the matter says that the revenues of a tax would dwarf the funds from the impact fees, and that if there is a tax, a “significant” portion should be used to address environmental issues and support state agencies overseeing the industry.

Joseph Dominguez, Exelon Corp. senior vice president, said that despite their differing options, the two men shared many qualities — integrity, common decency, and a commitment to the public.

Mr. Wolf joked they also shared first names, but the balding businessman insisted he had another disagreement with his hirsute opponent: “You have too much hair on the top of your head.”

First Published June 11, 2014 1:32 PM

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