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Audit criticizes local governments’ use of gas impact fee revenue

A natural gas rig in Washington, Pa. A 2012 law created the gas impact fees to mitigate the negative consequences of drilling to communities, but state auditors say millions of dollars where spent improperly.

AAP Photo/Michael Rubinkam

A natural gas rig in Washington, Pa. A 2012 law created the gas impact fees to mitigate the negative consequences of drilling to communities, but state auditors say millions of dollars where spent improperly.

Pennsylvania counties and municipalities mishandled millions of dollars meant to offset the negative effects of the Marcellus Shale gas boom, according to a report published Tuesday by the state Auditor General.

In one notable example, auditors say North Strabane Township, Washington County, spent $32,602 on recreational events and parties– including $7,500 on fireworks, $1,200 for a performance by former American Idol contestant Adam Brock, and $4,250 on inflatable party rentals.

“I’m pro-people having fun at the holidays,” says state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D), “But the impact fee was used for a bouncy house. Come on, that’s crazy.”

 

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Pennsylvania academics find inspiration at climate conference

Diane Husic (C), with Franco Montalto (second from right) sit with a group of students and professors from Pennsylvania universities under a tent at the climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Nov. 17, 2016.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Moravian College dean Diane Husic (C), with Drexel University professor Franco Montalto (third from right) sit with a group of students and professors from Pennsylvania universities under a tent at the climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco, Nov. 17, 2016. Although all were disappointed by the election of Donald Trump, they say the conference has inspired them to work even harder on climate change issues.

The climate change conference in Morrocco ended over the weekend with an urgent message to president-elect Donald Trump – join the battle against global warming or risk contributing to catastrophe and moral failure. About 25,000 people attended the gathering aimed at keeping the earth from over-heating, and staving off the impacts like rising seas, droughts and increasingly destructive storms.

When Moravian College professor Diane Husic woke up the morning after election day in Marrakech, she headed to the United Nations climate change conference with a cloud over her head.

“We came in and it didn’t matter what country you were from,” said Husic, “this place was just in a fog. And everyone was coming up to us and saying, ‘did you vote for Donald Trump and what is that going to mean for us?’ I think most of us on Wednesday were in shock and didn’t know what to say.”

Husic is a veteran of these climate change conferences, she’s been bringing students here since 2009.

But she never expected that a man who called climate change a “Chinese hoax” and vowed to pull the U.S. out of the landmark climate agreement etched out in Paris last year, would be leading the country. Continue Reading

U.S. cities and states poised to take on new role in climate diplomacy

Participants at the COP22 climate conference stage a public show of support for climate negotiations and Paris agreement, on the last day of the conference, in Marrakech, Morocco, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.

David Keyton / AP Photo

Participants at the COP22 climate conference stage a public show of support for climate negotiations and Paris agreement, on the last day of the conference, in Marrakech, Morocco, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.

A gathering of about 200 nations working to combat climate change wrapped up on Friday in Morocco with a call to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump to join the fight against global warming. Trump’s election shocked delegates and activists assembled in Marrakech for two weeks of talks. Trump has said he would pull the U.S. out of the international climate treaty negotiated in Paris last year.

The election raises questions about the staying power of the Paris Agreement, hammered out at last year’s conference. After decades of failure, the climate accord negotiated last year and ratified earlier this month, was seen as an historic achievement. Finally, the nations of the world had come together to help lessen the growing impacts of climate change – melting glaciers, rising seas, drought, and devastating storms.

With the role of the federal government in doubt, some see American cities and states serving as a place-holder for U.S. participation.

Marrakech was billed as the climate conference of action. But the election of Donald Trump turned the rock-star U-S climate delegation into lame ducks.

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Trump victory casts a shadow on global climate talks in Morocco

The U.N.'s annual climate conference began just as Republican Donald Trump was elected president. Trump said he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement.

Tomas Ayuso

The U.N.'s annual climate conference began just as Republican Donald Trump was elected president. Trump said he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement.

It’s hard to find a corner of the globe where the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election aren’t reverberating. They’re certainly being felt this week in Marrakesh, Morocco, where negotiators from around the world are now gathered for the COP22 United Nations climate conference to hash out the details of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The 2015 accord, which was recently ratified by enough countries to become a binding international agreement, is the latest global effort to cut carbon emissions and stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple spoke to StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Susan Phillips about the post-election mood in Marrakech.

 

Q: Susan, has president-elect Trump’s win cast a shadow on what’s happening there because he’s said he won’t honor the Paris agreement that the U.S. signed?

A: Absolutely Kara, there’s shock and trepidation about what’s going to happen to this global climate agreement and what role the U.S. will play. Remember—this is the first U.N. climate talks where there was an actual agreement. One hundred countries signed onto this and it was ratified before anyone expected it to be, so there was a lot of optimism here. Now, a lot of folks are trying to put a positive spin on this by saying the business environment is going toward investment in renewables. If you look at the fact that coal is still a lot more expensive than natural gas and that has nothing to do with anything being negotiated at this climate change conference, that’s the result of the global situation with shale gas being so cheap. So they’re hoping that despite Trump’s reluctance to even say human-caused climate change exists, they’re still hopeful they can push for a new energy future that has less fossil fuel and more renewables.

Q: Can the U.S. back out of the Paris agreement now?

A: Officially, it would take them four years. There’s nothing really in the agreement to hold them to their pledges anyway, so Trump could easily ignore whatever Obama pledged. And he could also appoint a Supreme Court justice who could overturn the Clean Power Plan.

