Energy. Environment. Economy.

Scarnati says natural gas tax would cost Pa. 250,000 jobs

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, at Gov. Wolf's budget address in March.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, at Gov. Wolf's budget address in March.

More than a month into a budget stalemate between Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-led state legislature, the governor and Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati continue to spar over whether to tax natural gas drillers.

Scarnati, speaking on WITF’s Smart Talk Wednesday morning, implied a natural gas severance tax would cost the state 250,000 jobs–a figure deemed “inaccurate” by a Penn State economist.

When asked by Smart Talk host Scott LaMar about state polls showing support for a severance tax, Scarnati replied:

“It depends on how you read the poll. If you want to put 250,000 people out of work, ask the poll on that question. How’s that going to fare in polling?”

When a surprised LaMar asked Scarnati to confirm the large job loss figure, he replied the state already has a severance tax in the form of an impact fee, which brings in more than $200 million a year. Then Scarnati settled on a more generalized job loss scenario.

“If you’re going to take the plan this governor has proposed, you will put people out of work. Unquestionable, you will put people out of work.”

But Tim Kelsey, a Penn State economist who studies the impact of the industry on the state’s economy, questioned Scarnati’s claim.

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Carbon tax idea reappears in EPA plan but is unlikely to fly in Pennsylvania

The Obama administration has included a carbon tax on existing power generators as an option for states to meeting emission-reduction goals..

AP Photo/John Amis

The Obama administration has included a carbon tax on existing power generators as an option for states to meeting emission-reduction goals..

The federal government’s widely publicized Clean Power Plan contains a little-noticed option for states to tax carbon emissions from power plants as one way of complying with the federal government’s target.

Buried on page 899 of the 1,560-page document are two sentences that may revive a long-discussed but never-implemented way of providing a financial incentive for power generators to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

“The EPA also notes that the state measures … could accommodate imposition by a state of a fee for CO2 emissions from affected EGUs, an approach suggested by a number of commenters,” the CPP says, referring to Electric Generating Units. “This plan type would allow the state to implement a suite of state measures that are adopted, implemented, and enforceable only under state law, and rely upon such measures in achieving the required level of CO2 emission performance from affected EGUs.” Continue Reading

Unmapped, unregulated maze of rural pipelines poses hidden risks

Crews weld a pipeline the Loyalsock State Forest.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Crews weld a pipeline from a wellhead in the Loyalsock State Forest.

The Wolf Administration says Pennsylvania will be getting tens of thousands of miles of new pipelines over the next couple of decades. Recently we reported on how poorly mapped some of these pipelines are.  Many of those unmapped pipelines are also unregulated. These are rural gathering lines, or pipelines that take the gas from the wellhead to a larger transmission line, or gas processing facility.

DEP Secretary John Quigley told StateImpact that he expects the industry to add 20-25,000 miles of gathering lines. Most of those lines will be in rural areas, the so-called “class one” lines, which no state, federal or local authorities oversee.

The Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration is looking at changing those rules. Linda Daugherty, a deputy associate administrator for field operations at PHMSA, told a room full of pipeline safety workers at a conference back in 2013 that the agency has been working on new rules, but the process was slow.

“What keeps me up at night? Gathering lines,” said Daugherty. ”This worries me. There are a whole lot of gathering lines out there in Pennsylvania that are not regulated.”


Daugherty said the slow pace of federal regulatory change had the agency begging states to take action. But so far, Pennsylvania hasn’t been one of those states.

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Wolf backs Obama’s Clean Power Plan

The Homer City Generating Station, Homer City, Pa.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

The Homer City Generating Station, Homer City, Pa. President Obama has announced rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Pennsylvania is the third highest state in the nation when it comes to CO2 emissions from energy production.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf says he’s committed to reducing carbon emissions from the state’s power plants, and says the President’s climate goals are challenging but achievable.

President Obama gave a strong call to action in announcing the new climate change rules.

“We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and we’re the last generation that can do something about it,” he said. “We only get one planet. We only get one home. There’s no plan B.”

Now it’s up to each state to come up with a plan to reduce its power plant carbon emissions.  The finalized rules include incentives for solar and wind and give states more time to reach their goals.

The coal industry will be the biggest loser, and has pledged to fight the plan. EPA expects the percentage of electric generation in the US from coal to fall from 36 percent this year to 27 percent by 2030 under the plan. Pennsylvania is the fourth largest producer of coal in the nation, and the only state where anthracite coal is mined.

It’s also the third-highest emitter of energy-related carbon dioxide in the country.

Pa. coal operator announces bankruptcy

A coal barge along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh.

Reid Frazier

A coal barge along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh.

Alpha Natural Resources, which owns two mines in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, said Monday it was filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The announcement comes on the same day President Obama released new rules aimed at reducing global warming emissions, which target coal-burning power plants across the country.

Alpha Natural Resources did not say what impact the bankruptcy would have on its current operations.

The filing was made “to enhance the company’s future as it weathers a historically challenged coal market” according to a statement on the company’s web site. Trading of the company’s stock was suspended in July by the New York Stock Exchange.

The company owns Cumberland Mine and Emerald Mine, both in Greene County. Emerald Mine is slated to close this year but is still operating. Continue Reading

Coal will remain vital source of PA energy despite new federal plan, trade group says

A new EPA rule will tighten rules on power-plant emissions.

Emma Lee / WHYY

A new EPA rule will tighten rules on power-plant emissions.

Pennsylvania coal suppliers said Monday that the fuel will remain an important component of the state’s energy mix despite the federal government’s fresh attempt to drive down carbon emissions with its Clean Power Plan.

