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.

DEP’s McDonnell meets with Mariner East pipeline opponents

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell speaks about climate change at an event hosted by the Academy of Natural Sciences, January 27, 2017.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell speaks at an event in Philadelphia, January 27, 2017. (file photo) McDonnell met with a group of Mariner East 2 pipeline opponents on Monday who had hoped to convince the Acting Secretary to extend public comment on the project.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection held a hastily arranged meeting on Monday with several opponents of the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline in an apparent attempt to calm public concerns over the project which may soon get its final environmental approvals.

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell plus two other DEP officials and a legislative liaison met with four pipeline activists for about 70 minutes at the DEP’s offices in Harrisburg, two of the activists said.

In addition to McDonnell, the DEP officials were Ann Roda and John Stefanko, according to Eric Friedman, a Delaware County resident and outspoken pipeline opponent who was invited to attend the meeting. The other attendees were Eve Miari, a spokeswoman for Delaware County’s Middletown Coalition for Community Safety; Alison Chabot, another member of the Middletown group, and Lynda Farrell, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition.

Friedman said DEP invited him on Friday to attend the meeting on Monday but was not given a specific agenda. Continue Reading

FERC approves Williams’ Atlantic Sunrise pipeline

Protestors who oppose the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project. The federal government gave the green light to the project late Friday afternoon.

StateImpact PA

Protestors who oppose the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project. The federal government gave the green light to the project late Friday afternoon.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved Williams Partners’ planned Atlantic Sunrise pipeline late Friday afternoon, just minutes before the agency became hamstrung by the departure of one of its commissioners. FERC chairman Norman Bay resigned at the close of business Friday, leaving the commission with only two of its five seats filled and now lacking the quorum necessary to approve projects. The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline approval was one of FERC’s final actions before Bay left the commission, leaving other billion dollar projects like the PennEast pipeline, in limbo.

Chris Stockton, spokesperson for Williams, said that although the company still needs permits from the Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps, FERC’s 11th hour approval was welcomed as good news.

“This was the big hurdle,” said Stockton. “This is what we’ve been working on for three years. It’s been the culmination of a lot of collaboration and we’re very excited to have gotten to this point and we’re looking forward to moving forward with the project.” Continue Reading

Communities along Mariner East 2 pipeline route brace for construction

Protesters outside of Sunoco headquarters in Newtown Square. Landowners along the route and anti-pipeline activists are preparing lawsuits to challenge any permits issued by DEP.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Protesters outside of Sunoco headquarters in Newtown Square. Landowners along the route and anti-pipeline activists are preparing lawsuits to challenge any permits issued by DEP.

Sunoco Logistics officials declined to say whether they are expecting Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to issue on Friday the final two state permits that the company needs to begin construction of the company’s controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline. A spokesman for DEP also said “there is no timetable for a decision.”

But according to rumors recently circulating among nonprofits, community groups, anti-pipeline campaigners – all citing unnamed sources in the DEP — the department will issue the long-awaited water-crossing and earth disturbance permits on Friday.

Some opponents of the 350-mile natural gas liquids line have predicted that DEP would issue the permits by the end of January following pressure from the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf to meet Sunoco’s stated schedule of beginning construction by “late winter or early spring” of this year and starting operation in the third quarter.

Asked about issues and delays regarding permit approvals for the $2.5 billion line, Wolf told a group of Philadelphia area business people in mid-January that the line could be approved. “We’re working through that,” he said. A spokesman for Governor Wolf has told StateImpact that the decision over Mariner East 2 pipeline permits rests solely with the Department of Environmental Protection.

Approval of the permits would bring Sunoco to the end, or close to it, of a long permitting process in which DEP has found many deficiencies in the company’s application, forcing it to resubmit documents, re-do applications, and delaying the start of construction. Continue Reading

Data trove offers new details on complaints to DEP during shale boom

Kim McEvoy is one of more than 4,000 residents who contacted DEP after noticing changes to water quality she believed were connected to nearby gas drilling. DEP concluded drilling did not impact her water. She has since moved away to live in an area connected to a municipal water supply.

