Breaking: Rendell supposedly to sign moratorium on leasing more state forest for gas drilling tomorrow
According to several sources, Governor Rendell is preparing to sign an executive order imposing a moratorium on further leasing of state forest land for Marcellus Shale gas drilling at a rally at Penn Treaty Park in Philadelphia tomorrow afternoon.
The Governor's press office would not comment but told CP to expect a press advisory about the event within the hour.
This announcement marks a huge victory for environmental groups and so-called Green Dog legislators, and an about-face by the governor, who as CP reported in an online series entitled "The Marcellus Memos" and feature story, "Drill Baby Drill," pointedly ignored the advice of former Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary Michael DiBerardinis, who warned that further leasing of state forest:
"will damage our State Forest landscape. It would scar the economic, scenic, ecological, and recreational values of the forest â especially the most wild and remote areas of our state in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Your years of work and investments in rural economic revitalization through outdoor experiences in the Pennsylvania Wilds could be erased."
(Rendell did, however, heed the advice of senior aide K. Scott Roy to hold off on imposing a tax on natural gas extraction; Roy promptly quit to work for the gas industry.)
Current DCNR Secretary John Quigley has since voiced similar warnings. Recently, DCNR published a study of the impact of current and further leasing on state forest land, emphasizing that any further leasing would cut into protected and sensitive forest land:
Using an example from Northern Pa., the report shows how this piece of state forest looks after you subtract land already leased, and land which cannot be leased without posting serious threats to the sustainability of the forest:
CP's breaking news and analysis of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania. Click here to join the âFrack Trackâ Google group and receive email updates.
Governor Rendell announced yesterday that the proposed (and agreed upon in the last budget session) tax on natural gas extraction is officially "dead" for this session, after Senate Republicans refused to make a counter-proposal the governor would accept.
And while the gas industry and the politicians it bankrolls light cigars and roll naked in piles of money â or whatever they do after such victories â the rest of us ought to take a good hard look at how exactly one of the largest and most lucrative industries to arrive in this state in recent history has, in the middle of a recession, managed to avoid paying taxes on the extraction of the most valuable natural resource we have left.
With money, that's how: in just a few years, the gas industry has poured millions of dollars into lobbying and campaign contributions to our elected officials â Republicans especially.
According to the website MarcellusMoney.org, a project of Common Cause Pennsylvania, the industry has spent more than $5 million lobbying Harrisburg since 2007 alone in installments of ever-increasing value (see the graph above).
Topping the list is none other than Republican Gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett ($372,270), followed by Senate President Pro Tem Joseph Scarnati ($117,575), followed by Governor Ed Rendell ($84,100), followed by Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato ($74,300), all followed by a sizeable chunk of the Republican wing of the State Senate â the same that just couldn't seem to propose a tax on the enormous profits the gas industry expects to make here.
|MarcellusMoney.org, a project of Common Cause PA|
|Gas industry lobbying since 2007|
The industry, of course, argues that taxation will hamper its growth, cost jobs, drive the industry out, etc. But there are few issues in state politics that are more cut and dry: the argument is utter nonsense.
Marcellus Shale gas, it so happens, is confined to the Marcellus Shale. The gas is here, and if there exists a tax that would actually discourage the fossil fuel industry from coming here to get it, nothing close to it has ever been proposed. Even if the tax did slow down the pace of development, it would be slowed from what is now a dangerous free-for-all that, in just a few years, has destroyed the water supply of an entire town (state regulators have ordered Cabot Oil & Gas to supply Dimock, PA's water), involved dozens of spills of toxic waste, ruined the infrastructure of municipalities hosting the industry, and begun already to deplete fresh water supplies across the state â activity which has, and continues to go, untaxed.
Tom Corbett gets the biggest cut of the proceeds of that activity while the public gets zilch â and, if elected, he's promised to keep it that way.
It's looking like a good night for Ting Wong.
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
This morning, following a press conference in which Governor Rendell acknowledged and apologized for a state-contracted agency's spying on anti-drilling activists (among others), a Pittsburgh City Councilman, Doug Shields, demanded a probe into the company, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response. (Read more about the somewhat-mysterious company here)
"I want to see the 990s on this group," he said, referring to the IRS document nonprofits must file. "Where do the fingerprints lie on this organization?" Mr. Shields said."
However, City Paper has found no 990s so far: In fact, the organization is not listed on several nonprofit databases, including one maintained by the IRS.
