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Pipeline projects need better PR, says panel

A natural gas gathering pipeline in the Loyalsock State Forest.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A natural gas gathering pipeline in the Loyalsock State Forest.

The people who sit on Governor Tom Wolf’s pipeline infrastructure task force don’t agree on much, but there’s broad consensus on one thing–everyone could do a better job on public relations.

The group is made up of representatives from industry, government, academia and environmental groups. Over the past few months, they’ve put together a draft report with 184 separate recommendations on to handle the state’s ongoing pipeline building boom. The largest area of overlap on that list is around improving community engagement and public information.

“We’d like to present a clear message,” said John Quigley, who heads Department of Environmental Protection, and chairs the committee. “This is a complicated topic.”

The topic is indeed complicated— and controversial. The panel’s meetings are regularly attended by anti-fracking protesters and angry landowners who are upset about pipeline companies digging up their backyards.

At Wednesday’s meeting Elise Gerhart of Huntingdon County accused the task force members of simply trying to market the idea of more gas pipelines to people.

“You’re obviously not taking anything the public has to say into consideration. It’s pathetic. We are stakeholders!” she shouted. “Companies from Texas are not. This is our state.”

Many other people who spoke at the meeting questioned why Pennsylvania’s leaders are endorsing more fossil fuel infrastructure, while the United States and countries from around the world pledged to fight climate change in Paris last week.

They also criticized pipeline companies for using eminent domain to try to bully their way onto private property.

But representatives from business and labor groups also spoke out in favor of development. Abe Amoros is with the Laborers International Union of North America. He and others urged the panel to promote safe pipeline development as a way to grow jobs for skilled workers.

“We play a central role in ensuring pipelines are developed safely and responsibly,” he told the committee. “We have a vested interest in how this final report is crafted. These projects are lifelines for our community, helping to build lifelong careers for our members.”

The task force will hold its final public meeting January 20th and will deliver a report to the governor in February.

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