Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Cities oppose state bill that would stop them curbing use of plastic bags

A customer totes a shopping bag outside an Ikea store in Conshohocken, Pa., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007. The Swedish retailer, which has its U.S. headquarters in suburban Conshohocken, announced Tuesday that it will start charging customers a nickel for

George Widman / AP Photo

A customer totes a shopping bag outside an Ikea store in Conshohocken, Pa., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007. The Swedish retailer, which has its U.S. headquarters in suburban Conshohocken, at first charged customers a nickel for each plastic bag but has since eliminated disposable bags altogether and charges customers for reusable bags.

At least four Pennsylvania cities are urging state Senators to reject a bill that would prevent municipalities from banning plastic shopping bags or imposing fees to curb their use.

Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, York and Erie say that single-use plastic shopping bags are environmentally damaging, and increase waste-disposal costs for cities around the Commonwealth. They also argue that the bill, HB1071, would infringe on cities’ rights to run their own affairs.

The cities, and several associations representing them, called on members of the state House of Representatives to reject the bill but that effort failed on April 25 when the House approved it by a vote of 102-82, and the measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The bill “prohibits political subdivisions from imposing a ban, fee, surcharge or tax on plastic bags at point of sale” but does not prevent retailers from taking their own measures to cut bag use. Continue Reading

Huntingdon County judge grants Sunoco authority to have protesting landowners arrested

A tree sitter on the Gerhart's property in Huntingdon County. Sunoco has obtained a court order that allows the company to order an arrest of the Gerharts and charge them with trespass on their own property.

courtesy of Elyse Gerhart

A tree sitter on the Gerhart's property in Huntingdon County hoping to deter construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline. Sunoco has obtained a court order that allows the company to order an arrest of the Gerharts and charge them with trespass on their own property.

Huntingdon County residents protesting the construction of Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline across their land now face arrest on their own property due to a rarely imposed court order known as a “writ of possession.” Common Pleas Court judge George Zanic signed the order last week, which Sunoco had sought as an “emergency measure” in response to the landowners tree-sitting on their property. Ellen and Stephen Gerhart in Huntingdon, Pa., along with their daughter Elyse, have become outspoken critics of the pipeline and the use of eminent domain by the company to take possession of land along the 350 mile route.

Charges against Ellen Gerhart were dropped after she was arrested last year for trespass on her own property. But with this new writ, Sunoco can enlist law enforcement to arrest anyone within the easement, including the actual property owners.

Elyse Gerhart says the tree-sitting began in early February, after Sunoco secured the permits from the Department of Environmental Protection to begin construction. She would not say how many people were participating in the protest, but said she herself had been up in the trees. Although the Gerharts’ challenge to the eminent domain takings are making their way through the appeals courts, the company can begin building. Recent efforts to seek a stay in construction failed. Continue Reading

New Jersey rejects PennEast application for water permit for now, gives company new deadline

In this April 17, 2014 photo, workers construct a gas pipeline in Harmony, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

In this April 17, 2014 photo, workers construct a gas pipeline in Harmony, Pa. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has given PennEast 30 days to correct deficiencies in its water crossing permits.

The embattled PennEast natural gas pipeline suffered another blow on Wednesday when New Jersey officials rejected the company’s current application for a freshwater wetlands permit, saying it lacked a long list of information.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection gave PennEast another 30 days to submit information ranging from tax maps and historic property information to evidence that landowners have given permission to build the line on their properties, and survey data for water crossings.

The DEP also noted that the company said it had applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a certificate of public convenience, which would grant the company eminent domain authority. But so far, too many landowners have refused access to their properties for surveys.

“The application to FERC for a certificate of public convenience does not yet have legal authority to condemn the pipeline easement,” officials said in a letter the company. Continue Reading

Lawmakers mull support for nuclear industry

Three Mile Island

Joanne Casarro / WITF

Exelon's Three Mile Island plant outside Harrisburg.

State lawmakers have begun discussing ways to shore up Pennsylvania’s struggling nuclear power industry, while maintaining a reliable electric grid and low prices for consumers.

That was the focus of a meeting Wednesday of the new, bipartisn Nuclear Energy Caucus. As the drilling boom continues to flood the market with cheap gas and electricity demand has slowed, the nuclear industry is having trouble keeping up. Last year the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg didn’t clear an auction for the future sale of its electricity raising concerns it could shut down prematurely

The caucus is widely expected to push for some kind of legislation later this year to secure the future of Pennsylvania’s nuclear fleet. The state’s five plants produce about a third of its electricity.

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Northeast needs more gas pipelines, says new report

FILE: A liquefied natural gas tanker in Boston Harbor. The city continues to import natural gas from overseas, despite an abundant supply of gas from the nearby Marcellus Shale.

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, Files

FILE: A liquefied natural gas tanker in Boston Harbor. The city continues to import natural gas from overseas, despite the abundant nearby supply of gas in the Marcellus Shale.

A new report out this week from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues the northeastern United States needs more natural gas pipelines.

If no new pipelines were built, it could cost the region over 78,000 jobs and $7.6 billion in GDP by the year 2020, the report finds. It is the fifth in a series of reports from the Chamber of Commerce, examining potential impacts of energy policies.

The new analysis focuses on New England, which has become increasingly reliant on natural gas for its electricity. At the same time, politicians and activist groups have sought to block expansions of pipeline infrastructure.

