Envirocrats are it again (& other business matters)

Envirocrats are it again (& other business matters)

It took no time at all for envirocrats to appeal the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s approval of the critical cross-state Mariner East 2 natural gas pipeline.

The $2.5 billion pipeline would transport natural gas liquids from Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to a Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook, southwest of Philadelphia. The product will be shipped to Scotland for making plastics.

Environmental groups allege the DEP bowed to “heavy political pressure” and accuse the agency of “lacking all the information it needed to make a reasoned and reasonable decision.”

Two points:

First, the DEP hardly has been a rubber stamp for Pennsylvania’s shale gas industry. In fact, many of its past comments and delaying tactics have been considered decidedly anti-industry.

Second, DEP points to not only the five public hearings it held on the pipeline project but to the 20,000 hours it required to review permit applications and 29,000 public comments.

To call the review “utterly inadequate,” as the envirocrats allege, defies credulity.

Word out of Eastern Ohio is that PTT Global Chemical Public Ltd. has postponed until later this year a decision to build a multibillion-dollar ethane cracker plant near the village of Shadyside.

A decision had been expected in the next few weeks.

It appears the company needed more time to further vet the engineering and economics of the project, though reports have it that PTT already has spent tens of millions of dollars developing the site. The facility would “crack” Utica shale gas into “feedstock” for plastic products.

Some have characterized the delay as good news for a similar cracker plant now under construction by Dutch Royal Shell in Beaver County, also along the Ohio River, about 70 miles to the north. That is, the Beaver County facility, which would “crack” Marcellus shale gas, will have something of a head start.

That might be. But could the delay also be signalling something else? Could it be fears of yet another softening of the shale gas industry, one generally believed to have been on the rebound? Or is it that another cracker plant so close presents too much of a competitive problem?

These are the times that try Westinghouse employees’ souls.

Parent company Toshiba is looking to unload all or part of the iconic electric-turned-nuclear company. It — meaning Toshiba — might even file for bankruptcy protection.

Beset with billions of dollars in debt — largely blamed on the foibles of a Westinghouse nuclear construction subsidiary — the Japanese conglomerate says it will write off more than $6 billion and leave the business of building nuclear power plants, The New York Times reports.

That could place the very future of Westinghouse in doubt. What happens to its Cranberry Township headquarters in Butler County? What happens to its more than 2,200 employees?

And just as significant, what does this portend for the future of nuclear-generated electricity in the United States, if not the world?

WITF Radio in Philadelphia calculates that Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed Fiscal 2018 budget contains “about a billion dollars in new taxes.” It’s not exactly an austerity budget, now is it? And so much for the governor’s claim of no new “broad-based” tax hikes.

As Gene Barr, executive director of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, reminds, many of the tax hikes target commonwealth businesses.

“We can’t sit here and say, ‘That’s a great tax’ or ‘That’s a great approach,’” Barr told the station. “I mean, all those things are just going to make Pennsylvania less competitive moving forward if we adopt them.”

It remains this fundamental: The more you tax business, the less you get of it.

A letter writer takes issue with the Allegheny Institute’s position on the governor’s budget blueprint.

First she says it’s contradictory to criticize state government for attempting to raise the minimum wage while saying that the economy is not being stimulated by low wage earners.

But it’s not contradictory at all. Wages should not be set by government fiat but based on market conditions and productivity. Government wage floors are nothing more than a tax on labor; the more you tax it, the less you get of it.

The better way to raise wages is to reduce onerous taxes and regulations on business. That frees up more money for investment, leads to business expansion, creates more jobs and leads to competition among businesses for workers, which is the natural way to increase wages.

By the correspondent’s illogic, all we need to do to sufficiently stimulate the economy is to raise wages by government fiat; the higher the government-mandated wage, the healthier the economy will be. But it would be quite difficult to have a healthy economy if you have no commerce to power it.

The same letter writer claims that Pennsylvania is the only state not to collect taxes from companies extracting shale gas. That’s simply not true; they long have paid an “impact fee,” which, of course, is a tax by any other name. And they already pay the kinds of business taxes that every other commonwealth business pays.

“Something reasonable and logical needs to be done to increase revenue to the state coffers without burdening those who can least afford it,” the letter writer continues, noting she is retired and that her pension is fixed.

But raising the cost of labor through minimum wage floors and adding taxes upon taxes for businesses (which only serves to decrease revenue to state coffers) certainly is neither “reasonable” nor “logical.”

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).