Friday, March 6, 2015

Sunoco Withdraws Exemption From Local Zoning For Mariner East Pipeline

On March 5, Sunoco Pipeline L.P. withdrew its request for an exemption from the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code for the construction of a series of industrial valve control and pumping stations necessary to advance its Mariner East project.
Sunoco will still be pursuing construction of Mariner East 1, but is no longer pursuing its claim that it is a “public utility corporation,” and, therefore entitled to exemption from local zoning and eminent domain authority.
According to the legal filing, Sunoco has secured necessary local approvals to advance its Mariner East Project.
In May of 2014, Sunoco Pipeline L.P. had submitted a series of petitions before the Public Utility Commission seeking a finding that certain structures related to its Mariner East 1 pipeline project would be exempt from all local zoning ordinances pursuant to the Municipal Planning Code. In order to be exempt from local zoning Sunoco attempted to demonstrate its status as a “public utility corporation.”
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Clean Air Council, and Mountain Watershed Association all opposed Sunoco’s status as a “public utility corporation” before the PUC, and initially secured a dismissal of Sunoco’s petitions. This decision was later overturned by the PUC’s Commissioners and the case proceeded with a tentative hearing date scheduled for May.
On March 4, Sunoco filed a Petition for leave to Withdraw Pleadings which requests the PUC to withdraw all the remaining petitions in the dockets before the PUC. As such, if the PUC grants Sunoco’s request, the case before the PUC would be considered moot and Sunoco would not be exempt from local zoning for its projects.
“The pipeline battles being fought today across Pennsylvania and across the region are setting important precedent and determining the fate of many of our communities. While Sunoco may have taken away our opportunity to advance good precedent in this case, they have also denied themselves the opportunity to be declared a Public Utility Corporation which is a victory for the community,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.
“Pipelines like Mariner East are supporting and inducing an increasing level of drilling and fracking, they are robbing communities of their healthy environments, their sense of safety, the market value of their public and private properties and the quality of their individual and collective lives. It is important that we continue to stand and defend against them,” van Rossum added.
"This motion from Sunoco shows that they cannot run roughshod over communities
that are in the way of the proposed Mariner East pipelines," said Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director of the Clean Air Council. "This is a great win for communities that have been fighting from day one to prove that a for-profit corporation with contracts to sell natural gas liquids overseas should not be qualified as a public utility corporation here in Pennsylvania, with exemptions from local zoning laws or the right of eminent domain."
"Today's move will settle a lot of confusion for landowners who have received mixed messages about Sunoco's ability to exercise the power of eminent domain. Sunoco's withdrawal of its request for public utility corporation status makes clear that they never had that ability and will not have it in the future. If landowners are told otherwise by the company, they should demand written proof," said Karen Feridun, Founder, Berks Gas Truth.
“To the extent the PUC grants Sunoco’s withdraw of its petitions, it will prevent Sunoco from being considered a ‘public utility corporation’ before the PUC, and therefore exempt from local zoning. This is a victory for the watershed as the concrete interests that local municipalities have in the local zoning of gas drilling infrastructure is safely preserved from being whittled away by Sunoco,” said Aaron Stemplewicz, staff attorney with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
"If Sunoco Pipeline's request to withdraw its petitions is granted it will represent a victory for local municipalities and residents, who have been able to maintain a voice in the siting of natural gas infrastructure in their communities," said Augusta Wilson, staff attorney at the Clean Air Council.
"This proceeding highlighted several important issues relating to what the PUC should consider when it determines whether a company should be granted public utility corporation status in Pennsylvania. These issues will continue to be crucial for Pennsylvania communities, and the Council will consider the options available to it to continue to help these communities achieve their goals with respect to protecting their local zoning interests," added Wilson.
Sunoco is pursuing construction of a pipeline project called Mariner East, which involves a combination of the construction of new pipeline facilities and the use of existing pipeline facilities that will transport natural gas liquids (NGLs) resulting from hydraulic fracturing activities from western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook Refinery Complex, from which much of the NGLs will be exported.
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Clean Air Council have been challenging Sunoco’s request that it be deemed a “public utility corporation,” and, therefore be exempt from the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code.
While Sunoco has stated that there are no major markets in the Northeast United States, it has not publicly identified where the NGLs will be shipped. Sunoco's Mariner East project requires construction in communities in Delaware, Chester, and Berks counties.

