Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

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." 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.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry faces tough sell on coal and nuke subsidies

Energy Secretary Rick Perry listens to a statement by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., on TV monitor, during a hearing about the electrical grid, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

Energy Secretary Rick Perry listens to a statement by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., on TV monitor, during a hearing about the electrical grid, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry continues to defend his plan to have ratepayers subsidize coal and nuclear production in the face of greater competition from cheap natural gas and growing renewables. Perry took his message to the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia Friday morning. He left quickly, without taking audience questions.

Perry’s pitch followed a panel discussion hosted by the Chamber, which focused primarily on how natural gas has created new opportunities for businesses seeking cheaper sources of power, and the need for expanded pipeline infrastructure to transport gas. The Chamber has pushed for expanded natural gas development, setting up the “energy action taskforce” with the aim of turning Philadelphia into the “energy hub” of the East Coast.

As Perry stumped for his plan to subsidize coal and nuclear to area business people, some audience members shook their heads, while others clearly laughed.

“The idea that there is a free market in the electric business, the power business, is a fallacy,” he told StateImpact after the event.

In a surprise move last month, Perry issued an order to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, proposing the subsidies for coal and nuclear power, and giving FERC 60 days to take action, or take immediate action with public comments to come later. Continue Reading

Q&A: Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy discusses Pruitt, WOTUS, and Clean Power Plan

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at the National Press Club luncheon in Washington, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.

Jose Luis Magana / AP Photo

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at the National Press Club luncheon in Washington, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says she’s not sad or depressed by the pronouncements now coming from the new administration on rolling back environmental protections. “I am filled with great hope for a number of reasons,” she said. “The core values that created EPA and led it to a really bipartisan support all of its 47 years of existence, still remains.”

McCarthy served as Obama’s EPA chief, replacing Lisa Jackson in 2013, and leading the efforts to tackle climate change. She spoke at the University of Pennsylvania this week. She was there to receive the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy’s annual Carnot prize and sat down for an interview with StateImpact Pennsylvania.

The morning of the interview, the New York Times published a story detailing the daily calendar of current EPA Administer Scott Pruitt, which showed he spends most of his time meeting and dining with industry executives, and virtually no time with public health and environmental advocates. We asked for her reaction to the story.

McCarthy: Well, I just know that I think the most important thing that I felt going into EPA was that the EPA is a public health agency. We have a responsibility to look at how we move the mission of environmental protection forward in a way that delivers clean air and water and land and a stable climate. And so it was my job, I felt, to sort of learn the issues, to sit down with the career staff, understand the history of the law, sit down with the scientists, understand the science, and then make the best policy judgments I could make after doing an enormous outreach, not just with the people who agreed with me, but to those that I didn’t agree and who wouldn’t agree with me, and with the business community as well as environmental constituents. That’s the job of government. Not simply to sit down with your own base and think big thoughts and have them congratulate you.

  Continue Reading

FERC not a rubber stamp, says new commissioner

FERC commissioner Rob Powelson says the agency is not a "rubber stamp" when it comes to pipeline approvals.

AP Images

FERC commissioner Rob Powelson says the agency is not a "rubber stamp" when it comes to pipeline approvals.

Rob Powelson, a commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently appointed by President Donald Trump, defended FERC’s track record with interstate pipeline projects. Pipeline opponents say FERC is a captured agency that does not look critically at industry proposals.

“I take exception to people who say we rubber stamp projects,” Powelson told StateImpact at an event celebrating the 90th anniversary of PJM Interconnect, the region’s power grid. “There’s a process that we follow. It’s a rigorous process. And it’s a rule of law process. And that’s the way federal agencies and state agencies are supposed to run and conduct their affairs.”

FERC rejected only two pipeline proposals out of hundreds in the last 30 years, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and StateImpact Pennsylvania. Continue Reading

DRBC takes a step toward banning fracking in Northeast Pa.

A view of the Delaware River from Morrisville, Pa.

