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PennFuture Facts :: brief, interesting looks at topical environmental issues PennFuture Facts :: brief, interesting looks at topical environmental issues

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Corbett's tax breaks are all about natural gas, to the exclusion of renewable energy

Tim Puko reports in this morning's Tribune-Review that there is "quite a bit" of capital looking for investment opportunities in renewable energy in Pennsylvania and elsewhere

EverPower, a wind developer, employs 60 workers in Pittsburgh that have an uncertain future, in part, because of shifting government policies. EverPower would like to expand its business in Pennsylvania, as would Joe Morinville, owner of the Pittsburgh-based solar company Energy Independent Solutions. But if development picks up outside the United States, that is where the growth will occur.

Unless you are associated with the gas industry, don't look to the Corbett Administration for leadership on this issue. Patrick Henderson, Tom Corbett's energy executive, told Puko that "he [the Governor] won't be passing new tax credits or incentives in favor of renewable power ..."

Why will Corbett not adopt tax policies that promote investment  and job growth in Pennsylvania's renewable energy sector? According to Henderson, “I think it's time for all of them to stand (and compete) on their own.”

Ah yes, the ole' "we don't play favorites" argument. That must explain why the Corbett administration offered Royal Dutch Shell $1.65 billion in tax breaks to locate an ethane cracker plant in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Does the word "hypocrisy" come to mind?  Because, you know, we don't play favorites.

The fact is that Corbett has gone "all in" with natural gas, betting that focusing every state policy on developing that single industry - from superseding traditional local control over planning to balancing the state's budget on the back of childhood education instead of a reasonable shale gas tax - will raise the tide for all.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry reports that the Commonwealth's unemployment rate of 8.1% continues to exceed the national average of 7.7% percent, and has increased from over a year ago when it was 7.6 percent.  Over that same period, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that unemployment in 37 other states and Puerto Rico has decreased - but not in Pennsylvania. 

Corbett's single industry plan does not appear to be working for Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Natural Gas Poised to Push King Coal Off the Throne

As blogged by Brad Plumer at the Washington Post, a peer reviewed study by Duke indicates that natural gas will continue to push out dirty coal as the least cost power generation option so long as average natural gas to coal price remains below 1.8 (it was 1.42 in February 2012). The study indicates that if new air emission limitations are enforced against coal power plants, natural gas plants will remain competitive with coal plants up to a ratio of 4.3. In other words, as coal plants are required to absorb the real cost of harm that they impose on the public and environment, cleaner burning natural gas will be competitive even when the average cost of gas is four times that of dirty coal.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A primer on the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD)

PennFuture and four other environmental groups - the  Group against Smog and Pollution, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Clean Air Task Force and Environmental Defense Fund - have endorsed a set of fifteen environmental protection standards developed with several large shale gas producers in the Marcellus region: Chevron, Shell, EQT and CONSOL. At the core of the nascent Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), these standards were the result of two years of collaboration that included research assistance from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and ICF International, both world experts on oil and gas environmental risk management. The initial effort was funded by two foundations, the Heinz Endowments and William Penn Foundation, as well as participating gas companies.

The initial fifteen standards - eight concerning water and seven air  - are intended to be more stringent than current federal and state standards in the Appalachian Basin. Examples include:
  • zero discharge of wastewater to surface and ground waters until a safe treatment standard has been developed;
  • a 90 percent wastewater recycling requirement within two years;
  • eliminating the use of open pits at well pads within two years;
  • operators must characterize area geology, perform a risk assessment to protect against fluid migration, and ensure surface and ground water quality is not impacted;
  • use well casings and cement to prevent migration of fluids and contamination of ground water;
  • use of green completions to substantially eliminate flaring of well head gas by January 2014; and
  • compliance with tight air emission standards for all diesel engines used in drilling and any trucks servicing a well pad.

CSSD's members have committed to regularly review existing standards, and will develop additional standards to protect air, land and water.

PennFuture joined in developing and endorsing these standards because it is our mission to protect the environment, and we believe these standards will advance that mission. It is important that four of the major gas producers in Pennsylvania have agreed to meet these standards because it shows that tougher environmental standards for gas drilling in Pennsylvania are economically feasible.

These standards are not a substitute for improved federal and state laws, or for rigorous enforcement of existing laws. That is why PennFuture will continue to advocate for tough, common sense standards to protect our land, air and water - including no drilling in Pennsylvania's State Parks - and take action to enforce existing laws when the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) does not.

PennFuture understands that some environmental organizations categorically oppose the extraction of unconventional gas, in part on the theory that more gas leads to greater air pollution and climate change. Certainly, natural gas should not be the only way we produce power in the United States. However, while the data is still unclear on the benefits of natural gas over coal as far as climate change is concerned, there can be no doubt that gas offers a better alternative when it comes to acid mine drainage, mercury and sulfur emissions.

Coal, oil and gas still comprise about 82 percent of U.S. energy demand. PennFuture works hard to reduce that percentage by advocating for energy conservation and use of renewables. But so long as the nation relies on fossil fuels for electric power, it is our obligation to protect the environment while those non-renewable resources are being extracted.

These new standards could play an important role in minimizing the harm caused by continued reliance on fossil fuels.  That is why PennFuture participated in the process.