A top energy company in the state of Pennsylvania, that is the target of legislation which would impose fees on drilling for natural gas in the state, sent Republican Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati to the Super Bowl – all expenses paid.
The company, Consol Energy, Inc., is a major coal producer that is also drilling for gas in the Marcus Shale area. It’s annual revenues are over $5 billion per year.
Scarnati is one of several lawmakers that have been called out for blocking controversial extraction taxes in Pennsylvania, the country’s largest oil and gas producing state that currently has no extraction tax at all.
Although Scarnati refused comment for an article disclosing the junket in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, his chief of staff, Drew Compton, saw nothing wrong or unethical about it.
“The question is whether or not there will be complete compliance with the laws that we have. And what our laws say is, if you take something in excess of $650 in the course of a year, it needs to be reported.
“People take hospitality, people take gifts in this state, and in other states. It’s not whether or not it should occur. It’s whether you are complying with the lobbying law that we have. And we are.”
Compton said that once Consol discloses how much it spend sending Scarnati to the game, Scarnati might reimburse part of the cost, perhaps using campaign funds, also considered legal.
Critics did not agree it was an innocent gesture.
“There’s nothing illegal about it, but it does show the undue influence industry has over elected officials,” said Jan Jarrett, president of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, an environmental advocacy organization that has pushed for taxes and tighter regulations on natural-gas drilling.
Over the last few years, Scarnati has accepted $117,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies, more than any other politician in the legislator, according to the watchdog group, Common Cause.
The only other official that received more was Gov. Tom Corbett, who took $875,720 from energy producers. Corbett does not support taxing the drillers, but claims to have a door open for some sort of fee, although undefined thus far.
Other state politicians that travelled to the Super Bowl to see the Steelers lose to the Green Bay Packers included Sen. Dominic Pileggi and Sen. John Pippy, who went as guests of the Steelers, although Pippy said he was planning on reimbursing them for the trip.
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette