Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Federal Appeals Court Stops FERC's Inappropriate Use of Tolling Orders In Pipeline Cases, Gives Landowners Back Their Rights

On June 30, the
U.S. Courts of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) cannot indefinitely delay their review of complaints by landowners who wish to protect their property from natural gas and oil pipelines, among other infrastructure developments.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro and 10 other state Attorneys General, PennFuture, represented  by EarthJustice, joined other environmental organizations as amici curiae in the case of Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC, arguing that FERC’s destructive practice of using these “tolling orders” to strip away the rights of organizations and landowners is illegal and must stop.

In 99 percent of the requests for rehearing of pipeline certification decisions received by FERC between 2009 and 2017, the agency used tolling orders to prevent the aggrieved party from being able to timely challenge FERC’s certification in the courts. 

And during this delay, pipeline companies were able to rely on FERC’s certification to start construction.   

The case included a Lancaster County example where two homeowners protested a pipeline company’s (Transco) application to construct a pipeline in the middle of their land. After FERC issued a certificate to Transco, the company began eminent domain proceedings and was soon granted court permission to proceed.

Once FERC approves a pipeline, the pipeline company can immediately exercise eminent domain and take land for construction while the pipeline’s opponents must file a request for rehearing with FERC before appealing to a federal court.

Noting that use of these tolling orders to “stall judicial review” was “virtually automatic” by FERC, the D.C. Circuit recognized that the use of these orders “has real-world consequences” that are detrimental to landowners whose property is being condemned by pipeline companies.

The decision strikes down FERC’s delay practice and requires the agency to make a decision on rehearing requests within the 30 days required by law.

Click Here for a copy of the opinion.


In response to the court’s decision, PennFuture Vice President of Legal & Policy Abigail M. Jones has issued the following statement:

“PennFuture is encouraged by the court’s decision to end this long standing abuse by FERC that strips our communities of their day in court and leaves our lands vulnerable to condemnation and destruction. 

“The pipeline companies will no longer be shielded by the systematic and egregious delay that has benefited them for decades. This decision gives landowners, environmental groups, and environmental justice communities who are disproportionately burdened by pipeline infrastructure back our right to challenge FERC’s decisions before the irreparable  harm from pipeline construction can occur.”

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said this in a statement--

 “We are pleased that the court recognized the injustice in FERC’s twisted logic that a Certificate Order can be final for the purposes of condemning property, yet non-final for the purposes of judicial review. 

“The use of tolling orders to place challengers in legal limbo while pipeline companies use the power of eminent domain to take property rights and get permission from FERC to inflict irreparable harm on the environment has been routine practice by FERC.

“The end result of tolling orders has been that by the time we get our day in court, it is simply too late, the damage is done and there is no meaningful remedy, as shown by our 2014 challenge of the Tennessee Gas Northeastern Upgrade Project the court cited in its opinion. 

“The fact that the courts, up until now, have given FERC legal authority to rob people of their rights in this way is unconscionable – it was past time for the courts to reconsider the precedent they have set on this issue and to stop the abuse of tolling orders by FERC.”

Related Article:

AG Shapiro Joins Other Attorneys General In Filing Brief Supporting Lancaster County Landowners In Challenge Of FERC Pipeline Tolling Order Process

[Posted: June 30, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

Wildlife For Everyone: SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority Contributes In-Kind Gift To Centre County Soaring Eagle Wetland Project

On June 30,
SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority re-committed its agreement to build a new railroad crossing at no cost to provide access to the Soaring Eagle Wetland owned by the Wildlife for Everyone Foundation in Centre County. 
The Foundation will enhance the wetland with features that meet ADA requirements for the recreational needs of all Pennsylvanians, notably those underserved due to physical challenges. 

“The railroad crossing is in disrepair and has inhibited access to the wetland,” notes Jerry Regan, WFEF Board member and chair of the wetland design committee. “A new railroad crossing is the first step in opening up the wetland to a greater number of people. We are grateful to the SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority for supporting this valuable project that meets an important need.”

