PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf promised an environmental group Wednesday night that he would launch a third round of the state's "Growing Greener" program if he is elected.
His remarks to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council came after Republican Gov. Tom Corbett praised the group for its efforts to balance the conservation of natural resources with economic development. "It's not all one or all the other," Corbett said.
The awards ceremony at the Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia was the first joint appearance for the candidates, and they did not directly criticize each other. It comes a week after President Barack Obama announced a plan to reduce the nation's carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent over 25 years by ordering cuts in pollution discharged by America's power plants, primarily those fueled by coal.
Corbett's campaign has heaped scorn on Obama's proposal as a "war on coal" that would damage Pennsylvania's coal industry.
Wolf said Wednesday he'd consider having Pennsylvania join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative if he determined it would not adversely affect the state. The initiative also seeks to reduce emissions from power plants.
Wolf's campaign said he believes global warming is already affecting human health and the environment and has promised that his administration would set "meaningful" emission-reduction targets for greenhouse gases. Corbett has not set such targets.
There is also considerable discussion in the Legislature over whether to increase taxes on Pennsylvania's booming natural gas industry to help make up a $1 billion-plus gap in Corbett's budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Wolf said he wants a "responsible and reasonable" severance tax that he said would help fund schools and mitigate damage to the environment and infrastructure caused by gas drilling. He did not say how much the tax should be.
"Simply pulling the resource out of the ground and hoping for the best is neither smart nor sustainable," Wolf said.
Corbett opposes a severance tax. He mentioned only current impact fees, which he said generated $630 million over the past three years. The industry overall has paid $2 billion in taxes since 2008, he said.
"Everyone ought to pay their fair share, and they do," said Corbett.
Wolf did not specify how he'd pay for the "Growing Greener" proposal, which has funded a variety of cleanup and land improvement projects since 1999. The latest round of the program, financed with a $625 million bond approved by Pennsylvania voters in 2005, is winding down.
Many members of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council board are from the business world, and its chairman was one of four environmental advocates on Corbett's 30-member Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.
The commission was criticized for its heavy complement of business and gas industry advocates, but Corbett said Wednesday that the group helped develop "the most progressive set of environmental rules in the nation."
Associated Press writer Marc Levy contributed to this report from Harrisburg, Pa.