Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gas Tax Not the Ultimate Solution

Looks eerily like a cigarette.
A gas tax will be as effective as a cigarette tax on
preventing harm  ...  It won't!
Anyone focused on the tax of gas drilling as their only or primary goal, has succeeded in becoming the pawns of the gas drilling industry.  Those who include discuss of tax in their repertoire of discussion are doing the right thing; those using it as their repertoire are either using it as political cover or are allowing themselves to be used by industry.

The gas industry, like so many others in big business, is a master of spin, deception and diversion. They fight the gas tax as though it would be a big burden. And in so doing, keep the debate focused on whether or not they should be taxed, rather than the question of whether or not they should be allowed to drill in the first instance, and if so, how, when and where regulation should limit that drilling. Being the subject of a gas tax rather than future limits on drilling (whether by moratorium, strong regulation or strong legislation) would be a big win for the gas drillers – not the loss they are trying to make you believe.

Smart legislators, environmental organizations, and gas drilling opponents might include the question of a tax in their advocacy and efforts regarding drilling for natural gas, but they don’t allow it to become the message.

When it comes to gas drilling the first question that has to be answered is whether or not we should allow drilling at all using the devastating tactics and technologies the drillers are seeking – i.e. sprawling wells, roads and pipelines coupled with horizontal drilling, hydrofracturing and the massive volumes of water withdraw and chemical contamination that result in a permanent loss of fresh water of massive and unsustainable proportions.

The second question is, to the extent we do allow some drilling, where will we allow that drilling to take place, using what technologies, subject to what limitations, and with what safeguards for shut down.

The final question to be answered is, to the extent we do allow drilling, how much will we tax it and how will those funds be used to protect and restore the environments and communities harmed.

Beginning and ending the conversation with the question of a gas tax is foolish and plays right into the hands of the drillers.

While a tax may raise some money, and is an easy political position for those politicians who actually support drilling to take, it will not prevent the poisoning of water, air and people that drilling brings; nor will it stop the industrialization of our most beautiful communities, changing them from rural havens of beauty to industrial landscapes that can never be repaired; and it will not prevent the permanent loss of fresh water (through underground injection and industrial poisoning) or protection from global climate change our children, family, friends and ancestors of the future will need and have a right to expect from us.

There are some very good legislators and environmental organizations who oppose drilling in whole or part who have the gas tax as part of their repertoire of positions – that makes sense.  But to have the gas tax as an only focus? Those folks are clearly looking for the easy out.

A gas tax raises money but it doesn’t prevent harm or protect communities.

When cigarette smoking was taxed by Pennsylvania it may have raised (and still does raise) lots of money, but since then over 1.2 million have died as the result of smoking (and that figure doesn’t include the indirect deaths or excruciating health impacts). Taxing gas may raise money – but as with a cigarette tax it won’t stop people from dying or the environment from being ravaged.

First we must ask ourselves – should we drill at all.
Then we must ask, if so, to what extent? Where? When? How? And under what regulatory requirements?
Then we can decide how much to tax! Not should we tax but how much!

On another note about buying into the strategy of the drillers: We are suddenly hearing a lot about areas that are no longer targets for drilling due to bad geology or low concentrations of gas. The timing of these revelations seem awfully suspicious and convenient — they come at the same time that there is an outpouring of demand to protect the Delaware River from gas drilling. Could it be that the "sudden" revelations that drilling doesn't make sense in some of the areas of greatest concern to communities and politicians, including the Upper Delaware River watershed, is merely a smokescreen to deflate the outpouring of citizen and political action on the issue?

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