11/15/2019 - Toomey talks pro-fracking legislation, impeachment on Pittsburgh stop

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP Photo

FILE PHOTO: Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa. speaks to reporters outside his office on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Tuesday, April 12, 2016.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey believes that presidents should not be allowed to unilaterally ban fracking — and in the wake of Democratic promises to do just that, recently introduced a Senate resolution emphasizing that point.

“It’s very hard to overstate how good natural gas has been for Pennsylvania and for America,” said the Republican Senator on a visit to Pittsburgh Friday. “It’s probably the best thing that’s happened certainly economically for Pennsylvania in maybe 100 years.”

Toomey’s resolution is non-binding:  It would merely express the Senate’s position on fracking. He said he hopes there will be a companion resolution in the House.

While Toomey doesn’t think the President currently has any authority to ban fracking, his case for introducing the resolution is centered on policies proposed by several Democratic presidential hopefuls. As an example, he highlighted a tweet from candidate and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

“Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris are all promising to use executive powers to shut down this whole industry,” Toomey said. “What Elizabeth Warren is saying unequivocally and [with] no ambiguity, is she wants to end this industry. She wants to bring an end to this amazing energy renaissance.”

President Trump has been a vocal supporter of the natural gas industry – and spoke at a Pittsburgh conference for industry executives in October. But when asked if the resolution was proposed ahead of a Democrat winning the White House, he demurred.

“This is not about the upcoming election, I don’t know who will win the upcoming election,” Toomey said. “I think it’s going to be very competitive and very close. But someday there will be a Democratic president  and I don’t know which one that might be. I just think we ought to go on record as soon as possible making it clear that no president has this authority.”

Toomey’s appearance came amid a controversy surrounding Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s recent criticisms of the petrochemical industry. Those remarks have divided other Democrats and led to criticism from business leaders and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

While Toomey spoke in Pittsburgh, the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against President Trump continued on Capitol Hill with its second day of public testimony. Western Pennsylvania lawmakers are divided on the inquiry: U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-18) and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-17) support the investigation, while U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-16) and U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-14) have expressed strong disapproval.

For his part, Toomey has said Trump has “made errors in judgment” but reiterated Friday that as yet he’s seen no evidence that Trump’s request for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy rises to the level of impeachment.

“Having said that, it is also my responsibility as a senator, if the articles of impeachment come over to us, to pay attention to the case that’s made,” he said. “I intend to sit through a trial if the House pursues that, and at that point I’ll examine all the evidence they present.”

Toomey said he thinks it’s likely the House will impeach President Trump, but he hasn’t been paying attention to all the details coming out during the House investigation.

“I am not following every transcript that was leaked and every story that’s been told,” he said. “I’ll wait to see what if anything the House produces.”

11/15/2019 - PennEast will appeal to U.S. Supreme Court over lower court’s adverse ruling

PennEast Pipeline LLC yesterday vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a lower court ruling that looms as a major impediment to its proposed 120 mile-project to bring natural gas from Pennsylvania into New Jersey.

The company announced in a press release it would seek to overturn a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that denied PennEast’s bid to condemn state-owned lands for its $1 billion project.

The three-judge panel ruled in September that private companies do not have the authority to condemn state-owned lands under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, a state cannot be sued by a private company without its consent.

The lower court decision upends nearly 80 years of practice by the natural gas industry and ignores the intent of Congress in passing a critical provision of the Natural Gas Act, according to PennEast.

“The Third Circuit’s decision has implications far beyond the PennEast project,’’ said Anthony Cox, chairman of the PennEast Pipeline Company Board of Managers. “No interstate pipeline nationwide of any significant length can be built without crossing land where a state claims an interest.’’

PennEast and its backers say the pipeline is needed to provide supplies to New Jersey customers. More than 75% of customers in the state heat their homes with natural gas, which also provides more than 41% of the state’s electricity.

“Demand for natural gas continues to grow, and new infrastructure across the Northeast has not kept up, in part due to politics and regulatory delays,’’ Cox said. “The result has been forced gas moratoriums that threaten customer reliability, higher energy bills and higher carbon emissions.’’

The decision to ask the highest court to review the case is not unexpected. “Based on the law, we don’t think the Supreme Court should pick up this case. However, given Trump’s appointments to the court, who knows,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

If the nation’s highest court rules against PennEast, the company could opt to ask Congress to rewrite the Natural Gas Act to allow condemnation of state-owned lands, or reconfigure the proposed pipeline route around state lands.

