FirstEnergy's Hatfield Ferry coal plant in Greene County closed in 2013 amid poor market conditions, helping Pennsylvania to meet its emissions targets under the federal Clean Power Plan.
Every year the King Coal parade winds through the center of Carmichaels. Hundreds of people line up to see the fire engines, classic cars, floats, and marching bands.
It’s fair to say the presidential race has people pretty fired up –and worried– in this small town in Greene County, about an hour’s drive south of Pittsburgh. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has promised to bring back coal, with few details on how he will accomplish it. Meanwhile, Democrat Hillary Clinton has said she’d put miners out of work, but is pushing a big plan to reinvest in coal communities.
Despite the black and yellow banners hanging around Carmichaels proclaiming, “King Coal”, times are changing for mining communities.
The JS INEOS Inspiration carries exported ethane to Norway. The ethane is produced in western Pennsylvania and moved across the state via the Mariner East 1 pipeline. Some landowners are now fighting plans by Sunoco Logistics to build a second line, the Mariner East 2, arguing the project doesn't benefit Pennsylvania.
As Ralph Blume walks through his farm field on a hot afternoon in July, he surveys the damage. By his estimate, he’s out about $4,000. That’s because a year ago, he says workers for Sunoco Logistics destroyed an acre of his wheat crop.
The company hasn’t reimbursed him and he doesn’t want them back.
“When they step foot on my property, things will get started,” Blume says darkly. “I’m gonna run them off. I don’t care what anybody says. They are not allowed on my property.”
Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania
"They're not nice people to deal with." Ralph Blume says of Sunoco Logistics. "They treat us like second-class citizens. We've lost our property rights."
Last summer Sunoco was digging up parts of his Cumberland County farm to work on an old pipeline that used to carry gasoline from east to west across the southern part of state.
The company had decided to re-purpose it, reverse the flow, and call it the Mariner East 1. It’s now moving natural gas liquids from the shale fields of western Pennsylvania to Sunoco’s Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia. Natural gas liquids (NGLs) include products such as ethane, propane, and butane and are a byproduct of gas drilling.
Blume’s now upset again because Sunoco wants to build another pipeline, the Mariner East 2, next to the old one. The company’s threatened to use eminent domain to take his land. If built, the Mariner East 2 would span 350 miles of southern Pennsylvania and pass through 17 counties.
“Taking my property for their gain and I get nothing,” says Blume. “The way Sunoco has treated me over the years– they lied and threatened. [It's] just not a good company to deal with.”
Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields says the company is responsible for offering Blume fair market value for his land.
“He can’t say he’s getting nothing,” says Shields. “Mr. Blume, like any landowner, has the ability both in an out of court to establish what that compensation should be.”
But Blume says he doesn’t want the money. He is one of dozens of landowners along the pipeline’s route taking Sunoco to court, arguing the Mariner East 2 won’t benefit Pennsylvanians.
Opponents of the Algonquin Pipeline cheer speakers at a rally after the clean energy march in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.
Thousands of campaigners for clean energy marched through the center of Philadelphia on the eve of the Democratic National Convention on Sunday, urging the party to adopt policies that would ban fracking and promote the use of renewable energy.
In an event that mixed national politics with local opposition to specific energy projects, some demonstrators called on the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, to step up her support for renewable energy, while others – many of them backers of Clinton’s former rival, Senator Bernie Sanders — vowed never to support Clinton even if that increased the chances of the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, becoming president.
"I don't know why he's caving on the environment," Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) says of Governor Tom Wolf. "But he clearly is caving."
As Pennsylvania’s July 1 budget deadline looms, Governor Tom Wolf is finding common ground with the Republican-led legislature on bills affecting climate change policy and regulations for the oil and gas industry.
But it’s leading to a growing rift between his administration and environmentalists.
“He’s caving on the environment”
“The environment has historically been the low man on the totem pole in budget negotiations,”says Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware). ”It’s frequently been traded off by the Democrats to get other things.”
Last week Vitali called a press conference to blast Wolf for what he views as a failure to prioritize the environment. Vitali is particularly upset the governor is on board with a Republican-led effort to kill tougher regulations for the conventional oil and gas industry.
“I don’t know why he’s caving on the environment, but he clearly is caving,” Vitali says.
U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D) speaks at a press conference touting the benefits of the dredging the Delaware to increase shipping traffic to the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal. Philadelphia Congressman Bob Brady (D) stands to the left.
On a recent afternoon, local politicians and business leaders gathered at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia. Standing in front of a giant blue and white crane used to lift containers off cargo ships, U.S. Senator Bob Casey told reporters he’s confident Congress will approve the last chunk of federal funding needed to deepen the Delaware River’s shipping channel this year.
“It’s a great sense of satisfaction because it allows this region to be much more competitive and to chart its own course for the future,” said Casey.
That course for the future is the promise of lots of good-paying jobs. A controversial, $400 million project to deepen the Delaware River’s shipping channel will wrap up next year.
The project to dredge the river to a depth of 45 feet was held up for nearly three decades by state officials across the river in New Jersey and Delaware who didn’t think it was worth spending millions in taxpayer dollars, and by environmentalists worried about its impact on the Delaware River. Dredging proponents say it will be a boost to the local economy.
