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How revoking the Clean Power Plan will impact Pennsylvania

Homer City Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Western Pennsylvania. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Homer City Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Western Pennsylvania. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced Monday the EPA will formally propose to revoke the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s regulation for carbon dioxide from the electricity sector.

The decision could impact what kind of sources Pennsylvania uses to make electricity for decades to come.

The Clean Power Plan was the Obama EPA’s attempt to lower the electric sector’s greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide (CO2), by an estimated 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. Power generation accounts for about a third of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, which scientists say is the leading cause of global warming.

The plan gave states specific targets for reducing CO2. Pennsylvania’s target was a 33 percent reduction in emissions by the year 2030.

Former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection secretary John Quigley said the state was on the way to meeting the preliminary goals set under the plan, because it’s using more natural gas, and less coal. But he says revoking the Clean Power Plan could set the state back in ramping up renewable energy like wind and solar. Continue Reading

House assigns blame as budget talks crash; Wolf draws “line in the sand”

House Republican Leader Dave Reed blamed the Democratic caucus for the breakdown of negotiations. Democrats blamed the House Republicans.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

House Republican Leader Dave Reed blamed the Democratic caucus for the breakdown of negotiations. Democrats blamed the House Republicans.

The latest push to finish Pennsylvania’s late, unbalanced budget has melted down.

After several false starts, talks between House Democrats and Republicans dissolved into fights Wednesday over who’s at fault for the chamber’s inability to find consensus on a tax package.

Meanwhile Governor Tom Wolf declared himself “done” playing games, and unexpectedly announced he’ll balance a portion of the budget himself, by borrowing against future revenue from the state-controlled liquor industry.

Among the failures over the last three days of negotiations were Republican-proposed bills to tax warehouses and the hotel industry.

GOP Majority Leader Dave Reed blamed the letdown on a lack of Democratic votes–which he claimed amount to a betrayal by Democratic leaders, and by extension, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

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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.

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Philadelphia works to bring solar energy costs down to earth

Patrick Whittaker of Solar States installs solar panels on the roof of a home in Bryn Mawr.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Patrick Whittaker of Solar States installs solar panels on the roof of a home in Bryn Mawr.

Anthony LoCicero, a 33-year-old structural engineer raised in South Jersey, has been flirting with the idea of installing solar panels on his three-bedroom brick townhouse in South Philadelphia since he bought it, seven years ago.

“Something about it just sounds like the right thing to do in general, right?” LoCicero said.  “But it just never made financial sense.”

Although the price of solar panels has been dropping over the last five years, the cost of installing a solar system capable of producing most of the energy consumed by a Philadelphia row house still ranges between $10,000 to $30,000 — depending on the amount of energy consumed and the size of the house. But a city-wide solar program, with the goal of installing solar panels on 500 city rooftops by 2018, is currently offering below-market rates and other benefits, to entice homeowners.

“It was surprisingly inexpensive, I was pleasantly surprised,” LoCicero said after meeting with one of the three solar installers participating in Solarize Philly, a company called Solar by Kiss.

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Conflicting decisions on pipelines frustrate industry, landowners

Holleran

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Hundreds of Cathy Holleran's maple trees were cut down, through the use of eminent domain, for an interstate natural gas pipeline that's now stalled.

In March 2016, workers for one of the nation’s largest natural gas pipeline companies cut down a large swath of maple trees in Susquehanna County–a rural patch of northeastern Pennsylvania. A video shot by an activist shows the trees crashing down as chainsaws buzz.

Cathy Holleran was powerless to stop it. At the time, she was tapping the trees for her family’s maple syrup business, but the pipeline company condemned her land using the power of eminent domain.

Armed U.S. Marshals

Driving around a year-and-a half later, she’s still in disbelief. A court order had prevented her from interfering, and law enforcement officers came to protect the pipeline workers.

“We had to stay completely away. They brought armed U.S. Marshals with assault rifles and Pennsylvania State Police, and had guys walking all over property in bullet proof vests,” Holleran recalls. “I mean, really! We’re making syrup. What are we going to do? Are we going to go attack these guys?”

Walking through her property on a recent soggy September afternoon, Holleran finds tree stumps hidden beneath shoulder-high weeds.

“This used to all be woods– as thick as that,” she says, gesturing to a cluster of remaining trees.

By her count, she lost more than 550 maples, “I went through with my camera and took pictures from every angle and counted them by hand to make sure I was accurate.”

She says her family’s maple syrup business has been cut in half. But the real shame of it all, Holleran adds, is this may all have been for nothing.

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Pa. House narrowly passes a tax-free budget funding plan

House Democrats and Republicans held an intense Rules Committee hearing on the bill before sending it to the full floor. It saw several more hours of debate there.

