Thursday, February 26, 2015


I’ve been trying to figure out who’s truly protecting this beautiful, rich country and her citizens?
Pennsylvania has an estimated 60,000 miles of gas pipelines and the PA  Public Utility Commission’s 13 inspectors are responsible for most of them. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is now issuing “Certificates of Necessity and Public Convenience” to pipeline companies for interstate transport of natural gas like there’s no tomorrow. (Well, maybe there won’t be.) But anyway---in 2005, federal legislative changes to the Natural Gas Act authorized FERC to issue private companies permission to exercise “eminent domain” to facilitate import and export of natural gas.
The “taking” of private property for gas extraction and sale starts when property owners with only surface rights are forced to give ground to sub-surface rights owners to drill and produce. The “public interest” concept got expanded to carry the product interstate, to “out of state” consumers. Now it has been expanded again to transport to foreign buyers. Among others, the proposed PennEast Pipeline carrying Marcellus Shale gas through the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania on the doorstep of the newly approved Cove Point, Md. export terminal.
Proposed PennEast Pipeline
As we see in a lot of other areas of legislative action, after issuing the permit, FERC hands over the responsibility for implementation, safety, compliance, and maintenance to--well, let’s see – the pipeline companies. The pipeline company is to hire and pay inspectors and submit progress reports. And after the line is in place the Department of Transportation (DOT) takes over. Each new pipeline brings more work for the 135 inspectors of the DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration who are responsible for inspecting compressors, meters and regulators and relief valves, and other infrastructure nationwide of over 3,000 individual gas companies, some big and some small. The gas companies are supposed to monitor their equipment regularly and submit reports. Something tells me those 135 inspectors are busy folks; or else they sit at their desks all day -- in shock.
Lines are approved even when their necessity is questionable. PennEast representatives said the proposed pipeline will provide gas to 4.8 million households in New Jersey when there are only 3.1 million homes in the state.
How many large, high pressure pipelines are sitting in various stages of approval that plan to go through the same area? Six, seven, or maybe 10? There have been more than 10 worked on in the Delaware River Basin since 2011.
What about damage to streams and rivers and animal habitats? Every newly approved or expanded pipeline carrying product out of state for private gain increases the number of wells that will be drilled, the animals which will be displaced, the water that will be poisoned and removed from our common water supply, which decreases the farms that are able to produce safe food, and on and on and on.
Stop! The entire system needs to be transformed from Environmental Destruction to Environmental Protection. And I can't even figure out where the Department of Environmental Protection fits in. Maybe they can't either.
Let’s stop the madness!!!
Regretfully Yours, Tom Church

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Statement on HB 100 to Improve the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard

On February 19, we joined Rep. Vitali in his important message that Pennsylvania must work toward carbon neutrality and take a comprehensive approach to tackling climate change. One vehicle for putting that message into action is Rep. Vitali's HB 100, a bill that would strengthen our Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard to increase the share of our energy that comes from sources like wind and solar.

Supporting renewable energy creates jobs, spurs economic growth, and helps to clean up our air and water while reducing our contribution to climate change. Already, 10 states get at least 10% of their power from wind alone, but Pennsylvania is falling behind. In fact, a recent study found that we can produce up to 30% of our power from renewable energy by 2026 with only minimal transmission upgrades, all while saving money for Pennsylvania residents. (insert footnote with link: PJM Interconnection, "PJM Renewable Interconnection Study."

While neighboring states like Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey are better seizing the opportunities presented by renewable energy production, Pennsylvania has not updated its standards in over a decade. New Jersey’s Renewable Portfolio Standard is more than twice as aggressive as our own, and that state was recently listed as one of the top states for solar employment in the country. It is time for us to get on that list and take our place as a leader in clean energy.

Though efforts like HB 100, Pennsylvania has the opportunity to support the state's economy with family-sustaining jobs in the renewable energy sector while helping to reduce the Commonwealth's share of harmful pollution from fossil fuels. Strengthening our Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard is not just a step toward securing healthier communities in Pennsylvania, but will make our energy sector more competitive in the region's economy. We urge those Representatives who have not yet co-sponsored this bill to do so today and stand up for clean, healthy, and prosperous communities.

By Joanne Kilgour, Director
Sierra Club PA Chapter

Monday, February 9, 2015

Wolf's Fracking Moratorium is a Good First Step, but More is Needed

Environmentalists were pleased to see Gov. Tom Wolf move quickly to overturn ex- Gov. Tom Corbett's plans to open up more state parks and forests to gas leasing. Wolf did this during his first full week in office, fulfilling a campaign pledge.

In the executive order banning new gas leasing on our public lands, Wolf invoked the Pennsylvania Constitution's Environmental Amendment (Section 27, Article 1) as part of the legal framework that supported his action. 

This section of our Constitution reads, in part, "the Constitution of Pennsylvania guarantees the Commonwealth's citizens the right to clean air, pure water and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment." 

