Gas drilling continues to be political football
The Corbett administration claims the forced resignation of state parks head John Norbeck has nothing to do with the potential for gas and timber extraction on public lands.
Mr. Norbeck and others involved in the park system aren't convinced, however.
Industrial access to public lands, especially for drilling, has been an issue since the earliest days of Gov. Tom Corbett's election campaign. He railed against a moratorium on new public land drilling leases imposed by former Gov. Ed Rendell, mistakenly believing it to be the cancellation of existing leases. The governor has said that he would lift the moratorium on new leases but has not done so.
In a letter dated Oct. 1, the administration gave Mr. Norbeck the option to resign or be fired, without explanation. He resigned Oct. 19.
Afterward, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he had "philosophical differences" with administration officials about park stewardship, including his opposition to commercial timbering, mining and gas drilling in the state parks. He cited proposals for limestone mining and timbering at several state parks in Western Pennsylvania.
Mr. Norbeck's forced resignation is not the sole red flag. Paulette Viola, Ph.D., who had served on the Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council since the Ridge administration, recently resigned in protest over administration policy. Dr. Violoa, a professor of ecology at Slippery Rock University, claimed that the administration had thwarted the committee's efforts to study drilling policy regarding public lands, mostly by cutting its budget by 90 percent.
Mr. Norbeck's departure is unfortunate for the system. Even with a shrinking staff and budget during his six years, the number of park visitors increased from 35 million to 38 million a year, and the system's revenue from rentals and related services increased from $13 million in 2006 to $21 million in 2011.
Those levels of stewardship of public assets and performance of a public business should not produce a dismissal. The Legislature should conduct a hearing to find out just what is going on.