Susan Phillips/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Kim McEvoy is one of more than 4,000 residents who contacted DEP after noticing changes to water quality she believed may have been connected to nearby gas drilling. DEP concluded drilling did not impact her water. She has since moved away to live in an area connected to a municipal water supply.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection received 9,442 public complaints about environmental problems in areas where unconventional natural gas development occurred from 2004 to the end of November 2016, an investigation reported, unveiling a trove of documents from the state’s natural gas boom.

The three-year investigation conducted by the Pittsburgh-based Public Herald watch-dog website, said 4,108 of the complaints were prompted by water-quality problems while others were driven by concerns including air-quality, spills of drilling materials, property damage, and leaking gas.

The data cache was obtained by Public Herald from requests filed under the state’s Right to Know law. It may fuel the longstanding public debate over whether fracking and other gas-development activities hurt water and air quality. At the very least it provides a wealth of new data for researchers. Continue Reading

Senator Casey calls for more marches and activism

Senator Bob Casey speaks at the Academy of Natural Sciences January 26, 2017. Casey urged more activism.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Senator Bob Casey speaks at the Academy of Natural Sciences January 26, 2017. Casey urged more activism.

Pennsylvania’s Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey is encouraging more people to get out in the streets and march against the policies of newly elected President Donald Trump. Casey spoke to a packed house Thursday night about climate change at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Topping off a day of protests in Philadelphia that accompanied a visit by President Trump, Senator Casey told a gathering of more than 400 people in downtown Philadelphia to keep up the pressure.

“I haven’t seen this kind of intensity on a range of issues in a very long time, if ever,” said Casey. This is encouraging …not even a week into the administration.” Continue Reading

Trump administration issues temporary media blackout at EPA, freezes grants

Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. The nomination of Pruitt, currently Oklahoma’s attorney general, to lead the EPA is being fiercely opposed by environmental groups that point to fundraising ties with corporations he has sued to protect.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. The nomination of Pruitt, currently Oklahoma’s attorney general, to lead the EPA is being fiercely opposed by environmental groups that point to fundraising ties with corporations he has sued to protect.

The Trump administration has implemented a temporary media “black out” at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a report by the Associated Press that cited emails to EPA staffers. EPA press releases, blog post updates, and social media posts are banned for an indeterminate amount of time. All media requests are to be forwarded to the Agency’s office of administration. The Trump administration also imposed a freeze on new grants and contracts. A spokesperson for Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection says it’s too early to know what this could mean for the state’s environmental protection programs.

“However, suspension of EPA grants for any duration of time would significantly disrupt the work of the agency to protect public health and the environment,” said DEP spokesman Neil Shader. “EPA grants to DEP amount to approximately $36 million per fiscal year, and cover a variety of issues, ranging from clean water protection, municipal stormwater projects and watershed restoration (like the Chesapeake Bay) to hazardous site cleanup to air quality.”

A staffer for EPA Region 3, which includes Pennsylvania and Delaware, told StateImpact that their only knowledge of the media blackout and grant freeze came from media reports.

Continue Reading

FERC pushes back timeline for PennEast pipeline again

Workers prepare to lay a natural gas pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

Kim Paynter / WHYY/Newsworks.org

Workers prepare to lay a natural gas pipeline in Susquehanna County, Pa.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) says it needs more time to issue its final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the $1 billion PennEast pipeline project, shifting it’s planned release from February 17 to April 7, 2017. FERC says additional information provided by state agencies, as well as the PennEast Pipeline Company prompted the delay. It’s the second time the agency postponed the release of the final environmental report since issuing the draft EIS in July. That initial EIS concluded the 120-mile pipeline, which would run from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey, would impose “less than significant levels” of environmental damage as long as the company adopted certain mitigation measures.

But the draft EIS got significant pushback from pipeline opponents, as well as a number of state and federal agencies. In September, PennEast proposed 33 deviations from its original route, prompting calls for a new assessment. FERC’s announcement on Monday implies it will not issue a new draft EIS, but rather, update the current statement. The agency has 90 days after issuing its EIS to make a final decision on the pipeline.

PennEast Pipeline spokesperson Pat Kornick said the company expects the line to be up and running in the second half of 2018.

