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More Calls for Senator to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

HARRISBURG — Some Capitol watchdog groups are calling for certain lawmakers to recuse themselves when it comes to drafting bills that regulate natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

It comes one day after a Newswatch 16 report that questioned whether a state senator from our area should still be allowed to have a say in the legislative process when he has leased his land to a natural gas company.

State Senator Gene Yaw is not only on a legislative committee that deals with the environment and energy, he is the chairperson.

Plus, the Republican has been reaping the benefits of the natural gas industry for years, both personally and politically.

That has some people calling for the senator to do whatever it takes to avoid conflicts of interest.

One day after introducing bills meant to expand natural gas service to more Pennsylvanians, State Senator Gene Yaw of Lycoming County is coming under more fire for his alleged conflict of interest when it comes to the natural gas industry.

“You can not simultaneously promote and regulate an industry, if you have the ability to pass and sponsor legislation that will increase your quarterly dividend, you have a conflict of interest,” said Eric Epstein, co-founder of Rock the Capitol which serves as a government watchdog in Harrisburg.

Now, Epstein is turning his attention to Yaw who has made it no secret he’s leased more than 100 acres of his land in Lycoming County to a natural gas company.

Yet, the Republican, who chairs the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, still plays a major role in deciding how the state legislature does business with the oil and gas industry.

“We have a problem, I think the bigger problem is if he can’t see it after we’ve been through with Bonusgate and the Turnpike Commission,” said Epstein.

In 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 Senator Gene Yaw had to fill out a statement of financial interest for the State Ethics Commission. In each of those years, he listed Anadarko Petroleum as one of his sources of income, the very same company he’s leased land to for natural gas drilling. This year’s report for 2012 is due in May.

In fact, out of the several dozen sources of campaign donations in Yaw’s 2012 re-election campaign several thousand dollars came from the oil and gas industry.

That includes 500 dollars from Anadarko Petroleum.

In a statement to Newswatch 16, Senator Yaw said:

“I lease some property I own to a natural gas company, as do virtually all of my neighbors in the 23rd Senatorial District. That lease, which is a matter of public record, was signed in 2006, three years before I took office. Historically, the property has been leased for oil and gas exploration since the early 1930’s. Moreover, as required when I first ran for office in 2008, and every year since, I have filed a public Statement of Financial Interests, which is easily accessed at the State Ethics Commission website, listing this source of income in appropriate years. All information has always been widely available.”

Some critics, like Rock the Capitol, suggest that Yaw and other lawmakers who have similar conflicts of interest should put those incomes in something called a blind trust until they leave office.

That way, lawmakers could not be accused of being influenced by how well or poorly it’s doing.

Senator Yaw’s office did not return our request for comment regarding the blind trust option.

GUIDE TO THE PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC OFFICIAL AND EMPLOYEE ETHICS ACT

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