Pennsylvania

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Philadelphia protesters accuse Trump administration of anti-science bias

Woman holds a sign at the March for Science in Center City Philadelphia, April 22, 2017.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Woman holds a sign at the March for Science in Center City Philadelphia, April 22, 2017.

Thousands of people marched through central Philadelphia on Saturday to protest what they see as an anti-science bias by the Trump administration, and to urge the federal government to use evidence rather than ideology to set policy, especially on climate change.

Carrying hand-written signs such as “Without Science It’s Just Fiction” and “Science is Real, Alternative Facts Are Not,” the crowd marched from City Hall to a rally at Penn’s Landing where speakers urged participants to speak out against policies that are not based on provable science.

Many marchers said they joined the event on Earth Day because they are concerned by the Trump administration’s plans to cut funding to science-based agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health, and to urge the government to follow the evidence, as supported by the overwhelming majority of scientists, in setting policy on climate change. Continue Reading

Scientists who feel under attack, to march for political clout

Marion Leary will be speaking at the rally about science communication, and hopes to get more researchers out of the lab and talking to the public.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Marion Leary with her daughter Harper making signs at Frankford Hall in Fishtown, ahead of Saturday's March for Science in Philadelphia. Leary will be speaking at the rally about science communication, and hopes to get more researchers out of the lab and talking to the public.

Thousands of marchers are expected in Center City Philadelphia on Saturday for the first ever March for Science. The event is combined with the 47th annual Earth Day observance, which is expected to draw millions of people to cities and towns across the country, with the main event in Washington, D.C. Philadelphia’s demonstration will start at City Hall, with a march that ends up at Penn’s Landing. While this celebration of science is billed as nonpartisan, organizers say it’s time that scientists become a political force in an era when evidence based decision-making seems under attack.

Philadelphia’s original Earth Day organizers turned a day into a whole week of activism, teach-ins, and concerts in Fairmount Park. At the time, protest movements and college activism focused on stopping the war in Vietnam and promoting civil rights. The idea that hundreds of people would gather to promote environmental protection was novel.

Still people like Allen Ginsburg, Ralph Nadar and Dr. Benjamin Spock came to speak. The cast from the Broadway hit Hair showed up and performed. The events of that day had enormous impact on public policy. But marches have since become routine. It begs the question on what impact scientists and their supporters will have in the age of Trump.

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State wants more oversight of gas industry hiring of women, minorities

A shale gas drilling rig in Washington, Pa.

AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam

A shale gas drilling rig in Washington, Pa.

Pennsylvania’s natural gas producers continue to have a hard time complying with a state law requiring they make attempts to hire women, minority, and veteran-owned businesses.

The state’s 2012 oil and gas law, known as Act 13, directs drillers to provide “maximum practicable contracting opportunities” to these kinds of companies, known as small diverse businesses. The law doesn’t set quotas, but it does require unconventional gas producers to respond to an annual state survey and use the Department of General Services’ (DGS) database to find certified small diverse businesses.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has reported, in previous years, many gas companies ignored these requirements.

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Sunoco’s Mariner East 1 pipeline leaked ethane and propane in Berks County, records show

The entrance to Sunoco's refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

The entrance to Sunoco's refinery in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.

Sunoco’s Mariner East 1 natural gas liquids pipeline leaked about 20 barrels of ethane and propane near Morgantown, Berks County, on April 1, the company said on Thursday.

The leak, at 5530 Morgantown Road, Morgantown, Pa., did not reach water sources, according to the US Coastguard’s National Response Center, which records spills of hazardous materials such as oil and chemicals.

Jeff Shields, a spokesman for Sunoco, confirmed that about 20 barrels of the liquids leaked from the line. After being notified of a possible leak on April 1, company officials confirmed the release, shut down the line and made the repair over the next few days, Shields said.

He said there were no public safety impacts and that the cause is being investigated in cooperation with regulators.

Asked why the company had not announced the incident sooner, Shields said that Sunoco alerted the National Response Center on the day it discovered the leak, and that its notification was public information. The company also notified local authorities and regulatory agencies, which determined that no emergency response was required, he said.

