Energy. Environment. Economy.

Marie Cusick


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.

Video: Clinton and Trump advisers debate energy and environmental policy

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton debates with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

Mark Ralston/Pool via AP

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton debates with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

If you watched the three presidential debates, you may have noticed there was very little discussion of energy and environmental issues. Notably, the debate moderators did not ask a single question about climate change.

But the Clinton and Trump campaigns did delve into these topics in a debate Tuesday evening between Clinton’s energy adviser Trevor Houser and Trump adviser Congressman Kevin Cramer (R- North Dakota) at the University of Richmond.

Cramer said Trump would roll back regulations and engage in a top-to-bottom review of the EPA, to get it back to its core mission of promoting clean air and clean water. He also does not subscribe to the mainstream scientific view of man-made climate change.

“We’d have to be a bit proud to think that somehow these last hot years are the fault of man and not some larger regular cycle of climate,” Cramer said.

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Gas royalties bill likely dead this session

The controversial royalties bill was on the House schedule earlier this week, but wasn't voted on.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Given the waning number of voting days left in the legislative calendar, the controversial gas royalties bill is likely dead.

A bill aimed at addressing allegations natural gas drilling companies are cheating Pennsylvania landowners out of royalty money appears to be dead this legislative session.

HB 1391 was introduced following years of complaints some drillers charge exorbitant fees for processing gas. In Pennsylvania’s northern tier, people have received notices their royalty account has a negative balance, saying they owe thousands of dollars to drillers.

“I’m very disappointed for the landowners,” says the bill’s prime sponsor Garth Everett (R- Lycoming). “All we were asking for was a chance to get it to the floor.”

The measure was scheduled for second consideration in the state House earlier this week, but did not come up for a vote. It reappeared again on Monday’s calendar, but House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said Friday afternoon it’s been pulled from the schedule.

“Everybody has been diligently trying to come up with a fair resolution. There’s not a single member who doesn’t understand why this bill was crafted,” says Miskin. “Clearly, we haven’t gotten to that point yet.”

Every bill needs three public airings in both chambers. With HB 1391 off Monday’s schedule, the waning number of voting days in the House and Senate won’t allow enough time. There were rumors session days could be added to the calendar, but Miskin says he’s not aware of any discussions.

“Mathematics alone would preclude it from becoming law this year,” he says.

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Opponents build wooden structure to block Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

Mark Clatterbuck (right) of the group Lancaster Against Pipelines carries woods from the sight of what opponents are calling 'The Stand.'

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Mark Clatterbuck (right) of the group, Lancaster Against Pipelines, carries woods from the site of what pipeline opponents are calling 'The Stand.'

Opponents of the Atlantic Sunrise interstate natural gas pipeline are building a wooden structure in southern Lancaster County, in an attempt to block the pipeline’s construction. Mark Clatterbuck of the group, Lancaster Against Pipelines, says they were inspired by Native American groups’ opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline earlier this year. He says the structure will serve as a place for people to come together.

“Our whole point is to say, ‘We’re not going to let you come through,’” he says. “This is a blockade for the project. We want to derail the project.”

Nicknamed “The Stand,” the structure is located on a farm in Conestoga, in the path of a proposed route. The group plans to hold a dedication ceremony Saturday.

The $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, proposed by Williams Partners LP, has not yet received final approval from federal regulators. It’s designed to move natural gas from northeastern Pennsylvania southward to markets along the eastern seaboard. Clatterbuck says protesters plan to occupy the structure if and when pipeline construction commences.

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Senate OKs resolution to review Pennsylvania environmental laws

The resolution requires an analysis of Pennsylvania environmental laws, to determine which ones are more stringent than federal rules.

Scott LaMar/ WITF

The resolution requires an analysis of Pennsylvania environmental laws, to determine which ones are more stringent than federal rules.

The state Senate voted 27-21 Tuesday to approve a resolution requiring a top-to-bottom analysis of Pennsylvania’s environmental laws and regulations, in an effort to ascertain which ones are more stringent than federal rules.

Supporters say it helps streamline government and encourages economic growth, while environmental groups say it’s aimed at rolling back important standards. Sen. Michele Brooks (R- Crawford) is the prime sponsor. She didn’t respond to a request to comment but in a memo to fellow lawmakers, says the resolution gives Pennsylvania a more competitive business climate.

“While most certainly all of us understand the importance of our environment, this resolution is intended to find balance through practical application of the laws and regulations and at the same time permit economic growth and job creation,” Brooks wrote.

“It’s a bad resolution,” says Matt Stepp, policy director of the environmental advocacy group, PennFuture. “The goal is to create an environmental regulation hit-list to provide some level of political cover to try to roll those back.”

Stepp sees the resolution as part of a broader legislative attack on environmental measures, including efforts to weaken new rules for oil and gas drilling and greenhouse gas emissions, and creating more avenues to challenge regulations.

The resolution directs the Joint State Government Commission to do the analysis and produce a report with recommendations to the General Assembly within 18 months.

Group seeks to restrict the use of eminent domain

A marker for a natural gas liquids pipeline in Cumberland County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A marker for a natural gas liquids pipeline in Cumberland County.

A newly-formed citizens’ coalition is pushing to change the way eminent domain is applied in Pennsylvania.

