Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Marie Cusick

Reporter

Marie Cusick is StateImpact Pennsylvania's Harrisburg reporter at WITF. Her work regularly takes her throughout the state covering Marcellus Shale natural gas production. Marie first began reporting on the gas boom in 2011 at WMHT (PBS/NPR) in Albany, New York. A native Pennsylvanian, she was born and raised in Lancaster and holds a degree in political science and French from Lebanon Valley College. In 2014 Marie was honored with a national Edward R. Murrow award for her coverage of Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.

Former environmental secretary hired by University of Pennsylvania

john quigley speaks

Emma Lee / WHYY

Former DEP Secretary John Quigley was hired by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

A month after his controversial departure from the state Department of Environmental Protection, former Secretary John Quigley has landed a new job as a Senior Fellow at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.

“It’s exciting. I am very happy to be at Kleinman,” Quigley tells StateImpact Pennsylvania. “There are a lot of really talented, smart people.”

Quigley left DEP in May, following controversy over a profanity-tinged email he sent to environmental groups, criticizing them for not doing enough to support tougher environmental regulations for the oil and gas industry.

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Report: gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pa. legislature in 2015

A new analysis finds the gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pennsylvania politicians in 2015.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A new analysis finds the gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pennsylvania politicians in 2015.

The natural gas industry spent $8 million lobbying Pennsylvania politicians last year, according to a new analysis from the nonpartisan government reform group, Common Cause/PA, and the Conservation Voters of PA.

The project, called MarcellusMoney, is an ongoing effort to track the political influence of Pennsylvania’s gas drillers, who have spent $55.9 million on lobbying since 2007.

Last year drillers spent $733,635 on campaign contributions. Common Cause/PA Executive Director, Barry Kauffman says Pennsylvania is at “the bottom of the barrel” when it comes to campaign finance laws. It’s one of 11 states with no limits on campaign contributions.

“When industry comes in and gives tens of thousands of dollars to legislators, that would be illegal in most other states,” says Kauffman. “We really have to join the other states, which have recognized the power of political money and the influence it can have on determining public policy.”

He points to the legislature’s perennial failure to pass a gas severance tax to raise revenue and inaction on royalties legislation to protect mineral owners. Earlier this month, the conventional oil and gas industry successfully blocked new environmental regulations that were years in the making.

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Royalties bill makes very brief appearance at State Capitol

A bill aimed at ensuring royalty owners are paid fairly.

Scott LaMar / WITF-FM

"There's a reason everybody hates oil and gas companies," says Jackie Root, head of the National Association of Royalty Owners PA Chapter. "They got so outrageously greedy."

A bill aimed at ensuring oil and gas royalty owners are paid fairly made a fleeting appearance at the Pennsylvania Capitol this week.

“I succeeded in bringing attention to the issue and to the bill,” says Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), who on Tuesday attached, and then quickly withdrew, his royalties bill as an amendment to another measure that ultimately passed the House and Senate.

In the wake of the Marcellus Shale boom, leaseholders have been complaining for years that they’re getting cheated out of royalty money by some of the nation’s biggest gas drillers. Before withdrawing the amendment, Everett spoke on the House floor and urged his colleagues to support changes to the state’s royalties law. He says the maneuver was simply to raise the profile of the issue.

“I got immediate feedback from the the governmental affairs folks from the Marcellus Shale Coalition and other gas producers,” says Everett. “They disagree with the premise of the bill and said, ‘Why are you doing this again?’ I said, ‘I’m doing this because royalty owners aren’t getting paid fairly.’”

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Gas drilling impact fees fall to $188 million

A drill rig in Susquehanna County.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A drill rig in Susquehanna County. The county will receive $5.2 million in impact fees this year.

As expected Pennsylvania’s gas drilling impact fees fell to the lowest amount ever last year, according to figures released by the state Public Utility Commission Wednesday.

The fees brought in $187.7 million in 2015– down from $223.5 million collected the year before. Over the pas five years, the fees have brought in more than a billion dollars. Much of the money stays at the local level and is distributed to the the counties and municipalities with the most shale wells.

This year Washington County will receive the most money, $5.6 million, followed by Susquehanna and Bradford counties, which will get $5.2 million and $4.9 million respectively. Checks are expected to go out before July 1.

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Rift grows between Wolf and environmentalists

Governor Tom Wolf

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

"I don't know why he's caving on the environment," Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) says of Governor Tom Wolf. "But he clearly is caving."

As Pennsylvania’s July 1 budget deadline looms, Governor Tom Wolf is finding common ground with the Republican-led legislature on bills affecting climate change policy and regulations for the oil and gas industry.

But it’s leading to a growing rift between his administration and environmentalists.

“He’s caving on the environment”

“The environment has historically been the low man on the totem pole in budget negotiations,”says Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware).  ”It’s frequently been traded off by the Democrats to get other things.”

Last week Vitali called a press conference to blast Wolf for what he views as a failure to prioritize the environment. Vitali is particularly upset the governor is on board with a Republican-led effort to kill tougher regulations for the conventional oil and gas industry.