He said the company will make a full report of the incident to the federal pipeline regulator, PHMSA, within 30 days, as required.

“When public safety is broadly affected, we work in conjunction with the authorities to notify the affected areas while we are responding,” Shields said in a statement. “We have and will continue to be transparent about the safety of our pipelines and continue to hold the safety of our neighbors and employees as our most important responsibility.”

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which regulates pipelines, confirmed that there had been an incident, but did not specify the nature or quantity of the materials involved, whether there was an effect on the environment, or the possible cause of the leak. Continue Reading

Bill targets legal challenge to coal mining in state park

bill

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

The proposed legislation would affect a three-year-old pending case about longwall coal mining's impacts on waterways.

A new proposal by state senate Republican leaders takes aim at an ongoing legal challenge to coal mining in a western Pennsylvania state park.

The case, brought three years ago by the Center for Coalfield Justice and Pennsylvania Sierra Club, challenges the legality of Consol Energy’s 3,000-acre Bailey Mine extension. The groups say it would damage 14 streams in and around Greene County’s Ryerson Station State Park.

A hearing was held in August 2016, and a decision from the state Environmental Hearing Board is expected soon.

But SB 624, introduced last week by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Sen. Gene Yaw (R- Bradford), would directly affect the case.

It says if the state Department of Environmental Protection approves an underground mining plan, it shall not be considered presumptive evidence the mine could cause pollution.

In other words, any plan approved by state regulators would automatically be presumed to not cause permanent damage to streams. The bill also applies retroactively to “all permits issued under the act that were the subject of an appeal heard by the Environmental Hearing Board after June 30, 2016.”

Scarnati’s Chief Counsel, Drew Crompton, acknowledges the bill is a response to the pending Consol case. But he notes if the environmental groups prevail, it could upend coal mining around the commonwealth.

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Regulators to seek ways of boosting natural gas service in rural communities

Pipelines like this gathering line in Tiadaghton State Forest are among the possible solutions to increasing natural gas supply to under-served areas, a topic being addressed by a new NARUC study.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Pipelines like this gathering line in Tiadaghton State Forest are among the possible solutions to increasing natural gas supply to under-served areas, a topic being addressed by a new NARUC study.

A national investigation by utility regulators into ways of increasing natural gas supplies to under-served or un-served areas appears to be ignoring alternative energy sources and may be exposing those communities to high maintenance costs for new pipelines, critics said.

Utility regulators are forming a task force to look at ways of supplying more gas to under-served areas, including rural communities, in an initiative co-chaired by a commissioner from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The panel will examine ways of expanding natural gas infrastructure and encouraging suppliers to connect residential, industrial and commercial customers in communities that have been unable to benefit from the current low price of gas from areas like the Marcellus Shale.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners said Monday the panel will be co-chaired by John Coleman, one of the Pennsylvania PUC commissioners, who has helped to address supply issues in the state.

Critics said the plan does not take into account the costs of maintaining new natural gas lines in communities that may be unable to afford them. Continue Reading

Allentown teen sues Trump administration for inaction on climate

Protesters unfurl a cloth sun at the conclusion of the rally on Independence Plaza.

Jonathan Wilson / Newsworks

Protesters unfurl a cloth sun at the conclusion of the rally in Philadelphia during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Eighteen-year-old Sophie Kivlehan says she doesn’t remember when she first heard about climate change. It was a normal topic of conversation at the dinner table, one that often included her grandfather, Jim Hansen, an astro-physicist at Columbia University and perhaps one of the worlds’ most well-known climate scientists. Hansen began sounding the alarm about rising temperatures and rising sea levels back in the early 1980′s.

“Because we concluded already that if we burn all the coal, we’ve got a different planet,” Hansen said recently, speaking to StateImpact prior to an appearance at the University of Pennsylvania. “We’ll lose all the coastal cities. It doesn’t make sense burn all the fossil fuels, we need to look at energy policies now.”

