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In New Jersey, opponents of offshore drilling gear up for a fight

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.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

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

Mariner East 2 critics don’t trust DEP, Sunoco agreement to improve company’s record

Sunoco/ETP's Mariner East 2 construction site in West Whiteland Township, Chester County. Critics doubt that the DEP's decision to lift a stop-work order will ensure fewer environmental violations when construction resumes.

courtesy of David Mano

Sunoco/ETP's Mariner East 2 construction site in West Whiteland Township, Chester County. Critics doubt that the DEP's decision to lift a stop-work order will ensure fewer environmental violations when construction resumes.

Pennsylvania’s decision on Thursday to allow Sunoco to resume construction on the Mariner East 2 pipeline after a month-long shutdown failed to convince critics that the company will do so with any more respect for environmental regulations than they say it has had since starting the project a year ago.

Despite the Department of Environmental Protection’s $12.6 million civil penalty for the project’s many violations, and the company’s agreement to do a compliance review, critics said the measures don’t ensure Sunoco will meet regulations as it tries to get the natural gas liquids pipeline up and running after a long series of delays. Continue Reading

In Ohio, the hellbender population is declining. Are pipelines affecting this ancient salamander?

18-year-old Theresa Paff cares for eastern hellbender salamanders at the Penta Career Center in Toledo, Ohio.

Julie Grant

18-year-old Theresa Paff cares for eastern hellbender salamanders at the Penta Career Center in Toledo, Ohio.

High school students in Nicole Costello’s small reptiles class at the Penta Career Center in Toledo, Ohio are learning firsthand how to foster an aquatic species that experts say is in decline: the eastern hellbender salamander.

In a bio-secured room on campus, 18-year-old Theresa Paff is among the students cleaning the glass tanks and cutting up worms to feed to the young Hellbenders they’re raising. “They always like to move, and they’re so slimy and slippery,” she says as she picks up a 3-year-old salamander in her care. It’s really hard to hold.”

These are not the colorful little salamanders you might be imagining. They’re flat, brown and mottled with wrinkly sides and beady eyes. Their good looks have earned them nicknames like snot otters, Allegheny alligators and old lasagna sides. Some people would say they’re so ugly they’re cute,” says Greg Lipps, an expert on hellbenders at Ohio State University who works with the high school program. “Everything about them is made to live underneath a big rock in tight spots and darkness,” Lipps says.

Continue Reading

What Trump’s tariff on solar panels means for Pennsylvania

Richard Tumushime, an electrician with Pittsburgh-based Energy Independent Solutions, works with a crew to put the finishing touches on wiring a solar panel system at the new Forest Hills Municipal Building.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Richard Tumushime, an electrician with Pittsburgh-based Energy Independent Solutions, works with a crew to put the finishing touches on wiring a solar panel system at the new Forest Hills Municipal Building.

A solar panel that arrives in the United States from overseas now comes with a higher price tag.

President Donald Trump last week imposed a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels. The move comes at the request of U.S. solar manufacturers, who seek a level playing field amid competition from places like China, where the government subsidizes solar manufacturing.

Not all are thrilled with the move. Many companies that install solar panel systems are worried the tariff will lead to increased costs and scare away potential customers, resulting in less demand and job losses. Continue Reading

Environmentalists want more action from Tom Wolf. More talk would be nice, too

Environmentalists say they would like to see more leadership from Governor Tom Wolf

FILE PHOTO: AP/Matt Rourke

Environmentalists say they would like to see more leadership from Governor Tom Wolf

Environmental groups are pushing Governor Tom Wolf to advocate more for green causes as the Democrat gears up for the final year of his first term and runs for reelection.

Wolf will deliver his fourth budget address Tuesday—the annual speech to the legislature that lays out his priorities.

Many environmentalists say his record, so far, has been disappointing.

Unmet potential

Joe Minott, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, thinks Wolf has potential, but he hasn’t lived up to it yet.

