Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Lancaster County pipeline opponents prepare for encampments

About 200 people gathered in southern Lancaster County Sunday and ceremonially burned the final environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. In the document, federal regulators had concluded the project would not create significant environmental harm.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

About 200 people gathered in southern Lancaster County Sunday and ceremonially burned the final environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. In the document, federal regulators had concluded the project would not create significant environmental harm.

Anti-pipeline activists in Lancaster County are preparing to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to block a proposed natural gas transmission line.

The group Lancaster Against Pipelines is spearheading the effort. Activists have built two wooden structures near Conestoga, which they intend to occupy if and when crews begin work on the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

Williams, the Oklahoma-based company behind the project, expects to receive final approval from federal regulators within weeks. The pipeline recently cleared a major regulatory hurdle, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its final environmental impact statement (EIS), and found the pipeline would not create significant environmental harm.

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Feds tighten rules for hazardous liquids pipelines such as Mariner East 2

A pipeline under construction in Susquehanna County: new federal rules will tighten requirements on pipelines carrying hazardous liquids.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

A pipeline under construction in Susquehanna County: new federal rules will tighten requirements on pipelines carrying hazardous liquids.

Federal regulators published a new set of rules on Friday to strengthen the safety of pipelines carrying hazardous liquids such as crude oil and the natural gas liquids that would be pumped across Pennsylvania by the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said operators of the approximately 200,000 miles of hazardous liquids pipelines across the U.S. will have to perform more frequent inspections, extend inspections outside so-called high-consequence areas, and install leak-detection systems on all pipelines. Continue Reading

Gas industry talks pipelines, bird flu, at the Farm Show

On Wednesday PennAg Industries and Sunoco Logistics unveiled a new online training tool designed to raise awareness about threats like the avian flu.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

On Wednesday PennAg Industries and Sunoco Logistics unveiled a new online training tool designed to raise awareness about threats like the avian flu.

Pennsylvania’s natural gas pipeline building boom is happening mostly in rural areas, which is one of the reasons representatives from the oil and gas industry were at the 101st Farm Show in Harrisburg this week.

They kept a relatively low profile though, and tried connect with farmers– about issues ranging from eminent domain, to stopping the spread of the avian flu. Two forums were held, and although they took place inside the Farm Show complex, they were sparsely attended and neither appeared on the official schedule.

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Sen. Scott Wagner officially kicks off his campaign for governor

State Senator Scott Wagner (R- York) officially launched his campaign for governor Wednesday.

Katie Meyer / WITF

State Senator Scott Wagner (R- York) officially launched his campaign for governor Wednesday.

Republican State Senator Scott Wagner is the first person to throw his hat into the 2018 race for governor. He made the official announcement Wednesday at the York County headquarters of his trash hauling company.

A conservative first-term senator and businessman, Wagner’s making it clear that he is running on a similar outsider platform as president-elect Donald Trump.

“I started my first business when I was 20 years old,” he said at one point. “When you start out with two trucks and two employees and you build that company to 350 employees—you know, I’ve learned you can, surround yourself with the best people.”

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Wolf hoping third time’s the charm on severance tax

This Dec. 29, 2015, file photo shows Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaking with members of the media at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Governor Wolf says he plans to propose another natural gas severance tax at the end of this month.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

This Dec. 29, 2015, file photo shows Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaking with members of the media at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Governor Wolf says he plans to propose a natural gas severance tax at the end of this month. It would be his third attempt to tax the gas industry since becoming governor.

After failing to pass a natural gas severance tax for the last two years, Governor Tom Wolf is hoping this year, the legislature will get on board with his proposal.

Following an event at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia Tuesday evening, Wolf said he plans to ask for a tax on Marcellus Shale drillers during his 2017/2018 fiscal year budget address next month. However, he was mum on the details, which he said are still being worked out with legislators and the natural gas industry.

Wolf, who campaigned on imposing a five percent severance tax, thinks the measure is key to making sure communities hours away from the nearest gas well buy in to Marcellus Shale development, especially as pipeline companies look to move natural gas to markets on the East Coast through their backyards. Increasingly, suburban Philadelphia communities in Delaware and Chester Counties, which lie along the eastern edge of route of the proposed Mariner East pipeline, have been organizing to resist the project.

“I want to be able to say to the people in Delaware County, if you support reasonable and environmentally correct expansion of the gas industry, this is going to help your schools,” the governor said.

Protesters urge Senators to reject Trump nominees to environment posts

Environmental activists march through Center City in protest of some of Donald Trump's cabinet picks.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Environmental activists march through Center City in protest of some of Donald Trump's cabinet picks.

Some 200 people gathered in center city Philadelphia on Monday to urge Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators to reject President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees for key environmental positions in his new administration.

