Pennsylvania

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Marcellus Shale boom cuts costs for Pennsylvania ratepayers

The township hopes the resolution spur legislative action to address royalty complaints.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A Cabot Oil and Gas well site in Northeast Pennsylvania. The Marcellus Shale gas boom has reduced utility bills for residents by 40 percent on average.

Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas boom has significantly cut energy costs for consumers across the state, according to a new study released Friday by the University of Pennsylvania. Residential gas customers have seen a price drop of 40 percent on average, compared to costs ten years ago. Before Marcellus production ramped up, Pennsylvania produced just one percent of the nation’s supply of natural gas, but today the state accounts for 16 percent. Production jumped 2,800 percent in the ten-year period covered by the report.

“That additional supply has helped drive prices down at a significant savings for consumers.” said Christina Simeone, policy director with Penn’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy and author of “Pennsylvania’s Gas Decade.” Continue Reading

Costa Rica banks on low-carbon coffee

Erasmo Arrieta Soto tastes coffee at the Santa Anita Coffee Estate, Naranjo Costa Rica.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Erasmo Arrieta Soto tastes coffee at the Santa Anita Coffee Estate, Naranjo Costa Rica.

Ulises Ramírez began picking coffee when he was ten. It’s a family trade that dates back generations in the western valley of Costa Rica, where high altitudes and volcanic soils help produce some of the best coffee beans in the world. The 37-year-old now oversees farming at the Santa Anita Coffee Estate, a 250-acre coffee plantation in Naranjo, Costa Rica. Ramirez has seen a lot of changes in the past 17 years.

“The climate is crazy. Sometimes it will rain for days and then there won’t be rain and there’s way more pests than there used to be so we have to buy more products to combat the pests,” he said.

Ramírez works on a farm that is not only trying to adapt to a changing climate, it’s trying to do its part to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Santa Anita is one of a few coffee farms in the country pioneering efforts to produce low-carbon coffee.

The low-carbon coffee that Costa Rica is pushing is part of an overall plan by the country to become the first carbon neutral nation and serve as an example to the rest of the world for how to tackle climate change. It’s a small country with big climate ambitions.

Pascal Girot is a senior advisor to Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy.

“The idea of being climate friendly, climate neutral, low emissions coffee, low emissions meat, we’re seeing this as a niche product,” said Pascal Girot, a senior advisor to Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy.

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Future in Limbo for Coal Ash Site

The coal ash pile at Hatfield's Ferry Power Station. Image: Google

The coal ash pile at Hatfield's Ferry Power Station. Image: Google

A Greene County coal ash landfill won’t be receiving any more coal waste until December, at the earliest. Environmental groups hope the landfill may have seen its last shipment of the waste.

As part of a settlement reached between FirstEnergy and two environmental groups in September, the company will be making repairs to its coal ash landfill near its now-shuttered Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station. The deal includes a provision that FirstEnergy hold off on shipping any waste from the Bruce Mansfield Power Station in Shippingport, Pa. to Hatfield’s Ferry until December 1.

Charles McPhedran, an attorney for Earthjustice, which negotiated the settlement, said he hopes that since FirstEnergy plans to close or sell Bruce Mansfield by 2018, the landfill at Hatfield’s Ferry may never get coal ash from the power plant.

“It’s possible that Bruce Mansfield plant will not ship waste to this landfill at all,” McPhedran said. Continue Reading

PJM says plan to subsidize coal, nukes, “not workable”

-A Norfolk Southern freight train hauling coal makes it way through downtown Pittsburgh Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. The Department of Energy has proposed subsidizing coal and nuclear power in the face of competition from natural gas and renewables.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

A Norfolk Southern freight train hauling coal makes it way through downtown Pittsburgh Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. The Department of Energy has proposed subsidizing coal and nuclear power in the face of competition from natural gas and renewables.The DOE says it's necessary for grid reliability but that argument is discounted by its own reliability study.

PJM Interconnection, the region’s electric power grid operator says the Trump administration’s proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear is “unworkable.” In comments filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday, PJM opposes the effort by Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to have utilities compensate coal and nuclear plants that store a 90-day supply of fuel, in the interest of grid reliability.

The proposal would now specifically target the mid-Atlantic region where coal and nuclear plants are shutting down in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas, wind and solar. PJM’s footprint includes 13 states and the District of Columbia, where about half of the power generation comes from coal and nuclear. It operates a competitive electricity auction each year. If FERC follows through on the DOE’s request, it could mean higher energy prices for consumers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware as well as other ratepayers in PJM’s territory. Continue Reading

Al Gore: We’re Getting Close to Bipartisan Action on Climate

Al Gore at the Climate Reality Project in Pittsburgh. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Al Gore at the Climate Reality Project in Pittsburgh. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Al Gore says he’s optimistic the U.S. will break its political standoff over climate change, and that the U.S. is “not that far” from a bipartisan consensus on climate change.

One thing that gives him hope? Satellite dishes.

In the midst of a 40-minute interview Gore conducted with reporters in Pittsburgh Wednesday, he told the story of a 1992 bill that lowered costs for satellite dish companies. President George H. W. Bush vetoed the bill. But Congress, while Gore was a Senator from Tennessee, overrode the veto with a more than two-thirds vote in both houses.

Satellite dishes, apparently, were a cause Republicans and Democrats could agree on. Gore thinks the same could be said for solar panels.

