Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Pipeline opponents sue Sunoco, alleging constitutional violations

Ellen (left) and Elise Gerhart have been battling with Sunoco Logistics over the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline on their property in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Ellen (left) and Elise Gerhart have been battling with Sunoco Logistics over the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline on their property in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.They filed a federal lawsuit on Monday accusing Sunoco and its parent company Energy Transfer Partners with violating their constitutional rights.

Four opponents of the Mariner East 2 pipeline sued Sunoco Pipeline and its parent, Energy Transfer Partners, in federal court on Monday, alleging the company violated several constitutional rights when police arrested the plaintiffs on a private property in Huntingdon County.

The suit accuses Sunoco, plus a private security firm, a publicist, and 27 state and local police officers of violating constitutional protections over free speech, false arrest, malicious prosecution and equal protection when the plaintiffs were arrested on the property owned by the Gerhart family in March 2016.

The claims stem from a confrontation between the Gerharts and their supporters, and Sunoco and law-enforcement officers on March 29, 2016 when a tree-cutting crew entered an easement that the company obtained through eminent domain on the Gerharts’ land to build the pipeline. Continue Reading

Pipeline agency fails to explain how it assesses risk, prioritizes inspections

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office finds federal pipeline regulators were unable to document or explain their processes for assessing pipeline risk, and prioritizing safety inspections.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found federal pipeline regulators unable to document or explain their processes for assessing risk.

It’s unclear whether federal regulators are properly prioritizing safety inspections on the nation’s massive network of natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Pipeline safety is overseen by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. With a safety staff of about 200 people covering 2.7 million miles of pipelines, PHMSA must pick and choose where it sends inspectors. Weld failures and corrosion are among the leading causes of significant incidents, according to the GAO.

In order to assess the risk of pipeline segments, PHMSA relies on data from pipeline companies and plugs it into its so-called, Risk Ranking Index Model (RRIM). Each year, the model produces a score which puts them into a high, medium, or low risk category—prompting inspections every three, five, or seven years, respectively.

But the GAO says PHMSA was unable to document or explain the rationale behind the RRIM model, and the agency has not used data to track its effectiveness. The situation is inconsistent with federal management principles, says the GAO.

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Delco homeowners ask court to halt Mariner East 2 pipeline construction

An easement where Sunoco Pipeline is preparing for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline.  A homeowners group is asking a court to halt construction in that location until Sunoco comes up with a plan to mitigate contaminated soil on the site.

Jon Hurdle

An easement where Sunoco Pipeline is preparing for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. A homeowners group is asking a court to halt construction in that location until Sunoco comes up with a plan to mitigate contaminated soil on the site.

A Delaware County homeowners association is asking an appeals court to halt local work on the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline until its builder, Sunoco Pipeline, finds a way to stop disturbance of contaminated soil at the site.

The Andover Homeowners Association in Thornbury Township says construction on the edge of its upscale 39-home development is stirring up contaminants including lead and arsenic that were used as pesticides when the land was an orchard, and which now threaten residents’ health.

The association argues that the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution, as recently interpreted by the state Supreme Court, establishes that government at all levels has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of its citizens and the state’s natural resources.

But it complains that it has had no help from two state agencies and the local township in seeking to control the alleged contamination. Continue Reading

Philadelphia works to bring solar energy costs down to earth

Patrick Whittaker of Solar States installs solar panels on the roof of a home in Bryn Mawr.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Patrick Whittaker of Solar States installs solar panels on the roof of a home in Bryn Mawr.

Anthony LoCicero, a 33-year-old structural engineer raised in South Jersey, has been flirting with the idea of installing solar panels on his three-bedroom brick townhouse in South Philadelphia since he bought it, seven years ago.

“Something about it just sounds like the right thing to do in general, right?” LoCicero said.  “But it just never made financial sense.”

Although the price of solar panels has been dropping over the last five years, the cost of installing a solar system capable of producing most of the energy consumed by a Philadelphia row house still ranges between $10,000 to $30,000 — depending on the amount of energy consumed and the size of the house. But a city-wide solar program, with the goal of installing solar panels on 500 city rooftops by 2018, is currently offering below-market rates and other benefits, to entice homeowners.

“It was surprisingly inexpensive, I was pleasantly surprised,” LoCicero said after meeting with one of the three solar installers participating in Solarize Philly, a company called Solar by Kiss.

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Construction begins on Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline

Site preparation of a compressor station in Columbia County

Courtesy: Williams

Site preparation of a compressor station in Columbia County.

Williams Partners has announced construction is officially underway on its multi-billion dollar Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, which is being built to connect Marcellus Shale gas in northeastern Pennsylvania to markets along the eastern seaboard.

“We are committed to installing this infrastructure in a safe, environmentally responsible manner and in full compliance with rigorous state and federal environmental permits and standards,” Micheal Dunn, Williams’ executive vice president and chief operating officer said in a press release. “Our construction personnel are experienced, highly-qualified professionals who have undergone extensive training to ensure that this important project is installed safely and responsibly.”

The company broke ground Friday on two new natural gas compressor stations in Orange Township, Columbia and Clinton Township ,Wyoming county. Work on the pipeline itself is expected to begin September 25. Once completed, the line will run underground, through 10 Pennsylvania counties: Columbia, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Clinton and Lycoming.

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Conflicting decisions on pipelines frustrate industry, landowners

Holleran

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Hundreds of Cathy Holleran's maple trees were cut down, through the use of eminent domain, for an interstate natural gas pipeline that's now stalled.

In March 2016, workers for one of the nation’s largest natural gas pipeline companies cut down a large swath of maple trees in Susquehanna County–a rural patch of northeastern Pennsylvania. A video shot by an activist shows the trees crashing down as chainsaws buzz.

