Pennsylvania

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Democratic lawmakers ask FERC to investigate Mariner East 2 pipeline builder

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Two ranking Democrats in Congress have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to further investigate the practices of pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners, which has merged with Sunoco Logistics, after spills and permit violations occurred on two of its major projects in three different states, including the Mariner East 2 pipeline here in Pennsylvania.

In a letter to FERC last Thursday, Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., and Washington state Senator Maria Cantwell, detail recent spills in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and criticize the company for misleading regulators by destroying an historic home in Ohio. StateImpact reported recently on a judge ordering ETP/Sunoco to stop construction on a valve station in West Goshen Township, where the company began building a valve station at a location the township had not agreed to.

For more on StateImpact’s investigation into Sunoco’s construction issues, listen here:

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After years of debate, severance tax saga continues

State capitol

Scott LaMar / WITF-FM

Pennsylvania remains the only major gas-producing state in the country without a severance tax. This fact has been a major sticking point in Harrisburg– for a really long time.

Now state lawmakers are once again looking to place new taxes on natural gas drillers. A gas severance tax the Senate approved this week is expected to bring in $100 million to help plug a $2.2 billion budget hole. The measure has an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled House. Still, it’s the closest the state has gotten to enacting such a tax in nearly a decade.

We looked back at how debate has unfolded over the years:

In 2009, the state House-which was then controlled by Democrats-passed a severance tax. It was defeated by Republicans in the Senate.

And while talk over the tax continued in subsequent years, Pennsylvania’s natural production has skyrocketed. Last year alone, it topped 5 trillion cubic feet, almost as much as the entire nation of Qatar.

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Remembering the Quecreek Mine Rescue 15 years later

FILE: The ninth and final miner is removed from the Quecreek Mine, seen in this July 28, 2002, file photo, in Somerset, Pa.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, Pool

FILE: The ninth and final miner is removed from the Quecreek Mine, seen in this July 28, 2002, file photo, in Somerset, Pa.

This week marks the 15th anniversary of the Quecreek Mine Rescue. From July 24 through the 28, 2002, nine miners were trapped underground in a Somerset County coal mine.

All nine men survived the 77 hour ordeal.

On WITF’s Smart Talk Monday, former Governor Mark Schweiker and former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Hess remember what it was like for those on the surface trying to bring the miners to safety.

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How one Philadelphia neighborhood battles rising tides

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.

Joining dozens of communities across the country Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced Wednesday he has committed the city to a goal of 100 percent clean energy. It’s part of a growing effort by cities and states to reduce their carbon footprint in the wake of President Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement, a landmark international effort to cut global carbon emissions to reduce the worst impacts of climate change.

In the Philadelphia region, climate scientists say those impacts will include hotter summers, greater rain fall and floods.

One city neighborhood is already working on how to respond to rising sea levels. Climate change is not theoretical for residents of Eastwick, a neighborhood built over a marsh in southwest Philadelphia. The area is already subject to frequent and severe flooding, and researchers say it will only get worse.

At least ten high flow events since 1999 have seriously damaged about 130 properties and city infrastructure, according to the Philadelphia Water Department.

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Citizen lobbyists make progress with Republicans on climate

Activists gather outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 1, 2017, to protest President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the Unites States from the Paris climate change accord.

AP Photo / Susan Walsh

Activists gather outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 1, 2017, to protest President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the Unites States from the Paris climate change accord. Some Republican members of congress have joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, and opposed the pull-out.

Citizen lobbyist Jay Butera believes in the power of polite persistence. Nearly every week for the past 10 years, he has taken the Amtrak train down to Washington D.C. from his home in Montgomery County to convince congress to take action on climate.

“There were times when it felt like this is not going to happen,” said Butera. “This is impossible, this is the most polarized issue in congress.”

Butera is a successful entrepreneur, having created and sold two businesses. But instead of courting investors, he now spends all his time volunteering with the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. He says he’s had hundreds of conversations with Republican aides and congressmen.

But despite the recent election that had Republicans take control of both houses of Congress and the White House, Butera is suddenly having some success. And it’s not just with Democrats. Continue Reading

Philadelphia aims to cash in on solar job boom

Dennis Hajnik installs solar panels on a roof in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Dennis Hajnik installs solar panels on a roof in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County. Philadelphia has a plan to bring those panels to 500 city rooftops by the end of 2018, which it says will create 75 new jobs.

On a rooftop in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County, four men are working to install 18 solar panels on top of a four-bedroom house. They wear safety harnesses and helmets, lowering down one solar panel at a time onto metal frames. One is 21-year-old Thomas Glenn. Several years ago, Glenn dropped out of high school and was living with his parents in the Kensington section of North Philadelphia.