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

11/15/2019 - Future owner of PES refinery could be decided as soon as January

The future of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery complex in South Philadelphia, forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy after June’s explosion and fire, could be decided as soon as January. On Thursday, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Gross approved rules for the sale process.

By Friday, Nov. 22, each party interested in buying the refinery must present a preliminary cash purchase price and state what it is interested in buying, in addition to other required documents, The parties that qualify must then present formal bids to the current owners of PES before Jan. 10.

So far, 15 parties have expressed interest in acquiring the facility, though their identities were not disclosed. Already expressing interest publicly have been Philadelphia Energy Industries, created by former PES chief executive Phil Rinaldi, whom environmentalists dubbed “Fossil Phil;” and S.G. Preston, a Philadelphia-based biofuels company. A representative of United Steelworkers Local 10-1, whose membership includes refinery workers, said nationwide real estate development and investment firm Industrial Realty Group also has expressed interest.

According to documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, PES has about a week to evaluate qualified bids and identify the highest or best bid that maximizes the sale price and provides the biggest value to the company and its remaining employees. A “stalking horse” bidder may be selected to set a floor price.

PES could decide to conduct an auction, which would take place on Jan. 17 in the New York City offices of its law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP. The winning bidder would be presented in bankruptcy court at a confirmation hearing on Jan. 22.

limited objection to the sale process filed with the court last week by the City of Philadelphia was resolved before Judge Gross approved the sale timeline. The city wanted to be “as informed and included as possible” in the sale process, and present and consulted at the potential auction “given the city’s duty to consider the future use of the nearly 1,400-acre site and how its future use will impact Philadelphia’s economy, environment, and public health and safety.” The petitions were granted, and the city will be informed of the identity of any qualified bidders no later than Jan. 17, under a confidentiality agreement.

Judge Gross denied the objection filed by SMART, a coalition of environmental organizations. In court Thursday, Peter Winslow, a representative of the coalition, said the organizations worried that the sale process was moving ahead without any input from Philadelphians.

“The city’s PES Refinery Advisory Group has not yet issued its report. So they’re making their decisions irrespective of what the people of Philadelphia expressed … by organizations, by city government, by anybody what they might be. This train is going fast,” Winslow told WHYY.

“I recognize the concerns that residents of Philadelphia have, it’s appropriate,” Judge Gross said.

He added that he hopes the city’s participation as a consultation party includes the concerns of the community.

Later Thursday, city spokesman Mike Dunn said in an email that the six meetings held by the Refinery Advisory Group had that purpose.

“The advisory group process provided for an extraordinary level of opportunity for the public to weigh in with their thoughts,” Dunn wrote.

The Refinery Advisory Group’s report is due to come out this month. Deputy city solicitor Megan Harper told the court Thursday that the document is “still in the works.”

PES agreed to consider the report if it’s available on time, but said that the process can’t be held up by the report.

Dunn said the report was never intended to influence the bankruptcy proceeding or the attendant auction.

“I want to be clear about the city’s role in this process, which is absolutely neutral. We heard information from all sides (as evidenced by their testimony at six meetings) and we’ll be putting out a report that reflects what we’ve heard from all sides and makes a few recommendations that the mayor and the administration should keep in mind as the future becomes clearer. But we have not been advocating for or against any specific use or uses,” Dunn wrote. “The  [Refinery Advisory Group] report won’t prescribe a favored outcome, future use, or favored owner/operator for the refinery site.”

SMART’s Winslow told WHYY that the environmental coalition is concerned about the way the bidding process has been arranged because, by not requiring a remediation to a higher use, it favors bids from the petroleum industry.

PES is responsible for remediating contamination of the refinery site from 2012 to the present. (Remediating earlier contamination is the responsibility of the complex’s  prior owner Sunoco, now Energy Transfer Partners.) But Winslow said PES, though it is the debtor in the bankruptcy case, is also a substantial creditor.

“They should clean it up. They shouldn’t pass that onto the next user of the property. They have the resources.” Winslow said. “Our concerns are that the fix is in and that the next user of the property is going to be in the fossil-fuel industry.”