An email seeking clarification of the group's nonprofit status was not returned. Co-Director Michael Perelman, reached by phone for clarification, declined to say whether the group is, in fact, a nonprofit, saying a press release was forthcoming and that there would be no other comment.
He was unable to say when the release will be issued.
Last night, Governor Rendell called reports prepared for the state by the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR) which covertly monitored the activities of anti-drilling activists (along with such terroristic events as a gay rights parade) "ludicrous."
He also said the state would not renew its $125,000 contract with the company.
But who and what is the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response? The answer isn't obvious.
The company is based in Philadelphia, and appears to have had some interaction with Philadelphia University; its website says it will host a "Hometown Crisis Management" seminar at the university this October.
Co-directors are listed as Aaron Richman, a former Israeli police captain, and Michael Perelman, a former York police commander.
Although the group claims nonprofit status on its website and is listed as a nonprofit corporation by the Pennsylvania Department of State, a search on websites Guidestar.org and IRS.gov yielded no indication that the organization enjoys tax-exempt status. An email seeking clarification of the group's nonprofit status was not returned.
Co-Director Perelman, when questioned directly about the company's nonprofit status, told CP over the phone only that "We're releasing a statement, and that's all you're going to hear from us."
ITRR's website calls the company "the preeminent Israeli/American security firm providing training, intelligence and education to clients across the globe." It describes its "Targeted Action Monitoring Center" as "no clipping service, but a powerful fusion center of battle-tested operatives, analysts, and researchers who have real-life experience fighting both terrorists and criminal entities [...] distinguished among other agencies by its access to a vast network of on-the-ground key-sources in virtually every region of the world."
Yet records of the exact nature of its work outside of the recent scandal, that is are scant.
A LexisNexis news search for the group's name yields little, and there exists virtually no mention of the group anywhere in the mainstream media. What few hits do appear correspond mostly to a small number of reports in trade publications on "lessons learned" from international incidents of terrorism and one report, by an intern, on the use of Twitter by "religious, anarchists, anti-government, and anti-globalization," extremists.
Beyond that, the group appears to have appeared at a 2008 Philadelphia "Emergency Preparedness and Prevention and Hazmat Spills Conference," sponsored by the EPA, which included among its speakers ITRR directors Richman on "counter-terrorism techniques" and Perelman on "unlawful tactics used by eco-terrorists and anarchists."
The only other publicized activity of ITRR appears to be a series of educational trips to Israel the group seems to have put together. An article by an Arizona State University teacher, published in the Journal of Counter-terrorism and Homeland Security International, describes a trip by ASU students to Israel in partnership with ITRR.
"Among the many subjects ITRR introduced to the students was the importance of public-private partnerships. The underlying message was that government alone cannot protect the country; private industry must also play a large role in national security."
Another document the only document, in fact, under the heading "client feedback" on the ITRR website appears to be a "student report," apparently by a Philadelphia University student, describing a trip by PU students to Israel with ITRR for a "Mass Casualty and Terrorism Workshop."
Philadelphia University public relations director Deborah Goldberg told CP in a statement that Richman is an assistant professor in the school's Disaster Medicine and Management Program, and that the program:
"... has co-sponsored two educational seminars with ITRR aimed at security professionals. The second meeting, scheduled for Oct. 22, also is co-sponsored by the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a leading international association for security professionals."
Stay tuned to the Clog for updates.
Breaking: In private email, Pa.'s Homeland Security chief pledges "support" to gas drillers, warns against groups "fomenting dissent."
An email obtained by City Paper suggests collaboration between the state Department of Homeland Security and gas drilling interests.
The email, authored by Pennsylvania Homeland Security chief James Powers, was written in apparent error: addressed to a participant in anti-drilling forums, the letter indicates that Powers mistakenly mistook its recipient for someone associated with pro-drilling interests.
In the email (full text below), Powers warns against distributing information gathered by the Pa. DHS on anti-drilling activities, saying that: "We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies."
The "support" he speaks of consists at least partly of confidential updates on anti-drilling activists and activities. A report yesterday evening by nonprofit investigative journalism outfit Pro Publica broke the news that the Pennsylvania Dept. of Homeland Security included in its regular newsletter, the Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin, descriptions of various activities and gatherings of activists opposed to gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
Included in a list entitled "Dates of interest" are a series of local meetings about gas drilling issues a drilling ordinance in Cranberry County, a hearing in Damascus, Pa. on zoning regulations as well as the recent screening in Philadelphia of the "controversial Gasland movie," a documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox on the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.