“You know, I was playing video games all day, listening to music,” Glenn said. “At the time I was waiting until I turned 18 so I would become a security guard or I was going to work at McDonalds.”

Glenn says solar helped turn his life around. After getting his G-E-D, he ended up in a training program for city youth, which led to this job with a small solar company.

“The money’s good, you get nice long hours and you’re doing something good,” he said.

He’s now living on his own, making $15 an hour. The more experienced crew members are making between $20 and $25 an hour.

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Lawmaker wants pipeline protesters to pay for police, cleanup costs

Feb. 22, 2017: Refuse remained in the Dakota Access pipeline opponents' main protest camp as a fire burns in the background in southern North Dakota near Cannon Ball, N.D.

AP Photo/Blake Nicholson

Feb. 22, 2017: Refuse remained in the Dakota Access pipeline opponents' main protest camp as a fire burns in the background in southern North Dakota near Cannon Ball, N.D.

New pipelines designed to carry Pennsylvania’s shale gas have taken center stage in a controversy over climate change, private property rights, and the nation’s energy future.

Protests have emerged all over the country, including an encampment in Lancaster County, where activists hope to disrupt construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline–an interstate gas transmission line approved by federal regulators earlier this year.

After the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest against the Dakota Access oil pipeline last year led to millions of dollars in cleanup and law enforcement costs, Sen. Scott Martin (R- Lancaster) plans to introduce legislation soon that would shied the public from the costs associated with protests, and make the activists pick up the tab.

However, the move raises First Amendment issues and is part of a broader national trend among state legislators to curb or limit protesting.

Friday on WITF’s Smart Talk, we discuss this issue, and a new bill that would preemptively ban local governments in Pennsylvania from imposing bans or fees on plastic bags.

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Scientists who feel under attack, to march for political clout

Marion Leary will be speaking at the rally about science communication, and hopes to get more researchers out of the lab and talking to the public.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Marion Leary with her daughter Harper making signs at Frankford Hall in Fishtown, ahead of Saturday's March for Science in Philadelphia. Leary will be speaking at the rally about science communication, and hopes to get more researchers out of the lab and talking to the public.

Thousands of marchers are expected in Center City Philadelphia on Saturday for the first ever March for Science. The event is combined with the 47th annual Earth Day observance, which is expected to draw millions of people to cities and towns across the country, with the main event in Washington, D.C. Philadelphia’s demonstration will start at City Hall, with a march that ends up at Penn’s Landing. While this celebration of science is billed as nonpartisan, organizers say it’s time that scientists become a political force in an era when evidence based decision-making seems under attack.

Philadelphia’s original Earth Day organizers turned a day into a whole week of activism, teach-ins, and concerts in Fairmount Park. At the time, protest movements and college activism focused on stopping the war in Vietnam and promoting civil rights. The idea that hundreds of people would gather to promote environmental protection was novel.

Still people like Allen Ginsburg, Ralph Nadar and Dr. Benjamin Spock came to speak. The cast from the Broadway hit Hair showed up and performed. The events of that day had enormous impact on public policy. But marches have since become routine. It begs the question on what impact scientists and their supporters will have in the age of Trump.

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Allentown teen sues Trump administration for inaction on climate

Protesters unfurl a cloth sun at the conclusion of the rally on Independence Plaza.

Jonathan Wilson / Newsworks

Protesters unfurl a cloth sun at the conclusion of the rally in Philadelphia during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Eighteen-year-old Sophie Kivlehan says she doesn’t remember when she first heard about climate change. It was a normal topic of conversation at the dinner table, one that often included her grandfather, Jim Hansen, an astro-physicist at Columbia University and perhaps one of the worlds’ most well-known climate scientists. Hansen began sounding the alarm about rising temperatures and rising sea levels back in the early 1980′s.

“Because we concluded already that if we burn all the coal, we’ve got a different planet,” Hansen said recently, speaking to StateImpact prior to an appearance at the University of Pennsylvania. “We’ll lose all the coastal cities. It doesn’t make sense burn all the fossil fuels, we need to look at energy policies now.”

But more than 35 years after Hansen published his first paper on how carbon dioxide emissions could change the planets climate, he says the U.S. government has failed to act and it’s time for the courts to force the issue. He and his granddaughter Sophie Kivlehan are suing the federal government, along with 20 other young people from across the country.

The suit, originally filed during the Obama Administration by the organization Our Children’s Trust, now faces a battle with President Trump. The lawsuit claims that the federal government has taken actions to promote the use of fossil fuels.

“When [the] legislative and executive branch, when they don’t do their jobs,” said Kivlehan, “it’s the court’s jobs to act as a check.” Continue Reading

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