Pennsylvania

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Federal court rules FERC doesn’t have to review upstream impacts of LNG

Dominion's offshore loading platform at Cove Point. Lusby, Maryland. Dominion wants to start exporting LNG from this platform.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks

Dominion's offshore loading platform at Cove Point in Lusby, Maryland. Dominion wants to start exporting LNG from this platform. Marcellus Shale gas will supply the Cove Point plant. Environmentalists want FERC to review the upstream impacts of increased natural gas production that would result from exports.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is not required to examine the upstream impacts of natural gas development when reviewing the environmental impacts of new liquefied natural gas export facilities under the National Environmental Policy Act. Instead, the court said that if any agency should examine upstream impacts, it would be the Department of Energy, which has to approve LNG exports. The case involved two LNG terminals on the Gulf Coast, one in Sabine Pass, Louisiana and the other in Freeport, Texas. The D.C. Circuit is also reviewing challenges to Maryland’s Cove Point LNG terminal but has not yet ruled in that case.

Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, said the rulings “make clear” that the current environmental review process is complete when it comes to LNG exports.

“The consequence of these rulings is that the US LNG industry will continue to grow – creating jobs, tax revenue and economic growth across the country,” Riedl said in a statement. “Additionally, studies have shown that US LNG exports help promote the use of natural gas by our allies and trading partners, which, in turn, helps to lower global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The challenge was brought by the Sierra Club, which did not respond to request for comment.

The Sierra Club sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission claiming the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not conducting an environmental review that takes into consideration the upstream impacts of natural gas production. Continue Reading

Progressive super-PAC funded by billionaire climate activist comes to PA

AFSCME national President Lee Saunders (left), environmentalist Tom Steyer and City Councilwoman Helen Gym launch a new superPAC in Pennsylvania.

Dave Davies / WHYY

AFSCME national President Lee Saunders (left), environmentalist Tom Steyer and Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym launch a new superPAC in Pennsylvania.

At Philadelphia’s Walnut Street headquarters of AFSCME District Council 33 Thursday, labor, community and environmental activists announced the creation of a group called For Our Future, which will be active in Pennsylvania and four other states.

The funding comes from wealthy environmentalist Tom Steyer and several national unions including AFSCME, whose national president Lee Saunders says it’s all about grass-roots organizing.

“This effort isn’t about yard signs. It isn’t about slick TV ads,” Saunders said. “It’s about all of us, coming together, having those kinds of conversations heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul.”

Leaders didn’t say whether For Our Future would advertise, or how much money it would spend. The group has both a super PAC and a nonprofit organization that can raise and spend money in the election without having to reveal its donors. Continue reading

Trade union says more natural gas use would help state meet CPP goals

Two former employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health claim they were told not to respond to phone calls from people complaining about natural gas operations.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Trade unions are stepping into the fracking fray, pushing back against the opposition to new pipeline projects and natural gas development.

A leading trade union is advocating for increased use of natural gas as a way of helping to meet emission-reduction targets under the federal Clean Power Plan for existing power plants and to fill what it says will be an energy deficit when coal-fired power plants are retired.

The Laborers International Union of North America launched a national campaign to argue that the increased use of natural gas will also create jobs while contributing to a cut in greenhouse gas emissions.

The union, with about 500,000 members, said renewable energy on its own won’t be enough to make up for a shortage of energy resulting from increasing demand and reduced supply because of a dwindling number of coal-fired power generators.

In Pennsylvania, there’s expected to be a shortfall of 22 percent
by 2030 between the amount of energy the state needs and what it produces from natural gas, nuclear, coal and renewables, the union said in a study on its website. Continue Reading

Environmentalist Erin Brockovich speaks about water contamination linked to Willow Grove AFB

Erin Brockovich speaks at the Everywoman's Money Conference in Pittsburgh on Friday Sept. 8, 2000. Brockovich, the subject of the movie "Erin Brockvich," is a legal aide who helped win $333 million in compensation from Pacific Gas & Electric for residents of Hinkley, Calif., whose water was found to be contaminated.

