Pennsylvania

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A year later, pipeline report is largely ignored

A scene from one of the many contentious public meetings of the state's pipeline infrastructure task force.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A scene from one of the many contentious public meetings of the state's pipeline infrastructure task force.

Pennsylvania has rapidly become a hub for the development of new natural gas pipelines. In recent weeks, billions of dollars worth of projects have been approved by state and federal regulators. Shortly after he took office, Governor Tom Wolf convened a major task force to recommend ways to coordinate planning and best practices for this building boom.

But a year after the panel issued a report with 184 recommendations, it appears much of its work has been ignored.

“Put on a shelf somewhere”

The Governor’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force had problems from the beginning

For one thing, it was really big, with 48 members and another 100 volunteers on workgroups. They also had a hard time agreeing on anything. There were representatives from the gas industry, government, academia and environmental groups, and they weren’t exactly all on the same page.

Finally, the public meetings were often disrupted by protesters. At the last meeting, about a year ago, seven people were arrested. The whole effort was spearheaded by then-secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, John Quigley.

At the group’s final meeting, he said the report was just a first step, and state’s work on pipelines should continue.

“This is the start of a conversation,” Quigley told the group. “This is fertile ground. I do believe this is a very fertile document that can generate a lot of positives.”

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Trump’s first days fuel optimism among drillers, angst for environmentalists

President Donald Trump's first two weeks in office are sparking renewed optimism in the oil and gas industry, while environmental groups steel themselves for a long, hard fight.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Donald Trump's first two weeks in office are sparking renewed optimism in the oil and gas industry, while environmental groups steel themselves for a long, hard fight.

In less than two weeks in office, President Donald Trump is working to usher in a new era for American energy companies. He’s begun rolling back efforts to combat climate change and is pushing for federal approval of controversial, new infrastructure projects — such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.

There is guarded optimism among fossil fuel companies as they wait and see, along with everyone else, how Trump will deliver on his promises to boost American energy production. But his win has also been a major blow to many environmental groups, climate scientists, and others who worry about the administration’s disregard for science and policies aimed at protecting public health and the natural world. They’re now steeling themselves for a long, hard fight.

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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.

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Gas industry talks pipelines, bird flu, at the Farm Show

On Wednesday PennAg Industries and Sunoco Logistics unveiled a new online training tool designed to raise awareness about threats like the avian flu.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

On Wednesday PennAg Industries and Sunoco Logistics unveiled a new online training tool designed to raise awareness about threats like the avian flu.

Pennsylvania’s natural gas pipeline building boom is happening mostly in rural areas, which is one of the reasons representatives from the oil and gas industry were at the 101st Farm Show in Harrisburg this week.

They kept a relatively low profile though, and tried connect with farmers– about issues ranging from eminent domain, to stopping the spread of the avian flu. Two forums were held, and although they took place inside the Farm Show complex, they were sparsely attended and neither appeared on the official schedule.

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Ten stories from 2016 worth hearing again

President-elect Donald Trump on the campaign trail in September, speaking at the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

President-elect Donald Trump on the campaign trail in September, speaking at the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh.

As the year winds down, we’re looking back at some of StateImpact Pennsylvania’s best radio reporting.

From an unconventional election season, to continued controversies over pipelines, and a global climate conference, we covered a lot of ground on the airwaves in 2016.

Take another listen:

Drilling downturn

In 2016 Pennsylvania’s drilling industry went through a particularly rough patch, laying off thousands of workers and drastically cutting spending, amid low natural gas prices.

 

Philly’s Energy Hub: manufacturing renaissance, or pipe dream?

The idea behind the “Philadelphia energy hub” is to revive the region’s once-thriving manufacturing scene using Marcellus Shale natural gas. It’s proven to be easier said than done, and may be a plan that’s unlikely to materialize with the departure of its chief visionary.

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EPA says fracking study’s data gaps are an important contribution to science

A hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County, Pa. The central missile of the fracking operation connects 16 compression generators, water, sand, and other fluids before entering the well.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County, Pa. The central missile of the fracking operation connects 16 compression generators, water, sand, and other fluids before entering the well.

The EPA says its fracking study, published this month, is the most comprehensive look so far at all the science available on whether or not fracking pollutes drinking water. Critics have pointed to a lack of data in the report, which led to limitations in the agency’s conclusion that fracking “impacts drinking water under some circumstances.” The EPA’s science advisor Tom Burke says the gaps in data represent the “state of the science.”

“The identification of data gaps is actually an important contribution to the science and not a failure,” said Burke.

“We are really just beginning to understand fracking,” he said.  ”And there are not really a lot of reports about what’s going on during the fracking process. For instance, basic information about where are the wells? The location of the wells.”

Burke says that in addition to lack of information about all the shale gas wells, there is a lack of information about locations of groundwater aquifers, and the quality of the water.

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DEP ignores concerned citizen, while discussing improving public outreach

Two DEP advisory committees brainstormed ways to improve public outreach, after ignoring a question from a concerned citizen.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Two DEP advisory committees brainstormed ways to improve public outreach Wednesday, after ignoring a question from a concerned citizen.

Under Governor Tom Wolf, the state Department of Environmental Protection pledged to renew its focus on environmental justice. The idea is to protect marginalized communities, such as minorities and people in poverty, who often bear the brunt of industrial development.

However, in a bizarre episode at a public meeting in Harrisburg Wednesday, two DEP advisory panels, including one specifically tasked with environmental justice, ignored a concerned citizen from a low-income area who had driven hundreds of miles to attend the meeting, and instead engaged in a lengthy discussion about improving public outreach.

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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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