In 2008, Act 129 went into effect, requiring Pennsylvania’s seven major electric utilities, including PECO, to reduce their customers’ energy consumption and peak demands. As a result, utilities are now offering opportunities for customers to receive rebates and other incentives to improve energy efficiencies — and the programs have worked exceptionally well. Not only did PECO praise its own efforts in a March 2012 press release (“In response to Act 129, Peco has implemented energy efficiency programs dedicating over $50 million dollars to programs and products that increase energy efficiency”). But people in the environmental community also give kudos to Act 129; PennFuture’s Andrew Sharp calls the act’s first phase “an unqualified success.”
But the Public Utility Commission recently issued regulations for phase 2 of Act 129, scheduled to start in May 2013, and PECO is challenging them. PECO’s “Petition for Reconsideration” specifically objects to the phase 2 energy-reduction goal of 2.9 percent. The company wants to reduce spending on the program, thus reducing energy efficiencies.
Mountaintop removal mining is a mining method that involves, well, using dynamite to blow the top of mountains off to get at the coal underneath. The industry prefers the more benign term "surface mining."
This, as you might have suspected, causes local problems: the blown off mountain bits bury the streams and creeks below and pollute the local water supply with arsenic. And it matters for the rest of us too: coal-fired power plants, of course, are a major driver of global warming.
Environmentalists, including many people in Appalachia, have waged a long campaign against mountaintop removal. (The industry probably didn’t make many friends when they suggested that birth defects allegedly caused by pollution were caused by inbreeding. Plus, the highly-automated process is not much of a job creator).
Now activists in Philly and nation-wide are targeting one the industry's major financial backers: the Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank. Last November, PNC told activists they would pull back on funding mountaintop removal. Activists say that PNC pulled a fast one: they promised to not invest in an energy company only if "a majority of its production from MTR mining."
"The problem is that not a single major coal producer gets the majority of its production from MTR," says organizer Zachary Hershman. "So PNC adopts this policy and it doesn't do anything meaningful to curtail their investments, because it doesn't even apply to the companies they finance."
Press release from the Earth Quaker Action Team below.
Quaker Environmentalists Hold Trial Inside PNC Over Investments in Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
Bank branch closed for three hours as PNC refuses to meet with Quakers
PHILADELPHIA – 25 environmentalists and members of the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) held a public trial inside the main lobby of PNC Regional Headquarters on Thursday, charging PNC with “Impersonating a Green Bank”.
“PNC promotes itself as an environmentally responsible bank, but the truth is they are the nation’s #1 financier of corporations that practice mountaintop removal coal mining, which has destroyed over 500 mountains and led to thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act.” said Jonathan Snipes, acting as lead prosecutor in the case.
The trial, which featured a robed judge, prosecution, defense, and a full jury, caused the bank to close its customer branch for the duration of the event, which lasted a little over three hours. Four members of EQAT, acting as bailiffs for the court, stood in front of a row of management elevators and refused to leave the bank when directed to do so by PNC Security, demanding that the Regional President J. William Mills come down to the lobby and answer the charges on behalf of the bank.
“We committed this act of civil disobedience today to send a message to PNC Bank – that there can be no business as usual while children are being born with birth defects thanks to PNC investments. If PNC wants to be the green bank they claim to be, they need to stop all financing for any company involved in this criminal practice,” said Lina Blount, a student at Bryn Mawr College and one of the EQAT bailiffs.
At the close of the trial, the group held PNC Bank in ‘contempt’ for its refusal to send a representative to the Court, and delivered a verdict of Guilty, pledging that the seriousness of the charges and the requirements of justice would warrant further action.
Last week, members of Congress from New York, Maryland and Massachusetts demanded an investigation of the natural gas industry following a New York Times report uncovering evidence that drillers are inflating projected reserves (the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, has rules that “allow companies to avoid disclosing details about the proprietary technology used to predict future gas production and to avoid some third-party audits of those predictions”--i.e., no one’s checking their math...this is no surprise given the SEC’s see-no-evil regulation of Wall Street leading up to the financial crisis, but that’s another story entirely).