Gary Tramontina / AP Photo

Erin Brockovich speaks at the Everywoman's Money Conference in Pittsburgh on Friday Sept. 8, 2000. Brockovich, the subject of the movie "Erin Brockovich," is a legal aide who helped win $333 million in compensation from Pacific Gas & Electric for residents of Hinkley, Calif., whose water was found to be contaminated. Brockovich spoke to suburban Philadelphia residents now grappling with their own water contamination issues.

Environmental advocate Erin Brockovich, subject of the eponymous movie about her legal battle with a California utility accused of polluting water supplies, addressed a group of suburban Philadelphia residents now grappling with water contamination linked to the use of flame retardants at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Willow Grove and the Horsham Air Guard Station. The PFC contamination has led to the shut down of dozens of public and private wells.

“I can’t believe 22 years ago, I got involved in the water issue, and here we are in the future and it hasn’t gotten better,” Brockovich told a group of more than 200 people who packed Upper Moreland High School via video chat. “Superman’s not coming. The EPA’s not going to save us. Politics aren’t going to save us.”

The Tuesday night event was organized by the large New York personal injury law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which framed the community meeting a “fact finding mission.” Brockovich works with the firm on environmental cases. Attorney Robin Greenwald said the firm had already been approached by more than 100 residents seeking information on a potential lawsuit prior to the meeting.

Earlier this month, levels of PFCs exceeding the EPA’s new 2016 guidelines for the cancer-causing pollutant led the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to launch a new investigation into drinking water in Doylestown, about 10 miles north of the contamination near the military bases. Read More.

PA House considering private development in state parks

An elk near the Elk County Visitor Center, which is located on DCNR land.

Steve Manuel / AP Photo

An elk near the Elk County Visitor Center, which is located on DCNR land.

The House could vote this week on a bill that would allow more private development in state parks, including golf courses, amusement parks, hotels, restaurants or office buildings. The proposal, HB 2013, was introduced by Brian Ellis R-Butler. It was originally written to include a board that would have the authority to approve private development in the parks, which are operated by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. But the bill is now amended to have DCNR hire a consultant, who would produce a report on how private development could take place in the state parks.

In introducing the bill, Rep. Ellis said Pennsylvania lags behind other states in offering modern accommodations. “West Virginia, for example, has a number of state parks with sizeable lodging facilities, conference centers and golfing,” wrote Ellis in his co-sponsoring memo.  ”Ohio has similar facilities at nine of its state parks.  Pennsylvania, however, has one small bed and breakfast-type lodge at Bald Eagle State Park.”

It’s not the first time the legislature has considered opening up state parks to greater development, and has environmentalists worried that it’s inconsistent with the mission of state parks. Continue Reading

Gov. Wolf signs bill that rejects conventional drilling regulations

Kimberly Paynter/Newsworks.org

Kimberly Paynter / Newsworks

Governor Wolf signed into law a new package of regulations for Marcellus Shale drillers that have been five years in the making.

Governor Wolf signed a bill that would scrap the conventional oil and gas regulations, while new rules for Marcellus Shale wells move forward. Wolf also approved a new climate change regulation that lengthens the time lawmakers get to review the administration’s plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to comply with Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The new drilling rules have been in the works since lawmakers updated the state’s oil and gas law back in 2012.

Environmentalists criticized Wolf’s decision to scrap the proposed rules for the conventional, more shallow gas wells, which are not necessarily produced with the use of fracking. Wolf’s spokesman Jeff Sheridan told StateImpact last week that the entire package of conventional and unconventional well regulations was in jeopardy unless the administration compromised and tabled the conventional drilling wells. Wolf said in a release that he was “pleased to have reached a bi-partisan agreement with the legislature” to enact the unconventional well regulations. Continue Reading

Appeals court clears way for eminent domain suit against Sunoco Logistics

Opponents of the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline argues that Sunoco Logistics has no right to obtain land along the route by using eminent domain.

Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Opponents of the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline argues that Sunoco Logistics has no right to obtain land along the route by using eminent domain.

