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Susan Phillips

Reporter

Susan Phillips tells stories about the consequences of political decisions on people's every day lives. She has worked as a reporter for WHYY since 2004. Susan's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election resulted in a story on the front page of the New York Times. In 2010 she travelled to Haiti to cover the earthquake. That same year she produced an award-winning series on Pennsylvania's natural gas rush called "The Shale Game." Along with her reporting partner Scott Detrow, she won the 2013 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Journalism Award for her work covering natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. She has also won several Edward R. Murrow awards for her work with StateImpact. She recently returned from a year as at MIT as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow. A graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, she earned her Bachelor's degree in International Relations from George Washington University.

Energy Hub vision challenged by Rinaldi’s departure from PES

Sunoco Logistic's plant in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. The site is undergoing construction to convert it from an oil refinery to a natural gas storage and processing plant.

Newsworks

Sunoco Logistics plant in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. The site is undergoing construction to convert it from an oil refinery to a natural gas storage and processing plant.

The Philadelphia Energy Hub, a grand idea that was always longer on rhetoric than reality, took another step back this week when its leading advocate said he will retire early next year as chief executive of the East Coast’s biggest refiner, Philadelphia Energy Solutions.

Phil Rinaldi, dubbed “fossil Phil” by environmentalists for his aggressive promotion of Philadelphia as a major East Coast center for the transmission, storage and use of abundant natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, said he will step down in March but will stay on as head of the Greater Philadelphia Energy Action Team, the principal cheerleader for the Energy Hub. Continue Reading

Marketplace: EPA’s last minute changes to fracking report downplayed risks

A protester urges EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to intervene in Dimock's water woes last December.

Susan Phillips / StateImpactPA

A protester urges then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to intervene in Dimock's water contamination during a visit by Jackson to Philadelphia in 2012. While leading the EPA, Jackson initiated the study on fracking.

New documents have emerged that show the EPA downplayed the risks of fracking in a landmark report on the process used to extract oil and gas from shale. The last minute changes made by the EPA are documented in a story by the public radio show Marketplace and APM Reports. The news outlets obtained documents that showed the EPA had changed language in the executive summary six weeks before its release to the public, which stated the agency did not find shale gas drilling resulted in “widespread systemic impacts” to drinking water. The documents also revealed similar changes to the accompanying press release.

Questions remain on who made the changes and why.

The EPA’s long-awaited report was supposed to settle the question once and for all on whether or not fracking for oil and gas damages water supplies, using science not politics. In Pennsylvania, there were already more than 250 documented cases in which fracking damaged private drinking water supplies.

But when the EPA’s draft report was issued in June of 2015, the executive summary read that fracking did not cause “widespread systemic impacts” on drinking water. The report was cheered by industry, and spurned by environmentalists.

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Pennsylvania academics find inspiration at climate conference

Diane Husic (C), with Franco Montalto (second from right) sit with a group of students and professors from Pennsylvania universities under a tent at the climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Nov. 17, 2016.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Moravian College dean Diane Husic (C), with Drexel University professor Franco Montalto (third from right) sit with a group of students and professors from Pennsylvania universities under a tent at the climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Nov. 17, 2016. Although all were disappointed by the election of Donald Trump, they say the conference has inspired them to work even harder on climate change issues.

The climate change conference in Morrocco ended over the weekend with an urgent message to president-elect Donald Trump – join the battle against global warming or risk contributing to catastrophe and moral failure. About 25,000 people attended the gathering aimed at keeping the earth from over-heating, and staving off the impacts like rising seas, droughts and increasingly destructive storms.

When Moravian College professor Diane Husic woke up the morning after election day in Marrakech, she headed to the United Nations climate change conference with a cloud over her head.

“We came in and it didn’t matter what country you were from,” said Husic, “this place was just in a fog. And everyone was coming up to us and saying, ‘did you vote for Donald Trump and what is that going to mean for us?’ I think most of us on Wednesday were in shock and didn’t know what to say.”

Husic is a veteran of these climate change conferences, she’s been bringing students here since 2009.

But she never expected that a man who called climate change a “Chinese hoax” and vowed to pull the U.S. out of the landmark climate agreement etched out in Paris last year, would be leading the country. Continue Reading

U.S. cities and states poised to take on new role in climate diplomacy

Participants at the COP22 climate conference stage a public show of support for climate negotiations and Paris agreement, on the last day of the conference, in Marrakech, Morocco, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.

David Keyton / AP Photo

Participants at the COP22 climate conference stage a public show of support for climate negotiations and Paris agreement, on the last day of the conference, in Marrakech, Morocco, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.