This followed previous articles in the Times’ “Drilling Down” series documenting the lack of regulation of the natural gas industry and the potentially serious harm that could be posed to public health and the environment in our state and elsewhere.
So, what were Pennsylvania’s elected officials doing? Many were writing a letter to President Obama asking for more drilling with less oversight in the Marcellus Shale. Letter writers, including Pennsylvania Democrats Jason Altmire and Mark Critz, and Republican Bill Shuster, condemned “any regulatory regimes that will delay our national security priorities” and “encouraging the continued development and utilization of our Nation’s vast natural gas resources by any means necessary, but most specifically, by unconventional shale gas recovery.”
Natural gas is booming throughout Pennsylvania, and the Delaware River Basin Commission may approve wells in our watershed once they develop new regulations. If drilling were to begin up the Delaware River from Philly, environmentalists say that our drinking water supply could be in danger. Philly’s representatives haven’t joined Western PA politicians in calling for more drilling, but they have been far less active and outspoken than New York’s in defending the city’s drinking water supply.
Representative Allyson Schwartz spokesperson Tali Israeli wrote that since the Delaware River Basin Commission “has yet to determine how to proceed...currently, there are no threats from hydrofracking to the Philadelphia water supply..”
Representative Chaka Fattah spokesperson Ron Goldwyn wrote that the congressman was busy “protecting the Environmental Protection Agency from attacks on its regulatory role,” and the EPA could certainly use all the help it can get right now.
He went on to stress that “Congressman Fattah remains concerned about the safety of the water supply and applauds the effort of some in the City Council and from the State. But if the state refuses to protect the water supply then he believes that fracking protection is necessary to ensure the quality of the water supply. If the State won’t act then the EPA must.”
Efforts by the state? If the Republican leadership in Harrisburg can’t even tax natural gas, it seems unlikely they will regulate it.
Senator Bob Casey did introduce legislation that would require companies to reveal what chemicals they use to frack (that’s right: they are not already required to do so).
And Congressman Bob Brady, according to spokesperson Karen Warrington, is the only Pennsylvania member of the House to sign on as a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act of 2011.
“Congressman Brady is very focused and concerned about the possibility of the contamination of Philadelphia’s municipal water supply as a result of fracking,” writes Warrington. “And, he supports the decision by the PA Department of Health to begin tracking health complaints related to natural gas drilling. The Congressman says that there are many issues to be weighed regarding fracking but the protection of our water supply has to be our number one concern and that’s not up to debate.”
He signed onto it yesterday--after I contacted their office.
Though neither Fattah nor Schwartz has yet to sign on as a cosponsor, Fattah did vote for an “amendment [that] would have prevented natural gas industry executives from serving on what is supposed to be a neutral federal advisory panel on shale gas drilling.” Obama’s natural gas advisory panel is already stacked, with six (of seven) members holding industry ties .
Republican Mike Fitzpatrick, who represents a sliver of far Northeast Philly, did not respond to requests for comment.
We already know that state politicians are in hock to the natural gas industry (third year straight with no tax on natural gas, making us the only state in the nation to not have such a tax. See Will Bunch’s discussion of Corbett’s industry ties here). But it’s our representatives in Washington too, and that’s not really surprising: Pennsylvania politics have long been dominated by natural resources, from big coal to steel.
“Pennsylvania has a long history with extractive industries,” says Jan Jarrett, President of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future. “We are still the 4th largest producer of coal in the country and we've had a natural gas industry in Pennsylvania for more than half a century. We are a coal and heavy industry state and that is important to both Republicans, who generally favor industry, and Democrats, who favor unions - it has always complicated environmental and energy policy.”