Katie Meyer / WITF

House Democrats and Republicans held an intense Rules Committee hearing on the bill before sending it to the full floor. It saw several more hours of debate there.

The state House of Representatives has narrowly voted to move a budget plan built largely on one-time fund transfers.

Although it represents the first action on the overdue budget in well over a month, it’s unclear how much it’ll move the needle toward a resolution.

The Senate and the administration of Governor Tom Wolf both support a very different plan that raises several taxes–something the House majority wants to avoid completely.

Committee debate on the funding plan wasn’t just a study in contrasting ideologies between Democrats and Republicans–it was a study in contrasting facts.

House Democrats, like Minority Leader Frank Dermody, insist there needs to be more recurring revenue to balance the structural deficit (a budget shortfall that recurs year after year due to underfunding).

“There is no free lunch,” Dermody told his GOP colleagues in a committee meeting. “There’s no way out of this with smoke and mirrors, double-counting revenue and not coming up with real revenue. That can’t be done anymore.”

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Gasoline price spikes caused by Harvey on par with Katrina

People watch heavy rain from the relative safety of a flooded gas station caused by  Tropical Storm Harvey on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

People watch heavy rain from the relative safety of a flooded gas station caused by Tropical Storm Harvey on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas.

The sharp uptick in gasoline prices across the country, caused by disruptions from Hurricane Harvey, is on par with what happened more than a decade ago during Hurricane Katrina, according to a new analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

On Monday the average retail gasoline price in the U.S. was $2.68 per gallon– 28 cents per gallon higher than the previous week.

The EIA says supply disruptions and refinery outages caused by Hurricane Harvey were having an even larger impact on the East Coast, and the Gulf Coast, where, “gasoline prices are 39 cents/gal and 35 cents/gal higher, respectively, than they were a week ago, before the full effects of the storm were felt.”

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Harvey-level damage probably won’t happen in Philadelphia, but intense flooding already does

A man waves for a tow truck after getting swamped trying to cross a flooded section of the Cobbs Creek Parkway, Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in Philadelphia. Cobbs Creek and Darby Creek merge in the Eastwick section of Philadelphia where flooding is expected to get worse due to rising sea levels.

AP Photo

A man waves for a tow truck after getting swamped trying to cross a flooded section of the Cobbs Creek Parkway, Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in Philadelphia. Cobbs Creek and Darby Creek merge in the Eastwick section of Philadelphia where flooding is expected to get worse due to rising sea levels.

Experts and city authorities say it’s unlikely for Philadelphia to experience a hurricane of Harvey’s magnitude, but parts of the city have been flooding for more than 20 years. And those rising waters are tied to some of the same reasons Houston has been inundated: paving over wetlands.

Janis Pugh, a longtime resident of Eastwick, said rain stresses her out. Her Southwest  Philadelphia neighborhood has flooded at least 10 times since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, causing severe damage to 130 properties.

“When it starts raining, everybody gets a little nervous,” Pugh said.

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Dam removal helps American shad return after disappearing for centuries

Biologist Pat Hamilton holds a shad caught near the Warren Glen Dam on the Musconetcong River in Holland Township.

Courtesy of New Jersey Fish and Wildlife

Biologist Pat Hamilton holds a shad caught near the Warren Glen Dam on the Musconetcong River in Holland Township.The American shad is making an impressive come back to the Delaware River watershed.

For the first time in centuries, the American shad entered the Musconetcong River during its spring spawning migration upriver this year. The Musky, as it’s known to locals, is a tributary of the Delaware in Northwestern New Jersey. The Hughesville Dam, standing 18 feet tall and 150 feet wide, had blocked its way.

But with the dam demolished last September, the American shad, the largest of the herring family and an angler’s favorite, swam up the Musconetcong for the first time since colonial times.

“It tells quite a story that as soon as you remove a dam — at least on this river — the shad, the next opportunity, are right there,” said New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s principal biologist Pat Hamilton.

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Pollution buildup at dam could harm Chesapeake Bay cleanup

The Conowingo Dam

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The Conowingo Dam

A decades-long effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, is showing signs of success. But scientists now say progress could be hindered by a hydroelectric dam, located on the Susquehanna River in northern Maryland.

The Conowingo Dam has been holding back pollution for nearly a century, but recent research shows it has filled up with sediment faster than expected.

“It’s now at a point where it’s essentially, effectively full,” says Bill Ball, director of the Chesapeake Research Consortium. “The capacity’s been reached.”

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency imposed strict new pollution limits on state and local governments in the bay watershed to sharply curb nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment by 2025. It was believed the Conowingo Dam would continue trapping sediment until then.

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