A gathering of about 200 nations working to combat climate change wrapped up on Friday in Morocco with a call to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump to join the fight against global warming. Trump’s election shocked delegates and activists assembled in Marrakech for two weeks of talks. Trump has said he would pull the U.S. out of the international climate treaty negotiated in Paris last year.

The election raises questions about the staying power of the Paris Agreement, hammered out at last year’s conference. After decades of failure, the climate accord negotiated last year and ratified earlier this month, was seen as an historic achievement. Finally, the nations of the world had come together to help lessen the growing impacts of climate change – melting glaciers, rising seas, drought, and devastating storms.

With the role of the federal government in doubt, some see American cities and states serving as a place-holder for U.S. participation.

Marrakech was billed as the climate conference of action. But the election of Donald Trump turned the rock-star U-S climate delegation into lame ducks.

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Secretary of State John Kerry says market forces will drive U.S. to meet Paris goals

US Secretary of State John Kerry gives his speech at the COP22 climate change conference on November 16, 2016, in Marrakesh.

AFP PHOTO/POOL

US Secretary of State John Kerry gives his speech at the COP22 climate change conference on November 16, 2016, in Marrakesh.

Speaking at the United Nations climate change conference in Morocco on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry struck a defiantly optimistic tone about the continued U.S. role in reducing global emissions. He addressed a crowd that had come to Marrakech elated by the success of last year’s Paris Agreement, but who are now worried that president-elect Donald Trump will follow through on his plan to scrap U.S. commitments on both emission reductions and climate finance.

Trump could choose several ways to pull the U.S. out of the climate deal, which puts into question what other countries will do. The U.S. accounts for about 20 percent of global carbon emissions, and had committed about $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund. So far here in Marrakech, no country has said it would withdraw from the pact if the U.S. cancels its involvement, including China.  Kerry was adamant that the emissions reductions agreed to in the accord cannot be reversed.

“I can tell you with confidence that the United States is right now today on our way to meeting all the international targets that were set and because of the market decisions that are being made, I do not believe that that can or will be reversed,” he said to wide applause. Continue Reading

Ban Ki-moon optimistic Trump will change his mind on climate

Morocco's King Mohammed VI, is welcomed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, right, at the U.N. climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he hopes Donald Trump will shift course on global warming and "understand the seriousness and urgency" of addressing the problem.

AP Photo / Mosa'ab Elshamy

Morocco's King Mohammed VI, is welcomed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, right, at the U.N. climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he hopes Donald Trump will shift course on global warming and "understand the seriousness and urgency" of addressing the problem.

United Nations Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says he’s optimistic that president-elect Donald Trump can be convinced of the urgency to act on climate change. Ban spoke at a gathering of almost 200 nations assembled in Morrocco to work on reducing global carbon emissions. Trump has said he would withdraw the U.S. from the agreements ironed out in Paris last year aimed at making sure the world does not warm any more than 2° degrees Celsius. He has also called climate change a “hoax.”

Ban Ki-moon said he had spoken to Donald Trump over the phone recently, and he’s sure Trump can be convinced through Reason.

“I believe that he understands that there are market forces already at work on this issue,” said Ban. “And we need to harness these forces for good of the planet and all the species in this planet.”

Ban didn’t give any more details about his conversation with the president-elect. But the outgoing secretary-general said he plans to meet with Trump face-to-face, where he will further emphasize the need for reducing carbon emissions. Continue Reading

2016 stacking up to be hottest year on record

Climate protesters in Marrakech urged world leaders to take action last week. The World Meteorological Organization released a report today showing 2016 shaping up to be the hottest year on record so far.

Mosa'ab Elshamy / AP Photo

Climate protesters in Marrakech urged world leaders to take action last week. The World Meteorological Organization released a report today showing 2016 shaping up to be the hottest year on record so far.

It’s another record breaking year for global warming. 2016 is expected to surpass temperature records broken last year, according to the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization, which announced its report during the global climate talks in Marrakech on Monday. The organization says average temperatures for the first nine months of the year reached about 1.2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“Another year. Another record. The high temperatures we saw in 2015 are set to be beaten in 2016,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.  The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue,” he said. Continue Reading

Trump’s election puts U.S. climate delegation in tough spot

Participants visit the Moroccan section on the second day of COP22, in Marrakech, Morocco, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Climate negotiators have started work on implementing the Paris pact on global warming amid uncertainty over how the U.S. election will impact the landmark deal as temperatures and greenhouse gases soar to new heights

Mosa'ab Elshamy / AP Photo

Participants visit the Moroccan section on the second day of COP22, in Marrakech, Morocco, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Climate negotiators are working on implementing the Paris pact on global warming amid uncertainty over how the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. will impact the landmark deal as temperatures and greenhouse gases soar to new heights

The election of Donald Trump has created uncertainty among delegates at the United Nations climate talks taking place right now in Marrakech, Morocco. President-elect Trump has called climate change a hoax, and threatened to pull the U.S. out of the historic Paris Agreement ratified a few weeks ago.

Just a couple of days before the start of the United Nations convention here in Morocco, U.S. negotiators were optimistic that the progress made in Paris last year to reduce carbon emissions would continue. The nations had finally come together for the first time to do something about increasing temperatures, rising seas, and melting glaciers.

John Morton, director of energy and climate change for the National Security Council, painted a bright future and seemed excited about the upcoming climate talks, also referred to as COP22, in a pre-conference call with reporters just days before the U.S. Presidential election.

“So I think its fair to say that we are all really looking forward to the COP,” said Morton. “We’re coming into this year’s COP with a tremendous amount of positive momentum. Reaching the Paris Agreement in December of last year was clearly a watershed moment for international climate action.”

Morton had good reason for optimism. The historic Paris Agreement reached last year, aimed at keeping the Earth from warming more than 2 degrees celsius, came after 15 years of failed negotiations. It had been ratified ahead of schedule. The polls showed Hillary Clinton would win and she would continue Obama’s climate agenda.

But with the election of Donald Trump last week, everything changed. Continue Reading

Trump victory casts a shadow on global climate talks in Morocco

The U.N.'s annual climate conference began just as Republican Donald Trump was elected president. Trump said he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement.

Tomas Ayuso

The U.N.'s annual climate conference began just as Republican Donald Trump was elected president. Trump said he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement.

It’s hard to find a corner of the globe where the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election aren’t reverberating. They’re certainly being felt this week in Marrakesh, Morocco, where negotiators from around the world are now gathered for the COP22 United Nations climate conference to hash out the details of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The 2015 accord, which was recently ratified by enough countries to become a binding international agreement, is the latest global effort to cut carbon emissions and stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple spoke to StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Susan Phillips about the post-election mood in Marrakech.

 

Q: Susan, has president-elect Trump’s win cast a shadow on what’s happening there because he’s said he won’t honor the Paris agreement that the U.S. signed?

A: Absolutely Kara, there’s shock and trepidation about what’s going to happen to this global climate agreement and what role the U.S. will play. Remember—this is the first U.N. climate talks where there was an actual agreement. One hundred countries signed onto this and it was ratified before anyone expected it to be, so there was a lot of optimism here. Now, a lot of folks are trying to put a positive spin on this by saying the business environment is going toward investment in renewables. If you look at the fact that coal is still a lot more expensive than natural gas and that has nothing to do with anything being negotiated at this climate change conference, that’s the result of the global situation with shale gas being so cheap. So they’re hoping that despite Trump’s reluctance to even say human-caused climate change exists, they’re still hopeful they can push for a new energy future that has less fossil fuel and more renewables.

Q: Can the U.S. back out of the Paris agreement now?

A: Officially, it would take them four years. There’s nothing really in the agreement to hold them to their pledges anyway, so Trump could easily ignore whatever Obama pledged. And he could also appoint a Supreme Court justice who could overturn the Clean Power Plan.

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Climate Super PAC pursues Pennsylvania’s college vote in presidential campaign

NextGen field organizer Ann Drabick (right) and Temple student Rabia Kashmiri using social media to get out the millennial vote.

Emma Lee / WHYY

NextGen field organizer Ann Drabick (right) and Temple student Rabia Kashmiri using social media to get out the millennial vote.

Climate activists are pushing hard to register millennials to vote in the hope that they will support Hillary Clinton, especially in Pennsylvania, a swing state that could play an important role in the outcome of the presidential election.

NextGen Climate, a Super PAC founded by hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, is spending $25 million in 13 states to build support for Clinton and down-ballot candidates among 18-35 year-olds, especially on college campuses. NextGen has spent about $737,875 on the Pennsylvania Senate race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group’s biggest operation is in Pennsylvania, where it says it registered almost 80,000 millennial voters from May until the registration deadline on Oct. 11. The group works on 87 college campuses across the state, and reaches out to older millennials who are no longer college students but are also expected to support candidates who will work to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Continue Reading

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