StateImpact Pennsylvania

StateImpact Pennsylvania is a collaboration among WPSU, WITFWHYY and The Allegheny Front. Reporters cover the fiscal and environmental impact of Pennsylvania’s booming energy economy.

Local support for StateImpact Pennsylvania comes from the Benkovic Family Foundation of State College.

Solar panels in a field
Anne Danahy / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s targets for renewable energy are set to max out this year unless the General Assembly takes action, and Republican leaders seem ready to leave increasing goals for green energy up to the private sector.

The state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards require utilities to buy certain amounts of power from renewable sources. For example, utilities now have to get 8% of their power from “Tier 1” energy sources like wind and solar.

A tented device to play back natural gas compressor noise in between two bluebird boxes in a field
Julian Avery / Penn State

A study by Penn State researchers found that songbirds nesting near the sound of natural gas compressors had fewer hatched eggs.  

Researchers set up 80 bird boxes at Penn State's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center in Rock Springs in central Pennsylvania, to attract bluebirds and tree swallows. Half were in quiet areas, and half where researchers played audio recordings from a compressor station. They also outfitted the boxes with mini-cameras.

What they found was in some ways surprising.

Teachers putting water in bottles
Kelly Tunney / WPSU

Plastic permeates Pennsylvania’s waterways, according to a study released Wednesday by PennEnvironment’s Research & Policy Center.

The environmental organization conducted a survey to study the presence of microplastics — pieces of plastic debris less than 5 millimeters long, often too tiny to be caught by water-filtration systems — in the state’s rivers, creeks, and streams.

Turns out, microplastics are everywhere.

Cory Miller, executive director of the University Area Joint Authority, stands in front of one phase of the authority's solar array project.
Anne Danahy / WPSU

If you’re thinking about getting solar panels on your home or business, the local wastewater authority is probably not the first place you would call. But a wastewater agency in Centre County that’s looking to help more people go solar might be a good place to start.

Head shot of climate scientist Michael Mann
Joshua Yospyn

Well-known climate scientist and Penn State professor Michael Mann argues in a new book that there are many tools for addressing climate change and transitioning to green energy.

Mann’s book, "The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet," comes as the country’s climate policy is expected to change with the Biden administration.

Mann said he thinks the U.S. is in a position to re-establish its global leadership on this issue, and that Joe Biden has indicated he will do that as president.

Jennifer Granholm at a podium speaking
Carolyn Kaster / The Associated Press

As governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm helped lead efforts to bail out the auto industry, including offering government incentives to invest in electric vehicle technology. 

Now that President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Granholm to be secretary of Energy, the reaction from the academic and environmental sectors has been positive.

Susan Brantley, a distinguished professor of geosciences at Penn State, said Granholm has a track record when it comes to energy policies. 

Head and shoulder shot of Eric Barron
Gene J. Puskar / AP

Penn State President Eric Barron said he’s looking forward to environmental issues getting more attention — and possibly funding — under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. 

He said environmental issues have taken a “back seat” at the national level in recent years — from the government removing some climate change terminology to cuts in funding. 

Centre County dairy farmer Ron Reese says he's only been affected "on the margins" by climate change.
Anne Danahy / StateImpact PA

For Ron Reese, a dairy farmer in western Centre County, a tour of the farm on a warm fall day includes a short history lesson. 

After World War II, the family bought stalls for dairy cows from Sears and Roebuck, and started shipping whole milk.

“In 1946, Sears and Roebuck was the Amazon of the world,” Reese said.

 The property where Reese and his wife, Jane, live is about 650 acres. That includes about 400 acres that’s farmed, along with picturesque rolling hillsides and forested land.

A CNG fueling station at the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority site.
Anne Danahy / WPSU

The November election will likely have big consequences for climate policy in the United States.

President Donald Trump recently said he doesn’t “think science knows” about climate change during a visit to wildfire-plagued California. His administration has rolled back Obama-era climate initiatives.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is promising to put the country on a path toward a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions from the U.S. no later than 2050.

Doctoral student Steph Herbstritt shows the hairy ligule in switchgrass that's growing on Penn State research plot in Centre County.
Anne Danahy / WPSU

 

When COVID-19 hit Pennsylvania in March, universities moved to shut down in-person classes and suspend some lab work work and field research. For environmental scientists, that’s meant changes and delays in how work gets done.

