Pennsylvania

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McGinty hired by Philadelphia life sciences firm

FILE: former state environmental secretary and U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty is joining a Philadelphia-based life sciences company.

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

FILE: former state environmental secretary and U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty is joining a Philadelphia-based life sciences company.

Former state environmental secretary and U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty has been hired by Militia Hill Ventures, a Philadelphia-based life sciences company.

The firm specializes in growing early-stage companies. Its portfolio includes firms working to combat cystic fibrosis and cancer.

“It’s a very hands-on approach,” says McGinty, who is joining Militia Hill as a partner. “We work directly with the scientists. We add to the science with management, leadership, and the ability to bring investment into newly-formed companies. We help take those companies through the regulatory approval process.”

While much of McGinty’s career has been working in government and the private sector on energy and environmental issues, she describes this move as going “back to the future” because she earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry.

McGinty was most recently the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate but lost to incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in November. She previously served as Governor Tom Wolf’s chief of staff and as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection under former Governor Ed Rendell. McGinty also made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2014 and was a staffer to former President Bill Clinton.

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Wolf urges Congress to fund health benefits for coal miners

A group of coal miners listen to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during his visit to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company's Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., Thursday, April 13, 2017.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

A group of coal miners listen to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during his visit to Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company's Harvey Mine in Sycamore, Pa., Thursday, April 13, 2017.

Governor Tom Wolf is urging Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to ensure thousands of coal miners can keep their healthcare benefits.

Wolf says without passage of the federal Miners Protection Act, benefits would expire at the end of the month, leaving miners and their families without coverage. The bill would use interest from the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to sustain health and pension funds administered by the United Mine Workers of America.

“Retired miners worked for these benefits, paid for them with years of service doing dangerous work so that the rest of us could have reliable and affordable power,” Governor Wolf said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to see that these benefits are preserved.”

Senator Bob Casey (D) is a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill—Senate Bill 175—as are Representatives Boyle, Brady, Cartwright, Doyle, Fitzpatrick, Shuster and Thompson in the House of Representatives, where the bill was introduced as House Resolution 179.

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Amid lawsuits, townships agree to back off injection well bans

FILE: Oil-field workers tend to American Energy-Woodford's Judge South well in November 2014 well shortly after the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered it temporarily shut-in.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

FILE: Oil-field workers tend to an injection well in November 2014 well shortly after the Oklahoma Corporation Commission ordered it temporarily shut-in.

Two rural townships have temporarily agreed not to enforce portions of their home rule charters designed to ban underground disposal wells for oil and gas wastewater, after being sued by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Last month the DEP approved permits for two new injection wells in Highland Township, Elk County, and Grant Township, Indiana County. The department also sued both townships the same day–challenging language in the charters that invalidated the disposal well permits and held DEP liable for issuing them.

“I’m pleased that DEP and the townships were able to come to a temporary agreement quickly, and in a way that allows DEP employees to continue to do their work,” Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell says in a statement. “I’m hopeful that we can continue to work with these municipalities to ensure that residents’ concerns are addressed.”

Underground disposal wells are controversial because they’ve been linked to a sharp uptick man-made earthquakes. The DEP says it’s imposed special conditions on the permits which will allow them to be operated safely. The state also recently expanded its seismic monitoring network to keep a closer eye on earthquake activity.

DEP petitioned Commonwealth Court for a temporary injunction and hearings were scheduled for Wednesday, but were cancelled when all parties agreed the contested provisions of the home rule charters would not be enforced while the cases proceed.

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Wolf says Act 13 language should be fixed to protect impact-fee revenue

The PUC is challenging a court ruling that it says would further reduce impact fee revenue which has already declined because of less drilling  at rigs like this.

Joe Ulrich/ WITF

The PUC is challenging a court ruling that it says would further reduce impact fee revenue which has already declined because of a decline in gas production..

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said late Wednesday that the wide-ranging Act 13 law should be changed to ensure that municipalities receive all the revenue they are entitled to from the state’s impact fee on gas drilling.

Wolf’s office issued a statement in support of the Public Utility Commission which said Tuesday that the law’s language should be changed so that drillers cannot escape paying the fee on low-producing gas wells. The regulator also said it would appeal a recent Commonwealth Court ruling that would limit the fees payable on the so-called stripper wells.

“As a result of the recent court decision, counties and municipalities across the state which receive impact fee revenues to address critical infrastructure needs and impacts of natural gas development will receive millions less this year and in future years,” the statement said. ”The Governor believes that the language should be fixed to ensure that counties and municipalities receive the funding they depend on.” Continue Reading

Environmental group fined by state ethics commission

A 2006 state report requires lobbyists to file quarterly expense reports with the state.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A 2006 state law requires lobbyists to file quarterly expense reports with the state.

One of Pennsylvania’s leading environmental organizations is being fined by the state ethics commission for failing to file a quarterly lobbying expense report on time.

PennEnvironment has 30 days to pay the $1,960 fine over its delinquent quarterly expense report from the second quarter of 2016. The group also has to pay $250 to cover costs the ethics commission incurred investigating the matter.

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DEP fines Delco refinery for air pollution violations

A refinery, homes and tank cars is seen Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Philadelphia.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

A refinery, homes and tank cars is seen Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Philadelphia. DEP fined Monroe Energy in Trainer Delaware County, $400,000 for air pollution violations.

Monroe Energy, an oil refiner in Delaware County, has agreed to pay $403,528 for releasing air pollutants that exceeded its permitted limits. Over the course of three years, between July 2013 and June 2016, Monroe’s violations included excessive releases of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection reached an agreement with the company last week. The DEP says Monroe also “failed to satisfy the data availability requirements.”

