Pennsylvania

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Pipeline opponents welcome court ruling on challenge to eminent domain

A judge's ruling allows opponents of the Mariner East 2 pipeline to argue their case in court.

A judge's ruling allows opponents of the Mariner East 2 pipeline to argue their case in court.

Updating with comments from attorney

A Philadelphia judge ruled that a legal challenge to Sunoco Logistics’ use of eminent domain for construction of its Mariner East 2 pipeline can go ahead despite the company’s call for the court to dismiss the case.

Judge Linda Carpenter of the city’s Court of Common Pleas, in a decision published on Wednesday, sided with the environmental group Clean Air Council and two other plaintiffs who sued Sunoco last year, arguing that the company is not entitled to seize private land through eminent domain for the pipeline because it is not legitimately operating as a public utility in Pennsylvania.

The plaintiffs say that because the pipeline would carry natural gas liquids from Ohio and West Virginia through Pennsylvania, and that most of the liquids would be sold overseas, the pipeline is predominantly an interstate – not intrastate — entity, and so should not be given public utility status that would allow the company to assert eminent domain. Continue Reading

Wolf says PA will move forward on Clean Power Plan

PPL's Brunner Island three-unit coal-fired plant located on the west bank of the Susquehanna River. A bill recently approved by the state House and Senate would give legislators more time to review Pennsylvania's compliance with federal climate regulations.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

PPL's Brunner Island three-unit coal-fired plant located on the west bank of the Susquehanna River.

The Wolf administration says it will continue with plans to comply with new federal mandates to reduce the state’s carbon emissions despite a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, which put a hold on Obama’s landmark effort to combat climate change.

In a surprise move, the court issued a stay on implementation of the Clean Power Plan while challenges to the rules play out in a lower court. The court is scheduled to hear arguments in June, while the states are supposed to have their implementation plans to the EPA by September. The CPP requires every state to come up with a plan to reduce its carbon emissions from the electric power sector. But 27 states sued the EPA, saying the Clean Air Act did not give the agency the authority to implement the rules. The ruling is a setback for the Obama Administration’s efforts to address climate change.

Pennsylvania is on target for coming up with its own implementation plan by the EPA’s September deadline, and has held 14 listening sessions on the rules across the state. Governor Wolf’s spokesman Jeff Sheridan says the Supreme Court’s decision will not impact the state’s ongoing efforts to comply with the CPP. Continue Reading

Wolf proposes 6.5 percent tax on Marcellus Shale

Gov. Tom Wolf, center, delivers his budget address for the 2016-17 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate, as the speaker of the state House of Representatives, state Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, left, and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, right, listen at the State Capitol in Harrisburg Pa., Tuesday Feb. 9, 2016.

Chris Knight / AP Photo

Gov. Tom Wolf, center, delivers his budget address for the 2016-17 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate, as the speaker of the state House of Representatives, state Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, left, and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, right, listen at the State Capitol in Harrisburg Pa., Tuesday Feb. 9, 2016.

Governor Wolf wants the state’s natural gas drillers to pay a 6.5 percent tax on Marcellus Shale production, which he estimates will bring in $217.8 million dollars for fiscal year 2016/2017 to the general fund. It’s a bold move for a governor who failed to get anywhere last year with the lower 5 percent extraction tax proposal.

In his budget address, Wolf focused on the current stalled budget process and did not even mention taxing natural gas drillers, or discuss any details about his proposed budget. He struck a defiant tone toward Republicans who may continue to oppose any tax hikes.

“Indeed anyone in this Chamber who claims we can simply cut our way out of this mess without also increasing revenue is just ignoring the math,” said Wolf. Continue Reading

Philadelphia’s green jobs plan long on goals, short on details

Philadelphia City Council president announced a $1 billion plan to invest in energy efficiency projects he says will create up to 10,000 jobs.

Philadelphia City Council president Darrell Clarke [C} stands with Mayor Jim Kenney [L] and several council members to announce a $1 billion plan to invest in energy efficiency projects. Clarke says the plan will create up to 10,000 jobs.

Back in January, on Inauguration Day, Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke vowed to announce a “comprehensive energy strategy” he said would create “more than 10,000 new jobs.”

On Monday, Clarke made good on his promise during a press conference at City Hall, flanked by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, city council members, members of the Philadelphia Energy Authority and the CEOs of two local utilities.

Clarke’s proposal calls for investing $1 billion in public and private money in energy efficiency projects in city-owned buildings, public schools, low-income homes and apartments, and small businesses. He claims the project, called the Philadelphia Energy Campaign, would create up to 10,000 new “green jobs” over 10 years and result in $200 million per year in savings once all projects are completed.

While Clarke’s plan is long on goals, it’s short on details.

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Ahead of Wolf’s budget plan, Republicans discuss Marcellus tax bills

State Rep. Kate Harper (R- Montgomery) holds up a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer with a story about the downturn in drilling.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

State Rep. Kate Harper (R- Montgomery) holds up a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer with a story about the downturn in drilling.

A day before Governor Tom Wolf is expected to unveil another attempt at taxing Marcellus Shale drillers, House Republicans were discussing their own proposals.