But more than 35 years after Hansen published his first paper on how carbon dioxide emissions could change the planets climate, he says the U.S. government has failed to act and it’s time for the courts to force the issue. He and his granddaughter Sophie Kivlehan are suing the federal government, along with 20 other young people from across the country.

The suit, originally filed during the Obama Administration by the organization Our Children’s Trust, now faces a battle with President Trump. The lawsuit claims that the federal government has taken actions to promote the use of fossil fuels.

“When [the] legislative and executive branch, when they don’t do their jobs,” said Kivlehan, “it’s the court’s jobs to act as a check.” Continue Reading

McGinty hired by Philadelphia life sciences firm

FILE: former state environmental secretary and U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty is joining a Philadelphia-based life sciences company.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

FILE: former state environmental secretary and U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty is joining a Philadelphia-based life sciences company.

Former state environmental secretary and U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty has been hired by Militia Hill Ventures, a Philadelphia-based life sciences company.

The firm specializes in growing early-stage companies. Its portfolio includes firms working to combat cystic fibrosis and cancer.

“It’s a very hands-on approach,” says McGinty, who is joining Militia Hill as a partner. “We work directly with the scientists. We add to the science with management, leadership, and the ability to bring investment into newly-formed companies. We help take those companies through the regulatory approval process.”

While much of McGinty’s career has been working in government and the private sector on energy and environmental issues, she describes this move as going “back to the future” because she earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry.

McGinty was most recently the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate but lost to incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in November. She previously served as Governor Tom Wolf’s chief of staff and as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection under former Governor Ed Rendell. McGinty also made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2014 and was a staffer to former President Bill Clinton.

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Wolf urges Congress to fund health benefits for coal miners

A group of coal miners listen to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during his visit to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company's Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., Thursday, April 13, 2017.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

A group of coal miners listen to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during his visit to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company's Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., Thursday, April 13, 2017.

Governor Tom Wolf is urging Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to ensure thousands of coal miners can keep their healthcare benefits.

Wolf says without passage of the federal Miners Protection Act, benefits would expire at the end of the month, leaving miners and their families without coverage. The bill would use interest from the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to sustain health and pension funds administered by the United Mine Workers of America.

“Retired miners worked for these benefits, paid for them with years of service doing dangerous work so that the rest of us could have reliable and affordable power,” Governor Wolf said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to see that these benefits are preserved.”

Senator Bob Casey (D) is a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill—Senate Bill 175—as are Representatives Boyle, Brady, Cartwright, Doyle, Fitzpatrick, Shuster and Thompson in the House of Representatives, where the bill was introduced as House Resolution 179.

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Amid lawsuits, townships agree to back off injection well bans

FILE: Oil-field workers tend to American Energy-Woodford's Judge South well in November 2014 well shortly after the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered it temporarily shut-in.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

FILE: Oil-field workers tend to an injection well in November 2014 well shortly after the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered it temporarily shut-in.

Two rural townships have temporarily agreed not to enforce portions of their home rule charters designed to ban underground disposal wells for oil and gas wastewater, after being sued by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Last month the DEP approved permits for two new injection wells in Highland Township, Elk County, and Grant Township, Indiana County. The department also sued both townships the same day–challenging language in the charters that invalidated the disposal well permits and held DEP liable for issuing them.

“I’m pleased that DEP and the townships were able to come to a temporary agreement quickly, and in a way that allows DEP employees to continue to do their work,” Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell says in a statement. “I’m hopeful that we can continue to work with these municipalities to ensure that residents’ concerns are addressed.”

Underground disposal wells are controversial because they’ve been linked to a sharp uptick man-made earthquakes. The DEP says it’s imposed special conditions on the permits which will allow them to be operated safely. The state also recently expanded its seismic monitoring network to keep a closer eye on earthquake activity.

DEP petitioned Commonwealth Court for a temporary injunction and hearings were scheduled for Wednesday, but were cancelled when all parties agreed the contested provisions of the home rule charters would not be enforced while the cases proceed.

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