Monroe Energy, a subsidiary of Delta Airlines, took over the shuttered Trainer refinery from ConocoPhillips in 2012 to produce jet fuel for the airline. The refinery is located along the Delaware River, in a densely populated area about 10 miles southwest of Philadelphia. Continue Reading

School officials seek answers on safety of Mariner East 2

Workers cleared trees to make way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County, where school officials are seeking assurances on safety.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

Workers cleared trees to make way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Delaware County, where school officials are seeking assurances on safety.

Pipeline advocates and emergency responders sought to allay continuing concerns about the safety of the planned Mariner East 2 line near schools during a recent meeting in Delaware County, calming some worries but failing to convince critics that their children will be safe when the pipeline is built.

As Sunoco Logistics presses on with construction of its cross-state natural gas liquids pipeline, officials at the Rose Tree Media School District held a “safety summit” on March 31 to discuss how to respond to different threats including the possibility of a leak or rupture in the line, which is planned to run about 650 feet from an elementary school in the district.

The event, organized by the district’s superintendent, Jim Wigo, was attended by about 40 people including representatives of Sunoco and two other nearby school districts plus emergency responders from municipal and county levels, township officials, representatives of local police and fire departments, council members, and representatives from the Delaware County homeland security department. Continue Reading

FERC says PennEast pipeline would have ‘less than significant’ environmental impact

Natural gas pipeline construction site in Northeast Pennsylvania. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of the PennEast Pipeline project on Friday.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Natural gas pipeline construction site in Northeast Pennsylvania. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of the PennEast Pipeline project on Friday.

The proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey would have “less than significant” environmental effects if it meets plans laid out by its builder and regulators, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said on Friday.

In its final Environmental Impact Statement on the 120-mile project, FERC said its determination was based on information from the PennEast Pipeline Co., field investigations, and contacts with federal, state and local officials.

“The FERC staff concludes that approval of the proposed project, with the mitigation measures recommended in the EIS, would result in some adverse environmental impacts, but impacts would be reduced to less than significant levels with the implementation of PennEast’s proposed and our recommended mitigation measures,” the agency said. Continue Reading

EPA cuts would leave states with more work, less money

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has said states, "have the resources and expertise to deal with clean water and clean air issues.” But many state agencies, like Pennsylvania's DEP, are struggling to do basic things, like water inspections, amidst years of cuts.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt says states, "have the resources and expertise to deal with clean water and clean air issues.” But amid years of budget cuts, many state agencies, like the Pennsylvania DEP, are struggling to do basic tasks, like water inspections.

The Trump administration has proposed cutting 2.6 billion dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about a third of its budget.

It could mean state environmental agencies will have to do more work with less money. But in many places, those agencies are already strapped.

Late last year the EPA sent Pennsylvania a letter warning its water program was so under-staffed it was failing to enforce federal safe drinking water standards. State inspectors aren’t checking public water systems often enough.

Doing “triage”

John Holden is water production supervisor for the City of Lancaster. Standing on the banks of the Conestoga River, he watches water rush into one of the city’s two filtration plants. Inside the plant, he shows off the spaghetti-like membranes that block bacteria from getting into water for 120,000 people.

“This is what separates the dirty water from the clean water,” he explains.

John Holden

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Lancaster City water production supervisor John Holden has seen the Pennsylvania DEP get cut over the past decade.

According to Holden, the state does regularly check water quality at this plant, because it’s part of such a big system. But he says smaller water systems — for example, a school in a rural area, or a mobile home community—can get overlooked. Pennsylvania has about 8,600 public water systems.

This is a problem because it’s almost always state environmental agencies that do the work of enforcing federal environmental laws. Pennsylvania now plans to hike fees on public water systems, so it can hire more inspectors. The state Department of Environmental Protection hopes the fee increase will raise $7.5 million to pay for 33 new inspectors.

“They probably need to raise their fees, so they can do their job,” says Holden. “They’ve certainly been cut over the last 10 to 15 years. I’ve seen that.”

Over the past decade Pennsylvania’s DEP has lost about 40 percent of its state funding and 25 percent of its staff. Earlier this year, the agency’s Citizens Advisory Council sent a letter to legislators warning the budget cuts have reached an “unsustainable level.”

David Hess led the agency under former Republican Governor Tom Ridge. He now worries public health is at risk.

“I think the department, over the last 10 or 12 years, has had to do so much triage– decide what lives and dies,” says Hess. “In my opinion, it is very close to not being able to accomplish its mission.”

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PennEast files for NJ water permits as FERC deadline looms

Kimberly Paynter/Newsworks

Kimberly Paynter / Newsworks

Construction on a pipeline path in Susquehanna County. The PennEast pipeline would run 118-miles from Northeast Pennsylvania to New Jersey. FERC is expected to release its final environmental impact statement on Friday.

This article comes from our partner NJ Spotlight.

The developer of the PennEast pipeline today filed for a critical water and freshwater wetlands permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for its project, perhaps one of the most troublesome regulatory reviews remaining for the planned pipeline.

In filing the application, PennEast Pipeline Co. is seeking approval for the same permit that ended up killing a controversial pipeline project in New York when it was denied. Environmentalists here are hoping to convince the Christie administration to do likewise, effectively blocking the 118-mile PennEast pipeline that would run from Luzerne County in Northeast Pennsylvania to Mercer County, NJ.

The permit review promises to be difficult given the route of the $2 billion project — crossing more than 200 waterways, including underneath the Delaware River.

New Jersey is one of only two states allowed to administer the federal 401 Water Quality Certificate program under the federal Clean Water Act. The state DEP oversees the latter with its own New Jersey freshwater wetlands permit program. Read more from NJ Spotlight.

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