The Drillboat Apache sits in the Delaware River near Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. From December 2015 to March 2016, the crew on this boat was blasting rock outcroppings on the river bottom. It’s one of the last stages of a controversial project to deepen the river’s shipping channel by five feet.
The Delaware River is getting deeper thanks to a joint federal and state effort to dredge the shipping channel to make way for larger boats. It’s the culmination of a multi-million dollar project stalled for years by doubts over economic benefits and fears of environmental damage.
In the long fought battle over dredging the Delaware, environmentalists lost. They were worried about a laundry list of potential impacts to the endangered Atlantic sturgeon, oysters, horseshoe crabs, as well as what to do with all the potentially hazardous muck dredged from the river bottom. But there is one impact nobody at the time was talking about — climate change. Six years after the first shovels started scooping up the riverbed, reporter Katie Colaneri takes a look at how the deepening project could impact the health of the river, which provides drinking water for 16 million people.
Elise Gerhart stands with a protest sign after Sunoco crews cleared her family land of trees. Gerhart sat in a white pine tree while the tree-clearing happened around her. A continuing court case could not stop the tree cutting.
Pipelines criss-cross the countryside and lie scattered beneath the urban landscape. They bring us water, natural gas, gasoline. What if someone came knocking on your door wanting to put one through your front yard? That’s exactly what is happening across Pennsylvania right now, as pipeline companies use eminent domain to secure land from uncooperative landowners.
Our story begins with 29-year-old Elise Gerhart, sitting up in a white pine tree, on a platform she built about 40 feet high on her parents land in Huntingdon County. Chain saws roared around her.
“This is my home, you know, I grew up here,” Gerhart shouts down from her perch. My parents owned this place five years before I was born.”
Down below police officers were guarding work crews and arresting her mother on her own land.
This is eminent domain in action. The idea that the government can take land for the public good. That’s why we, the public, get to enjoy national parks, and drive on highways. One of the earliest enforcement of eminent domain by the federal government was used to expand the Gettysburg National Military Park. Continue Reading →
Pennsylvania has decided to continue working on the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, even though it's in legal limbo.
President Obama’s major climate change initiative, the Clean Power Plan, is currently in legal limbo as federal courts decide its fate. But Governor Tom Wolf’s administration has decided to keep working on it anyway.
The goal of the Clean Power Plan is to cut emissions from existing power plants by about a third over the next 15 years. It would mean closing hundreds of coal-fired plants and shifting the grid to more renewable forms of energy. Each state is supposed to come up with its own path to accomplish this.
At a recent legislative hearing Rep. Jeff Pyle (R- Armstrong) lamented the decline of the state’s coal industry and the layoffs workers have faced.
“I come from western Pennsylvania and it’s just breaking our hearts to watch 300 men at a time get shut down, because our coal plants can’t meet the Clean Power Plan,” said Pyle. “I also noted smoke signals coming out of the [Wolf] administration said, ‘We’re gonna go ahead and comply with this, even though the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.’”
Actually, that didn’t happen. The plan has not been declared unconstitutional.
A view of the Sunoco facility in Marcus Hook, Delaware County where Marcellus Shale ethane travels to via the Mariner East pipeline. Business leaders want to use Marcellus Shale gas to power an industrial renaissance along the Delaware River.
The Delaware River had at one time supported a thriving manufacturing hub. Now a group of Philadelphia area business leaders want to bring that back through the use of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas. But turning Philadelphia into an East Coast “energy hub” may not be so easy.
On the surface it looks simple. Pennsylvania has a lot of shale gas. But the gas is not selling at high prices right now, forcing producers to slow down. Phil Rinaldi is chair of the Philadelphia Energy Action Team and CEO of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the largest refiner on the East Coast. He’s the visionary behind the city’s energy hub.
“The reserves in the Marcellus are enormous and they’re trapped there because the market doesn’t exist to take those molecules away at a reasonable price,” he said.
Rinaldi wants to connect all those idle shale gas molecules with Philadelphia’s idle industrial waterfront property. Those sites are already linked to rail lines, and in some cases pipelines.
“You really create a series of businesses that cascade into other businesses that cascade into other businesses,” he said. “So it’s a question of getting that momentum started. Take that Marcellus where you have reserves you measure in centuries, and just basically move that reserve here.” Continue Reading →
Workers unload pipes at a staging area in Worthing, S.D., for the 1,130-mile Dakota Access Pipeline that would stretch from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a hub in Illinois.
The Philadelphia Energy Action Team, a group of business interests organized as part of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, says the key to turning the city into an energy hub is getting more pipes in the ground. The group released their report on revitalizing the city’s economy using shale gas Wednesday morning. A goal of the effort is to double the amount of natural gas and natural gas liquids used in the tri-state region each year from the current 3 billion cubic feet a day.
The 60-page report, “A Pipeline for Growth,” is a detailed look at how the Delaware Valley, which includes Southeast Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, and South Jersey, can capitalize on the abundance of Marcellus Shale gas, including methane, ethane, butane, and propane.
“What the Energy Action Team is, is a civic coalition,” Action Team chair Phil Rinaldi told StateImpact. “It is not a commercial entity. It’s not building a pipeline or a factory. It’s trying to build the kind of political impetus for getting that done.” Continue Reading →
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