Marie Cusick is a reporter with StateImpact Pennsylvania and WITF in Harrisburg. She joined WITF from Albany, New York where she worked as a multimedia reporter for WMHT. Her work was broadcast by public stations across New York as part of the Innovation Trail— a reporting collaborative among six stations. She appeared regularly on WMHT’s award-winning, statewide public affairs TV show, New York NOW. She also traveled throughout the state to cover some of New York’s biggest stories, including the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy in New York City in 2012, and the debate over New York’s moratorium on fracking. Marie was born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and has previously worked as a reporter and anchor for television stations in Lancaster and Casper, Wyoming. Marie holds a degree in political science and French from Lebanon Valley College.
In December, the state Supreme Court struck down portions of the 2012 law that restricted the ability of local governments to zone oil and gas development, but the justices left a number of matters unresolved and sent the case back to the lower Commonwealth Court .
The court is now reviewing, among other things, whether the rest of Act 13 can stand without the sections that were struck down.
In an opinion released Friday, the Court of Special Appeals weighed the meaning of ten crucial words in the most recent version of the agreement, which Dominion, Sierra and another group signed in 2005. The agreement permits “receipt by tanker and the receipt or delivery by pipeline” of natural gas at the site.
The opinion by Judge Michele Hotten even includes the full dictionary entry for the word “by” as part of the court’s efforts to parse the phrase.
According to Sierra, this clause means that Dominion can receive shipments of gas by sea and over land, via pipeline, at the site, and that the company can make deliveries over land to domestic buyers. However, the group argues, Dominion is not permitted to make deliveries by sea.
Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley sat down with StateImpact Pennsylvania recently to talk about how the Corbett administration is handling allegations of fraud against the state’s biggest natural gas driller– Chesapeake Energy.
Former Secretary of the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection and democratic gubernatorial candidate, Katie McGinty.
In 2005, as the head of the state Department of Environmental Protection, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty fast-tracked a permit for a controversial waste coal power plant in western Pennsylvania. In recent months, McGinty has accepted $120,000 in campaign contributions from a coal executive behind the project.
The Beech Hollow power plant was ultimately never built. But emails obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania show an effort by McGinty to expedite the plant’s permit and approve it just before more stringent federal air quality regulations were going to be implemented.
Ray Bologna Sr.’s family owns the site of a massive pile of waste coal in Washington County– said to be the largest east of the Mississippi. The plan was to use it as fuel for the power plant. Over the years, the Bologna’s have given generously to many political campaigns, including those of former Governor Ed Rendell and Governor Corbett.
Bologna did not respond to requests to comment for this story.
Environmental groups object to Governor Corbett's plan to expand leasing of state park and forest land for gas drilling.
A statewide coalition of environmental groups held a rally today opposing Governor Corbett’s proposal to expand leasing of state parks and forests for natural gas drilling.
They marched from the capitol rotunda to Corbett’s office to deliver a petition opposing the plan.
The rally was timed to coincide with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources appearing before the House Appropriations committee.
DCNR secretary Ellen Ferretti told lawmakers Corbett’s proposal will not allow for any new or additional surface impacts to public lands.
“Each and every [leasing] proposal will be evaluated to make sure it adheres to this directive,” she said.
Former Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, leased about 130,000 acres of state forest land before he instituted a moratorium on future leasing during his last year in office.
Governor Corbett says he plans to issue a new executive order, under which companies could not build new well pads on state land. Instead, they could access gas by drilling horizontally underground from private property that’s adjacent to public land, or add new wells to existing well pads on state land.
Pennsylvania's highest court threw out sections of the state's oil and gas law in December, saying they violated citizens' environmental rights.
Pennsylvania’s highest court has denied a request by the Corbett administration to reconsider its recent decision, which found portions of the state’s oil and gas law unconstitutional.
In a 4-2 decision in December, the state Supreme Court court threw out portions of the law, known as Act 13, which restricted local zoning of oil and gas development.
One section of the law that was struck down called for statewide rules on oil and gas to preempt local zoning rules. Another section required local governments to allow oil and gas development in all zoning areas.
In the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Ronald Castille, the court determined both those provisions violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the state constitution, which guarantees Pennsylvanians the right to “clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. ”
The decision was hailed as a major victory by environmental groups and local governments who argued Act 13 went too far in restricting local authority.
In January, the Corbett administration asked the court to reconsider its decision. Corbett’s General Counsel James Schultz argued the court, “made its own sweeping factual findings regarding the impact of Act 13″ without giving the state an opportunity to present its own evidence.
The court issued an order today simply stating, “the application for reargument or reconsideration of the opinions entered by this Court on December 19, 2013 is denied.”
Ferretti was answering questions this morning before the senate appropriations committee.
“The proposal at hand is no new or additional surface disturbance and can only be done through existing or proposed well pads,” Ferretti said.
In his 2014 budget proposal, Governor Corbett calls for new leasing of the state’s mineral rights for “non-impact drilling”. Corbett says he plans to issue a new executive order, under which gas companies would not be allowed to construct new well pads. Instead, they could lease new underground mineral rights near existing drilling sites or through private property adjacent to public land.
The administration says the proposal could immediately raise $75 million through leasing with more coming later on as royalties.
“We don’t have a list of where it will occur,” said Ferretti. “We’re taking proposals now.”
DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo (center) with with deputy secretaries Jeff Logan (Ieft) and Dana Aunkst (right) at the department's senate budget hearing in Harrisburg.
The first budget hearing of the state Department of Environmental Protection this year focused less on the budget and more on the department’s rapid response to recent environmental accidents.
Legislators from both parties praised DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo for the way the department handled last week’s natural gas well fire and oil train derailment in western Pennsylvania.
“Everybody did what was to be done when that type of situation occurs. It was textbook.” said Sen. Tim Solobay (D- Greene), referring to the gas well fire.
He asked Abruzzo if he had suggestions to make future emergency response improvements.
“There are undoubtedly things I’ll want to see us do better,” Abruzzo replied, without giving specifics. “We will do our own internal review. And certainly, we’re going to scrutinize the actions of [Chevron].”