The JRA has a longstanding commitment to partnering with the community on betterment projects such as the Soaring Eagle Wetland accessible nature area. 

Jeff Stover, Executive Director of the SEDA-COG JRA, was inspired by the project’s intent to open a nature trail for everyone regardless of physical handicap. 

“We are very pleased to support the Wildlife for Everyone Foundation,” asserts Stover. “SEDA-COG will pay for materials and our operator, Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroad, will provide in-kind labor to make the entrance over the railroad tracks easier and safer to cross,” he adds

The WFEF Board of Directors approved an $825,000 budget for Phase One that will include an ADA-compliant trail through the wetland to a handicapped accessible fishing platform overlooking Bald Eagle Creek. 

A parking lot, education pavilion, restroom and observation areas are part of phase one. Regan is optimistic that a solicitation for bids will happen in the fall.

$500,000 in state funds from the Department of Community and Economic Development and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have been granted for the development of the first phase. 

Regan noted that more support from individual donations will be needed to complete the project as designed in addition to educational signage. A 2021 dedication is anticipated. 

Directions to the Soaring Eagle Wetland may be found on the website.  Questions should be sent by email to: info@wildlifeforeveryone.org or call 814-238-8138. 

For more information on programs, initiatives, upcoming events and how you can get involved, visit the Wildlife for Everyone Foundation website.

Related Article:

Wildlife For Everyone: Soaring Eagle Wetland, Centre County

[Posted: June 30, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

Reports Released On Economic, Environmental Impacts Of Single-Use Plastics Bans/Fees

On June 30, the
Legislative Budget and Finance Committee and the Independent Fiscal Office released studies on the economic and environmental impacts of bans and/or fees on single-use plastics, reusable plastics, auxiliary containers, wrappings and polystyrene containers.
The studies were required by amendments to the Fiscal Code in 2019 which also prohibited the adoption of bans or fees on single use plastic containers until July 1, 2020.  The ban was extended to July 1, 2021 in amendments to the Fiscal Code this year.

Environmental Impact

The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee was directed to report on the “environmental impact and any impact” of single-use plastics on residents.

The Committee found there are about 3 billion single-use plastic bags used in Pennsylvania annually and account for 0.7 percent of all collected litter in Pennsylvania in 2019.

[Note: The 0.7 percent figure was taken from a Keep PA Beautiful report on litter.  However, the report was not on ‘collected litter,’ it was on total ‘visible roadside litter’ and while empty plastic bags comprised just 0.7 percent of visible roadside litter that is 3.6 million bags and likely just a fraction of bags out in the environment as they get blown and swept away due to their light weight.]

The report said only one municipality, Narberth Borough, Montgomery County, regulates single-use plastic bags. Other municipalities including the City of Philadelphia, and West Chester Borough, had enacted proposed ordinances.

Those ordinances were preempted by the one-year ban on bans and fees enacted in 2019 and reenacted in 2020.

The Committee surveyed all 2,560 municipalities in the state asking about single-use plastics regulation.  The survey was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Among the findings--

-- 39.1 percent of the respondents said plastic bag bans and fees were an effective way to minimize harmful environmental impacts, 39.6 percent said they were not;

-- 69 percent said bans/fees should be enacted at the state level for the sake of uniformity; and

-- Asked to rate how important implementing a plastic bag ban/fee was-- most respondents said implementing a plastic bag ban or fee was not “very important.”

The report also outlined what it called three unintended consequences of bans or fees-

-- Sanitary concerns with reusable grocery bags;

-- Alternatives like paper bags have greater environmental impacts than single-use plastic bags; and

-- Reducing litter is important, but research indicates single-use plastic bags are not a major source of litter and have useful secondary uses for pet waste disposal, for example.

The report concluded by saying, “Whether bans and fees on single-use plastic are effective depends upon perspective and desired outcome. 

“If the goal is to change human behavior and use, then bans and fees can be effective, and have resulted in reduced single-use plastic bag litter.  However, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, these actions are not without cost and possible unintended consequences. 