Wolf also invoked the law that created the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which says the agency has a duty to conserve and maintain state parks and state forests in the public trust for the benefit of all its citizens, including generations to come, as required under our state Constitution.

Drilling for natural gas has many harmful impacts. 

The state Department of Environmental Protection has determined that hundreds of families have had their drinking water contaminated by poorly constructed wells.  

Methane air pollution from leaking wells and pipeline infrastructure is a potent greenhouse gas, contributing to climate disruption. 

In the last five years, 10,000 acres of our publicly-owned state forests, have been converted from a wilderness-type experience to outings that have to negotiate drilling pads, pipelines, compressor stations and pipelines, large impoundments to store water for fracking, new roads and power lines. 

Wildlife habitat has been fragmented, with interior forest species being forced to find new nesting grounds.  Invasive species are moving into areas where gas drilling occurs, threatening the native species. 

Recreational enthusiasts such as hunters, hikers, anglers and bird watchers are finding their traditional and favorite forest destinations turned into industrial operations. 

A single well drilled in a forest location requires thousands of truck trips to deliver the needed water, chemicals, and equipment.  Accidents at well sites have killed workers, caused explosions and spills that have polluted streams and rivers, and contaminated farms, threatening livestock. 

These kinds of impacts have occurred in the early "build-out" of the gas drilling industry's efforts to exploit the Marcellus shale deposits. 

Based on existing leases approved by prior administrations, they have only drilled 20 percent of their anticipated wells on our public state forests. 

Both Corbett and former Gov. Ed Rendell used our public lands as "cash cows" to balance their budgets, while our forests, wildlife and citizens suffered the consequences.  

A much better approach would be to halt future leasing, and impose a natural gas extraction tax, similar to what other gas drilling states have had in place. 

Make the drillers pay their fair share, rather than allow them to maximize their profits at the expense of us all.  

 It's also time to tighten the rules on drilling across-the-board.

The state should  require drillers to capture their methane pollution, ban open fracking waste water pits, disclose the names of all chemicals using in fracking at each well, require drillers to provide a permanent replacement water supply when they pollute drinking water, expand set-back requirements, require compressor stations to comply with noise and pollution limits. 

Pennsylvania needs to create and fund a health registry for impacts from gas drilling and fracking. 

I hope our new administration will make these their goals, and not just focus on an extraction tax.                

When he took office on Jan. 20, Wolf swore an oath to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution, and one of his first acts was to do just that. 

What a refreshing change from the prior administration, which ignored the Constitution's environmental requirements, and the findings of the professionals in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. 

Every poll taken has shown that an overwhelming majority of the public oppose more gas leasing of our public lands. 

Our 2.2 million-acre state forest system already has more than 650,000 acres available to the gas drillers, thanks to prior gas leasing and privately-held mineral rights under our public lands. 

Many citizens believe the gas drillers already have access to way too much of our public lands.  But Corbett and the drillers wanted even more. 

Wolf has now put those additional acres off-limits, and should be congratulated for taking this important first step.  

The new leasing moratorium is a reminder that elections have consequences.  And sometimes those consequences benefit all the people, not just wealthy campaign contributors. 

Jeff Schmidt is the co-chairman of the Public Lands Committee for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club. He writes from Shermansdale, Pa.

Friday, February 6, 2015

ALCOSAN Changes Its Tune

Two weeks ago, ALCOSAN held three public meetings about fixing our sewer overflow problems.  We want to give you an update so that you, as a ratepayer, can know what ALCOSAN is saying and how they plan to spend our money. 

The hard work of ratepayers like you has shifted ALCOSAN’s message dramatically. Instead of talking about a Wet Weather Control Plan focused solely on tunnels, they now talk about the benefits and importance of green infrastructure.  

ALCOSAN sewer overflow sign.
Recent ALCOSAN messaging has been riddled with unsupported Claims

Unfortunately, their new message was not supported with evidence.  In fact, the information presented showed that the plan and budget have not really shifted at all. What the public heard at these meetings was more of the same.  People who came saw budgets that reflect gray priorities and tunnels. They heard excuses for why things can't be done rather than solutions. In short, they saw a presentation long on spin but short on details, metrics and commitments.  You can read the campaign’s full update here.  

Through the Clean Rivers Campaign, the Sierra Club has been working to ensure that the investment of our ratepayer dollars reflects our values and priorities. We want to maximize green infrastructure and produce benefits and jobs for our communities. We want to ensure that everyone pays their fair share. We want to protect our neighbors and our health by implementing a customer assistance program.  

We will have to be vigilant to make sure that ALCOSAN invests our money wisely and fairly. Stay tuned for ways you can get involved with the Sierra Club and the Clean Rivers Campaign!

You can read the Clean Rivers Campaign’s full statement and Fact Check by clicking here.  
Thanks for your continuing support,

Tom Hoffman
Conservation Program Coordinator