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.
Attorney Matt Haverstick (Right) seen here with client Eric Arneson(L), from the office of open records in Harrisburg. Haverstick also represented the PUC in the Robinson Township case. He said there was a "small cadre trying to kill" the gas industry.
A private practice attorney representing the Public Utility Commission before the Supreme Court in the Robinson Township case, has told a Pittsburgh newspaper that he was discouraged by the court’s decision to toss aspects of the state’s oil and gas law saying “there’s an industry trying to bring prosperity to Pennsylvania and there seems to be a small cadre trying to kill it.” Attorney Matt Haverstick confirmed that he gave the statement to a reporter at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. But he said through an email that he wasn’t speaking for the PUC. A spokesperson for the PUC said he would not comment on the statement, other than to say it did not come from the PUC.
Haverstick, a partner at Kleinbard LLC, said through an email that the “small cadre” did not refer to the Supreme Court, but would not elaborate on who or what the phrase did refer to, and did not return calls seeking clarification. Haverstick has also served as an attorney for Senate Republicans and his firm biography says one of his legal specialties is public corruption. His comment has raised concerns among advocates who say it illustrates a bias on the part of the PUC. Continue Reading →
The Supreme Court struck down a number of provisions in the law governing the state's oil and gas industry.
In a win for environmentalists and municipalities, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down a number of provisions to the state’s oil and gas law. At issue were several items related to the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Robinson v. Commonwealth, the controversial and wide ranging environmental ruling that eliminated parts of the state’s revised oil and gas law, known as Act 13. On Wednesday, a majority of the court ruled that the “doctor gag rule,” eminent domain for natural gas storage facilities, and the exclusion of private wells from notification of hazardous spills is unconstitutional.
The industry no longer has a fast track to commonwealth court when it comes to challenging local zoning ordinances. And the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will have no role in examining local zoning decisions.
Jordan Yeager, the attorney who argued for the towns and environmental groups involved in the challenging the law, said it’s a big win.
“It’s great,” he said. “And it’s great for the residents of Pennsylvania to have the courts recognize that their rights matter more than the gas industry’s power in Harrisburg.” Continue Reading →
Steve Earle, international vice president of the United Mine Workers, from Greenville, Ky., center, marches with international president, Cecil Roberts, left center, as they lead some 5000 members of the United Mine Workers and supporters through the streets of downtown Pittsburgh July, 2014 to protest Obama's Clean Power Plan. A federal appeals court will hear oral arguments related to the challenge on Tuesday morning.
A federal court in Washington, D.C. will be hearing arguments Tuesday morning about the future of the country’s electricity. President Obama’s landmark climate change initiative will be subjected to arguments from both sides, with 28 states aligned with coal companies facing off against the EPA, which is backed by a number of other states and environmentalists.
The Clean Power Plan is Obama’s giant push to make the nation’s electricity cleaner, and signal to the international community that the world’s second largest carbon emitter is doing something to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. The plan gives states different options to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas causing carbon emissions from their existing power plants.
But the controversial plan is opposed by the coal industry, which says it will force coal plants to shut down and cause power plants to convert to natural gas or renewables to comply. Proponents of the plan argue that the coal industry’s woes have nothing to do with the Clean Power Plan, but rather, with the availability of cheaper natural gas from new plays like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. More than 40 new natural gas plant applications have been submitted to Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection within the last five years. Continue Reading →
Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell speaking at an event in the Capitol Rotunda.
Governor Wolf has nominated the acting DEP chief Patrick McDonnell as the state’s permanent top environmental regulator. If approved by the senate, McDonnell will replace John Quigley, who was ousted by the Wolf Administration last May over an email controversy. McDonnell has been serving in that role since Quigley’s departure.
Environmentalists praised Wolf’s decision, saying McDonnell will have an easier time working with the legislature than his predecessor, who was looked upon with suspicion by lawmakers loyal to the oil and gas industry, and apparently clashed with other members of the Wolf Administration.
David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, says he hopes McDonnell can help quiet the partisanship at work in Harrisburg, especially when it comes to protecting the environment. Continue Reading →
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the crowd at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference Thursday, May 26, 2016, in Bismarck, N.D. The oil and gas industry, usually a reliable fundraising base for the Republican nominee, has only given about $244,000 in individual donations to Trump.
One thing we can say about this year’s presidential election, it’s not following the rules of the game. Take the oil and gas industry for example. Although Donald Trump is the keynote speaker at the annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh this week, industry executives and employees have not been opening their wallets to the Republican nominee.
But in a typical election they would. As of last week, Republican nominee Donald Trump raised a paltry $245,000 from individuals working in the oil and gas industry, according to figures provided by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. While union members and Hollywood entertainers are reliable donors to the Democratic candidate in Presidential races, industries like oil and gas line up behind the Republican.
So what’s going on here?
