Nat Gas Can’t Be a Climate “Bridge Fuel” If We Don’t Control Methane

At this point most of the boxes on my policy wishlist for the Tom Wolf administration have been checked off, which is why I’m mainly using the campaign endgame to talk about an issue where I’m still not a happy camper – fracking.

All the attention is on the severance tax, but the most important thing we have to get right about this – and where we need to hear some stronger language from Wolf – is on methane leakage.

Center-left environmentalist opinion in this state has generally taken the view that growing natural gas market share can be a force for good, because the big short term impact has been to greatly accelerate doom for the coal industry, which heretofore has been thought to be the biggest greenhouse gas villain.

But a bunch of recent research on this has changed that calculus. It turns out that if we don’t control methane leakage, natural gas extraction is actually worse for the climate than coal. A lot of Democratic politicians are invested in the idea of gas as a “bridge fuel,” and it still can be, but not if we don’t require companies to capture all the methane.

The technology to capture it exists, and it is affordable. The main missing piece is policy – we have to make all the drillers use it, like Colorado did. But so far Wolf has been giving decidedly weak answers about how we need new to explore new technology development, and is generally punting on the issue.

Luckily this is starting to bubble up to the point where editorial boards and opinion makers, both locally and nationally, are weighing in, and Wolf’s answers are getting a little meatier.

In the final debate Wolf responded to a question about methane from the League of Women Voters, acknowledging the need for new regulations “not just for methane” but also water disposal and other externalities of the drilling process.

That’s great, but what are those? Does he think that Colorado’s law is a good model? If not, how would his administration’s preferred policy differ from that?

If I were Wolf I would probably want to run out the clock and avoid pissing off anybody new before walking away with this election, but the calculus is different for voters and activists, so hopefully we’ll see the chorus of people badgering Wolf about this keep growing louder until we finally get some satisfactory answers.

Posted in Elections, Energy, Environment, Governor, Issues

Chris Abruzzo Should’ve Resigned for Gross Negligence of His Environmental Protection Duties

It’s too bad it took this office porno ring coming to light to get Tom Corbett’s DEP head Chris Abruzzo to resign, and not the much larger scandal of the Corbett administration’s almost criminal negligence and hostility to environmental protection:

Open the paper any day of the week lately and you read something like this:

A Pennsylvania official has admitted that he may have used faulty information to determine that fracking waste was not poisoning the drinking water supply at a man’s property in Washington County, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report.

During his sworn testimony at a trial before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, Department of Environmental Protection water quality specialist Vincent Yantko said that his 2011 investigation of landowner Loren Kiskadden’s contaminated drinking water “did not follow its regulations to determine whether [chemical] leaks had occurred” at a nearby fracking site, the Post reported. Kiskadden is one of three landowners who say they have experienced health problems due to water pollution from the waste pit at the Yeager drilling site, owned by Range Resources Corporation.

There’s also this three-part blockbuster in the Post-Gazette about the Corbett administration’s comically broken system for tracking well site violations:

For example, only two of four violations issued in one of the worst incidents in the Marcellus era — a March 2010 fire and spill at an Atlas Resources well site in Washington County that resulted in an $80,000 fine — appear in the DEP database, making it look like a less serious event.

The incident occurred after more than a year of complaints from the landowner and neighbors about the well site in Hopewell.

The Corbett administration always saw its job as protecting gas drillers from the public, not the other way around, so it’s not clear they’d have done a better job if they devoted more time to fixing stuff like this and less time to jacking off.

Which is why it’s so important that you and all your friends get out and vote a straight Democratic ticket this November.


Posted in Elections, Governor

PA Job Growth Still Sucks, But Tom Corbett’s Favorite State Job Search Site Has Plenty of Porno Jobs

These must be the alleged 250,000 job openings he was talking about. Employers are trying to hire, but people just don’t have the skills or something.

Posted in Elections, Governor

Mid-rise Building in South Bethlehem Drives NIMBYs Insane, But It’s Allowed By-Right

People have been working for decades to turn around Southside Bethlehem and create conditions for reinvestment in the walkable mixed-use areas on 3rd and 4th Streets, and on the Bethlehem Steel brownfield.