A Pennsylvania appeals court on Wednesday rejected an attempt by Sunoco Logistics to throw out a challenge to its planned Mariner East 2 pipeline, clearing the way for the environmental group Clean Air Council to argue against the company’s use of eminent domain to build the pipeline.

The Commonwealth Court denied the company’s request for an immediate review of an earlier decision by the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which ruled in favor of the environmental group and two affected landowners.

Alex Bomstein, an attorney for the Clean Air Council, said the group now expects the case to go back to the Common Pleas court which will hear arguments on the eminent domain case. Continue Reading

DEP launches investigation into Doylestown-area private water well contamination

The former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and present day Horsham Air Guard Station is shown Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Horsham, Pa. The military is checking whether chemicals from firefighting foam might have contaminated groundwater at hundreds of sites nationwide and potentially tainted drinking water, the Defense Department said.

Matt Rourke

The former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and present day Horsham Air Guard Station where the military is checking whether chemicals from firefighting foam might have contaminated groundwater at hundreds of sites nationwide and potentially tainted drinking water. The DEP is investigating whether the same chemicals are present at dangerous levels in the Doylestown area.

Last month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency instituted more rigorous health advisory levels for chemicals called polyfluorinated compounds or PFCs.

Suddenly, a well on Easton Road in Bucks County known to contain PFC’s was above the new, stricter cutoff.

As of 2016, the new recommended lifetime exposure level in drinking water for two PFCs — known as PFOS and PFOA — is no more than 0.07 part per billion. The contaminated well near the Cross Keys Place shopping center clocked in at 0.24 ppb.

“That well was taken offline almost immediately,” said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Virginia Cain, later confirming that the contaminated well served 240 connections, most of them businesses. According to the Bucks County Courier-Times, that well was known to register high levels of PFCs as early as 2015.

The DEP announced Tuesday it will fan out and test the approximately 250 private wells in a 1-mile radius from the contaminated water source.

Continue Reading

Former environmental secretary hired by University of Pennsylvania

john quigley speaks

Emma Lee / WHYY

Former DEP Secretary John Quigley was hired by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

A month after his controversial departure from the state Department of Environmental Protection, former Secretary John Quigley has landed a new job as a Senior Fellow at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.

“It’s exciting. I am very happy to be at Kleinman,” Quigley tells StateImpact Pennsylvania. “There are a lot of really talented, smart people.”

Quigley left DEP in May, following controversy over a profanity-tinged email he sent to environmental groups, criticizing them for not doing enough to support tougher environmental regulations for the oil and gas industry.

Continue Reading

Beaver County ‘upskills’ to prepare for Shell plant

This 2015 photo provided by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development shows a former zinc smelting site where Shell Chemical Appalachia plans to build a petrochemical plant in Potter Township in Beaver County near Monaca, Pa. Shell Chemical Appalachia announced its formal commitment to the project on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, saying the plant will process ethane from Marcellus and Utica shale wells to create plastics used in food packaging and auto parts. The company said construction would begin within 18 months with the goal of bringing the plant online early in the 2020s, creating up to 6,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs.

Larry Rippel/Allegheny Conference on Community Development via AP

This 2015 photo shows a former zinc smelting site where Shell Chemical Appalachia plans to build a petrochemical plant in Potter Township, Beaver County near Monaca, Pa.

In early June, after years of waiting and negotiating, Shell Chemical Appalachia signed on to build a multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker plant in Potter Township, Beaver County. The plant will turn ethane, which the Marcellus Shale creates an excess of, into a compound that is used in the creation of plastics. With heavy tax incentives, Pennsylvania beat out Ohio and West Virginia to attract the plant, which will create an estimated 6,000 temporary construction jobs and then 600 full-time plant jobs once it’s up and running.

In a statement, Governor Tom Wolf said this “game-changing” plant is the largest investment in Pennsylvania since World War II, and the first major plant built outside the Gulf Coast in 20 years.

Wolf told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, ”The feedstock is here. The workforce is here. Let’s go.”

Inspiring words at an exciting time for the region. But is it true?

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