Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Marie Cusick

Reporter

As the Harrisburg reporter for StateImpact Pennsylvania, Marie Cusick covers energy and environmental issues for public radio stations statewide. She’s also part of NPR’s energy and environment team, which coordinates coverage between the network and select member station reporters around the country. Her work frequently airs on NPR shows including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Since 2012, Marie has closely followed the political, social, and economic effects of Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom. Her work has been recognized at the regional and national levels– honors include a Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Before joining StateImpact, Marie was a multimedia reporter for WMHT in Albany, New York and covered technology for the station’s statewide public affairs TV show, New York NOW.

‘People are furious’: Wolf aide criticized after downplaying royalty problems

Advocates for Pennsylvania mineral owners are criticizing a comment by one of Gov. Wolf's senior aides, who says complaints over royalty payments have subsided.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

Advocates for Pennsylvania mineral owners are criticizing a comment by one of Gov. Wolf's senior aides, who says complaints over royalty payments have subsided.

Advocates for Pennsylvania landowners are challenging a statement made recently by one of Governor Tom Wolf’s top aides, after he said complaints over unfair gas royalty payments have subsided.

In some cases, Pennsylvania mineral owners have received royalty checks showing negative balances, saying they owe money to drillers. At an energy conference in Hershey last week, Wolf’s deputy policy director Sam Robinson said the administration hasn’t heard as much about it lately.

“I think there was a crescendo of that kind of claim in 2015 to 2016,” he told the audience. “There’s been real movement in a positive direction on that issue.”

‘People are furious’

But advocates for mineral owners dispute those claims. Over the years, the controversy around the payments has resulted in multiple class action lawsuits from landowners who say they’re being cheated by certain gas companies. Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko is in one of the most heavily-drilled parts of the state and has been hearing from constituents every day for more than four years.

“It is a huge topic in Northeast Pennsylvania,” says McLinko. “It has not quieted down. People are furious.”

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Activists offer pancakes to pipeline workers, are rebuffed

Activists in Lancaster County offered pipeline workers a pancake breakfast Friday morning, but the invitation was declined.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Activists in Lancaster County offered pipeline workers a pancake breakfast Friday morning.

Protesters are continuing to demonstrate against the construction of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in Lancaster County.

The activists latest tactic Friday morning involved setting up a pancake breakfast picnic on an Amish farm in Conestoga adjacent to a construction site and inviting the pipeline workers to share a meal.

About 30 people sang and held signs as they confronted three pipeline workers, who lined up several feet away and watched silently.

“We’d like you all to join us– like human beings,” said Mark Clatterbuck, a leader of the protest group. ”Let’s sit down with our shared humanity and talk about what we’re doing and what you’re doing. Do you understand what an incredible desecration this is to us? And what a threat this is to our community?”

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Pennsylvania’s environmental rights amendment is back from the dead

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Scott LaMar/ WITF

Pennsylvania is one of only a few states to recognize environmental quality as a basic civil right.

Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states to recognize clean air and pure water as a basic civil right. However, the powerful language in the state constitution was dismissed for decades.

That’s all changing, says John Dernbach, director of the Environmental Law and Sustainability Center at Widener University.

Speaking Friday at the Decade of Disruption: Marcellus Shale and Regional Energy Markets conference in Hershey, Dernbach highlighted recent court rulings that mark a revival for environmental rights in the state. He sat down with StateImpact Pennsylvania to explain what’s happening.

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23 arrested protesting Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline

Protesters blocked equipment and sang hymns for about half an hour before police asked them to leave. Nearly 30 people were charged with defiant trespassing.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Protesters blocked equipment and sang hymns for about half an hour before police asked them to leave. Nearly 30 people were charged with defiant trespassing.

Twenty-three people were arrested and charged with defiant trespassing Monday after they blocked construction equipment for the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline in Lancaster County.

The showdown between the pipeline company and the protesters has been in the making since the project was first announced three years ago.

The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is being built to carry natural gas southward, from the Marcellus Shale in northeastern Pennsylvania. It will eventually pass through 10 counties, but it’s been met with the most opposition in Lancaster.

86-year-old Barbara Vanhorn of Duncanon was among those arrested, and says she’s worried about how natural gas contributes to climate change.

“I feel really frustrated with our courts and our government,” she says. “They’re giving in to these big, paying, lying companies that are trying to destroy not only our country, but the world.”

More than 100 people gathered in a cornfield in West Hempfield Township early Monday morning, next to the right-of-way where the pipeline is going to be installed. The property is owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a group of Catholic nuns who are suing to block the pipeline, citing their religious freedom.

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Bill would overhaul Pennsylvania’s regulatory process

A bill would add new hurdles to passing regulations in Pennsylvania.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A bill would add new hurdles to passing regulations in Pennsylvania.

A bill under consideration in the state House changes the way Pennsylvania enacts new regulations on everything from education, to health, and the environment.

HB 1237 would add new requirements to Pennsylvania’s Regulatory Review Act, an already byzantine process by which regulations are scrutinized by the general public, state legislators, and an independent commission. The bill is scheduled to be considered by the House Commerce committee Monday.

Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-Cumberland) is the prime sponsor. She says although legislators already have some existing oversight on agencies making regulatory changes, more is needed.

“Bills have been written in very broad terms. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation,” she says. “It’s creating more work for the agencies, and you have un-elected bureaucrats making decisions.”

