A vista in the Tiadaghton State Forest showing a drill rig in the far distance. An oil and gas trade group objects to regulatory language that would give greater protections to public resources, like parks.
The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) objects to regulatory language giving the state Department of Environmental Protection a greater role in scrutinizing well permit applications near public resources, such as parks.
While striking down portions of Pennsylvania's 2012 oil and gas law, the state Supreme Court told the legislature to fix one section, relating to public notification of spills.
Pennsylvania’s highest court struck down industry-friendly portions of the state’s 2012 oil and gas law Wednesday, giving a win to municipalities and environmental groups that challenged it.
But one section dealing with how the public should be alerted when a spill happens remains in limbo.
The law, known as Act 13, required state environmental regulators to only notify public drinking water systems after a spill. The Court sided with groups challenging it, who argued private water well owners should be alerted too. About 3 million Pennsylvanians have private wells and many live in rural areas with shale drilling.
In its ruling, the Court struck down the entire section, but noted this is problematic because it eliminates the notification requirement entirely. So it issued a stay on its mandate for 180 days, to give the legislature time to craft “remedial legislation”– basically to fix it, and add in notification requirements for private wells too.
In this file photo, attorney Matt Haverstick (Right) seen here with Eric Arneson(L), from the office of open records in Harrisburg. Haverstick represented the PUC in the Robinson Township case. He said there was a "small cadre trying to kill" the gas industry.
*This story has been updated with a comment from the PUC.
A private practice attorney representing the Public Utility Commission before the Supreme Court in the Robinson Township case, has told a Pittsburgh newspaper that he was discouraged by the court’s decision to toss aspects of the state’s oil and gas law saying “there’s an industry trying to bring prosperity to Pennsylvania and there seems to be a small cadre trying to kill it.” Attorney Matt Haverstick confirmed that he gave the statement to a reporter at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. But he said through an email that he wasn’t speaking for the PUC.
A spokesperson for the PUC said Haverstick’s comment do not reflect the views of the PUC or it’s commissioners.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that sections of Act 13 related to PUC review of local zoning ordinances regulating oil and gas operations are no longer valid. The PUC has reviewed the Court’s ruling and accepts the decision without reservation. As a result of this decision, the PUC will continue to carry out its statutory obligation under Act 13 to collect and distribute unconventional gas well Impact Fees.
“The PUC has always sought to be an independent and unbiased agency, focused on ensuring safe and reliable utility service while also safeguarding the public interest,” said Commission Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “The Court has spoken very clearly on this matter and the Commission will continue to focus on its key responsibility under Act 13, which is the collection of Impact Fees and the distribution of those funds to counties and municipalities across Pennsylvania.”
Haverstick, a partner at Kleinbard LLC, said through an email that the “small cadre” did not refer to the Supreme Court, but would not elaborate on who or what the phrase did refer to, and did not return calls seeking clarification. Haverstick has also served as an attorney for Senate Republican Caucus and his firm biography says one of his legal specialties is public corruption. His comment has raised concerns among advocates who say it illustrates a bias on the part of the PUC. Continue Reading →
The Supreme Court struck down a number of provisions in the law governing the state's oil and gas industry.
In a win for environmentalists and municipalities, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down a number of provisions to the state’s oil and gas law. At issue were several items related to the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Robinson v. Commonwealth, the controversial and wide ranging environmental ruling that eliminated parts of the state’s revised oil and gas law, known as Act 13. On Wednesday, a majority of the court ruled that the “doctor gag rule,” eminent domain for natural gas storage facilities, and the exclusion of private wells from notification of hazardous spills is unconstitutional.
The industry no longer has a fast track to commonwealth court when it comes to challenging local zoning ordinances. And the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will have no role in examining local zoning decisions.
Jordan Yeager, the attorney who argued for the towns and environmental groups involved in the challenging the law, said it’s a big win.
“It’s great,” he said. “And it’s great for the residents of Pennsylvania to have the courts recognize that their rights matter more than the gas industry’s power in Harrisburg.” Continue Reading →
A state Senate committee approved a resolution Tuesday calling for an analysis of Pennsylvania’s environmental laws and regulations, to ascertain which ones are more stringent than federal rules.
Proponents say it helps streamline government and encourage economic growth, while environmental groups argue it’s designed to roll back standards that protect public health.
