Pennsylvania

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In Pennsylvania, Trump’s climate order met with anger and relief

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, third from left, and Vice President Mike Pence, right, is applauded as he hold up the signed Energy Independence Executive Order, Tuesday, March 28, 2017, at EPA headquarters in Washington.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, third from left, and Vice President Mike Pence, right, is applauded as he hold up the signed Energy Independence Executive Order, Tuesday, March 28, 2017, at EPA headquarters in Washington.

Governor Tom Wolf’s administration says it is still committed to combating climate change in Pennsylvania, despite an executive order signed Tuesday by President Donald Trump aimed at undoing the Clean Power Plan– the signature climate initiative of the Obama administration.

Department of Environmental Protection Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell called Trump’s action “disappointing,” saying the state is already experiencing the effects of climate change.

“The changing climate is the most significant environmental threat facing the world, and emissions from the United States are a significant cause,” McDonnell says in a statement. “Pennsylvania has already experienced a long-term warming of nearly two degrees over the past century, and this trend is expected to accelerate. Ignoring the problem will only make conditions worse for our communities and economy and environment in the future.”

The Clean Power Plan sought to reduce U.S. emissions by 30 percent by 2030. States were told to craft plans to hit their own specific targets. As the nation’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide and fifth-largest coal producer, Pennsylvania would have had to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 32 percent.

Trump’s executive order does not address the 2015 Paris climate accord– a landmark agreement by the world’s governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the president is seeking to unwind other Obama-era climate initiatives including a recent federal moratorium on coal leasing, and a measure requiring federal agencies to consider climate change within their rule-making processes. Trump also wants to examine the “social cost of carbon”– which places a dollar amount on carbon emissions.

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Environmental justice will be focus of statewide ‘listening tour’

A natural gas rig in Washington, Pa.

AAP Photo/Michael Rubinkam

A natural gas rig in Washington, Pa.

Environmental regulators are launching a statewide “listening tour” next month, focused on environmental justice.

In Pennsylvania an environmental justice (EJ) zone is defined as a census tract where at least 20 percent of people live in poverty and/or at least 30 percent of the population is minority. The idea is to protect people in marginalized communities, who often get stuck with a disproportionate share of industrial development in their backyards.

“We want to move beyond just the census tract boundaries and make sure we’re really considering the needs of people and the role of public participation,” Carl Jones, director of DEP’s Office of Environmental Justice said in a statement. “We want to ensure that communities and regulated entities are connected and communicating.”

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Wagner keynotes for natural gas advocates in Harrisburg

Scott Wagner, a Republican state senator from York County and owner of trash hauling firm Penn Waste, is running for governor. (FILE)

AP Photo/Marc Levy

Scott Wagner, a Republican state senator from York County and owner of trash hauling firm Penn Waste, is running for governor. (FILE)

Over a dozen county commissioners from Pennsylvania’s northern tier are working to organize around an issue that directly impacts their constituents: natural gas drilling.

Organizers said Harrisburg often neglects the interests of its more far-flung counties. They described their keynote speaker as someone who’s gone against that trend– York County Republican senator and gubernatorial hopeful, Scott Wagner, has supported natural gas drilling since he was elected.

Wagner noted repeatedly that this wasn’t a campaign event, though that didn’t stop a few speakers from remarking that it would be nice to have a governor who would reduce regulations on the gas industry.

Amid his calls to get pipelines flowing, Wagner did take the opportunity to lay out some policy proposals–and try out some catchphrases.

“There’s a huge difference between an active environmentalist and an environmental activist,” he said, using a line he reiterated multiple times. “I love the outdoors, I grew up around the outdoors, I love fishing–I am in favor of drilling on state lands.”

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Pennsylvania OKs new injection wells for oil and gas wastewater

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 PHOTO: 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.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators have approved two new underground injection wells to take in wastewater from the oil and gas industry.

Pennsylvania already has six active injection wells, according to Scott Perry, who runs the Office of Oil and Gas Management at the state Department of Environmental Protection. He says new injection wells are needed as gas drilling activity has slowed. In busier times, the wastewater was often reused in the next well.

“Pennsylvania has been leading the nation, if not the world, in recycling flowback water,” says Perry.

The two new injection wells will be operated by different companies. Seneca Resources will have a well in Elk County, and another will be run by Pennsylvania General Energy Company in Indiana County. Both have faced significant pushback from the local municipalities.

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Judge throws out challenge to DRBC authority over gas drilling in basin

Opponents of any plans to  drill for natural gas in the Delaware River basin welcomed a judge's defense of the DRBC's authority to regulate oil and gas development.

Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Opponents of any plans to drill for natural gas in the Delaware River basin welcomed a judge's defense of the DRBC's authority to regulate oil and gas development.

A federal judge dismissed a challenge to the Delaware River Basin Commission’s right to regulate oil and gas development in the region.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Mariani on Thursday threw out a lawsuit by a group of Wayne County landowners who said the commission, an interstate regulator, lacks the authority to review and approve natural gas facilities on land owned by the group. Continue Reading

Amid criticism, utility regulator walks back ‘jihad’ remark

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Robert Powelson.