The group, called Protect Our Pennsylvania, held a rally at the State Capitol Tuesday. Their primary focus is limiting the seizure of private property for pipeline projects. The group’s spokesman, Eric Friedman, cites Sunoco Logistic’s proposed Mariner East 2 project, which is designed to move natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania to an export terminal near Philadelphia. Friedman says it threatens his own property in Delaware County.

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Federal task force recommends safety upgrades for gas storage facilities

In this Dec. 9, 2015, file photo, crews work on stopping a gas leak at a relief well at the Aliso Canyon facility above the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles.

Dean Musgrove/Los Angeles Daily News via AP, Pool, File

In this Dec. 9, 2015, file photo, crews work on stopping a gas leak at a relief well at the Aliso Canyon facility above the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles.

A federal task force has issued new safety recommendations for gas storage facilities, following the largest methane leak in U.S. history.

The report released Tuesday comes in the wake of the massive leak at the Aliso Canyon storage field in Los Angles County, California, which sent more than 90,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere uncontrollably for nearly four months starting in October 2015, until it was finally sealed in February.

The incident made national news after the leak sickened residents and caused thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

“No community should have to go through something like the Aliso Canyon leak again,” says U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, in the report. “It is up to industry to implement these recommendations in a timely fashion, while State and Federal officials develop regulations that enhance the safety of underground storage facilities in the United States.”

Overall the report makes 44 recommendations (summarized here). Key points include:

  • Gas storage operators should begin a rigorous evaluation program to baseline the status of their wells, establish risk management planning and, in most cases, phase-out old wells with single-point-offailure designs.
  • Advance preparation for possible natural gas leaks and coordinated emergency response in the case of a leak can help manage and mitigate potential health and environmental impacts of leaks when they do occur.
  • Power system planners and operators need to better understand the risks that potential gas storage disruptions create for the electric system.

Nationwide, there are more than 400 underground natural gas storage wells, and about 80 percent of them were completed before the 1970s.

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Pa. Senate environmental panel chair bemoans ‘lack of leadership’ on Marcellus

State Sen. Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) speaking that the Midstream PA conference in State College. Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania State Sen. Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) speaking that the Midstream PA conference in State College.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

State Sen. Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) speaking at the Midstream PA conference in State College.

State Senator Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) is sharply criticizing his fellow Pennsylvania public officials, for what he calls a lack of leadership on Marcellus Shale natural gas issues.

He has an influential position in Harrisburg as majority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. Speaking recently at Midstream PA, an industry conference in State College, Yaw hit on a number of energy and environmental topics.

Here’s some of what he had to say {edited for length and clarity}:

Governors, past and present: “Governor Corbett never really was a leader in the industry. He was not particularly an impediment, but he was not the leader he could have been. Likewise, I think Governor Wolf is the same way. He’s not a leader.”

The economic picture: “We’re sitting on one of the largest gas deposits in the world. We should be attracting all kinds of businesses here. We’re not doing it, in my opinion. I don’t know how you find a leader, but we need a cheerleader for this industry.”

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Bradford County releases video slamming Chesapeake Energy

Bradford County has released a video sharply criticizing gas driller Chesapeake Energy for allegedly cheating its residents out of royalty money.

Advocates are pushing for a bill to address what they’re calling the “PA royalty ripoff.” The county commissioners announced last month they would contract with a public relations firm to produce a video about the issue and send it out to Pennsylvania elected officials. They hired former Donald Trump adviser Michael Caputo to run the campaign.

“This is the shot across the bow,” says Caputo. “If this bill doesn’t pass next week, we have built and will deploy a statewide grassroots campaign to make sure it passes next time around.”

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Gas industry sues over new drilling rules

The group is suing to block certain provisions of new drilling regulations.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

The lawsuit is the latest twist in a protracted battle over the updates to Pennsylvania's oil and gas regulations.

A trade group representing Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry has filed a lawsuit seeking to block portions of new drilling regulations. It’s the latest move in a fierce political battle over the rules, which took effect last week.

The lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court Thursday by the Marcellus Shale Coalition. This is the first time the trade group has sued the state, “and we don’t take that lightly,” says its president, David Spigelmyer.

The rules, known as Chapter 78a, represent the first time Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations have been updated since the Marcellus Shale boom began. In a conference call Friday morning with reporters, Spigelmyer says the industry does not want to invalidate the entire regulatory package.

“While we’ve worked hard to make sure our input was provided, there are aspects of Chapter 78a that are onerous, costly, and provide little environmental benefit.”

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Congressional candidates weigh in on pipeline

16th Congressional District candidates (from left to right) Christina Hartman (D), Shawn House (Libertarian) and state Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R).

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District candidates debate Monday night in Lancaster County. (From left to right): Christina Hartman (D), Shawn House (Libertarian) and state Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R).

The expansion of natural gas pipelines has been a hot topic in Pennsylvania over the past few years, and not surprisingly, it’s surfaced as an issue on the campaign trail.

At a debate in Lancaster County Monday night, the three candidates vying for the 16th Congressional District were asked about their views on the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline– a large transmission line designed to connect gas production in northeastern Pennsylvania to markets in the southern U.S. and to an export terminal.

Shawn House, a businessman running as a Libertarian, says he’s against the project because it could lead to private property being seized through the use of eminent domain. The company behind the project, Williams, has said that is a last resort.

“I have real problems with companies colluding with government and then saying, ‘We’re going to taking your land whether you like it or not,” says House. “I think we have to look at a lot of other options.”

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