WELLSBORO - State Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley visited with a group of Tioga County residents during an informal "roundtable" discussion Tuesday following a Republican luncheon at the Penn Wells Hotel.
Cawley answered questions ranging from how the natural gas impact fee will be used to what can be done about increasing environmental regulations on landowners.
"We need to make sure everyone plays by the same rules," Cawley said in response to a question from Bill West, a title searcher for the natural gas industry about the impact fee potentially scaring the industry out of the state.
CHERYL R. CLARKE/Sun-Gazette
State Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, center, stands with four Potter County businessmen following a roundtable discussion Tuesday at the Penn Wells Hotel. They are, from left, Joel Kosa, owner of Edko Farms in Ulysses; Ted Smoker, owner of Destiny Transport in Genesee; Cawley; Carl Long, Republican chairman for Potter County and owner of Long Farms in Coudersport; and Kellen Gerhart, owner of E and G Auto Plus in Coudersport.
"So far there have been no deep aquifer problems here," Cawley said, but there have been surface water issues, such as in Dimock.
"One thing that hasn't been as well publicized as when the problems in Dimock were first discovered, is that the EPA has tested water wells and are giving them a clean bill of health," he said, adding, "We recognize there are risks, but what human endeavor doesn't involve risk?"
He also noted that in addition to the new impact fee, the gas industry already pays a hefty share of other taxes to the state, to the tune of about $1.6 billion since 2006.
Cawley, who chaired the governor's task force on the impact fee last year, said that the question the task force was charged with answering was, "Are they paying their way?"
Many of the suggestions for the fee came from industry representatives who were members, along with environmental representatives, on the task force.
"So that's the way the impact fee was structured. Are there impacts being felt by communities not being addressed by the industry?" he asked.
As the industry evolves, Cawley said, so the state must strive to keep up with them.
"It's always going to be a work in progress," he said.
Cawley gave an example of how the natural gas industry has impacted small businesses across the entire state, in a good way.
"Wyler Brush Co. in the Poconos manufactures industry brushes, and they figured out a way to make their brushes work in the industry to clear out their pipes more efficiently. As a result their business increased 40 percent and they were able to hire back the 40 people they just laid off, and probably will hire more," he said.
The increase in business for Wyler resulted in an increase in business for Mt. Joy Wire Co. in Lancaster County for the raw materials used to make the brushes, as well as an increase in orders for the boxes the brushes get shipped in from a box company in Birdsboro, he said.
"We need the entire commonwealth to realize how important it is for the entire state," Cawley said.
A group of four small businessmen from Potter County asked Cawley to "look harder" at eliminating a new "chapter 102" regulation that originated with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission in response to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Chesapeake Bay Commission's initiative to clean up the bay.
That regulation says if more than an acre of soil is disturbed to do a project, additional, costly permitting and engineering will be required.
"We're rural Pennsylvania, we can't do much of anything without disturbing a little bit of dirt," said Carl Long, Republican chairman for Potter County and owner of Long Farms in Coudersport.
Cawley said he has had conversations with the Department of Environmental Protection about the issue, which he called something we inherited.
"All I can say right now is we are looking at it," he said.