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." She received a 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. In 2013/14 she spent a year at MIT as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow. She has also been a Metcalf Fellow, an MBL Logan Science Journalism Fellow and reported from Marrakech on the 2016 climate talks as an International Reporting Project Fellow. A graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, she earned her Bachelor's degree in International Relations from George Washington University.
A backhoe clears land for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County in early 2017.
Several environmental groups have asked the Commonwealth Court for an injunction to halt Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners’ Mariner East 2 pipeline construction.
The Clean Air Council, along with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Mountain Watershed Association, say a settlement reached between Sunoco and the Department of Environmental Protection earlier this month amounts to a breach of contract reached by all parties last summer.
It’s the latest legal challenge to the controversial natural gas liquids pipeline, which has faced opposition from landowners challenging eminent domain, and residents frustrated by dozens of environmental violations.
The groups filed an appeal with the Environmental Hearing Board, opposing the Feb. 8 settlement agreement between DEP and Sunoco, which allowed construction to resume after the agency ordered a halt early last month.
In January, DEP withdrew its water-crossing and earth moving permits after repeated damage to wetlands, streams and aquifers, calling the company’s actions “willful and egregious.” Residents in several counties along the 350-mile long pipeline route have had to find alternative drinking water sources after construction damaged well water. Continue Reading →
Refinery workers at Philadelphia Energy Solutions wait to hear Republican Senator Ted Cruz speak at a rally against the Renewable Fuel Standards. The company blames the program for its financial troubles in a recent bankruptcy filing.
Under a giant white tent in the parking lot of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took to the podium like he was back on the presidential campaign trail Wednesday afternoon.
Speaking to hundreds of refinery workers who wore orange and blue jumpsuits, and joined by local labor leaders, Cruz railed against the federal program known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), while the workers cheered.
“This is about jobs,” Cruz said. ”Good union jobs that provide for your families, that provide for your kids, that provide for your grandkids.”
Philadelphia Energy Solutions filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month, blaming the skyrocketing costs associated with the standard for its financial woes. Created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the RFS mandates gasoline contain a portion of biofuels, mostly ethanol from corn. The refinery can’t blend ethanol into its gasoline, so it must buy credits. Continue Reading →
Fisherman Jim Lovgren says drilling off the Jersey coast is not worth the risk. The Trump administration has proposed opening up the entire eastern seaboard to offshore drilling.
Jim Lovgren is a third-generation fisherman and captains the Shadowfax. At the Fisherman’s Coop in Point Pleasant New Jersey recently, he watched as about a half-dozen men sorted freshly caught scup — or porgies — into bins.
“These fish they’ll be put in a cooler by tonight,” he said. “There could be 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of fish on the docks today. They will all be on their way to New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. We ship anywhere from Canada down past North Carolina.”
Lovgren grew up trawling the waters off Sandy Hook. He says the fishery is already stressed from rising ocean temperatures. While there used to be dozens of fishing boats here, Lovgren said today there’s only a handful. He worries that if oil and gas companies drill offshore, he’ll be put out of business.
“Blackback flounders are just about extinct in this area here,” he said. “That was a major fishery. yellowtail flounders, codfish, lobsters are disappearing off the Jersey coast and it’s all because the water’s getting too warm.”
Lovgren knows that burning fossil fuels is connected to climate change, warming oceans and his disappearing fish. Still, he said, he needs fossil fuel to trawl the ocean floor.
“Look, a fishing boat, it runs on diesel fuel. You have to have energy. We have to have energy.”
But President Trump’s offshore drilling proposal is an immediate threat to his livelihood, and he’s gearing up to fight it.
Lovgren, along with other fishermen, environmentalists, realtors, and local business owners, descended on a hotel near Trenton Thursday voicing their unified opposition to drilling for oil and natural gas off the coast of New Jersey. Continue Reading →
Construction equipment clears trees in Aston, Delaware County to make way for the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline. Sunoco has appealed DEP's stop work order that resulted from dozens of pollution incidents.
Sunoco is appealing the Department of Environmental Protection’s January 3 order to halt construction on the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline. Sunoco filed the appeal with the Environmental Hearing Board on February 2, calling the DEP’s order “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, vague, an abuse of discretion, improper, not supported by substantial or accurate evidence, contrary to fact and law…”
It’s the latest move in a legal and regulatory battle over the permitting and construction of the 350-mile long natural gas liquids pipeline that cuts through 17 counties, 2,700 properties, and more than 1200 streams or wetlands.
Clean Air Council executive director Joe Minott says the DEP is within its right to halt construction. Continue Reading →
On Jan. 2, the Pennsylvania environmental protection department suspended work related to permits it issued for the Mariner East 2 pipeline. This photo shows a work area off Fallbrook Lane in Glen Mills, near Philadelphia.
A senior staffer for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf asked the state’s chief environmental regulator not to send letters to Sunoco detailing problems with its permit applications for a controversial pipeline project until the governor was updated, according to text messages obtained through a lawsuit.
The texts also show the official asking the state’s Department of Environmental Protection whether some deficiencies cited in Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 plans could “remain flexible for field adjustments.”
In February 2017, soon after the series of texts, DEP approved Sunoco’s permits with conditions. Some landowners and environmentalists say that Wolf injected political pressure into a decision that should be based solely on environmental standards. They say those standards and regulations were subverted to help Sunoco make its projected timeline on the project.
And, they say, the texts bolster their claims.