Kim Paynter / WHYY

A view of the Delaware River from Morrisville, Pa. The Delaware River Basin Commission voted Wednesday on a resolution that could result in a ban on fracking in the Basin.

Cheers erupted at the Delaware River Basin Commission meeting Wednesday on the campus of Bucks County Community College in Newtown after commissioners from three states including Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, approved a resolution that could lead to a fracking ban in the Delaware River watershed. New Jersey abstained and the federal representative from the Army Corps of Engineers voted no, which elicited a round of boos.

The Delaware River Basin Commission regulates water quality and quantity for the river and its tributaries, which provide drinking water for about 15 million people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The governors of each state, who send delegates to the meetings, serve as commissioners while the federal government is represented by the Army Corps of Engineers, which answers directly to the White House through the Council on Environmental Quality.

The 3-1-1 vote passing the resolution starts a rule making process that could last into 2018. Staff members have until Nov. 30 to come up with a proposal, which will then be subject to public comment and hearings. In essence, the rules would apply to any gas operations that utilize fracking in Wayne and Pike counties, the only part of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region that drains into the Delaware river. Continue Reading

DRBC confirms it will consider banning fracking in basin

Dan Plummer fishes for trout in the Delaware River, Delaware County New York. The Delaware watershed hosts world class trout fisheries. But a dispute over water allocation between New York City and New Jersey could put those fisheries in jeopardy.

courtesy of Friends of the Upper Delaware

Dan Plummer fishes for trout in the Delaware River, Delaware County New York. The Delaware River Basin Commission has proposed a ban on fracking along the river.

The Delaware River Basin Commission confirmed on Monday that it will consider adopting new rules that would ban natural gas drilling in the basin, a policy that would formalize a de facto moratorium that has been in place since 2010.

The interstate regulator of water quality and supply in the basin said in a statement that its public meeting this week will consider a resolution that would require its executive director to draft a new rule containing the proposed ban, which would be sent out for public comment by the end of November, and potentially adopted later.

“If the proposed resolution is approved by the commission on Sept. 13, the revised draft rules to be published on a later date would include prohibitions related to the production of natural gas utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing within the Delaware River Basin,” the DRBC said in a press release. Continue Reading

AP: DRBC planning to propose permanent fracking ban

The Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side at the Delaware Water Gap.

Catalina Jaramillo / StateImpact PA

The Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side at the Delaware Water Gap. The Delaware River Basin Commission plans to propose a permanent ban on fracking, according to an AP report.

The Delaware River Basin Commission plans to propose a permanent ban on fracking, according to a report by the Associated Press. The AP cited an anonymous source within the DRBC, who said the agency planned an announcement on Friday. DRBC spokesman Clarke Rupert, would not comment other than to refer to the official DRBC agenda for its September 13 public meeting, which does not include a reference to gas drilling.

The five-member commission has been reviewing whether or not to allow the controversial natural gas drilling process along the Delaware River for several years. The ban would include Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Pike and Wayne counties in Northeast Pennsylvania. New York has already imposed a shale gas drilling ban.

Maya van Rossum with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network pushed for a moratorium and has been advocating for a permanent ban on fracking since 2008.

“Translating our moratorium into a ban is just…it’s rewarding beyond words,” she said. Continue Reading

No fine for Range Resources in major drilling case, DEP quietly settles

This July 27, 2011 file photo shows a farmhouse in the background framed by pipes connecting pumps where the hydraulic fracturing process in the Marcellus Shale layer to release natural gas was underway at a Range Resources site in Claysville, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

This July 27, 2011 file photo shows a farmhouse in the background framed by pipes connecting pumps where the hydraulic fracturing process in the Marcellus Shale layer to release natural gas was underway at a Range Resources site in Claysville, Pa. After announcing an $8.9 million dollar fine against the driller two years ago, DEP quietly settled the case with no financial penalty.

More than two years after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a record-breaking $8.9 million fine against driller Range Resources with tough talk about cracking down on faulty drilling operations, the department quietly settled the case this week without issuing any financial penalties.