11/15/2019 - U.S. Steel unveils pledge to cut emissions

(Pittsburgh) — U.S. Steel has announced it aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2030. The plan relies in large part on upgrades at two large facilities near Pittsburgh.

The company is building a more efficient casting and rolling facility at the Edgar Thomas Plant in Braddock, upgrades U.S. Steel hails as the first of their kind in the country. The Clairton Plant will also be updated to generate electricity from its coke oven gas and exhaust. These updates are projected to cost $1 billion.

U.S. Steel will also increase its use of renewable energy and steel scrap recycling. According to a press release, these emission reductions will be equal to the emissions generated by 850,000 homes annually.

Matt Mehalik, executive director of the advocacy group Breathe Project, said any pledge to reduce emissions is good.

“However, this sort of corporate announcement probably would have been notable a decade ago,” Mehalik said. “Nowadays, a 20 percent efficiency improvement is really a run-of-the-mill improvement.”

John Baillie, senior attorney for the Group Against Smog and Pollution, or GASP, agreed that any step U.S. Steel makes to cut emissions is positive.

“[However] they still have significant compliance issues at the Clairton Works, and this will do nothing to resolve those,” Baillie said.

The Clairton Plant south of Pittsburgh is the largest emitter of hydrogen sulfide in Pennsylvania. While not a greenhouse gas, the colorless gas is known for a rotten egg smell and poses a public health risk. According to Allegheny County Health Department data, the plant has violated emission standards dozens of times this year.

11/15/2019 - Despite Scotland’s fracking ban, imported American shale gas is key to the economy in one town. To some, it’s an uneasy state of affairs

One man who grew up near a major petrochemical plant thinks it's a devil's bargain: “Why should a community in America have to suffer what we've fought hard against?”

11/14/2019 - State Auditor General: Climate change could be costing Pa. hundreds of millions

(Harrisburg) — State Auditor General Eugene DePasqule is attempting to quantify what climate change will cost Pennsylvania.

At the center of the democrat’s latest report is a stat from the National Institute of Building Sciences: every dollar spent preventing natural disaster damage saves six dollars in recovery costs.

He said last year, his office found at least $261 million in statewide costs related to ​severe weather events that he said are connected to climate change. Almost half of the costs involve infrastructure problems.​

“Pennsylvanians often assume that federal disaster relief will help with recovery from flooding,” he said. “But because climate change brings about more intense, localized storms, often the damage is not widespread enough to qualify for that federal funding.”

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Outgoing Auditor General Eugene DePasquale discussing one of the many audits he has conducted over the past seven years.

Flooding isn’t the only cost driver when it comes to infrastructure. DePasquale also warned of landslides and degradation of old sewer systems, among other things. And he said he’s concerned about public health—for instance, increased rates of asthma.

Ultimately, he said, Pennsylvania doesn’t have a good enough comprehensive plan to address practical issues related to climate change, or to mitigate its own role in the problem.

“Pennsylvania is the nation’s fourth-largest contributor of greenhouse gases,” he said. “We can and must do better.”

In a press conference announcing the report, DePasquale pointed to Governor Tom Wolf’s Restore PA plan as a way to get the money needed to boost infrastructure.

The governor wants to borrow $4.5 billion to make improvements across the state, and use the money from a proposed ​severance tax on the natural gas industry to pay the debt back over 20 years or so.

GOP leaders have roundly rejected the proposal, and strongly oppose taxing gas companies.

11/14/2019 - Wolf says he’s unaware of any wrongdoing in Mariner East pipeline permitting process

The FBI has reportedly opened a corruption investigation into the way the administration issued permits for the multibillion-dollar Mariner East 2.

11/13/2019 - Timeline: Mariner East 2 pipeline project’s permit problems and investigations

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the FBI is investigating the Wolf administration’s issuing of permits for the Mariner East 2 pipeline project. It’s the third criminal investigation related to the project. Explore this timeline to see how the story of problems and investigations has unfolded.

11/12/2019 - Associated Press: FBI is investigating Wolf administration’s issuing of Mariner East pipeline permits

The Associated Press cites three sources who say FBI agents have interviewed current or former state employees in recent weeks about the Mariner East project and the construction permits.

11/08/2019 - Toomey takes preventative measures as Dems call for fracking bans

Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. Senator has introduced a resolution he hopes will enable Congress to defeat future presidents’ fracking bans in court.