“After a two-and-a-half year review of PennEast Pipeline Company’s application, including the 33 route adjustments announced in September to further reduce environmental impact, the additional 49-day review period FERC announced today will help ensure a complete and thorough review,” said Kornick in a statement. Continue Reading

President Trump’s energy plan: support shale, dump climate plan, refocus EPA

President Donald Trump is joined by the Congressional leadership and his family before formally signing his cabinet nominations into law, in the President’s Room of the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. From left are Vice President Mike Pence, the president's wife Melania Trump, their son Barron Trump, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo/Pool

President Donald Trump is joined by the Congressional leadership and his family before formally signing his cabinet nominations into law, in the President’s Room of the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. From left are Vice President Mike Pence, the president's wife Melania Trump, their son Barron Trump, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

It didn’t take long for President Donald Trump to deliver on his energy campaign promises. Within minutes of being sworn in Friday, links to Obama’s Climate Action Plan were replaced by a smiling picture of the new president and vice president. The White House website then published “An America First Energy Plan,” which emphasizes use of domestic fossil fuels and shunning foreign oil. The plan takes aim at “burdensome regulations on our energy industry,” while embracing “the shale oil and gas revolution.”

“President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”

Obama’s Climate Action Plan included the Clean Power Plan, the requirement that states reduce carbon emissions from power plants. The Waters of the U.S. rule outlined clarity on the smaller waterways that would be regulated under the Clean Water Act. That rule has been tied up in the courts. Response from environmentalists was quick. The climate action group 350.org said it would do everything to resist the plan.

“Trump’s energy plan is par for the course of the President’s climate denial, but it’s nonetheless alarming for the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” said 350.org executive director May Boeve in a statement. “Fulfilling this plan would not only set back years of progress we’ve made towards protecting the climate, but would undoubtedly worsen the devastating impacts of the climate crisis, from rising sea levels to extreme weather.” Continue Reading

Researchers rush to preserve environmental data they believe to be threatened by Trump

University of Michigan librarian ...works on downloading scientific data as part of the Data Refuge hackathon at the University of Pennsylvania.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

University of Michigan librarian Justin Schell works on downloading scientific data as part of the Data Refuge hackathon at the University of Pennsylvania, January 14, 2017.

With every new administration, government held information disappears. Digital archivists know this. They’ve worked in the past to preserve Bush Administration data when Obama was elected. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of budget priorities. Funds no longer exist to keep up a website. But with the incoming Trump administration, some scientists worry key environmental research will go missing because of political reasons. So researchers from across the country and Canada gathered in Philadelphia last weekend to copy key data.

Continue Reading

Gov. Wolf says Mariner East 2 pipeline permits could be approved

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference at the Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Thursday, June 2, 2016.  Wolf recently told a group of Philadelphia area business people that DEP will approve permits for the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference at the Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Thursday, June 2, 2016. Wolf recently told a group of Philadelphia area business people that DEP will approve permits for the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Responding to a question from a reporter at an event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia last week, Gov. Wolf indicated he supports approval of the required state permits to build the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline project. When questioned by 6abc anchor Matt O’Donnell about permit delays Wolf said “We’re working through that.” On further questioning Wolf affirmed that the pipeline project could still happen. There’s been no word from DEP on whether the agency has finished reviewing Sunoco’s updated applications and if those updates meet all of DEP’s requirements. Wolf spoke to the southeast Pennsylvania business community as part of an annual event hosted by the Chamber. The Chamber has advocated for the region to become an “energy hub,” where new pipelines full of Marcellus Shale gas could feed new manufacturing.

The bulk of the contents flowing through the Mariner East 2 pipeline would actually be shipped overseas to a plastics factory in Scotland. Sunoco Logistics has had to delay building the 350-mile pipeline because the company has not yet secured the necessary permits from DEP. The agency informed Sunoco last September that its applications for water crossing and earth disturbance permits were insufficient, outlining hundreds of issues that needed addressed in each of the 17 counties along the planned pipeline route. The “deficiency letters” sent to Sunoco by DEP galvanized pipeline opponents, generating an unprecedented number of public comments to the DEP on the obscure permits known as Chapter 102 and 105. The lack of permits caused Sunoco to push back its plans to begin pipeline construction. Originally, the pipeline was supposed to be completed by the end of 2016. Pipeline construction is now slated to be completed by the third quarter of 2017. Continue Reading

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