At an oil and gas conference in North Dakota last May, Trump came across like Santa Claus – ready to shower gifts all over coal and oil country, stripping away environmental regulations.
“We’re going to lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas,” Trump told the industry crowd. “We’re going to revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies….we’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement.”
When you hear that, you think, oil and gas industry employees should be lining up to give Trump money, right? Wrong.
A tree clearing crew member on property in Huntingdon County where Sunoco was permitted to cut trees along the pipeline path before obtaining water crossing or earth moving permits from DEP.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has rejected Sunoco Logistics current proposal to protect waterways and wetlands at risk of damage by construction of the company’s Mariner East 2 pipeline. Sunoco recently submitted what DEP refers to as “technically complete” permit applications necessary for moving forward with the pipeline project. DEP’s critiques of the permit applications come after a year of working with agency staff to resolve problems with the company’s initial proposals. And yet, more than a year since Sunoco first applied for the permits, DEP has documented hundreds of issues remaining in each of the 17 counties along the pipeline route. DEP’s response documents, known as “deficiency letters,” detail missing or insufficient information about how the company plans to protect the environment, drinking water sources, and cultural heritage sites along the 350-mile long route from Ohio to Marcus Hook, Delaware County.
The $2.5 billion Mariner East 2 project would take propane, butane and potentially ethane though 17 counties from the Marcellus Shale of eastern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania to a terminal at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia, where the fuel will be shipped overseas.
Pipeline construction on the 20-inch diameter high pressure line will tunnel beneath 17 counties in the commonwealth, cut through 2,700 properties, require a 50 foot right-of-way, and cross more than 1,200 streams or wetlands. The project, which has already begun tree clearing in parts of the state, requires state approved plans to prevent erosion and sedimentation, as well as mitigate harm to waterways, before any pipe is put into the ground. Chapter 105 permits, a necessary step for any construction project that may impact a waterway, are aimed at protecting streams and wetlands. Chapter 102 permits focus on erosion and sedimentation. Continue Reading →
Marcia Stober holds up a sign in Lebanon County. Protesters staged events across the country Tuesday to show solidarity with Native Americans opposing the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Protesters staged demonstrations across the country Tuesday in solidarity with Native Americans trying to stop an oil pipeline from being built on their land in North Dakota. The anti-pipeline demonstrations took place in Lebanon and Lancaster counties, as well as in Philadelphia, where President Obama made a visit to stump for his former rival, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The president spoke to about 6,000 people gathered in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum while about 100 protesters stood behind barricades across the street, and periodically chanted “water is life.”
Catherine Blunt from West Philadelphia said she wanted to show support for the Native Americans protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“The pipeline is an intrusion on the Native American people’s right to their ancestral homeland,” she said, “their holy land, you know, that should not be going on.”
Sticks mark a section of forest where an independent consultant hired by the property owners in Huntingdon County surveyed land before tree clearing for the Mariner East pipeline. Landowners and environmentalists say Sunoco has submitted incomplete permits for stream crossings and erosion control, including permits that leave out known streams and water crossings.
As landowners battle Sunoco Logistics in court over eminent domain takings, critics are pushing back against the pipeline on another front — permits the project needs from the state to move forward with construction. Sunoco has already begun felling trees along the 300-mile long proposed pipeline route through Pennsylvania, but the company can’t lay any pipe without erosion and sedimentation control permits from the Department of Environmental Protection. It also can’t cross any waterways without the water crossing permits.
The deadline for public comment period on the Chapter 105 permits, which regulate stream and wetlands crossings, has already passed. The deadline for public comment on the erosion and sediment control permits, known as Chapter 102, is Tuesday. Residents at recent public hearings on the pipeline project have complained that DEP went ahead with the public comment periods without having received completed permit applications from Sunoco.
“That’s what makes this different,” said Alex Bomstein, an attorney with the Clean Air Council, which along with several environmental and landowner organizations, submitted a 34-page detailed comment letter outlining the deficiencies in Sunoco’s permit applications for stream and wetland crossings. Continue Reading →
A Pennsylvania appeals court has ruled that the Department of Environmental Protection has the authority to consider the impact of gas drilling wells on public and natural resources including, but not limited to, public drinking water supplies, parks, forests, game lands, habitats of rare and endangered species, historic and archeological sites, scenic rivers, and historic landmarks. The Commonwealth Court ruled 5-2 in favor of DEP, and against the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, or PIOGA, which includes about 550 members primarily engaged in conventional drilling operations.
Acting DEP secretary Patrick McDonnell praised the ruling.
“Today’s ruling is important for DEP’s permitting of oil and gas wells across Pennsylvania,” McDonnell said in a statement. “It unconditionally confirms that the Department has legal authority under Act 13 (the 2012 Oil and Gas Act) to consider the impact that a proposed well site will have on public and natural resources. This decision will assist the Department in its work to ensure responsible development of natural resources in Pennsylvania.”