The bill has upset some environmental advocates, including Joanne Kilgour, Chapter Director of the Sierra Club of Pennsylvania.

“There’s an effort in the state and nationally to try to restrict the action of the executive in terms of regulation,” she says. “The way this bill is written, it wouldn’t just apply to environmental regulations, although we are very concerned with how it would impact the state Department of Environmental Protection.” Continue Reading

Protesters park cars to blockade Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline work site

Protesters parked cars along Witmer Road in Manor Township to block access to a work site for the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Protesters parked cars along Witmer Road in Manor Township to block access to a work site for the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline.

Anti-pipeline activists in Lancaster County formed a vehicle blockade Monday that temporarily obstructed access to a work site for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline.

Protesters parked 16 cars along Witmer Road in Manor Township to impede workers’ access to a horizontal directional drill site where the pipeline builder, Williams, intends to install the line under the Conestoga River.

About 20 people from the group Lancaster Against Pipelines participated in the protest, which began shortly before 7am.

“The objective is to slow down this process and make everyone watching aware that this is not something the county wants, ” says Lori Ann Neumann. “We have been failed by our legislators, the courts, regulatory commissions.”

The group dispersed around 10am at the request of law enforcement. No one was arrested. Brett Hambright, a spokesman for the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office called the protesters, “cooperative and respectful.” Continue Reading

Former DEP official tapped to lead EPA regional office

A former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regional director is under consideration to lead EPA's Region 3 Office, which oversees Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regional director Cosmo Servidio is being tapped to lead the EPA's Region 3 Office, according to people familiar with the decision.

The Trump administration intends to name former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Southeast Regional Director Cosmo Servidio as head of EPA’s Region 3 office, according to two people familiar with the move.

Region 3 covers the Mid-Atlantic, encompassing Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Servidio was named DEP Southeast Regional Director in 2012 by former Republican Governor Tom Corbett. He abruptly resigned in October 2016. An agency spokesman declined to explain the reason for Servidio’s departure. It occurred a few months after the ouster of former DEP Secretary, John Quigley.

Neither Servidio nor the EPA responded to requests seeking comment Tuesday. Cecil Rodrigues is currently serving as Acting Administrator for Region 3.

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Police, protesters prepare for Atlantic Sunrise pipeline construction

Protesters gathered in January to ceremonially burn the environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Protesters gathered in January to ceremonially burn the environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. More than 1,000 people have signed a pledge to use civil disobedience to disrupt the project, according to the group, Lancaster Against Pipelines.

Police are expected to have an almost constant presence in Lancaster County during construction later this month of the Atlantic Sunrise interstate natural gas pipeline.

Brett Hambright, of the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office says he’s hoping planned protests against the project are peaceful but, “we’re not naive to the point we think this would go absolutely smoothly and no feathers will be ruffled.”

The pipeline has been a lightning rod for controversy since it was first announced in 2014. Law enforcement agencies, including local and state police, have been meeting since the spring to coordinate.

The $3 billion line is part of a broader network of controversial new natural gas infrastructural projects being built throughout the Northeast to connect natural gas production in the Appalachian Basin to new markets within the U.S. and abroad.

“We’re not going to be out there trying to push people off land,” Hambright adds. “We’re not going to be looking to arrest.”

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Pipeline agency fails to explain how it assesses risk, prioritizes inspections

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office finds federal pipeline regulators were unable to document or explain their processes for assessing pipeline risk, and prioritizing safety inspections.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found federal pipeline regulators unable to document or explain their processes for assessing risk.

It’s unclear whether federal regulators are properly prioritizing safety inspections on the nation’s massive network of natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Pipeline safety is overseen by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. With a safety staff of about 200 people covering 2.7 million miles of pipelines, PHMSA must pick and choose where it sends inspectors. Weld failures and corrosion are among the leading causes of significant incidents, according to the GAO.

In order to assess the risk of pipeline segments, PHMSA relies on data from pipeline companies and plugs it into its so-called, Risk Ranking Index Model (RRIM). Each year, the model produces a score which puts them into a high, medium, or low risk category—prompting inspections every three, five, or seven years, respectively.

But the GAO says PHMSA was unable to document or explain the rationale behind the RRIM model, and the agency has not used data to track its effectiveness. The situation is inconsistent with federal management principles, says the GAO.

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Construction begins on Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline

Site preparation of a compressor station in Columbia County

Courtesy: Williams

Site preparation of a compressor station in Columbia County.

Williams Partners has announced construction is officially underway on its multi-billion dollar Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, which is being built to connect Marcellus Shale gas in northeastern Pennsylvania to markets along the eastern seaboard.

“We are committed to installing this infrastructure in a safe, environmentally responsible manner and in full compliance with rigorous state and federal environmental permits and standards,” Micheal Dunn, Williams’ executive vice president and chief operating officer said in a press release. “Our construction personnel are experienced, highly-qualified professionals who have undergone extensive training to ensure that this important project is installed safely and responsibly.”

The company broke ground Friday on two new natural gas compressor stations in Orange Township, Columbia and Clinton Township ,Wyoming county. Work on the pipeline itself is expected to begin September 25. Once completed, the line will run underground, through 10 Pennsylvania counties: Columbia, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Clinton and Lycoming.

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