“You think about the similarities,” he says. “You have a rooftop system that gives people freedom from a monopoly, an opportunity to make choices in the market place, and pursue lower costs. That’s true of satellite dishes. It’s true of solar panels.” Continue Reading

Gore Tells Climate Activists: ‘We’re Going to Win This’

Al Gore at the Climate Reality Workshop in PIttsburgh, Pa. October 17, 2017 Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Al Gore at the Climate Reality Workshop in PIttsburgh, Pa. October 17, 2017 Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Al Gore stood on a stage at Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center showing a crowd of 1300 would-be climate activists what is by now his signature visual aide: his slide show.

It showed surreal videos of melting asphalt streets melting during a heat wave in India, devastating floods in West Virginia, Chile, and Louisiana, and out-of-control wildfires all over the world — including Greenland.

But even with the doomsday imagery, Gore didn’t want his audience to let the scale of the problem of climate change get them down.   Continue Reading

23 arrested protesting Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline

Protesters blocked equipment and sang hymns for about half an hour before police asked them to leave. Nearly 30 people were charged with defiant trespassing.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Protesters blocked equipment and sang hymns for about half an hour before police asked them to leave. Nearly 30 people were charged with defiant trespassing.

Twenty-three people were arrested and charged with defiant trespassing Monday after they blocked construction equipment for the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline in Lancaster County.

The showdown between the pipeline company and the protesters has been in the making since the project was first announced three years ago.

The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is being built to carry natural gas southward, from the Marcellus Shale in northeastern Pennsylvania. It will eventually pass through 10 counties, but it’s been met with the most opposition in Lancaster.

86-year-old Barbara Vanhorn of Duncanon was among those arrested, and says she’s worried about how natural gas contributes to climate change.

“I feel really frustrated with our courts and our government,” she says. “They’re giving in to these big, paying, lying companies that are trying to destroy not only our country, but the world.”

More than 100 people gathered in a cornfield in West Hempfield Township early Monday morning, next to the right-of-way where the pipeline is going to be installed. The property is owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a group of Catholic nuns who are suing to block the pipeline, citing their religious freedom.

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Energy Secretary Rick Perry faces tough sell on coal and nuke subsidies

Energy Secretary Rick Perry listens to a statement by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., on TV monitor, during a hearing about the electrical grid, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

Energy Secretary Rick Perry listens to a statement by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., on TV monitor, during a hearing about the electrical grid, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry continues to defend his plan to have ratepayers subsidize coal and nuclear production in the face of greater competition from cheap natural gas and growing renewables. Perry took his message to the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia Friday morning. He left quickly, without taking audience questions.

Perry’s pitch followed a panel discussion hosted by the Chamber, which focused primarily on how natural gas has created new opportunities for businesses seeking cheaper sources of power, and the need for expanded pipeline infrastructure to transport gas. The Chamber has pushed for expanded natural gas development, setting up the “energy action taskforce” with the aim of turning Philadelphia into the “energy hub” of the East Coast.

As Perry stumped for his plan to subsidize coal and nuclear to area business people, some audience members shook their heads, while others clearly laughed.

“The idea that there is a free market in the electric business, the power business, is a fallacy,” he told StateImpact after the event.

In a surprise move last month, Perry issued an order to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, proposing the subsidies for coal and nuclear power, and giving FERC 60 days to take action, or take immediate action with public comments to come later. Continue Reading

Bill would overhaul Pennsylvania’s regulatory process

A bill would add new hurdles to passing regulations in Pennsylvania.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A bill would add new hurdles to passing regulations in Pennsylvania.

A bill under consideration in the state House changes the way Pennsylvania enacts new regulations on everything from education, to health, and the environment.

HB 1237 would add new requirements to Pennsylvania’s Regulatory Review Act, an already byzantine process by which regulations are scrutinized by the general public, state legislators, and an independent commission. The bill is scheduled to be considered by the House Commerce committee Monday.

Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-Cumberland) is the prime sponsor. She says although legislators already have some existing oversight on agencies making regulatory changes, more is needed.

“Bills have been written in very broad terms. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation,” she says. “It’s creating more work for the agencies, and you have un-elected bureaucrats making decisions.”

The bill has upset some environmental advocates, including Joanne Kilgour, Chapter Director of the Sierra Club of Pennsylvania.

“There’s an effort in the state and nationally to try to restrict the action of the executive in terms of regulation,” she says. “The way this bill is written, it wouldn’t just apply to environmental regulations, although we are very concerned with how it would impact the state Department of Environmental Protection.” Continue Reading

Water problems persist along Mariner East pipeline route despite court intervention

A backhoe works at a construction site for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Lebanon County.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

A backhoe works at a construction site for the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Lebanon County.

Water impacts continue at numerous Pennsylvania sites where Sunoco is building the Mariner East 2 pipeline two months after a court-brokered agreement. The settlement between environmental groups and Sunoco Pipeline was designed to prevent horizontal directional drilling from damaging aquifers and spilling fluid into wetlands.

Data from the Department of Environmental Protection show 18 “inadvertent returns” of drilling fluid in three regions of southern Pennsylvania since a state judge approved the agreement between Sunoco and three environmental groups on Aug. 9.

There have been other spills and water-contamination incidents in at least four counties since the agreement was signed, according to reports from township officials and individual residents who say water from their private wells has become undrinkable.

The latest incidents follow reports of 90 drilling-fluid spills in 40 locations, and disturbance to some private water wells, which prompted the court agreement. In July, Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board ordered a temporary halt to horizontal directional drilling (HDD) along the 350-mile pipeline route that runs from southwestern Pennsylvania to Delaware County, outside of Philadelphia.

Drilling resumed in August after Sunoco agreed to a series of water-protection measures including stronger oversight by the DEP. But official data and local reports indicate that water issues have continued in some locations. Continue Reading

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