In what was, by all accounts, their first public appearance together since winning their parties’ nominations in the May 20 primary election, Republican Gov. 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 a need for balance - that 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.
Corbett, who took the stage first in the Crystal Tea Room in the Wanamaker Building, praised the group repeatedly, saying its members were “people who truly understand the importance of the real world.”
He waxed nostalgic, talking of boyhood days canoeing the Allegheny River and being in the Boy Scouts. “We got to see the environment,” he said.
He said things are better now - 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.”
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 - and here he lobbed a shot - appointing “qualified individuals” to the Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources Departments, who would base decisions “on facts, not politics.”
He said he wanted to work “collaboratively, not antagonistically,” with local governments and would accelerate investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
As for the much-debated tax, Corbett steered clear of a direct reference, choosing to laud the existing impact fee, saying the $630 million it has generated in the last three years “is working for people across the state and at the local level.”
Wolf came at it head-on, saying that a severance tax would “provide certainty for the industry and will help Pennsylvania’s schools,” and that it could “help mitigate some of the damage to the environment and our infrastructure that the industry might inadvertently cause.”
The council, has remained silent on whether there should be a tax, although its latest policy statement says that the revenue from a tax would dwarf that from the impact fees, and that a “significant” portion of any tax 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 men shared many qualities - integrity, common decency, and a commitment to the public.
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.”
Wolf: Put McGinty In Dems’ Top Post
Katie McGinty, a former candidate for Pennsylvania governor, told members of the Democratic State Committee in an e-mail Wednesday that she was running for state party chair at the request of gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf.
“I wholeheartedly agree with Tom that Pennsylvania needs a fresh start,” McGinty wrote. “The last thing we can do is allow [Gov.] Corbett to have four more years.”
A former state environmental secretary, McGinty finished last in the party’s four-way primary for governor May 20, but won admiration from Democratic activists for running a positive race and staying above the fray in the final weeks as U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz and Treasurer Rob McCord attacked Wolf.
In a separate e-mail Wednesday, Wolf endorsed McGinty, who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and lives in Chester County, calling her a trusted ally who would “bring endless enthusiasm” to the statewide party job. He also endorsed State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D., Allegheny) for vice chairman.
As Wolf noted, the nominee for governor traditionally picks the next party chair, who will be elected June 21 at a state committee meeting.
There could be some friction - the current chairman, Jim Burn of Allegheny County, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he still plans to seek another four-year term.
- Thomas Fitzgerald
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