Cathy Holleran was powerless to stop it. At the time, she was tapping the trees for her family’s maple syrup business, but the pipeline company condemned her land using the power of eminent domain.

Armed U.S. Marshals

Driving around a year-and-a half later, she’s still in disbelief. A court order had prevented her from interfering, and law enforcement officers came to protect the pipeline workers.

“We had to stay completely away. They brought armed U.S. Marshals with assault rifles and Pennsylvania State Police, and had guys walking all over property in bullet proof vests,” Holleran recalls. “I mean, really! We’re making syrup. What are we going to do? Are we going to go attack these guys?”

Walking through her property on a recent soggy September afternoon, Holleran finds tree stumps hidden beneath shoulder-high weeds.

“This used to all be woods– as thick as that,” she says, gesturing to a cluster of remaining trees.

By her count, she lost more than 550 maples, “I went through with my camera and took pictures from every angle and counted them by hand to make sure I was accurate.”

She says her family’s maple syrup business has been cut in half. But the real shame of it all, Holleran adds, is this may all have been for nothing.

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Consol halts mining while waiting for new stream plan response

IMG_7974A month after a panel of judges said Consol Energy’s mining plan would “essentially destroy” a Western Pennsylvania stream, the company has sent in a new plan. But it’s halted its longwall mining operations in the area and laid off workers while waiting for the state to decide on the proposal.

Consol says 303 miners at its Bailey Mine have been “impacted” by the work stoppage.

The company submitted a revised permit application to mine beneath Polen Run, a trout-stocked stream that runs through Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is reviewing the application.

The revised application came in response to a state Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) rejection of a separate permit that allowed Consol to mine in another stretch of Polen Run.

The major difference in the two plans is what the company says it will do in a worst-case scenario: if mining causes subsidence to the stream bed and leads to a loss of stream flow.

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Pa. House narrowly passes a tax-free budget funding plan

House Democrats and Republicans held an intense Rules Committee hearing on the bill before sending it to the full floor. It saw several more hours of debate there.

Katie Meyer / WITF

House Democrats and Republicans held an intense Rules Committee hearing on the bill before sending it to the full floor. It saw several more hours of debate there.

The state House of Representatives has narrowly voted to move a budget plan built largely on one-time fund transfers.

Although it represents the first action on the overdue budget in well over a month, it’s unclear how much it’ll move the needle toward a resolution.

The Senate and the administration of Governor Tom Wolf both support a very different plan that raises several taxes–something the House majority wants to avoid completely.

Committee debate on the funding plan wasn’t just a study in contrasting ideologies between Democrats and Republicans–it was a study in contrasting facts.

House Democrats, like Minority Leader Frank Dermody, insist there needs to be more recurring revenue to balance the structural deficit (a budget shortfall that recurs year after year due to underfunding).

“There is no free lunch,” Dermody told his GOP colleagues in a committee meeting. “There’s no way out of this with smoke and mirrors, double-counting revenue and not coming up with real revenue. That can’t be done anymore.”

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DRBC takes a step toward banning fracking in Northeast Pa.

A view of the Delaware River from Morrisville, Pa.

Kim Paynter / WHYY

A view of the Delaware River from Morrisville, Pa. The Delaware River Basin Commission voted Wednesday on a resolution that could result in a ban on fracking in the Basin.

Cheers erupted at the Delaware River Basin Commission meeting Wednesday on the campus of Bucks County Community College in Newtown after commissioners from three states including Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, approved a resolution that could lead to a fracking ban in the Delaware River watershed. New Jersey abstained and the federal representative from the Army Corps of Engineers voted no, which elicited a round of boos.

The Delaware River Basin Commission regulates water quality and quantity for the river and its tributaries, which provide drinking water for about 15 million people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The governors of each state, who send delegates to the meetings, serve as commissioners while the federal government is represented by the Army Corps of Engineers, which answers directly to the White House through the Council on Environmental Quality.

The 3-1-1 vote passing the resolution starts a rule making process that could last into 2018. Staff members have until Nov. 30 to come up with a proposal, which will then be subject to public comment and hearings. In essence, the rules would apply to any gas operations that utilize fracking in Wayne and Pike counties, the only part of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region that drains into the Delaware river. Continue Reading

StateImpact Pennsylvania to expand its reach with grant from Corporation for Public Broadcasting

StateImpact Pennsylvania has spent much of the past six years covering how natural gas drilling has changed the commonwealth. By adding more resources to the effort, the project plans to expand its scope by focusing on the entire energy economy.

StateImpact Pennsylvania has spent much of the past six years covering how natural gas drilling has changed the commonwealth. By adding more resources to the effort, the project plans to expand its scope by focusing on the entire energy economy.

Four public media organizations in Pennsylvania, led by WITF, will receive a $652,902 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to expand a regional news collaboration. Lead station WITF (Harrisburg) will work with WHYY (Philadelphia), WESA (Pittsburgh) and The Allegheny Front (Pittsburgh).

The partnership, titled StateImpact Pennsylvania, will produce multimedia reports on the energy industry, the economic and environmental impact of energy choices, and how energy production affects the health of citizens and communities.

The CPB grant will support the hiring of three journalists at the partner media outlets for two years, with station support continuing in outlying years “Collaboration is a force multiplier; together stations can do more and innovate faster to provide the local journalism that is part of the bedrock of public media’s valued service to our country,” said Kathy Merritt, CPB senior vice president, journalism and radio. “We’ve seen the importance of our investments in collaboration when, for example, stations in the Texas Station Collaborative were better prepared to serve their communities throughout the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.”

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