Environmental groups rank state legislators on drilling votes

A coalition of environmental groups has handed out rankings of every state senator and representative based on their votes related to Marcellus Shale drilling.

Representatives of Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, the Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania and PennEnvironment created a “scorecard” rating of every state legislator based on their votes leading up to the passage of Act 13, a law signed by Gov. Tom Corbett on Feb. 14 that enacted an impact fee on gas drillers.

“This legislation is a significant step in the wrong direction that leaves our communities, our health, and our environment at continued risk,” the groups said in their announcement on Tuesday.

Act 13 “tramples on municipal rights” by creating minimal setbacks for drilling from residential areas, preempts local zoning laws, enacts inadequate environmental provisions, and sets the rate of the extraction fee too low, the group complained.

Legislators were scored based on floor votes that highlighted environmental issues. Senators were rated on eight votes, including amendments that would have preserved local control over gas drilling, protected state forests from further drilling, and their positions on the legislation creating Act 13.

House members were graded on 13 votes, including amendments that limited environmental funding, protected drinking water, made drillers pay for road damage and House Bill 1950, which ultimately became Act 13.

How the area’s lawmakers did:


Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township


On all eight pieces of legislation the committee used for the scorecard, Corman, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, issued an “anti-environment” vote. That included votes against an amendment that would have made drillers pay for environmental clean-up and road reconstruction, an amendment that would have increased protections from gas drilling, and votes for both the original bill and final passage of Act 13.

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont


Wozniak, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Finance committees, was the only Democratic member of the state Senate to fail to issue a “pro-environment” vote on any of the eight pieces of legislation studied by the committee. The panel made special mention of Wozniak as having the lowest score among all state Democrats.

House members:

Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte


The sole “pro-environment” vote Benninghoff made among the 13 counted for the scorecard was for an amendment that eliminated an expedited process for gas drilling permitting. Benninghoff voted for HB 1950 in both its initial and final forms.

Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township


Conklin lodged a “pro-environment” vote on every item used in creating the committee’s scorecard. He was singled out as a “hero” by the committee as having “stood up to protect our water, our air, and our neighborhoods from gas drilling.”

Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Three Springs


Fleck scored points with the committee for his votes against limiting funding to Growing Greener, a conservation program, as well as for the elimination of expedited drilling permits, but missed three key environmental votes and voted for HB 1950 twice, resulting in his low score.

Rep. Camille “Bud” George, D-Houtzdale


For every vote at which George was present, he came down in favor of the environment, according to the committee. But George missed two important votes on Nov. 16, in which the House forced a final vote on HB 1950 and then passed it on to the Senate.

Rep. Mike Hanna,  D-Lock Haven


Hanna only voted against the committee’s recommendations once, when he decided against an amendment that would have created a severance tax and increased revenues for statewide drillers. On 12 other votes considered by the committee, Hanna voted “pro-environment,” including votes against HB 1950.