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Published: Sunday, February 13, 2011, 11:04 PM Updated: Monday, February 14, 2011, 9:11 AM
PHILADELPHIA — An energy company drilling in Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale paid for a top Republican state senator’s trip to see the Pittsburgh Steelers play in the Super Bowl in Texas, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, had his ticket, plane ride and hotel bill paid for by Consol Energy Inc., one of Scarnati’s top aides told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The free trip is permitted under Pennsylvania’s ethics rules, Drew Crompton, Scarnati’s legal counsel and chief of staff, told the newspaper. Scarnati might reimburse Consol for some of the costs, Crompton said.
Consol executives and lobbyists have contributed more than $15,000 to Scarnati’s campaigns since 2006, according to state records. The Inquirer reported that it’s not known whether Consol paid for any other legislators to attend the game in Arlington, Texas, a contest in which the Green Bay Packers beat the Steelers 31-25.
In a statement, Canonsburg-based Consol said it “had several guests join us at the Super Bowl” and noted that the expenses would be reported on its next lobbying disclosure report. The company did not identify the other guests.
Under Pennsylvania law, legislators are allowed to accept such tickets and travel as long as they report everything above a $650 annual threshold.
“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. “It really creates an uneven playing field between those who’ve got the resources to buy that kind of influence and those who don’t,” she said. Other Pennsylvania legislators, including Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, went to the Super Bowl as guests of the Steelers.
Asked by The Inquirer if the trip would affect Scarnati’s decisions on natural gas policy, Crompton said it would not. “Sen. Scarnati has taken positions that are adverse to shale companies, and nothing in his mind has changed,” he said. “He does not toe the line of these companies. His independence speaks for itself.”
Consol Energy expanded its Marcellus presence last year with the $3.5 billion acquisition of the natural gas operations of Dominion Resources Inc., including 1.46 million acres of gas leases and 9,000 operating wells. Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, said legislators in some other states aren’t allowed to accept free travel or gifts and that his group has been pushing for such rules in the Keystone State. “Under no circumstances should he be allowing someone to pay for his trip if they’re lobbying the Legislature,” Kauffman said. “It just doesn’t look good.
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Filed under: drilling in pa Tagged: | Consol Energy Inc, Joe Scarnati, marcellus shale, Marcellus shale drilling, natural gas, philadelphia inquirer, pittsburg steelers, republican senators in PA, senator scarnati, super bowl