“I don’t know if there’s a smoking gun here but there sure is a lot of smoke,” said Eric Friedman, a Delaware County landowner who, along with his homeowner’s association, is battling Sunoco’s eminent domain taking.
Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott and a past DEP secretary say the messages show an exchange of information among government agencies that is routine for a project of this size and scope. The 20-inch diameter high pressure natural gas liquids line tunnels beneath 17 counties, cuts through 2,700 properties with a 50-foot right-of-way, and crosses more than 1,200 streams or wetlands. It’s expected to cost more than $2.5 billion.
“These texts merely show coordination of information and schedules,” Abbott wrote in an email. “They are not orders or direction but seeking productive government services.”
Cayleigh Dorsey was the youngest to stand by the podium at the DRBC hearing. She’s one year old, and was held by her grandmother Alicia Dorsey, from South Philadelphia.
The Delaware River Basin Commission heard its first public comments on the proposal to ban fracking in the watershed this week in Wayne County and Philadelphia. If the DRBC approves the proposal, it would cement a current de-facto moratorium on drilling. But it remains controversial.
The hearings this week were calm compared to years past, when commissioners from the DRBC would brace themselves for disruptions and protests and a war of words would break out between Delaware and Pennsylvania state officials. This time around, the commissioners were not present, and in their place, a lone moderator called for civility.
Instead of signs, a majority of participants in the Philadelphia meeting Thursday wore bright yellow stickers that read “Don’t Drill the Delaware.” Continue Reading →
Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the largest oil refining complex on the Eastern seaboard. On Monday, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to restructure its debt.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the largest refiner on the East Coast, says its operations will not be disrupted by its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings aimed at restructuring its debt.
The crude oil refinery in South Philadelphia blames its financial problems on a George W. Bush-era renewable fuels program that increases the amount of biofuels, primarily ethanol, in gasoline. Merchant refiners, or those that do not have a retail division, say the Renewable Fuel Standards put them at a disadvantage. Instead of using ethanol in their products, refiners like PES must buy credits, known as RIN’s, which are traded by financial speculators and energy companies.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions, along with other area refiners, have urged the EPA to reform the program.
The Chapter 11 filing states the company doesn’t have adequate funds to buy credits for this year. PES CEO Greg Gatta said the plan to restructure its debt filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware “positions PES well for the future with a sustainable capital structure and additional liquidity.”
“In order to complete this process without delay, we will continue to work with the government to address the broken RFS system that is harming smaller independent merchant refiners like PES,” Gatta said in a statement. “This is a win for the region, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia.” Continue Reading →
Sunoco/ETP's Mariner East 2 construction continues this week along Devon Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County. Despite DEP ordering construction to stop, Sunoco can continue to work on welding pipes. That work is regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, not DEP.
When Danielle Otten woke up Monday morning, she didn’t expect to see men working on the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction site that sits about 40 feet from her backyard, along Devon Drive in Uwchlan Township, Chester County.
“I walked over and it appeared they were welding. They were actively welding and working and they’re still there today,” Otten said. “It’s interesting because our understanding was all construction was to be halted. I think it’s pretty bold on the part of Sunoco.”
When DEP issued a stop work order to Sunoco last week, it appeared that all work would halt aside from drilling and erosion controls that had to be continued in order to prevent additional environmental damage. But a spokesman for the DEP now tells StateImpact that when it comes to anything other than earth disturbance or water crossings, the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction.
That means some work — like the welding Otten saw near her home — is allowed.
“The welding, as an activity DEP doesn’t regulate, would not be stopped under the suspended permits,” DEP spokesman Neil Shader wrote in an email. Continue Reading →
Mariner East 2 construction site on Shepherd Road in Edgemont Township, Delaware County. A new report says the pipeline construction could generate $9 billion in economic benefits for the state over six years.
The Mariner East pipelines and related plant could have a potential $9 billion financial impact in the state over six years, according to a report by the firm Econsult Solutions.
Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the $2.5 billion pipeline, paid for the report. It analyzes the economic benefits of the Mariner East 1, 2, and 2X pipelines that will carry natural gas liquids from the western part of Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio about 350 miles across the state to a processing and export facility in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.
The report, published Monday, comes less than a week after the Department of Environmental Protection shut down a large part of the construction on the Mariner East 2 following months of continued permit violations and damaged waterways. It uses project budgets and standard modeling to forecast potential economic benefits, including spending and employment, between 2014 through 2019. The report does not factor in social and environmental costs, or potential loss of property values.
“There are potentially other benefits that we haven’t counted and there are costs that we haven’t counted,” said Stephen Mullin, president of Econsult Solutions Inc. and an author of the report. “We say, if you build a pipeline you’re going to hire construction workers and you’re going to buy stuff and you’re going to spend money and it’s going to have an impact on the economy here.”
Youths play ice hockey on a frozen pond at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park during a winter storm, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, in Philadelphia.
It might seem counterintuitive, but the freezing temperatures and recent snow storm actually line up perfectly with predictions made by climate scientists for the Philadelphia region. Average global temperatures are rising, and the Philadelphia area is no exception. Sixteen of the seventeen warmest years on record happened since 2001.
But that doesn’t mean we won’t have cold, wet weather, especially in this region. Christine Knapp is Philadelphia’s Sustainability Director. She’s in charge of helping the city prepare for and understand a changing climate, which for the Delaware Valley means warmer and wetter weather.
“The precipitation is most likely to increase in the winter in the form of snow,” Knapp says.
That’s because warming oceans put more moisture and energy into the atmosphere, creating conditions for stronger storms. Continue Reading →
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