This has been the complaint forever – Northside, the white area with a very nice existing Main Street, gets all the public and private investment, while Southside, the more racially diverse area around Lehigh, gets the butt end of everything.

That’s started to change over the last decade, with the Bethlehem Greenway linear park, the skate plaza, facade renovations, safety improvements, and a whole bunch of other small-scale changes tipping Southside into a new equilibrium where people actually do want to invest there.

Developer Dennis Benner is just the first person to take a chance on building new residential and mixed-use capacity there, and that is a direct result of all the work that people have done for years to create (land) value there, and he’s proposed multiple mid-rise mixed-use buildings. He sees the potential for a great walkable urban neighborhood that can support lots of new residents and small businesses, and he’s pursuing exactly the kind of patient capital, long-term investment strategy the area needs.

This is what this whole thing has been leading up to but some people don’t get that, and are whining about the height, which is not even a thing. It’s a 9-story mid-rise building in an area where the new zoning code allows 200-foot buildings by-right. There didn’t even used to be a height limit until 2012! If people didn’t want buildings that size downtown, I would disagree with them regardless, but the time to weigh in on that was back in 2012, not now.

This area is zoned CB (Central Business District) for a reason – it’s one of the two very small areas where the new zoning code allows for some growth without tacking on insane parking requirements. It’s one of two areas in the city where it’s possible to build new and make your money back. People can’t be fighting mid-rise buildings in the tiny areas where the city has budgeted for a little growth.

Luckily the progressive majority on Bethlehem City Council appears to be supportive, and it’s really just a handful of reactionaries on the Historical Commission who don’t understand that projects like this were always going to be the endgame for Southside revitalization efforts.




Posted in Economy, Issues, Land Use

Flashback: Former DEP Head Michael Krancer Defended Fake Fracking Water Treatment Practice That Produces Dangerous Toxins

Susan Phillips at StateImpact previews a new peer-reviewed study from the Environmental Science & Technology journal that says it’s not safe to simply process fracking wastewater through municipal water treatment plants:

A new study shows how treated wastewater from oil and gas operations, when discharged into rivers and streams that travel toward drinking water intakes, can produce dangerous toxins. The research confirms what scientists have been warning about for some time. The high concentrations of salty brine, which flows up from deep underground once a well is fracked, are difficult to remove from the wastewater without the aid of an expensive technique called reverse osmosis or a cheaper method known as thermal distillation. If the wastewater is treated conventionally, which does not remove the bromides, chlorides or iodides, then it can be combined with chlorine at a drinking water facility, and create carcinogens such as bromines and iodines.

This is a good time to remind everyone that this is exactly what the Corbett administration has been letting natural gas companies do, and that Michael Krancer as DEP head not only condoned this, but made a big stink about getting criticized for it. From day one, Krancer sounded indistinguishable from a natural gas industry flack, and he now basically is.

The Corbett administration also thinks radioactive coal ash waste is best treated as municipal garbage.

Posted in Elections, Environment, Governor

Chris Abruzzo and Kevin Harley in the Corbett AG Office Porno Ring

It does seem mighty weird for a bunch of high-level, probably straight-identifying Republican graybeards in the Corbett Attorney General’s office to be sharing their favorite pornos with their colleagues, and giving each other boners at work. One wonders how this ever got started, initially..

The e-mails include photos and videos of women and men engaged in oral sex, anal sex, and intercourse. The videos have titles such as “Cigar,” “Chin strap,” “Golf Ball washer,” and “Rocking Horse.” The photographs included naked women and motivational posters, with slogans such as “Devotion” and “Willingness,” that depicted women performing sex acts on their male bosses.

The League of Workplace Bonermakers includes current DEP head Chris Abruzzi (who, once again, “has no environmental background”), current state police commissioner Frank Noonan, former Corbett for Governor spokesman Kevin Harley, and

“…former ranking prosecutors Patrick Blessington, who now works with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office; Glen Parno, former chief of the environmental crimes section of the Attorney General’s Office, who now works in the Department of Environmental Protection; Chris Carusone, who played a key role in corruption prosecutions of state legislators and was Corbett’s former liaison to the legislature; Richard A. Sheetz, former executive deputy attorney general in the office’s Criminal Law division; and retired agent Randy Feathers, the onetime regional director of the office’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigations. He was appointed by Corbett to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole.”