But why the silence on fracking from Philadelphia representatives like Bob Brady, Chaka Fattah, and Allyson Schwartz? Our East Coast city doesn’t get any jobs from the natural gas boom while the toxic drilling process could foul our drinking water.
In January, Curtis Jones led Philly’s City Council to pass a (somewhat toothless) resolution calling for a temporary ban on drilling in the Delaware River Basin. The difference between Philly and New York (which passed a resolution in December 2009), suggests Environmental Advocates Water and Natural Resources Program Director Katherine Nadeau, is that vocal leadership by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has prompted a much more aggressive posture on the part of that city’s congressional delegation. And perhaps most importantly, the entire state of New York, unlike Pennsylvania, has held off on fracking until they better understand the risks to the environment and human health.
“New York’s federal representatives have been on the issue since it first started to develop in New York State,” she told me. “By virtue of fact that New York has taken time out to review fracking issue, it has really given our lawmakers time to become really knowledgeable and weigh in on the issue.”
Common Cause Pennsylvania just released the latest numbers on gas industry donations on MarcellusMoney.org Corbett raked in at least $835,720 (incidentally, he doesn't think Shale driller should be taxed at all; wonder why that is?), while Onorato has received at least $112,800 but those numbers aren't even the only cause of concern: As pointed out by both Common Cause and an article in yesterday's DN, both candidates are having problems disclosing their contributors' employment information, which means, well, there could be more money pouring in from Big Gas that we just don't know about. Corbett's latest report isn't perfect (he failed to disclose employer information for about 3 percent of his large individual donors), but it's nowhere near as egregious as Onorato's he provided employer information for barely a third of his individual donors.
Alex Kaplan, Project Coordinator for Common Cause, tells The Clog that he doesn't think the holes in the report are intentional obfuscation, but rather, carelessness due to the quick pace of the campaign. Nevertheless, he says, disclosure is important especially in Pennsylvania, where there are no contribution limits. Kaplan said that disclosure is crucial in understanding âthe size of the influenceâ of any one donor. Technically, the candidates are breaking state law by failing to disclose employer information for any campaign donations over $250, but it's not likely any legal action will be taken, Kaplan says.
Part of the problem is that we're still living in the dark ages: Pennsylvania doesn't require computerized filing for candidates, which is the main reason these reports aren't readily accessible to the public, according to the DN. Kaplan says Common Cause has been working to change this for a long time, but the legislature (shockingly) hasn't gone along. Similarly, Common Cause has been working to set contribution limits for over two decades, but since that's proving nigh impossible, Kaplan said the organization will focus on disclosure âin a big wayâ next year.
So, let's, uh, be optimistic, shall we?
Fracktrack is CP's ongoing coverage of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania. For updates, bookmark this link or join our Google Group to receive email notifications.
At a press conference in Penn Treaty Park yesterday, Governor Rendell signed an executive order placing a moratorium on leasing more state forest land for natural gas drilling.
This author did readers the disservice of calling the event "a huge victory for environmental groups." That is simply not the case.
In fact, Rendell's order marks a largely-symbolic act, delivered too late to make much of a difference and only after the governor himself authorized several leases of state forest for drilling, over repeated warnings from his own forestry officials to the potential impact to Pennsylvania's award-winning forests of doing so.
(In fact, after being warned against leasing a proposed 40,000 acres of forest in 2009, Rendell doubled the request to the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, asking for 80,000 acres instead).
Rendell's power to enforce this executive order ends the moment he ceases to be an executive â I think we've got about 80 days.
Efforts to impose a meaningful moratorium on further forest leasing have to happen in the state legislature, where a small core of environmentally-minded legislators â among them Democratic House representatives Greg Vitali (above, far left) and Dave Levdansky â have fought a so-far losing battle to protect the sensitive forest land that hasn't been leased.
