by Walter Brasch
Pennsylvanians are justifiably angry at paying the highest gas prices in the nation. The average price per gallon is $2.65, 27 cents higher than the highest price in the other 49 states. An additional eight cent tax was added this month. Until 2019, Pennsylvanians will be paying an additional $2.3 billion a year in taxes and fees—$11.5 billion total—to improve the state’s infrastructure. In addition to the increased tax on gas at the pumps, Pennsylvania motorists will also be spending more for license registrations, renewals, and title certificates.
The primary reason for the highest gas price is because of fracking.
The Tom Corbett administration and Republican legislature had welcomed gas drillers to the state and gave them benefits to drill into the Marcellus shale, using a technology that sacrificed health and the environment for what has proved to be short-term benefits.
Fracking requires as many as 200 truck trips per day—each truck bringing water, chemicals, or heavy equipment—to each developing well site. Those trips cause severe damage to roads that were not built to sustain such traffic.
The secondary reason for the increased cost of gas is that for far too many years, the state’s politicians of both major parties, preaching fiscal austerity—and hoping to be re-elected by taxpayers upset with government spending—neglected the roads, bridges, and other critical problems.
Although corporations drilling into Pennsylvania have agreed to fund repairs of roads they travel that have less than two inches depth of asphalt on them, the fees don’t cover the full cost of repair. Had the state imposed an extraction tax on each well, instead of a much-lower impact tax, there would have been enough money to fund road and bridge repair without additional taxes for motorists. Every state with shale gas but Pennsylvania has an extraction tax.
Gov. Wolf, while supporting fracking, wants stronger regulation of gas extraction and higher fees from the industry to cover damage to the state’s infrastructure. But in the circle of economics, both taxpayers and politicians want to “hold the line” on spending. At some point, there is so much deterioration of the infrastructure that raising taxes is required, leading taxpayers to complain about higher taxes.
That time is now.
[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist who specializes in social issues. His latest book is Fracking America.]