Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Chesco homes hit with water problems near Sunoco pipeline construction site

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, seen here in Huntingdon County, may be linked to water problems in some households in Chester County.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, seen here in Huntingdon County, may be linked to water problems in some households in Chester County.

Around a dozen Chester County households experienced cloudy water or loss of supply from their private wells this week, forcing some families from their homes near a location where Sunoco Pipeline is conducting horizontal directional drilling about 150 feet below ground for the construction of its Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Five families spent Wednesday night in a local hotel, and three of them spent a second night on Thursday away from their homes because of the water problems, according to the company, which supplied bottled water to affected homes. Continue Reading

Sunoco’s PR firm aims to ‘neutralize opposition’ to Mariner East pipeline project

Max Brenneman, 14, protests outside of the Huntingdon County Courthouse in support of the Gerhart family. “I have to do something,” says Brenneman.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Max Brenneman, 14, protests outside of the Huntingdon County Courthouse in support of the Gerhart family who oppose Sunoco's construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline on their property. “I have to do something,” says Brenneman. Sunoco has hired a new public relations firm to "neutralize opposition."

A public relations firm for Sunoco Pipeline says it wants to “neutralize opposition” to the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline project.

Bravo Group, which has worked with different parts of Sunoco for at least five years, makes the statement on its website, in describing its role in working on the cross-state Mariner East 2 pipeline, which is scheduled for completion in the third quarter of this year.

“We’re helping Sunoco build public and policyholder support for its Mariner East projects, an infrastructure investment of more than $3 billion,” the statement says. “The goal: secure regulatory approvals, neutralize opposition, and develop the Mariner East projects on budget and without capital losses.” Continue Reading

Environmental legal advocate seeks Pa. budget declared unconstitutional

A caravan of trucks travel through the Loyalsock State Forest to a natural gas drilling site.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A caravan of trucks travel through the Loyalsock State Forest to a natural gas drilling site. An advocate has asked the Commonwealth Court to declare the state budget unconstitutional.

Responding to the Supreme Court’s recent decision bolstering the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment, the environmental lawyer who successfully argued the original case challenging the use of revenue from oil and gas operations on state land for non-conservation activities has asked the Commonwealth Court to declare the current state budget unconstitutional.

John Childe, with the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation, argues using proceeds from the state’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to pay general operating expenses at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s decision, which ruled article 1, section 27, or what is also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment, requires all three branches of government to hold the state’s natural resources in public trust, incorporating all the fiduciary responsibilities associated with the state’s private trust laws.

“If that’s a constitutional use of our natural resources then we don’t have control over those funds,” said Childe. “They can’t commingle that money with commonwealth money.” Continue Reading

Court to decide if nearly $400 million in state oil and gas bonuses fund conservation

A trail in Ryerson Station State Park, managed by the DCNR whose leasing of state lands for oil and gas development is at issue in a new court challenge by an environmental group.

Chris Collins / Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources

A trail in Ryerson Station State Park, managed by the DCNR whose leasing of state lands for oil and gas development is at issue in a new court challenge by an environmental group.

State revenue from oil and gas signing bonuses should be used to fund conservation in the same way as the proceeds from oil and gas royalties, an environmental advocate argued, urging an appeals court to support a recent landmark ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation said almost $400 million in bonus payments for drilling on state forest land from 2009-2010 should be used for the conservation of natural resources, echoing the Supreme Court’s June 20 ruling that the proceeds from oil and gas sales are part of a public trust that must be used to defend the natural environment. Continue Reading

Does offshore drilling have a future off the Jersey Coast?

FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2016 file photo, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez addresses a large rally in Asbury Park, N.J., opposing federal plans that would allow oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. The Obama administration has moved to restrict access to offshore oil drilling leases in the Atlantic, as well as off Alaska. But President-elect Trump has said that he intends to open up offshore drilling, and environmentalists and coastal businesses say it could be the first major fault line that divides them from the new president.

Mel Evans / AP Photo File

In this Jan. 31, 2016 file photo, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez addresses a large rally in Asbury Park, N.J. The Obama administration banned offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic. But President Trump will review the policy with the goal of achieving "American energy dominance." Environmentalists and coastal businesses oppose it.

Trump administration plans to review Obama-era policy on offshore oil and gas drilling, including areas off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware, opened up to public comment Monday. And it’s likely the Department of Interior will get lots of pushback from beach communities along the Atlantic coast, including Maryland and Virginia.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says leasing more coastlines to oil and gas exploration is part of President Trump’s goal for “American energy dominance.”

“Offering more areas for energy exploration and responsible development was a cornerstone of the President’s campaign and this action is the first step in making good on that promise for offshore oil and gas,” said Zinke.