The key part of this equation is a decades-old provision in state law known as the Oil and gas Lease Fund, masterminded by longtime forest steward Maurice Goddard who is legendary for reviving Pennsylvania's forests during his tenure from coal and gas industry-devastated wastelands to some of the most expansive forests east of the Mississippi.
The law said this: if you lease forest land for oil & gas exploration, you put the profits of the lease back into the forests. The law not only allowed forest stewards to balance competing interests in the forests, but â most importantly â prevented the governor and legislature from using the state's forests as one big, green slush fund for their own budgets.
That precedent held for more than fifty years until, under Rendell's leadership, it was broken: last year, the state legislature raided the Oil & Gas Lease Fund for the state budget â largely in order to plug the hole left by Rendell himself when he backed down on imposing the tax on gas production that now, as a lame duck governor, he finds himself begging from a legislature with its eyes on the next executive.
What's more, an obscure provision in the FY09-10 fiscal code imposed a cap on the amount of money the DCNR may take in from gas royalties â effectively stealing for the state money that was suppoed to be earmarked for conservation, recreation, and new projects.
As DCNR's budget gets slashed year after year, the agency, rather than using the proceeds of gas drilling in its own forests for the restoration or expansion of forestland elsewhere, is increasingly forced to use that money just to fund its basic operations.
In a few words: the DCNR is increasingly becoming dependent on hand-outs from the legislature, whose members increasingly demand forest land for drilling as a condition for those hand-outs. If nothing changes, those charged with protecting our forests will increasingly be forced to sell them off.
Without new laws in place this â more than any moratorium â will be Rendell's lasting environmental legacy.
*Can't see the map all that well? Click here.
It's other people's problem. Specifically, Asia's problem. And then east Africa's problem. And then Central America's. I can't help but think if it was the U.S. and Western Europe lit up in purple, maybe we'd be a bit more serious about curbing our greenhouse gas emissions.
Today, 47 big-shot mayors and commissioners from around the state mostly Democrats, as far as I can tell wrote a letter to gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett, asking him to rethink his opposition to a Marcellus Shale severance tax. And true, he should. As his Democratic foe Dan Onorato points out in a press release, though, Common Cause Pennsylvania found that Corbett is the "No. 1 Pennsylvania recipient of contributions from the gas industry over the last decade" meaning it's unlikely he'll do a 180 anytime soon. What Onorato fails to mention in the press release, however, is that he's also taken a good amount of campaign contributions from the gas industry himself at least $74,000 as have many other Democrats. (During the gubernatorial primary election, Montgomery County commissioner Joe Hoeffel was the only Dem who vowed to not take any donations from Shale drillers.)
Anyway, check out the letter:
October 6, 2010
Corbett for Governor
200 North Third Street, 13th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Dear Mr. Corbett:
As locally elected officials from across the state, we believe the Marcellus Shale is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Pennsylvania. We can grow our economy, create local jobs and preserve our natural resources but only if it's done right.
But your plan will protect Big Oil & Gas at the expense of taxpayers in our communities, and we are writing to ask you to start putting Pennsylvania taxpayers first.
In the towns, cities and counties that many of us are elected to serve, we are already seeing wear-and-tear on our roads as a result of the heavy equipment that the industry requires. We don't want our taxpayers to be stuck with the bill to fix these infrastructure challenges.
And for all of us those in the Marcellus Shale region and those outside it protecting the drinking water of the families in our communities is a top priority and a deep concern. We need proper oversight so that our water is safe to drink and our rivers are not polluted.
As the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association recently reported, over the last 2 1/2 years, drilling companies have been cited for 1,500 environmental and safety violations in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania State Police have found âsignificant increases in heavy truck traffic in areas where Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling operations are taking placeâ and in one 3-day enforcement period this summer, they ordered 250 vehicles to be taken off the road and kept out of service. The oil and gas industry cannot be allowed to police itself.
This does not have to be a partisan issue. Many Republicans including the Senate Republican leadership and 12 members of the House Republican caucus agree that there should be a severance tax, just like every other major gas-producing state already has.