“Both the Wolf administration and the Pennsylvania legislature have repeatedly stated that coal use will remain a critical component of any blueprint for a state strategy to comply with the federal carbon emissions rule,” said John Pippy, CEO of the PA Coal Alliance.

“Utilities and grid operators nationwide have testified on the importance of maintaining coal’s place in the energy mix of a baseload supplier to safeguard against rate spikes and blackouts,” Pippy said in a statement. Continue Reading

Pipelines’ paths remain a risky mystery beneath our feet

This story began with a simple task: Let’s make a pipeline map!

Everyone wants to know where all the new Marcellus Shale gas pipelines are or will be. The new proposals have been piling up.  Many have poetic names like Atlantic Sunrise, Mariner East, and Bluestone. There got to to be so many they started to get numbers: Mariner East I, Mariner East II.

Here at StateImpact Pennsylvania, try as we might, we couldn’t keep track of them all in our heads. We also wanted to map all the smaller lines, and the lines that may have been there for decades, which everyone tends to forget about.

The Wolf Administration estimates that 30,000 more miles of new pipelines will be built in Pennsylvania within the next two decades. So, where will they be?

This map of interstate pipelines currently running through Susquehanna County is all that's available to the public on PHMSA's website.

screenshot / Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration.

This map of interstate pipelines currently running through Susquehanna County is all that's available to the public on PHMSA's website.

Pipeline companies know exactly the routes for all the pipelines they maintain or plan to build.  But  they aren’t required to share that information with public.

Instead they release vague maps with colorful lines swooshing across Pennsylvania, showing where a proposed line might go.

We spoke with our resident map maker, who told us that wasn’t good enough. She needed geospatial data, the kind of thing that in this high tech digital world means plotting the line along its actual path, instead of just drawing a line that approximates the path.

We took a look at all the plans submitted for new pipelines, but they were just drawings, without data. We checked with the Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), which has a national map of the major interstate pipelines. But again, just a drawing, no geospatial data available to the public, and by the way, don’t even try to do a right-to-know request.  Interstate pipeline maps are exempt from that in this post-911 world.

Then we contacted Mark Smith, who runs a map-making company called Geospatial Corporation. We told him what we wanted to do: map the web of pipelines beneath our feet.  He laughed at us.

“Well, it’s not universally mapped,” said Smith. “In fact it’s probably the last piece of infrastructure out there that’s not mapped.”

Wait, this stuff is highly flammable right?


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PJM, pipelines agree to share more information about gas supply and demand

A natural gas pipeline runs through Lycoming County.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A natural gas pipeline runs through Lycoming County.

The biggest U.S. electric grid operator and nine interstate natural gas pipelines have agreed to share more information about the supply of, and demand for, natural gas for power generation to improve operational planning and anticipate the growing interdependence of the two industries.

PJM Interconnection, which transmits power in 13 states and the District of Columbia, said on Thursday that it agreed a memorandum of understanding with the pipeline operators to provide better information on the needs of gas-fired generators and to ensure adequate pipeline capacity.

“This agreement sets the stage for greater coordination between electric generators and the natural gas pipeline industry,” said Mike Kormos, PJM’s chief operations officer, in a statement. “As electricity-generating facilities increasingly turn to natural gas, it is important that we all communicate clearly to assure reliable service.”

Ray Dotter, a spokesman for PJM, said the agreement is intended to ensure reliable gas supplies to electric generators at a time when they are increasingly dependent on natural gas supplies as coal-fired plants retire in response to federal clean-air regulations. Continue Reading

Philadelphia Energy Solutions pursues joint venture for loading and storage of Bakken crude

Observers say a proposed PES joint venture is designed to ensure crude supplies for oil trains like this in central Philadelphia

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Observers say a proposed PES joint venture is designed to ensure crude supplies for oil trains like this in central Philadelphia

Philadelphia Energy Solutions is seeking to complete a joint venture that would give it a controlling interest in crude-oil loading terminals and storage tanks in North Dakota, the source of the Bakken Shale crude that is processed by the South Philadelphia refinery.

The refiner said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on July 27 that it has agreed in principle to enter into a joint venture with BOE Midstream, which owns the rail-loading and oil-storage facilities.

If the transaction is completed, the Philadelphia refiner would own 85 percent of the joint venture while BOE’s parent, Globe Resources Group, would own the rest, the filing said.

BOE’s assets include a crude oil rail-loading terminal with a capacity of 210,000 barrels a day and 882,000 barrels of tank-storage capacity. It also owns another terminal at Killdeer, ND, and a 39-mile pipeline connecting the Killdeer terminal with the loading facility.

“We currently expect that Refining will contract with or otherwise utilize the crude loading terminal in connection with its purchase of crude to be transported to the Philadelphia refining complex,” PES said in the filing. Continue Reading

Protest Planned at Pipeline Talk

The red lines show the proposed Atlantic Sunrise expansion. The light blue lines are the existing Transco system.

Courtesy: Williams

The red lines show the proposed Atlantic Sunrise expansion. The light blue lines are the existing Transco system.

Public meetings over the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline have drawn the ire of opponents in Lancaster County. This time, an activist group is planning to protest a meeting between the pipeline company and the local chamber of commerce.

The group, Lancaster Against Pipelines, says it’s organizing the protest to call attention to the environmental and community impacts of having the pipeline sited in the county.

“It threatens the values most Lancaster Countians hold dear–our farmland and rich heritage and history–and it opens the door for a lot more industrial projects for our farmland in the future,” said protest organizer, Nick Martin of Pequea Township.

Martin said about 50 protesters are expected to be outside the meeting, hosted by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry. The chamber had invited three representatives from Tulsa-based pipeline giant Williams to share information on the project.

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