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Trump victory seen boosting Pennsylvania’s gas and coal industries

President-elect Donald Trump pumps his fist during an election night rally Wednesday in New York.

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

President-elect Donald Trump pumps his fist during an election night rally Wednesday in New York.

Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry could see more output, fewer environmental restrictions, and more pipelines to take its products to market, while its embattled coal industry may also get more help, following the stunning victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election, analysts said Wednesday.

The state’s efforts to comply with the federal Clean Power Plan on power-plant emissions may be unneeded under President Trump, who has called climate change a Chinese hoax and pledged to scrap the Obama administration’s signature environmental initiative.

And with its vast reserves of natural gas and coal, Pennsylvania could become a national testing ground for the implementation of Trump’s campaign promise to “unleash” U.S. energy reserves.

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Climate Super PAC pursues Pennsylvania’s college vote in presidential campaign

NextGen field organizer Ann Drabick (right) and Temple student Rabia Kashmiri using social media to get out the millennial vote.

Emma Lee / WHYY

NextGen field organizer Ann Drabick (right) and Temple student Rabia Kashmiri using social media to get out the millennial vote.

Climate activists are pushing hard to register millennials to vote in the hope that they will support Hillary Clinton, especially in Pennsylvania, a swing state that could play an important role in the outcome of the presidential election.

NextGen Climate, a Super PAC founded by hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, is spending $25 million in 13 states to build support for Clinton and down-ballot candidates among 18-35 year-olds, especially on college campuses. NextGen has spent about $737,875 on the Pennsylvania Senate race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group’s biggest operation is in Pennsylvania, where it says it registered almost 80,000 millennial voters from May until the registration deadline on Oct. 11. The group works on 87 college campuses across the state, and reaches out to older millennials who are no longer college students but are also expected to support candidates who will work to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Continue Reading

PA Senate race: A proxy war for national interests

 In this combination of photos shows Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates Democrat Katie McGinty, left, in Philadelphia, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, in Villanova, Pa.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

This combination of photos shows Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates Democrat Katie McGinty, left, in Philadelphia, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, in Villanova, Pa.

When it comes to Beltway politics, all eyes are on the Pennsylvania Senate race. The tight contest between incumbent Republican Pat Toomey and his Democratic challenger Katie McGinty could help decide which party controls the Senate. Millions of dollars are flowing in from outside groups, including those aligned with fossil fuel interests, and those supporting national environmental groups. The millions in dollars from big oil and big green flowing into this race reflects how the two candidates have starkly different views on energy, environment and climate change.

In the debate over the nation’s energy future, a lot rides on which party controls the U.S. Senate. So even if these are not the top issues for Pennsylvania voters, you can bet they are for the fossil fuel industry worried about new environmental regulations like the Clean Power Plan, as well as environmentalists racing to put a halt to a warming planet. On the airwaves and in mailboxes across the state, it’s as if two sides are waging a proxy war over energy and the environment in the Pennsylvania senate race.

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Energy pops up as a surprise topic in Sunday’s presidential debate

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton exchange views during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.

Julio Cortez / AP Photo

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton exchange views during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.

Questions over the country’s energy future surfaced in the Presidential debate Sunday night. It was a surprising five minutes of policy discussion in a tense debate that focused on character attacks.

Undecided voter Ken Bone, who found unexpected popularity on social media and later said the debate felt like watching his parents fight, posed this question:

“What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly, and minimizing job loss for fossil [fuel] power plant workers?”

This really is the perfect question for anyone running for office right now – how do we combat climate change, maintain clean air, keep the lights burning, and not fire people who have no college education, and few prospects for good paying jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, coal miners make an average fifty-thousand dollars a year. Compare that to trying to get a comparable job in the wind or solar industry. Although the BLS doesn’t track earnings for those jobs, it does track manufacturing in general. And the average wage for someone making semi-conductors for solar installations is about thirty-two thousand dollars a year. Continue Reading

Royalty advocates rally at State Capitol

Joe Moore of Wyalusing, Bradford County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Joe Moore of Wyalusing, spoke on behalf of his mother, who he says is being cheated out of gas royalty money, "I'd like to think there is such a thing as right and wrong," he says. "This is wrong. It's criminal."

Anger over gas royalties has reached a fever pitch in Pennsylvania, as the House considers a bill aimed at protecting landowners accusing drilling companies of predatory payment practices.

About 150 royalty advocates rallied at the State Capitol Tuesday, accusing lawmakers of turning a deaf ear to their concerns, and allowing themselves to be manipulated by industry lobbyists.

“I’m here today for my mom,” says Joe Moore, of Bradford County. “She’s a 75-year-old widow, and what the gas companies are doing to her is very, very wrong. It’s criminal. Those pumps are taking gas from her land 24/7, and at the end of the month, she gets nothing.”

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Dakota Access pipeline controversy hits home for Pa.

Pipeline projects used to fly under the radar but have now become part of an intense public debate over the nation's energy future.

Reid Frazier

Pipeline projects have become part of an intense public debate over the nation's energy future.

The ramifications of the Obama administration’s recent decision to temporarily halt construction on the Dakota Access oil pipeline are being felt throughout the country– particularly in Pennsylvania. Industry executives worry about growing public opposition to pipelines, while activists have been encouraged by the success of Native American protesters.

Once under the radar, pipeline projects have taken center stage in an intense battle over the nation’s energy future and global climate change.

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