(via Angela Couloumbis)

Posted in Elections, Governor

#PAGov: On Kermit Gosnell, It’s the Republican Restrictionist Policies, Stupid

Any ad suggesting you vote for Tom Corbett is, by its very nature, an ineffective ad and there’s no reason to suspect this nutty ad putting Tom Wolf next to illegal abortion practitioner Kermit Gosnell will stick either.

Probably the PA GOP paid for this ad copy when they thought Allyson Schwartz would be the nominee, and donors have been grousing about how Corbett would be ahead if only he’d say a belligerent and nuclear enough thing about Tom Wolf, so here it is.

Except, why do Republicans think that the Kermit Gosnell story cuts in favor of the abortion access restrictions they want?

If you think about it for more than a half-second, it becomes immediately clear that the Kermit Gosnells of the world thrive in states where getting a legal abortion from a reputable medical professional is hard, not easy.

When you vote for TRAP laws (oh and fuck you still, Brendan Boyle) that make it harder for women to find safe and legal abortion providers near home, you drive market share to butcherous crazydoctors like Kermit Gosnell.

Why is this so hard to understand? Can’t anybody play this game?

Posted in Elections, Governor

#PAGov: What John Micek Should Ask Tom Wolf About in the PennLive Editorial Board Interview

The Democratic primary ended with all of the candidates essentially taking the same stances on natural gas extraction. All of the Democrats supported a moratorium on drilling on public lands, and all supported at least a 5% severance tax, with Rob McCord going further to support a 10% severance tax.

The candidates liked talking about these issues because they’re popular stances, but also because they’re easy to communicate. But there are other issues that we haven’t really heard a very detailed discussion about, like bonding requirements for drilling companies, or methane regulations, that are even more important than some of the more campaign-ready issues.

Take bonding requirements. In most markets, we do not want to create high barriers to entry for small businesses, but the “Godfather of Fracking” says the opposite is true in the extractive industries sector:

And Mitchell wants stiff regulation of drillers, especially small, independent players.

“I’ve had too much experience running independents,” Mitchell says. “They’re wild people. You just can’t control them. And if it doesn’t do it right, penalize the oil and gas people. Get tough with them.”

Small operators in the gas industry don’t have the money to cover the cleanup for a big well blowout. We require operators to carry insurance (via bonding requirements) saying they can cover the cost of damages.

But the bonding requirements PA Republicans set in Act 13 are a total joke, and amount to a massive public subsidy for clean up of abandoned wells. We require gas companies to be prepared to cover about $50,000 per well, when PennEnvironment says it should be about $250,000 per well.

None of the Democratic candidates ever had to say whether they’d support hiking bonding requirements, but John Micek says Tom Wolf is coming in to talk to the PennLive editorial board Thursday, so that seems like a great opportunity to find out what he thinks.

Another issue is fugitive methane. All of the Democratic candidates supported the idea of there being a private natural gas drilling sector, and opposed a moratorium on fracking on private lands.

And they all generally bought into the concept of natural gas being a “bridge fuel” that environmentalists taking the long view could support during the transition from mostly coal to mostly renewable energy production.

The premise there is that natural gas is cleaner than coal, but the problem for this view is that if you don’t force companies to contain the methane leakage, fracking is actually dirtier than coal.

We know where Tom Corbett stands on this stuff – he’s run an almost criminally negligent and obstructionist Department of Environmental Protection, which has essentially let the industry police itself.

Democrats couldn’t invent more cartoonishly evil Republican DEP heads than the ones Tom Corbett’s picked, but to expect Tom Wolf to merely do better would be setting the bar much too low.

Wolf so far has given kind of a weak answer on this, and hasn’t elaborated elsewhere, as far as I can google:

Pennsylvania is a major emitter of greenhouse gas, and I know we need to adopt stricter regulations and support innovative tools for reducing our emissions, especially as the natural gas sector continues to grow. As governor, I will work with key stakeholders to set new testing and monitoring regulations, and I will work with the private sector to promote the development of new technology that quickly and effectively detects fugitive methane emissions.

