by Max Brantley
A review panel heard the truth yesterday(sub. reqd.) from state employees — every agency that has a responsibility for protecting water, air and other interests from ill effects of shale gas exploration doesn't have enough people to do the job properly. This was said repeatedly in a meeting of a review team set up as a result of legislation from the Shale Caucus, which exists to encourage exploration of the shale.
So now the test: Will Sen. Jason Rapert of Bigelow, who pushed for the review, take responsibility for expanding state government employment (and finding money for that expansion) so that citizens can have assurances that the environment is being protected by the Oil and Gas Commission, Natural Resources Department and the Department of Environmental Quality? It would also help if he and other Republicans in the Shale Caucus would back tax measures sufficient to pay for damage being done to city, county and state roads. Rapert has volunteered to get together with me for a talk on issues soon. I hope to ask him about these questions then.
Uh, Gov. Beebe, your leadership on environmental protection — so far not much in evidence — would also be appreciated.
UPDATE: A former legislator notes that, under the way revenue is parceled out in Arkansas, 5 percent of the money raised by the severance tax increase being pushed by Sheffield Nelson and the Municipal League will go off the top to general revenues. A 7 percent severance tax on gas selling at $4 per mcf would produce roughly $12 million in new money a year for general revenues. A wise governor and legislature could designate that money by special language for environmental law enforcement (if the gas industry would allow it).