The fine was issued on May 11, 2015 after the DEP said the company continually failed to fix a gas well that polluted five residential wells, groundwater and a stream with methane in Lycoming County. Range appealed the case to the Environmental Hearing Board.

Range Resources originally drilled the well in the winter of 2011, and fracked it in June of that year. The DEP issued a notice of violation in September 2013, citing a faulty cement job. Despite that notice, state regulators said the company did not fix the well. Continue Reading

DOE grid report says shale gas to blame for coal plant closures

A view of the PJM Interconnection control room. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America. A report out by Moody's this week says a glut of natural gas will "wreak havoc" on the region's electricity market.

courtesy of PJM

A view of the PJM Interconnection control room. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America. A report out by the Department of Energy this week says cheap natural gas is to blame for coal plant closures.

The Department of Energy says coal and nuclear are still needed to support the nation’s power grid, and the main reason for coal plant closures results from abundant, cheap shale gas production. The report had been ordered by Trump’s Secretary of Energy Rick Perry who backs coal and has said solar and wind threatened the reliability of electricity production.

The electric grid is in good shape for now despite tremendous changes in electricity generation, according to the report. Environmentalists had worried that renewables would be slammed in the report, they weren’t. The Department of Energy made it clear that the main reason for coal plant closures is cheap shale gas supplies, much more so than regulations or solar and wind subsidies.

But it provides suggestions for shoring up coal and nuclear, including curbing environmental regulations for coal such as New Source Review permits, which are aimed at limiting air pollution. And it encouraged speeding up permits for new nuclear plants. Continue Reading

Mariner East 2 builder sues North Dakota pipeline protestors

A protest sign at Camp White Pine near construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. (

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A protest sign at Camp White Pine near construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) is building the ME2. On Tuesday it filed a lawsuit against protestors of its Dakota Access line in North Dakota.

The pipeline builder behind construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline has sued activists who protested the company’s Dakota Access line in North Dakota last year. Energy Transfer Partners, which recently merged with Sunoco Logistics, filed a federal racketeering lawsuit in North Dakota on Tuesday. The complaint alleges environmental groups, including Greenpeace, as well as some individuals, were engaged in criminal activity to prevent pipeline construction and line the pockets of environmental groups through increased donations.

While the Mariner East 2 is currently under construction, ETP was successful in completing the Dakota Access line and it went into production this year.

The suit refers to the North Dakota protestors as “rogue eco-terrorist groups who employ patterns of criminal activity and campaigns of misinformation to target legitimate companies and industries with fabricated environmental claims and other purported misconduct, inflicting billions of dollars in damage.”

Continue Reading

Trump revokes Obama order protecting infrastructure projects from climate impacts

This April 26, 2017 photo shows Jim O'Neill walking through a flooded street in front of his home in Manahawkin N.J. after a moderate storm. He lives in a low-lying area near the Jersey shore, and is often affected by back bay flooding, a type of recurring nuisance flooding that's affecting millions of Americans and which experts agree has not been as widely addressed as oceanfront flooding, in part because potential solutions are much more difficult.

Wayne Parry / AP Photo

This April 26, 2017 photo shows Jim O'Neill walking through a flooded street in front of his home in Manahawkin N.J. after a moderate storm. He lives in a low-lying area near the Jersey shore, and is often affected by back bay flooding that is expected to increas due to sea level rise. President Trump revoked rules that would have required federally funded infrastructure projects to take rising sea levels into account.

President Trump has rolled back rules aimed at protecting federal infrastructure projects from rising sea levels and dangerous storms caused by climate change. Trump announced the move on Tuesday, at a press conference touting plans to fast track the building of roads and bridges.

Just before engaging in a hostile exchange with reporters over the violence in Charlottesville, President Trump said the current environmental rules governing construction of federal infrastructure projects created delays and costs.

“This overregulated permitting process is a massive, self-inflicted wound on our country,” Trump said standing at a podium in Trump Tower in New York City. “It’s disgraceful. Denying our people much needed investments in their community.” Continue Reading

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