In vetoing plastic bag bill, Wolf cites Environmental Rights Amendment

Gov. Tom Wolf, in this Dec., 2015 file photo, said a plastic bag bill would have violated the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

Gov. Tom Wolf, in this Dec., 2015 file photo, said a plastic bag bill would have violated the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday vetoed a bill that would have curbed the right of towns and cities to regulate use of plastic shopping bags, saying it would have violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the state Constitution.

His use of the Amendment as justification for the veto follows a landmark ruling by the state Supreme Court last week saying that the measure must be the guiding principle of state policy on the preservation of natural resources. Continue Reading

Pipeline protestors face arrest, charges on their own land

Ellen Gerhart has been battling with Sunoco Logistics over the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline on their property in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Ellen Gerhart has been battling with Sunoco Logistics over the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline on their property in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Court has ordered her and her supporters to not interfere with pipeline construction. Some have been sitting in trees.

Responding to a request by Sunoco Logistics, a Huntingdon County judge has ordered a family and their supporters off the construction path of the Mariner East 2, which runs through their property. The ruling by Judge George Zanic means the family could be arrested on their own land.

Ellen and Stephen Gerhart oppose construction of the pipeline on their 27-acre property in Huntingdon, Pa. Their daughter Elise, along with supporters, have built tree houses in the three remaining white pine trees that stand in the way of construction. People have been living in the trees 24/7.

“This is my home, and my family’s home,” said 30-year-old Elise Gerhart, standing about 50 yards away from the tree houses, beneath a camouflaged shelter on her land. “People have a right to live in peace but these corporations think their right to make money trumps that. And I don’t agree with that.”

The Gerharts have up until this point, lost their court battle against Sunoco’s eminent domain taking. They have asked the Supreme Court to review their case. In the meantime, construction along the 350-mile natural gas liquids pipeline continues. Continue Reading

NJ blocks PennEast water permit again; company says it will reapply

A sign opposing the PennEast pipeline project on a lawn in Durham Township, Pa. The Pennsylvania DEP issued the pipeline water permits on Friday.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A sign opposing the PennEast pipeline project on a lawn in Durham Township, Pa. New Jersey DEP has rejected the company's application for water permits.

New Jersey issued its latest rejection of a water-quality permit for the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline, dealing a new blow to the embattled project.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection said Wednesday the PennEast Pipeline Co. had failed again to submit all the requested information in its application for the permit, which the department first rejected in April on the same grounds.

Although the company met one of the state’s requirements this time, the rest of the application for a freshwater wetlands permit was still deficient even after a 60-day extension that the DEP provided after the first denial, it said in a letter to the company. Continue Reading

Pa. Supreme Court’s landmark environmental ruling faces first test​

Lloyd Haun, Amber Colledge, Nancy Miller, Kaitlin Elliot, Nick Miller, and Andrew Geller demonstrate outside of the Huntingdon County Courthouse in support of the Gerhart family.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Lloyd Haun, Amber Colledge, Nancy Miller, Kaitlin Elliot, Nick Miller, and Andrew Geller demonstrate outside of the Huntingdon County Courthouse in support of the Gerhart family. Common Pleas judge George Zanic is reviewing the Supreme Court's recent decision on the Environmental Rights Amendment before making a ruling on the Gerhart's case.

A landmark ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court means that state agencies and judges will have to pay more attention to the public’s right to clean air and water when making permit decisions and issuing court rulings. At the same time, officials will have to stop using oil and gas lease revenues to fund day-to-day operations, analysts said.

The court’s historic decision last week on an appeal by an environmental group elevates the Environmental Rights Amendment to the state constitution to a status equal to other constitutional rights, and directs the Commonwealth to act as a “trustee” of the state’s natural resources, rather than an owner.

That may mean that the Department of Environmental Protection, and other regulators, will take a closer look at permit applications for controversial projects like the Mariner East 2 pipeline to make sure they would not violate the Amendment, and it provides more legal ammunition for people who are challenging permit decisions in court, according to environmental lawyers and a former DEP Secretary. Continue Reading

Lawmakers urge Wolf to join interstate effort to meet Paris climate goals

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 the Paris agreement in Marrakech, Morocco, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. Some Pennsylvania state lawmakers are urging Gov. Wolf to join other states committed to the goals of the U.N. climate agreement, which President Trump has rejected.

State lawmakers advocating statewide action on climate change will on Monday urge Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a new group of 13 states that seeks to comply with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement despite the withdrawal by the Trump administration.

Supporters of continued efforts to cut carbon emissions will launch House Resolution 421, calling on Pennsylvania to join the other states in an effort to stay on track with the Paris goals, defying the rejection of that initiative by President Donald Trump.

By Sunday afternoon, the resolution had 36 cosponsors, all but one of them Democrats, indicating that the measure has little chance of being adopted in the 203-member House of Representatives that is dominated by Republicans.

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