“To this point, Pennsylvania continues to emerge from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as such, the pause of any further restriction on single-use plastic until the state is on more steady footing should result in more informed decision-making that may avoid unintended consequences as have occurred in other jurisdictions.”

Click Here for a copy of the reportClick Here for a summary.

Economic Impact

The Independent Fiscal Office released a report on the economic impact from the regulation of single-use plastics. 

The report considers three types of regulation that have been enacted by other states and local jurisdictions: a ban, a fee and a ban-plus-fee. The report examines potential outcomes if these regulations were implemented statewide for plastic retail bags. 

Notable findings include:

-- Demand For Bags: Pennsylvanians consume an estimated 4.6 billion plastic and paper retail bags annually. Under the three types of regulation, retail bag demand falls by the following amounts: ban (1.6 billion bags, -34 percent); fee (1.8 billion bags, -40 percent); and ban-plus-fee (2.5 billion bags, -54 percent).

The report estimates that the per capita cost of all retail bags is $21 per annum, which retailers build into the price of goods. Under the three types of regulation, per capita costs change by the following amounts: ban (increase of $5.60); fee (decrease of $6.40); and ban-plus-fee (increase of $1.10).

-- Consumer Spending: Changes in consumer spending and retail bag demand affect Pennsylvania employment and labor earnings. 

Under the three types of regulation, employment and earnings change by the following amounts: ban (-507 jobs, -$22 million in earnings); fee (260 jobs, $10 million); and ban-plus-fee (-363 jobs, -$17 million).

-- Polystyrene Products: The final section of the report extends the general analysis to a potential ban on expanded polystyrene foam foodservice products. 

The analysis finds that a ban on these products would reduce employment by roughly 1,800 jobs and labor earnings by $76 million. 

Additional detail on these outcomes as well as a discussion of the fiscal impacts to state and local governments can be found in the report.

(Photo: Plastic bag or litter in Philadelphia area stream.)

Resource Link:

Keep PA Beautiful: A Bag’s Life

[Posted: June 30, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

Summer Guardian Newsletter Now Available From Susquehanna River Basin Commission

The summer issue of the
Guardian newsletter is now available from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission featuring articles on--

Two Philadelphia Organizations Receive EPA Funding To Support Environmental Justice Projects

On June 30, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced two Philadelphia organizations-- the
Energy Coordinating Agency of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society-- are among 12 groups nationwide receiving $30,000 each to help address environmental justice issues in their communities.
“It’s invigorating for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region to provide this funding to two Philadelphia groups that have shown a commitment to addressing environmental justice issues in city neighborhoods,” said EPA’s mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio. “These groups developed projects that will improve and protect the health and safety of Philadelphia families.”

The organizations were selected from the large pool of applicants in 2019. This funding is in addition to 50 organizations awarded $1.5 million in grants nationwide in November 2019

The Energy Coordinating Agency of Philadelphia will use the funds to educate 40 families in low income neighborhoods that have a high levels of home lead contamination about how to live safely with lead.  

The project will include a lead audit of their homes and education on how to contain the lead so it minimizes health risks.  

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society will use funding to address environmental issues in the Tioga and Nicetown neighborhoods in Philadelphia by working with neighborhood leaders and stakeholders on a year-long program of community engagement and education that will foster discussion on environmental justice concerns. 

The project will include regular meetings and workshops to inspire residents to commit to greening and cleaning efforts in their neighborhoods. 

Environmental Justice Small Grants enable organizations to conduct research, provide education and training, and develop community-driven solutions to local health and environmental issues in minority, low-income, tribal and rural communities. 

Visit EPA’s Environmental Justice Small Grants Program for more information on this program.

[Posted: June 30, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

Endangered Species Coalition Hosts Upcoming Online Spotlight Series Highlighting Specific Wildlife Corridors In PA

Endangered Species Coalition has scheduled a series of five online events as part of a Spotlight Series to highlight specific wildlife corridors in Pennsylvania.

