Pennsylvania

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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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Surging gas-fired power generation in PJM region will force more coal plant closures, report says

A view of the PJM Interconnection control room. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America. A report out by Moody's this week says a glut of natural gas will "wreak havoc" on the region's electricity market.

courtesy of PJM

A view of the PJM Interconnection control room. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America. A report out by Moody's this week says a glut of natural gas will "wreak havoc" on the region's electricity market.

A rush to build power plants fueled by cheap natural gas from the Marcellus Shale will swell power supply in the region coordinated by PJM Interconnection, operator of the largest power grid in North America, driving down prices and forcing the closure of many coal-fired plants over the next four years, according to a new analysis by Moody’s Investors Service.

The report predicts that power supply within the 243,417 square mile area covered by PJM will surge by 25 percent by 2021, causing on-peak prices to drop by 15 percent and leading to “widespread” closures or conversion to gas at coal-fired plants. Power grid operator PJM manages the movement of electricity to 65 million people living in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Ohio, and parts of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and North Carolina.

“A massive construction of new gas capacity is underway in PJM to take advantage of cheap Marcellus gas, which will drive down market prices, a material credit negative for unregulated power companies,” the report said on Tuesday.

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Trump nominates PA PUC Commissioner Rob Powelson to FERC

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Robert Powelson

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Robert Powelson speaks at an industry conference in State College. President Trump has nominated him as a FERC commissioner.

President Donald Trump has nominated Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Rob Powelson to fill a vacancy on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which oversees interstate pipeline projects. Powelson, who also serves as the president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, recently compared anti-pipeline activists to jihadists, a statement he later walked back.

“The jihad has begun,” he said while speaking at a gas industry conference in March. “At the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission groups actually show up at commissioners homes to make sure we don’t get this gas to market. How irresponsible is that?”

Environmental groups responded by calling for his resignation. Several days later he said his statement was “inappropriate.”

Both FERC and the Pennsylvania PUC play active roles in pipeline regulation, including decisions on whether or not a pipeline company would be granted authority to use eminent domain against land owners who refuse to grant easements for a project. Continue Reading

Senate panel approves Wolf’s pick for environmental secretary

A state senate panel has given its approval to Patrick McDonnell, Governor Tom Wolf's pick to run the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A state Senate panel has given its approval to Patrick McDonnell, Governor Tom Wolf's pick to run the state Department of Environmental Protection.

A state Senate panel has unanimously approved Governor Tom Wolf’s choice to lead the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Patrick McDonnell has already been on the job for nearly a year, as DEP’s Acting Secretary. He was appointed after the abrupt departure of his predecessor, John Quigley, who was ensnared in controversy over an angry email he sent to some environmental groups. The cabinet position has been marked with high turnover. McDonnell is the fifth person to lead the department in as many years.

McDonnell has spent his entire career in state government. Most of his time has been at DEP– in the Office of Pollution Prevention and most recently as Policy Director. Before that, he worked for the state Public Utility Commission. His first job was an internship in the Governor’s Office of Administration. Continue Reading

Middletown residents sue Sunoco to stop pipeline, alleging violation of township ordinance

Construction equipment clears trees in Aston, Delaware County to make way for the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline.

Emily Cohen / for StateImpact PA

Construction equipment clears trees in Aston, Delaware County to make way for the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline.

Six residents of Middletown Township, Delaware County, are suing Sunoco Logistics, saying that its planned Mariner East 2 pipelines would violate a township ordinance that requires a pipeline to be at least 75 feet from occupied structures.

The suit, filed in the Delaware Court of Common Pleas on Friday, says that each of the plaintiffs lives less than 75 feet from the route where the two new pipelines would carry highly pressurized ethane, propane and butane.

The suit, which seeks enforcement of the ordinance, is part of a strategy by citizens’ groups in Middletown and some nearby communities to use municipal regulations to force changes in the construction of a pipeline that opponents say is a threat to public safety. It follows legal memos sent to nearby Thornbury and West Goshen townships earlier this year, urging them to enforce their own ordinances that activists said would be violated by the pipelines. Continue Reading

EPA urges Pennsylvania to move faster on water safety issues

Water faucet

Eric Norris via Flickr: http://bit.ly/1ryPA8o

Federal regulators are urging Pennsylvania to act quickly to fix serious staffing shortfalls in the state’s safe drinking water program.