The technology already exists to capture methane and is affordable. It won’t cost companies zero dollars, which is what they want, but like Wolf said about the 5% severance tax, it’s not really a significant burden.

Hopefully this is just a bit of confusion that can be addressed by more research and education from the Wolf policy team, and we’ll hear an updated opinion from Tom in the near future.

Wolf has given every indication that his administration’s policies will be driven by data and clear thinking, and that they intend to weigh evidence and the public good more than interest group pressure in making decisions. So this position could use some more clarification, and hopefully John Micek and PennLive crew will think these are important enough topics to draw Wolf out a bit more on them.

Posted in Elections, Governor

Why the First Debate Didn’t Change Anything About the #PAGov Race

There’s precious little evidence that national Presidential debates have much effect on voting,  so it’s really hard to imagine that a Pennsylvania Governor debate on PCN, watched almost exclusively by partisan political junkies who’ve already made up their minds, will have any impact at all.

No interesting gaffes or zingers from either candidate, which means Wolf won. Most of the guys in the audience were probably already voting for Corbett, since this was a Chamber debate, if not donating to him.

Tom Corbett got a little red and paced around the stage with “spunk”, pumping his arms vigorously even at times, mansplaining Republican dogma on the economy to us all, and owning up only to not communicating his “successes” clearly enough. The problem continues to be that Pennsylvanians are well aware of what the Republicans think have been their successes, and that’s precisely why Corbett is losing in every county of the state.

Tom Wolf’s best line was “open your eyes, and look at what’s going on around us.”

To sum up: Pennsylvania is near-dead last in job growth nationally, even in the natural gas sector, which is like come on. Corbett has run an insanely, almost criminally inept Department of Environmental Protection. And he is responsible for noticeably large cuts in per-pupil education funding, which have managed to piss off even wealthy parents of schoolchildren in like fucking Lower Merion Township. He can’t visit a school in Philadelphia without everybody rising up.

Wolf delivered a sober, unapologetic Democratic message in the belly of the beast, rooted in the type of common-sense, pragmatic problem-solver language that makes business execs vote for Democrats sometimes. And that was all he really needed to do to come out of there on the same upward swing in the polls.

Posted in Elections, Governor

#PAGov: A Tom Wolf Win Isn’t Enough. Democrats Need to Get Serious About the State Senate.

While the Governor’s race is all but decided, Wolf still has a giant problem: What does he do after Nov 4th when he wakes up and finds he is stuck with a Republican controlled State Senate?

The hope of flipping the state house evaporated due to the sheer incompetence of the PA HDCC. They raise about $4-$5 million a cycle, and they couldn’t even field candidates in 10 GOP districts with a Dem registration advantage, in a year with the most unpopular Governor on the GOP ballot. Fresh Start should have fielded some independent candidates in those races.

Does Wolf think Pileggi is suddenly going to abandon the GOP special interests, and support funding public education, transportation, minimum wage increases, abortion rights, clean air/water, etc?

Wolf can win by more than the total vote out of Philadelphia, but he’d be happier losing if he’s stuck with a Republican Senate. There are only two or three Senate seats that are considered flippable. How much is it worth to Wolf’s supporters for him to be able to accomplish anything?

Pennsylvania SEIU Cope gave Wolf $500K. PSEA PACE $500K. AFT $450K. How much have they given to flip the senate?

Is it worth a million dollars to win 3 State Senate races and control a chamber?

I’ve been going to events and talking to the troops. The biggest complaint I hear is that Wolf has no coordinated campaign to have coattails.

Every call, every ad should have language to the effect of: “Vote for Tom Wolf as part of straight Democratic ticket, to give him a legislature that will reverse, not preserve, Tom Corbett’s failed legacy.”

This is the most important thing Wolf can do at this point. If he can’t flip the Senate (and make gains in the House), he’ll be a Governor who can’t govern. He’ll be blocked at every turn by the same special interests supporting Corbett, and their elected stooges.

Wolf was thwarted when he tried to install his pick for the Dem State Committee. If he really wants to lead the party, he’s got to have coattails.

Posted in Elections, Governor