The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held an informational meeting Monday to look at two Republican-backed severance tax bills. Rep. John Maher (R- Allegheny) chairs the committee. He says he wants to make sure any new tax won’t hurt the state’s business climate.

“This industry that was once in a boom, is now in a bust,” he says. “And ultimately, we need to have a safe environment, but we need to be the best place for the drilling and production of natural gas.”

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Landowners brace for start of tree-felling by Constitution Pipeline builders

Shale gas pipeline like this in Zelienople is scheduled for construction across Susquehanna County.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

Workers install a shale gas pipeline in Zelienople, Butler County.

Landowners in Susquehanna County prepared for a last-minute confrontation with tree-felling crews who were expected to begin clearing forest on Friday to make way for the planned Constitution Pipeline to take natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale into New York State.

Opponents of the tree-clearing plan said three landowners in New Milford Township have not accepted offers of compensation from the pipeline operators, and have lost their challenges to the company’s assertion of eminent domain to build the pipeline on their land.

The tree-felling, which critics said was due to begin at 7 a.m. Friday, was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on January 29 as part of an implementation plan for construction of the 124-mile pipeline, which begins in Northeast Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County. Most of the line would be built in New York State. Continue Reading

Board approves state’s new oil and gas regulations

A view of active fracking operations in Susquehanna County.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A view of active fracking operations in Susquehanna County.

The state has moved one step closer to finalizing new oil and gas regulations. The Environmental Quality Board voted Wednesday to approve the Department of Environmental Protection’s updates to Chapter 78 and 78A, the regulations that oversee everything from permitting wells to waste handling and restoration. A majority of the Board (15-4) approved the proposal despite opposition from some lawmakers and even two of DEP’s own advisory boards. The new rules are the first comprehensive updates to oil and gas regulations since drilling in the Marcellus Shale began.

Several lawmakers offered amendments, but all were rejected by the Board. The proposals result from a four-year process following the 2012 legislative overhaul of the state’s oil and gas law known as Act 13. The proposals garnered nearly 30,000 public comments to DEP.  The new rules have irked both environmental groups and industry, which view the regulations as either too timid, or too far-reaching.
DEP Secretary John Quigley defended the new rules.

“These updated rules are long overdue and it’s time to get them across the finish line for the protection of public health, for industry certainty, and for the protection of our state’s environment,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley. “The changes are incremental, balanced, and appropriate, and are the result of one of the most transparent and engaged public processes in the history of the agency.”

The proposed rules will now be reviewed by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committees.

Low gas price cuts impact-fee revenue for Pa. counties and municipalities

The impact fee has helped fund rural road repairs resulting from drilling related truck traffic.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A fracking waste water truck runs along a backroad in Northeast Pa. The impact fee has helped fund repairs to rural roads damaged by drilling related truck traffic. But the drilling and the traffic slowed down in 2015, leading to reduced payments.

Pennsylvania’s local authorities will lose millions of dollars in fees from the natural gas industry this year because of lower gas prices in 2015.

The Public Utility Commission announced on Jan. 30 that mostly because of the sharp fall in gas prices, it would be reducing the amounts paid to municipalities and counties from impact fees charged to operators under Act 13, Pennsylvania’s wide-ranging gas industry law.

The fee paid for an unconventional well in its first year will be reduced by $5,000, or about 10 percent, to $45,300, the PUC said. It noted that the average price of natural gas at the Henry Hub dropped to $2.66 per million BTUs in 2015 from $4.37 in 2014. Continue Reading

Fracking in the forests: environmental groups ask for more public input

After nearly 500 angry people packed a DCNR meeting about drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest in 2013, the department said it did not keep a record of their comments. Environmental groups are now asking the department to create a  formal public participation process for major land-use decisions.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

After nearly 500 angry people packed a DCNR meeting about drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest in 2013, the department said it did not keep a record of their comments. Environmental groups are now asking the department to create a formal public participation process for major land-use decisions.

A coalition of 11 Pennsylvania environmental groups is urging the state to create a more formal public participation process when it comes to major land use decisions involving state forests, such as leasing mineral rights for oil and gas development.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is currently finalizing an update of its State Forest Resource Management Plan. The document is a strategic road map for the DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry.

A letter from the Save the Loyalsock Coalition urges DCNR to model public participation on the federal government’s process. The coalition includes groups such as PennFuture, PennEnvironment, the PA Forest Coalition, and Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter.

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House Republicans to revive gas royalties bill

Rep. Garth Everett (R- Lycoming)

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

House Republicans unveiled the new royalties bill at a June 2015 press conference. They want to revive the effort this spring.

Republicans in the state House are reviving a bipartisan bill aimed at preventing natural gas companies from shortchanging people on royalty money.

HB 1391 was introduced last summer and has 37 co-sponsors from both parties. Rep. Garth Everett (R- Lycoming) is the prime sponsor and says he held back on pushing the measure during the state’s nearly six-month-long budget stalemate, but he continues to hear from people all over the state who are upset they’re not being paid fairly.

“I’m going to try to re-energize it,” he says of the bill. He’s working to organize a legislative hearing in Bradford County next month. The date is still to be determined.

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