Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Enviros ask Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren for FERC investigation

Twenty-four protesters were arrested for blocking a public passageway outside the Washington D.C. headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in July, 2014.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

As the shale boom leads to an expansion of pipeline infrastructure, the once-obscure Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been targeted by environmental activists. In July 2014, 24 protesters were arrested for blocking a public passageway outside its Washington D.C. offices.

Dozens of environmental groups and activists from the Northeastern U.S. sent a letter to Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren this week, asking for an investigation into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The agency is charged with siting and approving much of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure.

“We’re asking for an investigation of FERC and their process because it’s shady,” says Tim Spies of Lancaster Against Pipelines. “They’re rubber stamping everything.”

In the letter, the groups call FERC “a demonstrably biased agency that has become a partner with, rather than a regulator of, the pipeline companies it purports to oversee.”

The letter asks presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to request that the Government Accountability Office conduct an investigation. The two Democrats serve on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

A FERC spokeswoman declined to comment.

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Obama administration halts new coal leases on federal lands

A train loaded with coal from the Powder River Basin travels through northeast Wyoming. Most of the federal coal leases are in Wyoming's Power River Basin.

AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File

A train loaded with coal travels through northeast Wyoming. Most of the federal coal leases are in Wyoming's Power River Basin.

As part of the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to combat climate change, the Department of Interior announced Friday it will temporarily halt new coal leasing on federal lands.

“There was broad agreement the federal coal program was in need of modernization,” says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

The leasing moratorium will be in place while agency engages in a three year review to examine royalty practices, transparency issues, and climate change goals.

“I want to be clear the pause does impact existing mine operations,” says Jewell. “This is not a pause on coal production.”

The move does not directly affect Pennsylvania, which does not have any federal coal leases, according to the Bureau of Land Management. However it was quickly criticized by Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, a trade association representing the industry. Pennsylvania is the nation’s fourth largest coal-producing state.

“The global demand for coal is projected to continue to grow as developing nations are hungry for affordable, reliable electricity,” said Coal Alliance CEO John Pippy in an email. “We should be leading the global energy market by investing in research and development of carbon capture and utilization technologies to capitalize on one of our most abundant resources, rather than doling out short-sighted policies aimed at ‘keeping it in the ground.”

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Science panel faults EPA fracking probe for excluding baseline water testing

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, before President Barack Obama spoke about his Clean Power Plan.

Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, before President Barack Obama spoke about his Clean Power Plan.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s landmark investigation into the impact of fracking on drinking water lacked baseline testing that would have made its results more illuminating, according to a scientific panel that assessed it, and independent analysts.

The Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel, a unit of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), published its evaluation of the EPA’s report on Jan. 7.

The panel said the EPA’s report excluded “prospective case studies”, also known as baseline testing, in which water quality is assessed before drilling takes place to determine whether subsequent natural gas development has an impact on water sources.
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House approves budget bill with controversial energy provisions

PPL's Brunner Island three-unit coal-fired plant located on the west bank of the Susquehanna River. A bill recently approved by the state House and Senate would give legislators more time to review Pennsylvania's compliance with federal climate regulations.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

PPL's Brunner Island coal-fired plant on the west bank of the Susquehanna River. A bill recently approved by the state House would give legislators more time to review Pennsylvania's compliance with federal climate change policy.

The Republican-controlled state House approved a budget bill Tuesday that has drawn criticism from Democrats and environmental groups over language that affects new oil and gas regulations and federal efforts to combat climate change.

The fiscal code acts as a set of instructions, directing money for the overall state budget. Last month it was approved by the state Senate after amendments were added to increase the length of time legislators have to review Pennsylvania’s compliance with the federal Clean Power Plan– the central part of President Obama’s climate change initiative.

Pennsylvania has to submit a plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions to the EPA by September. A 2014 state law gives legislators 100 days to review the plan before it goes to Washington. The new fiscal code bill would give them 180 days. House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin says he doesn’t understand why environmental groups object.

“They’re trying to make an issue of something that’s not an issue,” he says. “It’s just weird. It’s more public review. I’m not sure how that’s a bad thing.”

