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.
Workers at a hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County.
While fracking has created an economic boon for Pennsylvania and helped increase natural gas usage as a cleaner-burning energy source, it has also led to myriad environmental concerns–from water contamination to earthquakes.
Construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Lancaster County.
Federal regulators won’t revisit their decision to approve a major natural gas transmission pipeline through Pennsylvania.
In a December 6 order, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied a rehearing request by landowners, anti-pipeline activists, environmental groups, Native American tribes and the public service commissions of North Carolina and New York. They were challenging FERC’s approval of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.
Construction on the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline began in September. It is being built to carry Marcellus Shale gas from northeastern Pennsylvania southward to markets along the East Coast.
Exelon's Three Mile Island nuclear plant outside Harrisburg is slated to close in September 2019, 15 years before its operating license expires.
There are multiple efforts underway at the federal, state, and regional levels to try to boost the nuclear power industry. If they all materialize, Exelon might reverse its decision to close its Three Mile Island plant outside Harrisburg.
But the stars would have to align for that to happen, and time is running out.
Visiting Three Mile Island is like entering a fortress. There are heavily armed guards. Past a set of metal turnstiles, it feels a bit like an airport– bags go through an x-ray machine and visitors step into a body scanner.
Beyond the security checkpoint, there’s big banner with an American flag declaring that Three Mile Island is powering America’s future.
Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state in the country without a severance tax. It’s been a hot topic in Harrisburg for nearly a decade. Now, as the year winds down, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and Republican legislators look like they might get a deal done on a modest severance tax.
Capitol Reporter Katie Meyer and StateImpact Pennsylvania reporter Marie Cusick have more on how this is all playing out.
FILE: Governor Tom Wolf's deputy chief of staff Yesenia Bane, speaking at natural gas industry conference in 2016.
A complaint filed with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission alleges a senior aide to Governor Tom Wolf might have illegally blurred the lines between the public’s business and her own.
StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported a year ago that Wolf aide Yesenia Bane could be running afoul of state ethics law, when a review of her 2016 daily calendar showed she was regularly involved in meetings and travel related to her husband’s natural gas industry clients.
At the time her husband, John Bane, was a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Harrisburg. Among his clients were gas driller EQT, refiner Philadelphia Energy Solutions, and pipeline company Williams. He joined EQT full time as a senior government relations manager in late 2016.
The ethics complaint was filed last week by Caroline Hughes, a Chester County resident. Last spring Hughes got involved with Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, a coalition of concerned citizens groups in suburban Philadelphia. She just recently learned about Ms. Bane’s potential conflicts of interest and decided to file the complaint.
“The ethics law is very clear. I’ll let the commission make the conclusion, but there is a strong argument this is worthy of an investigation,” Hughes said. “As [Bane] has positioned herself in meetings regarding energy initiatives and projects her husband and his clients can benefit from, she then benefits from that.”
Methane is the main component of natural gas. Compared to carbon dioxide, it’s much more potent as a climate-warming greenhouse gas, although it stays in the planet’s atmosphere for a shorter time period.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says that starting in early 2018, drilling companies will have to use the best available technologies to prevent leaks at new well sites and midstream facilities. A separate package of new regulations for existing emission sources was supposed to be proposed over a year ago, but the DEP missed that self-imposed deadline and won’t give a new one.
Because those regulations on existing infrastructure would take years to go into effect, Joe Minott, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, calls the overall plan to cut methane pollution “painfully slow.”
“The politics in Pennsylvania are not very supportive of regulating the gas industry,” says Minott. “It’s really up to the [Wolf] administration to explain it, but I think they wanted to move extremely cautiously. They couldn’t move any more cautiously than this. But it is moving, and that is good.”
The change in state law is expected to bring a boost to Pennsylvania's solar industry.
A recent change to Pennsylvania law is expected to give a boost to the state’s solar industry.
On Oct. 30, Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill that will provide more protection for home-grown projects and prevent out-of-state solar power from affecting Pennsylvania’s marketplace for alternative energy.
StateImpact Pennsylvania discussed the significance of the change with Christina Simeone, Director of Policy and External Affairs for the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.
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.”
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?”
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.