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Hearing will scrutinize use of money in special environmental funds

Harrisburg Capitol

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

As state lawmakers continue to search for ways to plug an estimated billion-dollar budget hole, they are taking a renewed look at state agencies’ use of special funds, including money dedicated to environmental programs.

A House hearing scheduled for next week will examine how the state Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are using special funds. These include things like cleaning up industrial sites and recycling.

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DEP fines natural gas company $1.7M for drilling violations

SIPA_StandardThumb_NaturalGasRig_2x (1)State environmental officials have fined a natural gas company $1.7 million for problems at well sites in Greene and Clearfield counties.

Energy Corporation of America was cited for, among other things, operating storage pits without proper permits and for pits that leaked.

The violations took place at 17 well sites, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The wells were recently acquired by Greylock Energy. Continue Reading

After new setback, Constitution Pipeline says it will fight FERC order

Trees cut on a Susquehanna County property in March 2016 to make way for the proposed Constitution Pipeline. The company says it will fight a FERC order upholding New York State's denial of a permit for the project.

Jon Hurdle

Trees cut on a Susquehanna County property in March 2016 to make way for the proposed Constitution Pipeline. The company says it will fight a FERC order upholding New York State's denial of a permit for the project.

The builder of the proposed Constitution Pipeline from Pennsylvania to New York said it will ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to take another look at its recent ruling that upholds New York State’s denial of a water-quality permit for the troubled project.

Constitution Pipeline said it will seek a rehearing or appeal FERC’s decision on Jan. 11, in which the commission declined to overturn the permit decision by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). That decision has stopped the company from beginning to build the 124-mile natural gas line. 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

A surge, then a fade for Pennsylvania’s wind industry

Pennsylvania's wind industry boomed through 2012, but development of new wind farms has slowed in the years since.

vaxomatic via Flickr

Pennsylvania's wind industry boomed through 2012, but development of new wind farms has slowed in the years since.

While the wind power industry booms across the United States thanks to favorable federal and state policies, the development of new wind farms has stalled in Pennsylvania.

More than two dozen wind farms popped up across the state leading up to 2012, but only one in the years since.

Wind advocates say Pennsylvania could follow the lead of other states and bolster its commitment to renewable energy to help the industry grow. But not all think that’s warranted. Continue Reading

Judge fines environmental attorneys $52,000 for ‘frivolous’ injection well suit

SIPA_StandardThumb_NaturalGasRig_2x (1)

A federal judge has ordered a pair of attorneys for an environmental group to pay $52,000 in legal fees to an energy company because, the judge said, they filed a “frivolous” legal challenge to a fracking waste injection well in Indiana County.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter of the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled the attorneys, Thomas Linzey and Elizabeth Dunne, should pay part of Pennsylvania General Energy’s (PGE) legal fees for advancing a “discredited” legal argument that had already been defeated in prior decisions. In addition to the fine, the judge referred Linzey to the state Supreme Court Disciplinary Board for additional discipline. Continue Reading

Water study finds some Pa. radium levels exceed tough California limit

Liberty Valley Elementary School, Danville, Pa., kindergarten student Tianna Swisher moves into an arc of water for a drink at the fountain at Montour Preserve, near Washingtonville, Pa., during the school's outdoor field trip on Tuesday, June 3, 2008. Waiting his turn is classmate Eli Zakarian.

Bill Hughes / AP Photo/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise

File Photo/June, 2008 Liberty Valley Elementary School students from Danville, Pa., drink at the fountain at Montour Preserve. A new report shows more than 3.4 million Pennsylvania residents are supplied with tap water that exceeds a strict California standard for radium.

More than 3.4 million Pennsylvanians are supplied by drinking water containing radium that exceeds a strict California standard, which advocates say should replace a looser federal limit, according to a report issued on Thursday.

Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that advocates for clean water and other issues, said there were 466 Pennsylvania utilities where radium 228, a potential carcinogen, was above the California level when the water was tested in the first quarter of 2017.

The state’s data are part of a report saying that 170 million Americans served by some 22,000 utilities in all 50 states are drinking water that contains radioactive elements at levels that may be hazardous to human health. Continue Reading

Settlement requires coal plants to get permits with tighter pollution controls

PPL's Brunner Island  coal-fired plant located on the west bank of Susquehanna River.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

PPL's Brunner Island coal-fired plant, on the west bank of Susquehanna River, is among the plants included in a settlement between the Department of Environmental Protection and environmental groups.

In a settlement with environmental groups, the Pennsylvania Department of Environment agreed to require coal-fired power plants to obtain water pollution permits with tighter controls on toxic releases into rivers and streams that provide drinking water to millions of people.

The settlement, filed in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, pertains to 10 coal-fired power plants around the state that have been operating on expired water pollution permits for years — in one case for 17 years.

The permits — technically, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits — specify limits on how much of certain kinds of pollution industrial facilities can discharge into rivers and streams, and impose monitoring and reporting requirements.

In June, the Sierra Club, PennFuture and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association sued DEP  for allowing those plants to operate without updated permits. The suit asked the DEP to re-issue permits that addressed newer federal guidelines that the EPA published in 2016. 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.

Despite DEP order to halt Mariner East 2 construction, some work is still allowed

Sunoco/ETP's Mariner East 2 construction site in West Whiteland Township, Chester County. Despite DEP ordering construction to stop, Sunoco can continue to work on welding pipes, which is regulated by the PUC.

courtesy of David Mano

Sunoco/ETP's Mariner East 2 construction continues this week along Devon Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County. Despite DEP ordering construction to stop, Sunoco can continue to work on welding pipes. That work is regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, not DEP.

When Danielle Otten woke up Monday morning, she didn’t expect to see men working on the Mariner East 2 pipeline construction site that sits about 40 feet from her backyard, along Devon Drive in Uwchlan Township, Chester County.

For one thing, work in the area had stalled after drilling dried up and damaged nearby water wells this past summer. And just last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a court order halting construction along the 350-mile long pipeline after Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners continued to violate its permits, causing damage to private water wells, streams and wetlands.

“I walked over and it appeared they were welding. They were actively welding and working and they’re still there today,” Otten said. “It’s interesting because our understanding was all construction was to be halted. I think it’s pretty bold on the part of Sunoco.”

When DEP issued a stop work order to Sunoco last week, it appeared that all work would halt aside from drilling and erosion controls that had to be continued in order to prevent additional environmental damage. But a spokesman for the DEP now tells StateImpact that when it comes to anything other than earth disturbance or water crossings, the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction.

That means some work — like the welding Otten saw near her home — is allowed.

“The welding, as an activity DEP doesn’t regulate, would not be stopped under the suspended permits,” DEP spokesman Neil Shader wrote in an email. Continue Reading

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