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Amid pressure, Penn State adds climate change to strategic plan

Penn State

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

In the wake of an online petition, Penn State University will address climate change in its strategic plan, which guides university priorities from 2016 through 2020.

Penn State University is addressing the threat of climate change in an update of its five-year strategic plan, following pressure from students, faculty, and staff. Last month they delivered an online petition to university administrators, which attracted 7,180 signatures from people around nation and the globe.

“It’s a really huge step for this university,” says Peter Buckland, a fellow at the school’s Sustainability Institute. He co-authored the petition along with history and religious studies professor, Jonathan Brockopp.

“I would hope it means we’re going to see a transition in operational priorities and research proprieties that move from coal, oil, and gas to wind, solar, and energy conservation,” says Buckland.

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EPA science advisors say fracking study needs clarification

Ray Kemble of Dimock, displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water in this August 2013 file photo. The EPA included Dimock as a case study in its draft fracking report.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Ray Kemble of Dimock, displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water in this August 2013 file photo. The EPA included Dimock as a case study in its draft fracking report.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board has raised questions about the agency’s landmark study on how fracking impacts water quality. In it’s draft peer review of the agency’s study, published Thursday, the advisory board raised concerns about “clarity and adequacy of support for several major findings.”

One of the more controversial aspects of the EPA’s draft report, released in June 2015, was the conclusion that fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, did not result in “widespread” impacts on drinking water. That conclusion drew criticism from environmentalists, and praise from the industry.

Speaking to reporters on the day of the release, the EPA’s science advisor Thomas A. Burke said “based upon available scientific information, we found that hydraulic fracturing activities in the United States are carried out in a way that has not led to widespread systemic impacts on drinking water sources.” Continue Reading

Rosebud Mining furloughs 429 workers

A FirstEnergy Corp. coal-fired power plant in Eastlake, Ohio that closed in 2012 along with other facilities in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

A FirstEnergy Corp. coal-fired power plant in Eastlake, Ohio that closed in 2012 along with other facilities in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

A Western Pennsylvania coal company is furloughing 429 workers and idling 20 mines due to poor market conditions exacerbated by an usually warm winter, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Kittaning-based Rosbud Mining says the employees will keep their benefits and the company hopes to bring them back to work next month.

“We would expect, based on the guidance from our customers, to start shipping again by the end of the month and bring everyone back in February,” company vice president Jim Barker told the newspaper.

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Marcellus output flat amid falling prices, slack demand, pipeline shortage

Workers install a new shale gas pipeline in Zelienople, Pa. The slow down in production is due in part, to a lack of pipeline infrastructure.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

Workers install a new shale gas pipeline in Zelienople, Pa. The slow down in production is due in part, to a lack of pipeline infrastructure in the state.

Natural gas production from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus and Utica shales showed little change in 2015 as energy companies deferred expansion plans amid falling prices, sluggish demand growth, and a continuing shortage of pipelines to take the state’s abundant gas to market.

Data from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection show unconventional gas production from the two fields totaled 3.89 billion cubic feet in October, the latest month for which data are available, slightly down from the 3.90 billion cubic feet reported for January of last year.

In the Marcellus, which accounts for the vast majority of the production, the stagnant picture follows a 30 percent increase in 2014 – when prices were about twice what they are now — to about 4 trillion cubic feet, or some 16 percent of total U.S. annual consumption. Continue Reading

DEP finalizes new oil and gas drilling regulations

Monthly waste reporting for Marcellus Shale drillers is among the changes in the new oil and gas regulations.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Monthly waste reporting for Marcellus Shale drillers is among the changes in the new oil and gas regulations.

State environmental regulators are finalizing updates of new oil and gas regulations, which include more stringent rules around permitting, waste handling, water restoration, and identifying old wells.

The new rules from the state Department of Environmental Protection come at a time when Pennsylvania is already nearly a decade into the Marcellus Shale boom.

“The process is what it is,” DEP Secretary John Quigley said of the multi-year effort. “It has taken as long as it’s taken. What we have to do now is move forward. It is essential that we finish this job.”

The process began back in 2011 and has seen its share of controversy. Both industry and environmental groups criticized the effort as either too far-reaching or too weak.

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