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Gov. Tom Corbett

Corbett vows to protect coal industry at Armstrong County rally

Gov. Tom Corbett vowed at an Armstrong County campaign rally on Saturday to protect the area’s coal industry against federal pollution regulations if he’s re-elected next month.

“This is coal country,” the governor said in a 30-minute speech in front of about 180 people in Plumcreek Township. “We need to get Washington and the (Environmental Protection Agency) out of our way so we can do more with the industry and continue to keep and grow our coal jobs that President Obama and his supporters are trying to kill in Pennsylvania.”

Corbett’s remarks were aimed at a clean power plan proposed by the EPA in June to cut carbon pollution from power plants. Its detractors say the coal industry is being targeted, risking the future of coal — the country’s biggest source of electrical generation — and thousands of jobs statewide.

Corbett attacked Democratic challenger Tom Wolf on Saturday for his support of the plan. He also criticized Wolf for his plans to raise income taxes among the state’s top-third earners and enact a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas drilling operations.

Dave Brocious, a Marcellus Shale Coalition representative in attendance at Saturday’s rally, said he believes a 5 percent severance tax could drive workers out of the state.

“They don’t have to be here,” Brocious said. “They can go to Texas, Oklahoma or Canada. The industry is growing throughout the continent and any additional taxes on the industry here could have very negative consequences on the economy.”

Corbett also focused on his accomplishments in office to make his case for re-election on Nov. 4.

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“We’ve grown the natural gas industry from the fifth largest in the country to the second largest,” Corbett said. “We reduced unemployment from 8.1 percent to 5.7 percent and we produced a balanced budget on time each of the four years I’ve been in office. When we didn’t have the money to spend, we didn’t do it. That’s what (Wolf) wants to do — tax and spend.”

Saturday’s rally was held in a facility on farmland near Elderton owned by Armstrong County coal magnate and politician Tom Smith, who lost a race for the U.S. Senate in 2012. Among the audience members were state Sen. Don White, R-Indiana County, state Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, and Armstrong County Commissioner Dave Battaglia.

White said the results of this year’s gubernational election will have a greater impact on the state than any in recent memory. The most pressing issue facing the state, he said, is ballooning pensions costs, which are projected to increase from $1.6 billion to $3.3 billion in the next three years.

“Until we can get pension costs under control and that situation is tamed, the state has no options,” White said. “It needs to be addressed immediately. Tom (Corbett) recognizes that it’s a crisis. I don’t think Wolf does.”

Corbett said Saturday that his first order of business if he’s re-elected will be to hold a special session on pension reform.

Corbett has trailed in voter polls by double digits for months. The role of underdog, however, is not something he shies away from.

“I’ve never been picked by the pundits to win,” he said. “I’ve never led the polls, but I’ve still won. The voters elected me four years ago because they liked what I was running on and I’ve kept my promise. I’m looking forward to remaining in office to keep taxes low and keep our economy growing.”