The Spotlight Series will continue weekly through the end of July. The next online programs will be held--

-- July 9: Riparian Buffer Zones, Crawford County Conservation District, 7:00 p.m.;

-- July 16: A Different Type Of Corridor, Dan Lynch, Game Commission and Lillie Langlois, Penn State University, 7:00 p.m.

-- July 23: Pennsylvania Elk Country, Haley Stapleton, Keystone Elk Country Alliance, 7:00 p.m.

-- July 30: Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, Lauren Ferreri, Game Commission, 7:00 p.m.

Visit the Endangered Species Coalition Facebook page for more information on these and other programs.

Visit the Endangered Species Coalition coalition for more information on wildlife corridors in Pennsylvania.

(Photo: Kittatinny Ridge, The Nature Conservancy-PA.)


Op-Ed: It’s Time For Wildlife Corridors To Save Our Ecosystem

Related Article:

What Conservation Corridors & Habitat Connectivity Could Mean For PA Wildlife, Biodiversity

[Posted: June 30, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

PA Resources Council Backyard Composting, Watershed/Rain Barrel, Recycling/Waste Reduction Webinars

On June 30, the
PA Resources Council announced a series of five webinars covering backyard composting, watershed/rain barrel and recycling/waste reduction in July.
“PRC now offers numerous webinars as a more convenient, flexible way to educate Pennsylvania residents who desire to learn about how they can take part in PRC’s mission to prevent waste and conserve environmental resources,” according to PRC Education Specialist Nancy Martin.

“Individuals taking part in the Backyard Composting and Watershed Awareness/Rain Barrel webinars will receive the tools of the trade, specifically composting bins and rain barrels, following the webinars, so at this time we’re conducting these webinars for individuals living in southwestern Pennsylvania so that they can drive to a bin/barrel pick-up site soon after completing the webinars,” Martin explains.  

Backyard Composting

Learn the benefits of backyard composting, including the overall process, methods for setting up a compost pile, proper maintenance and ways to use finished compost.  

The webinars will be held--

-- July 14 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

-- July 29 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Pre-registration is required

The course fee of $70 includes instruction plus a FreeGarden EARTH compost bin, which features an 82-gallon capacity ideal for both urban and suburban settings.  

The compost bin is only available to residents in Southwest Pennsylvania.

Individuals will register for a time to pick up a bin after completing online instruction.  

Pick up will take place weekly on Wednesdays (July 15, 22, 29, Aug. 5) from noon to 5 p.m. and Fridays (July 10, 17, 24, 31, Aug 7) from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at PRC’s North Side location at 828 W. North Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 

Watershed/Rain Barrel

Discover how to harvest rainwater from your roof, store it in a barrel and use it in the landscape.  Learn about problems associated with stormwater runoff and techniques to reduce your contribution to watershed pollution.

The webinars will be held--

-- July 8 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

-- July 21 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Pre-registration is required.

The course fee of $80 includes instruction plus a FreeGarden RAIN 55-gallon easy-to-install rain barrel.

The rain barrel is only available to residents in Southwest Pennsylvania.

Individuals will register for a time to pick up a barrel after completing online instruction.  

Pick up will take place weekly on Wednesdays (July 15, 22, 29, Aug. 5) from noon to 5 p.m. and Fridays (July 10, 17, 24, 31, Aug 7) from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at PRC’s North Side location at 828 W. North Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 

Recycling/Waste Reduction

PRC will offer a free “Recycling & Waste Reduction” webinar on July 15, from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.  

The online workshop will answer common questions surrounding recycling issues such as curbside collection, hard-to-recycle materials and pharmaceutical disposal. 

Learn recycling best practices by joining the webinar from ANYWHERE in Pennsylvania. 

Pre-registration is required.

For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Resources Council website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates, follow PRC on Twitter or Like them on FacebookClick Here for PRC’s Events Calendar.  Click Here to support their work.

[Posted: June 30, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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