Sen. Michele Brooks (R- Crawford) is the prime sponsor. She was not available to comment Wednesday, but in a memo to fellow lawmakers, says the resolution will give Pennsylvania a more competitive business climate.
“While most certainly all of us understand the importance of our environment, this resolution is intended to find balance through practical application of the laws and regulations and at the same time permit economic growth and job creation,” Brooks wrote. “Hopefully, this can be a first step in pinpointing current laws and regulations that impact hardworking citizens and businesses.”
Joe Moore of Wyalusing, spoke on behalf of his mother, who he says is being cheated out of gas royalty money, "I'd like to think there is such a thing as right and wrong," he says. "This is wrong. It's criminal."
About 150 royalty advocates rallied at the State Capitol Tuesday, accusing lawmakers of turning a deaf ear to their concerns, and allowing themselves to be manipulated by industry lobbyists.
“I’m here today for my mom,” says Joe Moore, of Bradford County. “She’s a 75-year-old widow, and what the gas companies are doing to her is very, very wrong. It’s criminal. Those pumps are taking gas from her land 24/7, and at the end of the month, she gets nothing.”
Middletown residents Charles Williams and Bibianna Dussling protest the township's decision to make a deal with Sunoco in return for construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline on public property.
Delaware County’s Middletown Township decided on Monday to allow Sunoco Logistics to build its controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline through four parcels of public land but called for rigorous protections against leaks or explosions of natural gas liquids in light of grave public concerns about the pipeline’s safety.
The township’s council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance allowing easements for construction of the pipeline after a Sunoco official told a packed public meeting that the company was going to build the pipeline through the township regardless of what the council decided because the company has existing rights of way.
“We have the right to lay this pipeline without talking to anyone but we chose to negotiate easements,” Bart Mitchell, Land Project Manager for the company, told the council before the vote. “Should you decide to turn this down tonight, then we can still put the pipeline in. We will not slow up.” Continue Reading →
Jacqueline Evans, whose farm near Stockton, N.J., lies in the path of the proposed PennEast pipeline, speaks out against the project.
Environmental groups called on Monday for a fresh federal review of a plan to build the controversial PennEast natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey after newly published route changes cast further doubt on what critics say was already a flawed Draft Environmental Impact Statement by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
PennEast Pipeline Co.’s statement Friday that it plans 33 deviations from its original route highlights the need for another assessment of whether the pipeline would damage the environment along its 119-mile route from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey, the environmentalists said.
Maya van Rossum, who heads Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN), said the route changes raise more questions about the credibility of the DEIS which she called “deficient and misleading” when it was issued in July. Continue Reading →
Steve Earle, international vice president of the United Mine Workers, from Greenville, Ky., center, marches with international president, Cecil Roberts, left center, as they lead some 5000 members of the United Mine Workers and supporters through the streets of downtown Pittsburgh July, 2014 to protest Obama's Clean Power Plan. A federal appeals court will hear oral arguments related to the challenge on Tuesday morning.
A federal court in Washington, D.C. will be hearing arguments Tuesday morning about the future of the country’s electricity. President Obama’s landmark climate change initiative will be subjected to arguments from both sides, with 28 states aligned with coal companies facing off against the EPA, which is backed by a number of other states and environmentalists.
The Clean Power Plan is Obama’s giant push to make the nation’s electricity cleaner, and signal to the international community that the world’s second largest carbon emitter is doing something to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. The plan gives states different options to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas causing carbon emissions from their existing power plants.
But the controversial plan is opposed by the coal industry, which says it will force coal plants to shut down and cause power plants to convert to natural gas or renewables to comply. Proponents of the plan argue that the coal industry’s woes have nothing to do with the Clean Power Plan, but rather, with the availability of cheaper natural gas from new plays like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. More than 40 new natural gas plant applications have been submitted to Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection within the last five years. Continue Reading →
The Susquehanna River: many Pennsylvania water systems contain the carcinogenic chemical chromium 6, according to a new analysis of EPA tests
More than 160 public water systems in Pennsylvania contained the carcinogenic chemical chromium 6 during recent tests at levels that were above a health limit recommended by scientists in California, according to a new analysis of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The study from the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy nonprofit, combined previously published EPA data with the health limit proposed by the California Office of Health Hazard Assessment to calculate that 218 million people nationwide, or some two-thirds of the population, are exposed to drinking water containing chromium 6 at concentrations above the recommended California limit. Continue Reading →
StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives. Learn More »