“Across the board, Northeast natural gas and electricity prices are significantly higher than the rest of the country across all sectors,” says the report. “While several factors play into this trend, the availability of natural gas supply into the region is one of the primary drivers.”

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Chesco residents urge officials to reject development plan for contaminated site

The Bishop Tube site in East Whiteland Township, Chester County.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

The Bishop Tube site in Malvern, Chester County where O'Neill Properties wants to build 228 houses. Current residents fear a planned cleanup would expose them to contaminants.

Residents of a Chester County community are urging local officials to reject plans for a 228-home development on a contaminated former industrial site that critics say threatens local waterways with toxic material including a known carcinogen.

Around 100 residents of East Whiteland Township called on their Board of Supervisors at a recent meeting to block a plan by Constitution Drive Partners,  a unit of O’Neill Properties, to redevelop the Bishop Tube site at Malvern where the chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE, was used as a degreaser until the steel tubing plant closed in 1999.

Opponents say that O’Neill, which has a record of redeveloping brownfield sites, plans an incomplete cleanup of the site, leaving behind quantities of TCE that could leak into local creeks that feed the Schuylkill River, which supplies around 40 percent of Philadelphia’s drinking water. Continue Reading

Study: Fracking didn’t impact West Virginia groundwater, but wastewater spills pollute streams

A truck carrying fracking waste water drives through an intersection in Clarksburg, W. Va.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

A truck carrying fracking waste water drives through an intersection in Clarksburg, W. Va. A new study found no impact to drinking water wells from fracking in northwestern West Virginia. Spills from trucks like these and other sources remain a problem.

Fracking the Marcellus Shale did not pollute groundwater in northwestern West Virginia, but wastewater spills did contaminate surface water, according to a new study from Duke University. The report adds to an increasing body of work pointing to greater risks from fracking wastewater transport and treatment, than from the process itself.

The study was unique in that it monitored drinking water wells and surface water over three years, a longer time period than previous research on the impact of fracking on drinking water. The study also used multiple methods of determining the source of the pollution, and was able to draw on baseline water quality data.

“Based on consistent evidence from comprehensive testing, we found no indication of groundwater contamination over the three-year course of our study,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. ”However, we did find that spill water associated with fracked wells and their wastewater has an impact on the quality of streams in areas of intense shale gas development.”Vengosh says the study results are dissimilar from previous research in Northeast Pennsylvania where the methane found in drinking water wells was connected to fracking.

Philadelphia protesters accuse Trump administration of anti-science bias

Woman holds a sign at the March for Science in Center City Philadelphia, April 22, 2017.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact PA

Woman holds a sign at the March for Science in Center City Philadelphia, April 22, 2017.

Thousands of people marched through central Philadelphia on Saturday to protest what they see as an anti-science bias by the Trump administration, and to urge the federal government to use evidence rather than ideology to set policy, especially on climate change.

Carrying hand-written signs such as “Without Science It’s Just Fiction” and “Science is Real, Alternative Facts Are Not,” the crowd marched from City Hall to a rally at Penn’s Landing where speakers urged participants to speak out against policies that are not based on provable science.

Many marchers said they joined the event on Earth Day because they are concerned by the Trump administration’s plans to cut funding to science-based agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health, and to urge the government to follow the evidence, as supported by the overwhelming majority of scientists, in setting policy on climate change. Continue Reading

Scientists who feel under attack, to march for political clout

Marion Leary will be speaking at the rally about science communication, and hopes to get more researchers out of the lab and talking to the public.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Marion Leary with her daughter Harper making signs at Frankford Hall in Fishtown, ahead of Saturday's March for Science in Philadelphia. Leary will be speaking at the rally about science communication, and hopes to get more researchers out of the lab and talking to the public.

Thousands of marchers are expected in Center City Philadelphia on Saturday for the first ever March for Science. The event is combined with the 47th annual Earth Day observance, which is expected to draw millions of people to cities and towns across the country, with the main event in Washington, D.C. Philadelphia’s demonstration will start at City Hall, with a march that ends up at Penn’s Landing. While this celebration of science is billed as nonpartisan, organizers say it’s time that scientists become a political force in an era when evidence based decision-making seems under attack.

Philadelphia’s original Earth Day organizers turned a day into a whole week of activism, teach-ins, and concerts in Fairmount Park. At the time, protest movements and college activism focused on stopping the war in Vietnam and promoting civil rights. The idea that hundreds of people would gather to promote environmental protection was novel.

Still people like Allen Ginsburg, Ralph Nadar and Dr. Benjamin Spock came to speak. The cast from the Broadway hit Hair showed up and performed. The events of that day had enormous impact on public policy. But marches have since become routine. It begs the question on what impact scientists and their supporters will have in the age of Trump.

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State wants more oversight of gas industry hiring of women, minorities

A shale gas drilling rig in Washington, Pa.

AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam

A shale gas drilling rig in Washington, Pa.

Pennsylvania’s natural gas producers continue to have a hard time complying with a state law requiring they make attempts to hire women, minority, and veteran-owned businesses.

The state’s 2012 oil and gas law, known as Act 13, directs drillers to provide “maximum practicable contracting opportunities” to these kinds of companies, known as small diverse businesses. The law doesn’t set quotas, but it does require unconventional gas producers to respond to an annual state survey and use the Department of General Services’ (DGS) database to find certified small diverse businesses.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has reported, in previous years, many gas companies ignored these requirements.

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