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Of Ecos and Anglers


The upcoming debate over whether or not to lease up to 80,000 more acres of state forest land to gas drillers has resulted in a marriage that, if it works out, could have a long-lasting impact on coalition-building in the state legislature.  It seems the environmentalists and sportsmen are teaming up, and making their voices heard.

This week, Rep. Dave Levdansky corralled 36 like-minded lawmakers and sent a letter to Governor Ed Rendell, opposing any further leasing until environmental impact studies can be done.  Rendell responded today that the revenue from the leasing was part of a two-year deal to raise revenues for the state, and although he isn’t exactly thrilled with more leasing, he intends to honor to deal, absent any other revenue sources.  Levdansky’s cabal is renewing the call for an extraction tax on natural gas as the alternative revenue source.

The purpose of this post is not to take a side on whether or not more lands should be leased, or wellheads taxed.  We are much more interested in which forces are lining up where, because no matter what side of the debate you land on, the underlying potential power of Levdansky’s nascent coalition cannot be understated.

Southeast Pennsylvania is chock full of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who take environmental issues very seriously, as that issue always ranks high on their constituents’ wish lists.  You do not often see central, western and rural PA lawmakers joining them, as their constituents tend to be much more conservative, vote more on social issues, and have a big place in their hearts for hunting and fishing.

Neither side has enough votes in the House of Representatives to carry the day on many issues.  The best they can do is occasionally block or soften the impact of what they view as bad policy.  But if the ecos and the anglers somehow came together, and stayed together, it might be the most powerful creation since someone got their peanut butter on someone else’s chocolate. 

But a cautionary note must be made here.  This coalition has tried before to work hand-in-hand, most recently on the reauthorization of the Growing Greener legislation.  That package of bills authorized state spending on a broad range of environmental initiatives.  It was fairly successful, but the underlying bill already had broad support, as it was essentially a rewrite of an initiative passed under GOP Governor Tom Ridge.

Interested observers will wait and see if this new marriage is for the long run.  The first test is certainly a stiff one: convincing their colleagues to pass a tax increase in an election year.  The results will go a long way in predicting if this new coalition, represented by lawmakers with vastly different constituencies, can become a real player for years to come.


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