Please put Pennsylvania's taxpayers first and do not leave us and our tax-paying constituents to pay for all the costs while the gas drillers make hundreds of millions of dollars from our natural resources.
There's a common-sense approach that will enable us to develop the potential of the Marcellus Shale and protect Pennsylvania's taxpayers. We hope you will stop sticking up for your Big Oil & Gas donors and instead look out for Pennsylvania taxpayers.
(List of Signers After the Jump)
Local-Elected Officials Signing Letter to Tom Corbett
Phil Krivacek, Mayor
Duquesne (Allegheny County)
Rich Hrivnak, Mayor
Plum (Allegheny County)
Dominick Pomposelli, Mayor
Wilmerding (Allegheny County)
John Dindak, Mayor
West Homestead (Allegheny County)
Don Baumgarten, Mayor
Castle Shannon (Allegheny County)
John Thompson, Mayor
Wilkinsburg (Allegheny County)
Mark Vogel, Mayor
Braddock Hills (Allegheny County)
Louis Payne, Mayor
East Pittsburgh (Allegheny County)
Greg Erosenko, Mayor
Monroeville (Allegheny County)
Nicholas Yanosich, Mayor
Industry (Beaver County)
Debbie Giska Rose, Mayor
Conway (Beaver County)
Francis Szatkiewicz, Mayor
Ohioville (Beaver County)
Diane Ellis-Marseglia, Commissioner
Thomas Trigona, Mayor
Johnstown (Cambria County)
Bill O'Gurek, Commissioner
Kathi Cozzone, Commissioner
Josh Maxwell, Mayor
Downingtown (Chester County)
Leo Scoda, Mayor
Phoenixville (Chester County)
Carolyn Committa, Mayor
West Chester (Chester County)
Mark McCracken, Commissioner
Richard P. Viello Jr., Mayor
Lock Haven (Clinton County)
Joel Long, Commissioner
C. Sherman Allen, Commissioner
George Hartwick, Commissioner
Jayne Young, Mayor
Lansdowne (Delaware County)
Ronald Beimel, Commissioner
Blair Zimmerman, Mayor
Waynesburg (Greene County)
Jeffrey Pisarcik, Commissioner
Mike Washo, Commissioner
Corey O'Brien, Commissioner
Rick DeBlasio, Commissioner
Steve Craig, Commissioner
Ed Pawlowski, Mayor
Allentown (Lehigh County)
Mary Anne Petrilla, Commissioner
Tom Leighton, Mayor
Wilkes-Barre (Luzerne County)
Judith Church, Commissioner
Bonnie Heath, Mayor
Pottstown (Montgomery County)
Joe Hoeffel, Commissioner
John Stoffa, County Executive
Sal Panto, Mayor
Easton (Northampton County)
Mantura Gallagher, Commissioner
Francis McAndrew, Commissioner
Pamela Tokar-Ickes, Commissioner
MaryAnn Warren, Commissioner
Bracken Burns, Commissioner
John Lignelli, Mayor
Donora (Washington County)
Tom Balya, Commissioner
CP's breaking news and analysis of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania. Click here to join the "Frack Track" Google group and receive email updates.
This isn't quite breaking news â it's been covered by a few papers in western Pa. and I mentioned it briefly in a recent "Man Overboard" column â but it's gotten surprisingly little play in the media, considering the severity of the claims being made.
The Allegheny Defense Project, a grassroots group dedicated to preserving the environment, ecology, and wilderness of the Allegheny mountains, has charged the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection with illegally permitting water withdrawals.
Here's the breakdown: Hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation underlying much of Pa., requires water â lots and lots of water. In eastern and central Pennsylvania (the Delaware and Susquehanna river basins, respectively), that water can be drawn from Pa streams and rivers only with the permission of that watershed's river basin commission.