The demonstrators rallied in freezing weather outside Democratic Senator Bob Casey’s office before holding up traffic to march several blocks to the office of Republican Senator Pat Toomey.

The event was one of a series around the country on Monday in which environmental groups including the Sierra Club and 350.org urged lawmakers to vote against Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency; ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to become Secretary of State; former Texas Governor Rick Perry to run the Department of Energy, and Ryan Zinke, a Republican Senator from Montana, to lead the Interior Department.

Protesters, carrying signs such as “Stop the Climate Denier Cabinet”, and “Climate Change is Real”, said all the nominees are deniers of climate change, and would reverse efforts by the Obama administration to cut carbon emissions from sources such as power stations and private cars. Continue Reading

Under proposal, DEP would lose control of revenue from drilling penalties

Senator Scott Hutchinson

Senator Scott Hutchinson

A Republican state senator wants the legislature, rather than state environmental regulators, to control the money generated by oil and gas violations in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R- Venango) recently sent out a co-sponsorship memo seeking support for new legislation.

He sees it as a separation of powers issue.

“Traditional legislative powers have drifted toward the executive branch,” he says. “I’m just starting with oil and gas, but I feel like this about a lot of other programs. The fines should run through the general fund. Why shouldn’t the legislature decide how much is spent?”

He believes the state Department of Environmental Protection could be motivated to levy larger penalties, to support its own existence. However he says he has no proof that’s occurring.

“If you’re having a rough fiscal year, you bump the fines up. That’s possible,” he says. “People say the same thing about the State Police and speeding fines. It’s an incentive that seems to be there. I think we should remove that. Violators will feel they’re being looked at more objectively.”

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Pa. environmental groups join forces to increase advocacy

A view of the Pine Creek in Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Two Pennsylvania environmental groups plan to work more closely.

Two of Pennsylvania’s leading environmental groups are forming a new strategic alliance in response to what they call an “unprecedented anti-environmental political climate at the federal and state levels.”

PennFuture and the Conservation Voters of PA will combine policy, advocacy, and legal resources to mobilize voters around environmental issues and hold lawmakers accountable.

Conservation Voters of PA has staff of five, and will remain a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization with an affiliated PAC. PennFuture has a staff of 20 and is a 501(c)(3) organization, which bars it from participating in elections. But PennFuture President and CEO Larry Schweiger says the alliance builds on a model other organizations have used in other states.

“We have to be very clear about where the money comes from and how it’s spent,” says Schweiger. “But this gives us room to participate.”

Conservation Voters of PA Executive Director Josh McNeil says scaling up is the primary goal.

“The environmental fights at the state and federal level are massive. We’re talking about a systematic change towards clean energy and decades of work protecting clean air and clean water that are all at risk,” says McNeil. “We wanted to try to have a bigger impact on lawmakers and the state they’re supposed to be protecting.”

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Rep. Greg Vitali feels burned after losing committee assignment

Rep. Greg Vitali, right, argues with the Republican chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in April 2016.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware), right, arguing with the Republican chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in April 2016.

2017 hasn’t gotten off to a great start for state Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware).

The outspoken environmental advocate learned Thursday he would no longer serve as Democratic chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy committee. Instead, Vitali was reassigned to chair the State Government committee, a post he’s considering declining.

He views the move as punishment for repeatedly speaking his mind. Over the years he’s managed to ruffle feathers on both sides of the aisle.

“In some regards, I feel like John Quigley,” says Vitali, referring to the former state environmental secretary, who left amid controversy over an angry email. “He devoted his life to environmental policy. He incurred the ire of those he spoke out against, and he was gone.”

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Town declarations highlight public-safety worries over Mariner East 2

Mitch Trembicki, an opponent of the Mariner East 2 pipeline project, urged Middletown officials to block a plan to build two pipelines on public land.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Mitch Trembicki, an opponent of the Mariner East 2 pipeline project, had urged Middletown officials to block a plan to build two pipelines on public land. Middletown is one of several communities along the eastern edge of the pipeline's route to pass resolutions questioning Sunoco's safety record.

Some communities in Philadelphia’s western suburbs are reflecting public concerns over the proposed Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline by issuing official statements saying that the $2.5 billion line could endanger public safety.

Eight townships or boroughs along or close to the route in Delaware and Chester Counties have published resolutions or proclamations as recently as December saying their residents would be vulnerable to releases of toxic and flammable gases if there was a leak or explosion.

The documents accuse the pipeline’s builder, Sunoco Logistics, of having a poor safety record, with 263 spills of hazardous liquids since 2006, the most of any company monitored by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

They call for incident-response plans to be drawn up, and say local representatives should be allowed to participate in decisions by regulatory agencies on whether to allow construction of the pipeline. Some argue that a loss of local control violates a right to clean air and water under the Pennsylvania constitution. Continue Reading

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