“If I were a professor and he was my student, he would get an ‘incomplete’ at this point,” Minott said. “I don’t think he has an environmental win where he can proudly say, ‘Yes, I committed to doing this. I pushed it through the legislature, and now the environment is now better protected.’”

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Mariner East 2: Texts raise questions about Wolf administration role in permitting process

Sunoco's work on the Mariner East 2 pipeline has been suspended by the Pennsylvania environmental protection department. This photo, taken Wednesday, shows a work area off Fallbrook Lane in Glen Mills, near Philadelphia.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

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.”

Continue Reading

Delaware River Basin fracking ban hearings center on environment, economy

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.

Catalina Jaramillo / StateImpact PA

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

MLK’s environmental justice legacy threatened by Trump administration cuts

Jerome Shabazz of

Emma Lee / WHYY

Jerome Shabazz runs the Overbook Environmental Education Center in Philadelphia. Shabazz says he has used federal dollars from the EPA's environmental justice office to raise awareness about water quality and toxins like lead.

It was a stormy night in Memphis, Tennessee, and Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t feeling very well. He had a slight fever and a sore throat, and felt exhausted after the trip to the city that would see him die.

But he got up from his bed at the Lorraine Motel and joined hundreds of striking sanitation workers gathered at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple. Public garbage collectors were demanding equal rights and accusing the city of neglect and abuse. It was April 3rd 1968, the night before his assassination, and the third time he had traveled to Memphis to support the strike.

“The issue is injustice,” King said. “The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers.”

The garbage workers who held signs saying “I am a man” also happened to be black.

Although the term environmental justice emerged decades after King delivered his last speech, his work is considered part of the bedrock of the movement that institutionalized the right to be equally protected from environmental hazards as a civil right.

“Dr. King was a forerunner in this area and set the tone and the stage for understanding the relationship between work and pay and civil rights and equal treatment. The civil rights movement gave birth to the environmental justice movement,” said Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University. If King was considered the founding father of environmental justice, Bullard would be his firstborn son.

But King’s legacy could be significantly affected this year. Continue Reading

Podcast on Mariner East 2 shutdown: What we know, and what might be next

An aerial view of Sunoco Pipeline's Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. Plans for a new construction technique in some locations have prompted a new round of community resistance.

Jeremy Long / Lebanon Daily News

An aerial view of Sunoco Pipeline's Mariner East 2 construction in rural Pennsylvania. .

StateImpact reporter Susan Phillips recently joined WITF state capitol reporter Katie Meyer on her State House Sound Bites podcast to discuss the Mariner East 2 shutdown and what might happen next.

The conversation included Meyer asking Phillips how significant a delay the work stoppage could be for Sunoco, which has said it intends to meet all of the requirements listed by the Department of Environmental Protection so the company can be authorized to resume work under DEP’s permits. Work that isn’t covered by those permits is allowed to go on.

Phillips’ answer: ”I’ve asked Sunoco what does it mean for the pipeline’s production schedule. The pipeline itself has been plagued by lots of problems and lots of delays. This seems to be a significant delay. During the last earnings call in December, Sunoco said the pipeline was gonna be up and running by the spring of 2018. And I don’t know if this work stoppage will have an impact on that or not, given that the cold weather may have had them stop work anyway. I really don’t know. So, I haven’t heard back from Sunoco on whether or not this means further delays on when this pipeline will actually come online.”

Listen to the entire podcast episode here.

Who will pay for Trump’s plan to save coal?

The Trump proposal would subsidize coal plants that would otherwise be driven out of business by natural gas. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Trump proposal would subsidize coal plants that would otherwise be driven out of business by natural gas. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Trump administration has asked a federal agency to step in and help save the coal and nuclear industries. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has proposed a rule that will force the electric grids in some parts of the country to basically guarantee profits for coal and nuclear plants.

But who will pay for that guarantee? Anyone who gets an electric bill, said Ben Storrow, a reporter for E&E News, on the Trump on Earth podcast. Storrow says the proposal is a response to changes in the grid, which is changing because of new technology. Continue Reading

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