But in the part of western Pa. which lies in the Ohio River Basin, there is no basin commission to permit water withdrawals. Instead, argues the ADP, those rivers and streams are governed by riparian rights: governed, in other words, by the property owners themselves.
The group charges that DEP has been illegally giving drilling companies permission to withdraw water â charges which they outlined in a letter to DEP Secretary John Hanger (download the full letter here).
According to Board Director Bill Belitskus, the DEP â more than a month later â has yet to respond.
From the Allegheny Defense Project press release:
âThe fact is, the DEP has absolutely no authority to permit water withdrawals in Pennsylvania,â said Cathy Pedler, ADP's forest watch coordinator. âOutside of the Delaware and Susquehanna River watersheds, water withdrawals are governed by riparian rights common law, which means only those who live adjacent to the water can make reasonable use of the water on their land. A gas company cannot take water that flows through property it does not own.â
Nevertheless, documents obtained by ADP reveal that the DEP is unlawfully authorizing water withdrawals from western Pennsylvania streams and rivers. On March 31, 2010 the DEP approved a Water Management Plan for Hanley & Bird, Inc. The Water Management Plan allows Hanley & Bird to withdraw 1.44 million gallons of water a day from the Redbank Creek in Jefferson County for five years.
Sometimes, just sometimes, the city does good. This is one of those times. According to the Streets Department, starting two days ago, you can recycle much, much more trash:
STARTING AUGUST 1: Recycle All Plastic Containers!
You've been recycling plastic containers marked:
#1: Soda, water bottles
#2: Milk jugs, detergents, shampoo bottles
Now you can add:
#3: Rigid plastic containers and juice bottles
#4: Plastic tubs and lids from butter, margarine or similar products
#5: Yogurt containers and deli trays
#6: Plastic cups, plates and to-go containers
#7: Many mixed plastic containers and plastic products
These are just some examples of what you can recycle, so look for the number to make sure.
But don't forget: paper clips, window glass, napkins, PVC pipes and a slew of other WTFs are still off-limits. Click here to get the lowdown on all the rules, new and old.
On July 13 and 14, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) held public hearings on a topic that may or may not ever go away: the dredging of the Delaware River. Why, you ask, is the DNREC still holding hearings on the project, after the Army Corps of Engineers already finished deepening an 11-mile segment of the river just south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge and ending at the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal? Well, the Army Corps applied for permits from Delaware in March of this year, in order to deepen additional parts of the channel that our neighbor state ostensibly has some modicum of jurisdiction over; the project is pointless unless the whole thing is dredged.
The DNREC just released the transcripts from July 13 and 14's hearings you can download them by clicking here and here and, for the most part, they're exactly what you'd expect. In the most black-and-white fashion imaginable, Teamsters line up on one side and environmentalists shuffle to the other. But there's one point that both sides should read, made by William Moyer, a member of the advocacy committee of the Delaware Nature Society. He bluntly asserts that the hearings are a big sham, and the Army Corps is going to do what it wants, when it wants a charge that Teamsters and environmentalists alike should, in theory, care about:
Our presence at this hearing will have no effect on the outcome of this permit application, and no amount of public testimony in opposition to the deepening project is going to be utilized in making a permit decision. DNREC is in the proverbial lose/lose situation with respect to this application. If it denies a permit, the Corps of Engineers will return to Federal District Court and ask Judge Robinson to again give her permission to proceed with completing the dredging in the Delaware, as she did for the dredging that the Corps recently completed in Delaware waters in reach C.
If DNREC issues a permit with conditions which cannot be met, the Corps will simply proceed with the dredging, arguing yet again that it really doesn't need a permit from Delaware, and that they only applied in, quote, "a spirit of comity."
To quote from Colonel Tickner's December 4, 2004 letter to then Senator Biden, Senator Carper, and Representative Castle â¦ "I really think they meant to say they applied in the spirit of comedy."
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