Tag Archives: Marcellus Shale Coalition

Tuesday Must-Read: PA PUC Hired PR Firm With Marcellus Shale Coalition Ties to Help With Act 13

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State Impact published a report Monday regarding how the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has for the past two years hired a public relations firm with ties to the Marcellus Shale Coalition to advise it on Act 13 and other zoning regulation matters related to the industry.

The story by NPR reads:

The law firm of McNees, Wallace and Nurick is an associate member of the gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition. The firm’s attorneys routinely represent energy companies before the state Public Utility Commission (PUC).

In fact McNees is currently representing Sunoco Logistics in a high-profile case before the commission. The company is seeking permission from the PUC to be considered a “public utility corporation,” which would exempt its Mariner East pipeline from local zoning codes.

McNees has also spent the past two years working as outside legal counsel to the PUC– advising the PUC on its authority under the state’s two-year-old oil and gas law, known as Act 13. The firm was hired in 2012 and has received $29,593 for its work so far.

A political science professor in the story is quoted as saying the situation is “pretty bizarre.”

Read it for yourself here.

And let me know what you think.

-amanda

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Marcellus Shale Coalition, PIOGA Petition Court to Intervene in Act 13 Case

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The Marcellus Shale Coalition and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association on Wednesday filed a petition again asking the Commonwealth Court to allow them to intervene in the ongoing court case revolving around Act 13, the state’s law governing Marcellus Shale drilling activity.

In a 23-page court filing, attorneys for the industry groups – two attorneys from K&L Gates firm – argue that their clients have a “unique and compelling interest” in the case.

The state Supreme Court in December upheld a Commonwealth Court ruling that declared portions of Act 13 as unconstitutional – specifically, the portions that pre-empted local zoning ordinances.

But the Supreme Court also remanded several issues, such as medical gag orders, back to the lower court.

Both industry parties had petitioned the Commonwealth Court in April of 2012 to intervene in the case. They were denied. The industry groups also petitioned the Supreme Court to allow them to intervene. The Supreme Court also denied their request.

In Wednesday’s filing, attorneys wrote:

“The industry parties have…unique, compelling and legally enforceable interests in the outcome of this case.”

The attorneys argue that the industry’s interests can no longer be soundly represented by Commonwealth parties involved in the case.

They write:

When the issue before this court was the constitutionality of Act 13 in its entirety, this court concluded that those interests were adequately represented by the Commonwealth parties. Now, however, there are several issues before this court related to the interpretation and application of the Supreme Court majority decision and, more importantly for purposes of this petition in respect to the new issues presented, the industry parties are neither necessarily aligned with nor adequately represented by Commonwealth parties.”

They later add:

“Rather, the parties are potentially directly adverse to the Commonwealth parties.”

The petition also suggests that industry parties should be permitted to intervene in the case on remand because of the substantial impact the eventual outcome will have on them.

“The industry parties have a substantial and unrepresented interest in how the underlying issues are addressed and how pending questions are resolved. Act 13 contains a myriad of regulatory provisions including…the payment of impact fees; the content of permit applications, well site construction (and more).

No current party to this case must actually plan for, finance and comply with Act 13’s extensive list of regulatory requirements. Thus, no party has the same interests as the industry parties.”

Reached Wednesday afternoon, John Smith, one of the lead attorneys who spearheaded the Act 13 challenge on behalf of a handful of communities such as Cecil and Peters townships, a nonprofit and a medical doctor, said:

“In our review, it’s the same argument they have raised and lost in the same court.”

A status conference in the case has been set for Monday in Harrisburg.

Application for Relief[2]

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Energy Interests Prevail in Legislative Process, State Rep. Writes

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil

Editor’s Note: This column was reprinted with permission from state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who has long been a proponent of responsible drilling. In it, he writes about the Endangered Species Coordination Act. White states:

(It) was supposed to “establish a uniform and transparent process for evaluating; designating and protecting threatened and endangered species and their critical habitats in the Commonwealth.” But upon actually reading and analyzing the bill, it became clear that this was more about making it easier to keep endangered species and habitats off of the endangered list to allow development of those habitats, mainly for energy development.

But I will let him tell the story. Here is the column in its entirety. -amanda

Who’s Really The Endangered Species Here?

One of the committees I serve on in the State House of Representatives is the Game and Fisheries Committee, a committee that doesn’t usually end up in the headlines. But last week a piece of legislation we considered made headlines across Pennsylvania, and it’s a good example of how special interests get involved in the legislative process.

House Bill 1576, also known as the “Endangered SpeciesCoordination Act”, was supposed to “establish a uniform and transparent process for evaluating; designating and protecting threatened and endangered species and their critical habitats in the Commonwealth.” But upon actually reading and analyzing the bill, it became clear that this was more about making it easier to keep endangered species and habitats off of the endangered list to allow development of those habitats, mainly for energy development.

The energy industry wasn’t hiding their support for this bill; in fact, they were among the first to stake a position. A letter sent by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association urged passage of the bill, throwing in government buzzwords like “transparency”, “consistency” and “accountability”. Now, why would the energy industry care about the endangered species and high-quality streams unless there was something in it for them? The red flags were almost too obvious.

One of the big sticking points was the requirement that the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, commonly known as IRRC, approve all recommendations. This is problematic because IRRC has no scientists on their staff; the practical impact meaning that bureaucrats will be reviewing the work of scientists with no basis on knowing what they are really looking at. To many, including me, it smacks of politicizing science, which is bad public policy.

Groups representing sportsmen and outdoorsmen had serious concerns about the bill, as did environmental groups and the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. When virtually all the stakeholders have such a problem with a proposed bill, that usually indicates there are real issues to be concerned about, and HB 1576 was no exception.

The Fish and Boat Commission noted that HB 1576 creates anunfunded mandate for the agency, further limiting the PFBC’s ability to adequately survey and conserve the aquatic resources of the Commonwealth. They also noted the bill disallows consideration of species that are rare, but unlisted, in the permitting process, therefore not providing the needed protection to prevent further population declines. So in effect, there’s no way to fix a potential problem until it’s way too late.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission noted this legislation fixes a problem that does not exist, and requiring the listing of a species to go through the IRRC approval process will add months – and potentially years – onto the process and result in added layers of inefficient bureaucracy. Moreover, HB 1576 will have the opposite effect of its intended goal because state endangered species programs serve as a first line of defense in protecting species not yet federally listed.

There was also major concern about how the bill effectively eliminates the exemption under the Right to Know Law that protects threatened and endangered species location information from disclosure. This gives a virtual road map for poachers who will know exactly where to find these threatened and endangered species by simply filing a request under the Right to Know Law.

Despite all of these perfectly legitimate concerns, HB 1576 passes the Game and Fisheries Committee by a vote of 16-8 and now heads to the full House of Representatives for consideration. I was one of the eight “NO” votes.

An interesting note- the meeting in which we voted on the bill was attended by virtually every energy industry lobbyist in the Capitol. As they slapped themselves on the back in congratulations, it was disheartening to see how routine it has become to chip away at the ability of Pennsylvania’s strong heritage of outdoorsmen, sportsmen and nature enthusiasts so long as you have friends in the right places.

To get updates from state Rep. Jesse White, you can access his website here or “like” him on Facebook here.

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