“I don’t know why he’s caving on the environment, but he clearly is caving,” Vitali says.

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Federal regulators get earful from pipeline opponents

Kim Kann

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

"This is a redistribution of my wealth directly into the pockets of Williams' executives and shareholders," says Kim Kann who lives along a proposed pipeline route."That is as un-American as it gets."

Federal regulators got an earful at an angry public meeting about a proposed natural gas pipeline in Lancaster County, which ended with the police showing up as protesters disrupted the proceeding.

About 350 people attended the meeting Monday night to give comments on the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Most of them were against the project.

The crowd repeatedly chanted, “Lancaster decides, not FERC! And Lancaster says ‘No!’”

After hours of public comments, pipeline opponents walked up on stage around 10:40pm and began singing, “Digging us a hole”– a song used to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline. No one was arrested.

“We wanted to try to control the message and let FERC know we will decide,” says pipeline opponent Tim Spiese.

The pipeline is being developed by Tulsa Oklahoma-based Williams Partners and has been in the works for over two years. It cleared a major hurdle from FERC last month, paving the way for the $3 billion expansion of the Transco pipeline system—which includes 10,000 miles of lines that move gas to utilities and power plants.

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Don’t frack the rich? Comment puts focus on environmental justice

Shirley and Bill Eakin stand in front of their water buffalo in their backyard in Washington County. The retired couple lives on about $27,000 a year. They haven't been able to drink their well water since gas drilling began eight years ago. Without conclusive evidence linking the gas development to the water problems, they have been buying their own and receiving donated bottled water.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Shirley and Bill Eakin of Washington County stand in front of their 2,500 gallon water buffalo. The couple lives on $27,000 a year and has not drank their well water since 2009. Without conclusive proof linking their water problems to the gas industry, they buy their own water and receive donated bottled water.

At a recent legal forum in Harrisburg, a prominent natural gas industry executive suggested his company tries to avoid drilling near rich people.

“I was infuriated when I heard it,” says Patrick Grenter, of the environmental advocacy group, the Center for Coalfield Justice. ”I was sitting with some colleagues and I said to them, ‘Did he really just say that?’”

Terry Bossert of Range Resources had suggested the company tries to avoid putting its wells near big houses where people may have the financial means to fight them. A few weeks later, after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette got wind of the remark, Bossert issued an apology.

He said he’d made a mistake by attempting to “interject dry sarcasm” at the event. Neither Bossert nor Range Resources would comment for this story.

But his remark put a renewed focus on the issue of environmental justice—meaning it’s often poor and marginalized communities who end up bearing the brunt of industrial development.

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.

Grenter thinks that’s a good place to start.

“We do think those are two significant indicators that need to be valued,” he says. “But we think the discussion should be bigger.”

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Fellow Democrat blasts Wolf on environmental issues

Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) at a 2013 rally in the Capitol Rotunda. Vitali says he is "greatly disappointed" by Governor Tom Wolf's recent parting of the ways with his environmental secretary, John Quigley.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) at a 2013 rally in the Capitol Rotunda. Vitali says he is greatly disappointed by Governor Tom Wolf's recent parting of the ways with his environmental secretary, John Quigley.

One of the state legislature’s most vocal environmentalists is criticizing Governor Tom Wolf for failing to support tougher regulations for Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry.

The attack is coming a member of his own party—the minority chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware).

“You can’t expect continued support if you’re not sticking up for the environment,” Vitali says of the governor. “I don’t think the people remaining in Wolf’s top echelon really prioritize the environment.”

Vitali held a press conference Monday at the Capitol with other environmental supporters, and says he believes the pending regulations for the state’s conventional oil and gas drilling industry are now “on the chopping block.” He says so far, Wolf has refused to commit to supporting them.

Vitali also accuses the administration of lying about the recent sudden departure of John Quigley, who headed the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“With regard to Secretary Quigley, [Governor Wolf] has disappointed me greatly,” says Vitali.

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Here’s the email that led to the resignation of Wolf’s environmental secretary

Former Pennsylvania DEP Secretary John Quigley.

Emma Lee/WHYY

Former Pennsylvania DEP Secretary John Quigley resigned last week following controversy over an email he sent to environmental advocacy groups, criticizing them for not pushing back against legislative efforts to stall or block environmental regulations.

StateImpact Pennsylvania has obtained a copy of the email sent by Governor Tom Wolf’s environmental secretary, John Quigley, that led to his resignation Friday.

“I’ve slept on this but can no longer hold back,” Quigley wrote. “Where the f*ck were you people yesterday? The House and Senate hold Russian show trials on vital environmental issues and there’s no pushback at all from the environmental community? Nobody bothering to insert themselves in the news cycle?”

Quigley sent the profanity-laced note to several environmental groups the day after state House and Senate panels voted to reject oil and gas regulations, which he had championed in his job at the helm of the state Department of Environmental Protection. The same day, a Senate committee had also approved a bill to give lawmakers more oversight in efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

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