In December EPA sent Pennsylvania a letter warning its water program was so under-staffed it was failing to enforce federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards.

Pennsylvania responded by saying it planned to hike fees on public water systems. The DEP hopes the fees will raise $7.5 million to pay for 33 new inspectors. But that process could take up to two years. In an April 12 letter, EPA’s Region 3 office wrote back, saying it remains concerned that won’t be fast enough.

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Congress hears testimony on fast-tracking pipeline projects

In Philadelphia, a protester stands in solidarity with Native American demonstrators in North Dakota fighting to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline on September 13, 2016.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

In Philadelphia, a protester stands in solidarity with Native American demonstrators in North Dakota fighting to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline, September 13, 2016. The natural gas pipeline industry is pushing Congress to amend the Natural Gas Act to speed up the pipeline approval process.

Although anti-pipeline activists decry the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the agency that never met a pipeline project it wouldn’t approve, the natural gas industry says the regulatory process led by FERC is facing longer delays. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce heard testimony Wednesday about a proposal to speed-up that process, which currently involves a mix of federal and state permit approvals.

It’s not the first time Congress has considered amending the Natural Gas Act to grant FERC greater authority in coordinating the complex review process. But according to Don Santa, executive director of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, things have gotten worse over the past two years.

“Federal permitting agencies are taking longer, and, in some cases, are electing not to initiate reviews until FERC has completed its review of a proposed pipeline project,” he told the Committee. “These disjointed, sequential reviews cause delay and, in some cases, create the need for supplemental environment analysis.” Continue Reading

Some PA water systems still struggle to reach federal health standards, report says

In this photo taken on Feb. 26, 2009, an aeration basin is seen in operation at the Wilmington Wastewater Treatment Plant in Wilmington, Del.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

In this photo taken on Feb. 26, 2009, an aeration basin is seen in operation at the Wilmington Wastewater Treatment Plant in Wilmington, Del.

Some Pennsylvania drinking water systems have levels of contaminants that violate federal health standards, and may cause illnesses ranging from nausea and diarrhea to birth defects and cancer, according to a national report released on Tuesday. The report blames deteriorating infrastructure and lax enforcement by the federal government.

The Pennsylvania data is a subset of the report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, using public data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The NRDC analysis found that 167 Pennsylvania systems serving 691,000 people violated health standards set by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act when data were gathered in 2015.

The Pennsylvania systems that are recorded as having health-based violations had pollutants such as disinfectants, coliforms and nitrates at levels that could damage human health, the report said. Chlorine is a widely used disinfectant in water treatment systems, but when combined with some naturally occurring organic matter, it can create dangerous by-products that can lead to miscarriages and birth defects. Continue Reading

Delco zoning board refuses to block Mariner East 2 pipeline

Construction on the Mariner East 2 pipeline has already begun in Delaware County. Thornbury Township resident failed to convince the zoning board to block it.

Emily Cohen / StateImpact PA

Construction on the Mariner East 2 pipeline has already begun in Delaware County. Thornbury Township resident failed to convince the zoning board to block it.

The latest local effort to block the Mariner East 2 pipeline failed late Monday when a zoning panel in Delaware County denied an appeal against three permits that have allowed its construction.

Thornbury Township’s Zoning Hearing Board turned down a request by a local homeowners association to withdraw the permits to install a fence, a utility pole and automated pipeline equipment. The residents’ group argued that the items would violate a local ordinance that requires at least 40 percent of land in their tract to remain as open space.

But the panel said in a statement after a three-hour meeting that it had seen “insufficient proof” that the construction activities by Sunoco Logistics would violate the ordinance, and denied the appeal. Rich Raiders, an attorney for the Andover Homeowners Association, said he would talk with his client about whether to appeal the decision to the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

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