Analysis: PA Environmental Funding: Eat Your Vegetables, Then You’ll Get Dessert

Every parent has said, “Eat your vegetables, then you can have dessert,” trying to convince a reluctant offspring to get the vitamins and minerals they need and only then something they don’t need, but obviously want, sometimes very badly.
The difference between “wants” and “needs” is critical to the state budget discussion that will happen over the next few months.
The budget proposed this week by Gov. Tom Wolf has some “vegetables,” but most of the new environmental funding proposed is by far “dessert.”
First the vegetables.
The proposed budget for DEP includes 50 new positions at DEP for Oil and Gas Program enforcement, funded by $10 million from the new proposed natural gas severance tax.
It looks like the $76 million in funding for environmental programs coming from the Act 13 drilling impact fee will also be preserved, according to the budget briefing held by Acting Secretary of DEP John Quigley. That’s good news, but not new money.
There was also a $7 million increase in the Oil Well Plugging Program.
Also included are 20 new positions at DCNR earmarked for Point State Park and Washington Crossing State Park.
$100,000 has been included in the Department of Health to create a registry of health concerns and clinical data of residents located in proximity to geographic areas where natural gas activities are underway.
DCNR’s budget takes a step toward weaning the agency off of the Oil and Gas Fund to cover administration costs-- a $17.1 million increase in General Fund monies to support State Park and Forestry Operations.
A new $500 million revenue bond would be issued through the PA Infrastructure Investment Authority for drinking water and wastewater system improvements.
The Governor’s Budget Office documents show no transfers special environmental funds to the General Fund that were not previously authorized.  In some cases, the agencies will be getting less funding from some special funds, but the spend numbers are about the same for each agency.
Now the desserts.
The budget includes a $325 million Alternative Energy Initiative with these major components--
--  $30 million for Combined Heat and Power (Cogeneration)
-- $20 million for Wind Power
--  $20 million for Green Agriculture
-- $30 million for the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority
-- $25 million for “Last Mile” Natural Gas Distribution Line Development
-- $50 million for PA Sunshine - Solar Investment
-- $50 million for Energy Efficiency
-- $100 million for Technology Investment (Budget In Brief, page 10)
We need to eat more vegetables.
Left out of the budget proposal at this point are plans for how Pennsylvania intends to cleanup the 19,761 miles of streams polluted by abandoned mine drainage, agricultural and stormwater runoff and over 37,761 acres of lakes that do not meet water quality standards, according to DEP’s latest water quality assessment report.
As DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council noted, Pennsylvania also has a specific obligation, as a result of the federal Clean Water Act and court decisions, to clean up rivers and streams flowing into the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna and Potomac river basins, about one-third of the state.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report last year found Pennsylvania missed its 2013 nitrogen reduction goal by 2 million pounds and sediment reduction milestone by nearly 116 million pounds.
DEP said by 2017, Pennsylvania must make an additional 10 million pound reduction in nitrogen and a nearly 212 million pound reduction in sediment to meet our mandated milestones.
Simple math tells us we won’t make the milestones with the level of effort we now have.
Pennsylvania has just 662 days to put in place the cost-effective best management practices we know work to meet these 2017 reduction requirements-- two growing seasons-- since the biggest sources of pollution for Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams are agricultural runoff, stormwater and abandoned mines.
There are no silver bullets in this business and 30 years of experience has taught us what works and what doesn’t.  For example, agricultural waste digesters typically just move pollutants around and don’t address the significant problem of sediment pollution.
Wastewater plants are already doing their part to meet the pollution milestones so far, which is a fraction of what Pennsylvania has to do as a whole.  Agricultural runoff and stormwater need major attention.
If we do not meet these milestones, the Chesapeake Bay Program requires the federal government to implement “backstop” control measures of their choosing that will dramatically affect local communities and businesses.
If, for example, the $20 million allocated to “Green Agriculture” in the energy initiative were instead devoted to installing stream buffers, one of the most cost-effective pollution reduction tools we have, we could install up to 9,300 acres of buffers putting Pennsylvania a long way toward meeting our stream buffer milestone.
In his budget briefing, Acting DEP Secretary Quigley said he is working with the departments of Agriculture and Conservation and Natural Resources to develop a plan to meet the 2017 Chesapeake Bay requirements.
Pennsylvania also has a legacy of almost 220,000 acres of abandoned mines that pollute more than 5,000 miles of streams in 45 counties across the state.
Between 1995 and 2002, Pennsylvania reclaimed over 33,300 acres of abandoned mine lands, about 4,125 acres a year.  In 2013, DEP’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation completed 647.3 acres of reclamation projects.
As DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council also pointed out recently, in just seven years federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund monies coming to Pennsylvania to support mine reclamation work will end.  
In 2013 Pennsylvania received $58.5 million in federal AML Fund money, which makes up the bulk of the funding for reclaiming abandoned mines in the Commonwealth.
Acting DEP Secretary Quigley said in his budget briefing Pennsylvania did “have a seat at the table” in reauthorization talks.
Budgets are about priorities.  In the scarce funding environment we find ourselves in, we have to separate our wants from our needs, our “have to do” from our “it would be nice.”
It would be nice to be able to address both our wants and needs, but with the reaction Gov. Wolf has already received from the Senate and House on the budget, we need to address the clean water mandates we must do before we have any dessert.
We need to eat more vegetables.

House Appropriations Committee Begins Budget Hearings March 9, Senate March 16

The House Appropriations Committee will hold its hearing on DEP’s budget March 11 at 1:00, DCNR’s budget on March 16 at 1:30, Department of Agriculture on March 10 at 2:30.  Click Here for the complete House schedule. Click Here to watch the hearings live online.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold its hearing on DEP’s budget March 25 at 9:30, DCNR April 1 at 11:00, Department of Agriculture on March 31 at 3:00. Click Here for the complete Senate Schedule.  Click Here to watch the hearings live online.