City Paper emailed Mr. Powers to confirm authenticity of the email and was contacted instead by Governor Rendell's chief spokesman Gary Tuma, who acknowledged that the email was authentic and said that the Pa. Dept. of Homeland Security was sharing such information with certain local interests â including gas drilling companies because of "recent acts of vandalism" against drilling operations.
"There have been five acts of vandalism against Marcellus Shale drilling facilities," in the last two weeks, he said, "including two of which involved firearms ... shotguns fired at equipment."
A third incident involved theft, he said after being asked for details, and the other two were "minor incidents."
Tuma added that "There have been peaceful protests related to MS drilling by people who oppose drilling and the increased amount of drilling certainly no one is trying to restrict the rights of peaceful protest conducted within the parameters of the first amendment."
Asked whether there have been any protests that were not peaceful, Mr. Tuma acknowledged, "There have not been any that I'm aware of."
The full text of the email appears below:
For Your Information & Situational Awareness
Just a short note of clarification regarding the intent of the PIB. The information provided to you via the PIB is not for dissemination in the public domain. As indicated in the caveats on the first page, the PIB is solely meant for owners/operators & security personnel associated with our critical infrastructure & key resources.
Although an internet forum is certainly a great way to spread the word and receive input from forum participants, it's still in the public domain and thus be accessed by both pro and anti-natural gas drilling folks.
Please assist us in keeping the information provided in the PIB to those having a valid need-to-know; it should only be disseminated via closed communications systems.
Thanks for your support. We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies.
James F. Powers, Jr. | Director
Office of Homeland Security
2605 Interstate Drive | Suite 380
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9382
717-651-2715 | Cell: 717-307-5335
Filmmaker Josh Fox is in town and will be visiting our own weird, quasi-public venue The Piazza at Schmidts for a screening by Rooftop Films and the Philly Underground Film Festival of Fox's documentary, Gasland.
The film is a disturbing but also, lest you be on the fence, surprisingly entertaining portrait of the natural gas industry and the method of gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." It's already a major, major presence in Pennsylvania and whose environmental consequences deserve, at the very least, a level of scrutiny that has been absent so far.
In the meantime, here's a snippet of my recent interview with Fox, in which he describes the strange phenomenon of people coming from around the state to his screenings ... with jugs of contaminated water!
If you like this teaser, just wait: the full interview will be available next week in ... The resurrection of our long-dead podcast!
Here are show details:
Friday, September 3, 2010
Venue: At the Piazza at Schmidts
Address: North Second Street and Germantown Avenue
Directions at: http://www.atthepiazza.com/find-the-piazza.html
Rain: This event will be held rain or shine.
7:30 PM: Doors Open
8:00 PM: Live Music
8:30 PM: Film Begins
10:30 PM: After Party
This is a free show. For more information, please visit: http://www.rooftopfilms.com/2010/schedule/52-gasland
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.
What to say? The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has said it all:
A Monroeville drilling company could tap natural gas beneath 15 cemeteries in Allegheny and Washington counties under a lease signed by the Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the association's director said Tuesday.
The association leased nearly 1,060 acres of cemetery land in 2008 to Huntley & Huntley Inc., including the 200-acre Calvary Cemetery in Hazelwood, which City Councilman Doug Shields called "ground zero" in the debate over whether natural gas drilling should be permitted in Pittsburgh
In case you missed that last phrase: "the debate over whether natural gas drilling should be permitted in Pittsburgh," â it is, in fact a debate and a distinct possibility: Pittsburgh, unlike Philadelphia, is located on top of the Marcellus Shale and the drilling industry is moving in quickly to begin drilling within city limits.
Mr. Weaver joined the Department in 2007 and became press secretary in 2008. Recently, he was handling a great deal of Marcellus Shale-related information for the press â in which capacity I exchanged several emails and phone calls with him (He was, just to put it out there, quite cordial, responsive, and helpful).
It's not unusual that as the Rendell administration winds down, we're seeing higher-ups leave their posts for positions in the private sector. But it's not a bad idea to keep an eye on where they're winding up â especially given the recent spate of officials leaving the Rendell administration to work in natural gasâ after that administration was exceedingly friendly to and well-financed by that industry.
So where did Mr. Weaver go? We don't know. Do you?
DEP spokesman and acting Press Secretary Tom Rathbun said only that:
"Neil has gone to work for a private firm that is not involved in the Oil & Gas industry," and that "It is a public relations position and not related to lobbying."
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