Pa. PUC

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Robert Powelson.

One of Pennsylvania’s top utility regulators is walking back controversial remarks he made about pipeline opponents at a gas industry conference this week.

Speaking at the Upstream PA conference Tuesday, state Public Utility Commissioner Robert Powelson said people opposing pipeline projects are engaged in a “jihad” to keep natural gas from reaching new markets.

He now says using the word was inappropriate.

“I used the word “jihad” while characterizing the actions of individuals who have engaged in threatening or disruptive behavior: interrupting public meetings, preventing officials from speaking, harassing federal and state regulators along with their families, and otherwise attempting to halt the public discussion about important infrastructure projects,” Powelson writes in an emailed statement. “In retrospect, that was an inappropriate choice of words.”

Powelson is reportedly being considered by President Donald Trump for an appointment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has oversight of interstate energy projects. Last year activists showed up at FERC commissioners homes to protest their approvals of pipelines.

On Thursday, Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council called for Powelson’s resignation.

“Mr. Powelson used a racially charged term, ‘jihad,’ to not only appeal to the natural gas representatives in the audience, but also to the Trump administration which he is hoping to work for as a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” Clean Air Council executive director Joe Minott said in a statement.

“It is just unacceptable that a regulator would have such disregard for public concern,” says Minott.

Others echoed similar concerns and accused Powelson of bias.

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DEP officials won’t answer lawmakers’ questions on pipeline documents

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell skipped  a meeting with lawmakers seeking answers on whether DEP had issued pipeline permits without all regulations having been met.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell skipped a meeting with lawmakers seeking answers on whether DEP had issued pipeline permits without all regulations having been met.

Pennsylvania officials declined on Wednesday to answer lawmakers’ questions on documents indicating that the state had issued permits for the Mariner East 2 pipeline before ensuring that it met all regulatory requirements.

A bipartisan group of three lawmakers met with three top officials from the Department of Environmental Protection in Harrisburg to discuss public concerns over the safety of the natural gas liquids pipeline, and to ask about documents showing that DEP issued the permits even though deficiencies remained in applications from the pipeline’s builder, Sunoco Logistics.

DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell did not attend the hour-long meeting despite saying in advance that he would, disappointing the lawmakers from Delaware and Chester Counties near Philadelphia. Lawmakers said they were told that McDonnell stayed away because he did not want to comment on the documents that are part of current litigation.

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Federal court dismisses suit charging FERC with bias

Twenty-four protesters were arrested for blocking a public passageway outside the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in July, 2014.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Pipeline opponents stage a protest outside the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in July, 2014.

This story has been updated with a comment from the PennEast Pipeline company.

A federal court has thrown out a case brought by environmentalists that charged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with bias in pipeline cases. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a federal lawsuit last year, alleging FERC favored industry in disputed pipeline cases. On Wednesday, District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that while DRN had standing to bring the suit, she dismissed the claim that FERC is structurally biased based on its source of funding.

The lawsuit, brought by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and its director, Maya van Rossum, asserted that FERC is incapable of making objective decisions regarding pipeline projects because its funding, set by Congress, is recovered by fees imposed on the industries it regulates, including pipeline companies. DRN argued that “the Commission is insulated from Congressional budgetary oversight,” and therefore, deprives individuals opposed to new pipelines of their 5th amendment right to due process.

But Judge Chutkan rejected that argument, saying that FERC itself and its commissioners do not benefit from individual pipeline projects. Continue Reading

New online tool will track oil and gas operations

A natural gas site in Susquehanna County.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A natural gas site in Susquehanna County.

Pennsylvania has launched a new online tool to make it easier for the public to review documents submitted by the unconventional oil and gas industry. The change is part of a broader push from the Department of Environmental Protection to upgrade its technological capabilities. Last month, the agency’s oil and gas inspectors received iPads, after years using paper and clipboards.

The new electronic document submission tool allows the public to quickly search for documents related to oil and gas operations, including well records and waste reports. The department says 26 operators have already electronically filed close to 900 documents.

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EPA Region 3 union rep says Trump’s proposed cuts would hurt public health

Gary Morton, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local which represents EPA workers, joins protesters outside the agency's Center City offices.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Gary Morton, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local which represents EPA workers, joins protesters outside the agency's Center City offices.

The union representing employees with the Environmental Protection Agency says President Trump’s proposed cuts to the agency would risk public health. The administration is proposing to slash the EPA’s budget by 31 percent. That would include eliminating more than 3,000 jobs at the agency.

Gary Morton is president of AFGE local 3631, which represents EPA employees working on the ground in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and D.C. Morton says morale took a hit when staff members heard about the proposed cuts.

“It was devastating, it was extremely devastating to morale,” Morton said, speaking outside of EPA Region 3 headquarters in downtown Philadelphia on Tuesday. “The proposals as they are will not allow us to protect human health and the environment.” Continue Reading

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