ZAGATA: $1B In Fracking Royalties? To Penna., Not New York


$1B In Fracking Royalties?

To Penna., Not New York

By MIKE ZAGATA • Special to

As Americans, it’s our right to advocate for things we believe in and against things we don’t like or want. However, with that right comes a responsibility – a responsibility to take the time to thoroughly educate ourselves about the pros and cons of whatever it is we want to advocate for or oppose. That means thinking in advance about both the intended and unintended consequences.

Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and a former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

As examples that will evoke emotion across the board, let’s use the Constitution Pipeline or fracking. Some were for and some were against one or both. In the short term, those against them “won” – or did they? Were there unintended consequences that adversely impacted them and the rest of our community?

During the heat of the debate, several of our local religious leaders inserted a letter opposing fracking and/or the pipeline in their newsletters. Since then, several of our churches have closed. Others face weekly shortfalls in contributions and struggle to meet their budgets. Their capital campaigns continue to fall short of their goals.

Why is that? Simply put, our area is economically depressed, and people simply don’t have “extra” money. One might say it happens because the parishioners don’t like their pastor, but that doesn’t appear to be the cause as all our churches are being impacted.

Please don’t take me the wrong way. I’m not saying the fracking ban or the lack of the pipeline project are the sole cause of our difficulties. They aren’t, but the Pennsylvania county south of Binghamton benefited directly from the $1 billion in royalties paid to its landowners and several towns would have benefitted from the tax revenue from the pipeline and its compressor stations to the tune of millions of dollars annually.

Based upon the state of our economy, nearly any amount of new revenue coming into our area would have been a help.
Put another way, our area is suffering from a shrinking population and a shrinking economy. Any lost opportunity to change that means there will be less money to share in the community. When that happens, it is the people on the bottom rung of the economy, the poor, who suffer most.

Did those who contributed to that lost opportunity think about what the overall impact would be and who would be hurt the most? Did they take the time to fully educate themselves about the pros and cons and the fact the state Department of Environmental Conservation and its Department of Health are legally charged with protecting our environment and health and have the expertise to do so?

There were folks who opposed those two opportunities who didn’t have any skin in the game, so to speak. They had jobs paid for by us and others outside our area by their taxes and would seem to be immune from the loss of new economic growth due to the bans. But were they really immune? As New York State’s population continues to shrink, local school districts’ and colleges’ enrollments are down. That could lead to a loss of some of those “immune” jobs.

Every time someone leaves the state, and about one million have left over the past eight years, our taxes, by definition, must go up to maintain the same level of services. There are fewer people left to share the tax burden, and, therefore, those of us that are left must pay more. As a result, more will leave.

Had fracking taken place or the pipeline built, there would have been a way to grow the tax base and thus reduce the need for our local governments to increase our taxes. Ironically, it seems that “renewables” may offer our local governments a way out – if they are willing to ignore the potential for adverse environmental impacts – something they weren’t willing to do with fracking or Constitution Pipeline.

You see, the land where the solar and wind farms will be sited is now largely classed as agricultural land and doesn’t generate the tax revenue that it would if classed as industrial land. Those considering leasing their land for solar or wind farms would do well to find out in advance if, as a result of allowing an “industrial activity (energy production), their land will be reclassified as “industrial”.

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