Friday PA Environmental NewsClips

Click Here  for PA Capitol Digest NewsClips

DEP Citizens Advisory Council To Hear Testimony On Deep Coal Mining Impact Report March 17

The DEP Citizens Advisory Council is setting aside two hours at its March 17 meeting to hear public comments 2008-2013 Underground Coal Mining Impact Report required by the state’s Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act (Act 54).
The 2008-2013 Act 54 Report is the fourth in a series required under Act 54. The report includes information that documents and assesses the surface impacts resulting from both longwall and traditional room and pillar underground bituminous coal mining, including damage to surface structures and impacts to aquatic life, pH and conductivity of streams and the loss of domestic water supplies from mining in Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Clearfield, Elk, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Somerset and Washington counties.
The report was prepared by the University of Pittsburgh and reviewed by DEP staff prior to its release on December 30, 2014. DEP is required to submit the impact report to the CAC, the General Assembly, and the Governor every five years. Three previous Act 54 reports, also reviewed by the CAC, covered 1993 through 2008.
The University was selected by DEP to complete the report due to the expertise of its faculty and research staff on all aspects of the effects of mining-related subsidence.
Council will also hold a second hearing on March 27 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at DEP’s California District Mining Office, Monongahela Conference Room, 25 Technology Drive, California Technology Park, Coal Center, PA
Persons interested in presenting testimony should pre-register by contacting Michele Tate, Executive Director of the CAC, by calling 717-787-8171 or by sending email at: mtate@pa.gov by March 19.
In addition to accepting public testimony, the CAC is inviting the public to submit written comments on the Act 54 report and is extending the public comment period deadline to April 14, 2015. Comments may be sent by mail to: DEP Citizens Advisory Council, Rachel Carson State Office Building, 13th Floor, 400 Market Street, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8459 or by email to: mtate@pa.gov.
The March 17 meeting will also feature an update from the department by Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley, a presentation on DEP’s proposed FY 2015-16 budget proposal and an overview of the Susquehanna River Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Update.
The Council will meet in Room 105 Rachel Carson Building starting at 10:00 a.m.  Public comments on the Act 54 Report will be taken from Noon until 2:00 p.m. in the same room.
For more information, visit the DEP Citizens Advisory Council webpage.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

March Chesapeake Bay Currents Newsletter Now Available

The March edition of the Chesapeake Currents newsletter is now available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program featuring articles on--
-- Protection Or Restoration?  What About Both?
-- Sediment In Conowingo Reservoir Nears Maximum Storage Capacity
-- President’s Budget Includes $38 Million For Bay Region
-- Clean Air Act Also Benefits Water Quality
-- Photo Essay: Exploring The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway
-- Click Here to sign up for your own copy.

Gov. Wolf Reverses Tax Increase On LNG, A Clean Energy Alternative To Diesel

After thorough consideration of the environmental and economic development benefits derived from use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a vehicle fuel alternative to diesel, Acting Secretary of Revenue Eileen McNulty announced Thursday Gov. Wolf has reversed a decision made in late 2014 that increased state tax on LNG.
“One of my goals is to promote and develop a comprehensive energy portfolio for Pennsylvania that supports clean energy alternatives to imported petroleum,” said Wolf.  “Liquefied natural gas is not only a cleaner alternative to diesel, generating lower pollutant emissions when used to fuel vehicles, but it’s also produced here in Pennsylvania from abundant natural gas reserves.
“Given the immediate environmental benefits of fueling trucks with LNG and the future economic gains that will come from further development of the alternative fuels industry in Pennsylvania, it makes no sense to discourage LNG consumption by taxing it at a higher rate.”
For 2015, a gallon of gasoline is subject to state tax of 50.5 cents, while diesel is taxed at 64.2 cents per gallon.
LNG is defined in Pennsylvania law as an alternative fuel that should be taxed based on its energy potential as compared to gasoline, and the Department of Revenue has historically taxed LNG using a cents-per-gallon basis indexed to gasoline.
The policy shift late last year, which followed a Department of Energy change in how LNG is measured at the federal level, applied the higher diesel tax to LNG, effectively increasing the state tax on LNG by 4.3 cents per gallon.
The reversal of the tax change for LNG will be effective retroactively to January 1, 2015, the date the increase took effect.  As required by law, the new rate of 33.5 cents per gallon equivalent of LNG will be reflected in the March 13 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

PA Environmental Council: In Case You Missed It February Update On PEC Activities

The February issue of In Case You Missed It from the PA Environmental Council is now available providing a comprehensive update on PEC activities for the month.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy.

March 5 DEP News Now Available

The March 5 edition of DEP News is now available from the Department of Environmental Protection featuring articles on--
-- Click Here to sign up for your own copy, read past issues.

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