Terry Engelder, professor emeritus of geosciences at Penn State, holding a large rock.
John Beale / Penn State

In 2007, Terry Engelder, then a professor of geosciences at Penn State, estimated how much natural gas could be accessed in the Marcellus Shale formation using hydrofracking. That calculation led to a drilling boom across the Marcellus region in Pennsylvania.

Widely recognized for his work, Engelder has advised state agencies and received funding from companies in the industry. Now retired and a professor emeritus, Engelder is working on a book called “A Frackademic from Appalachia.” 

Amy Schirf, education coordinator at the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority, in one of the authority's trucks.
Anne Danahy / WPSU

Regan Hosterman, operations manager at the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority, started a truck that runs on compressed natural gas.

“Much quieter,” Hosterman said, comparing it with the old diesel trucks.

The compressed natural gas or CNG truck is not only less noisy — it’s cleaner. 

The authority’s move to CNG trucks is one of 18 cleaner fuel vehicle projects in 13 counties getting a total of $2.1 million in funding from the Department of Environmental Protection to support cleaner fuel vehicle projects around the state. 

Terry Engelder, professor emeritus of geosciences at Penn State, holding a large rock.
John Beale / Penn State

In 2007, Terry Engelder, a professor of geosciences at Penn State, calculated that trillions of cubic feet of natural gas could be recovered from the Marcellus Shale.

 

The now-retired geologist is credited with opening the door to Marcellus Shale development. Looking back, he says the industry did make mistakes when it came to tapping into that reserve. Like not doing baseline water chemistry testing and keeping chemicals used in fracking a secret.

 

Workers install solar panels on the roof of a house
Business Wire

Green energy businesses had been seeing growth, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that.

“We’re all doing the best we can in the new normal here,” said Kevin Gombotz, vice president of Envinity, a green design and construction company.

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission logo
PUC

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has told companies they can’t turn off customers’ utilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PUC’s action means utilities including electric, natural gas, water and telecommunications cannot be turned off if someone falls behind on their bills. It will last as long as Gov. Tom Wolf’s declaration of disaster.

Tanya McCloskey, Pennsylvania’s acting consumer advocate, said access to utility services will be critically important in the coming weeks, and the commission did the right thing.

In her book, “Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore,” Elizabeth Rush takes readers around the country to see rising tides . Rush talks with people around the country who have lost their homes and communities; with scientists who study what’s happening; and with conservationists trying to find ways to restore wetlands. Rush’s book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. WPSU's Anne Danahy spoke with Rush, who will be in State College March 23 to give a talk at 7 p.m. at Schlow Library to celebrate Earth Day.

From left to right, Joe Polaski, John Hecker and Larry Bickel, officials from the Moshannon Forest District, gather around the alidade, an instrument used to help personnel staffing lookout towers pinpoint the location of wildfires.
Amy Sisk / Stateimpact Pennsylvania

John Hecker pointed out the window of the truck as it passed oak, maple and birch trees in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Up ahead was a fork in the road.

Manuel Ortiz looks out his living room window to the street construction outside his home. Ortiz says he wasn't informed that replacing a water main could cause lead to leach into his tap water from the lead service lines delivering water to his house on
Catalina Jaramillo / StateImpact PA

 

About five years ago, doctors found high levels of lead in the blood of Manuel Ortiz’s oldest son. Ortiz and his wife were surprised. They say Manuel Jr. acted like a normal kid.

Health inspectors told them the culprit was lead-based paint in their rented apartment. Ortiz says the landlord didn’t do anything to fix it, so the family moved out as soon as they could.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

The Wolf Administration says Pennsylvania will be getting tens of thousands of new pipelines over the next couple of decades. Recently we reported on how poorly mapped some of these pipelines are.  Many of those unmapped pipelines are also unregulated. These are rural gathering lines, or pipelines that take the gas from the wellhead to a larger transmission line, or gas processing facility.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

This story began with a simple task: Let’s make a pipeline map!

Everyone wants to know where all the new Marcellus Shale gas pipelines are or will be. The new proposals have been piling up.  Many have poetic names like Atlantic Sunrise, Mariner East, and Bluestone. There got to to be so many they started to get numbers: Mariner East I, Mariner East II.

On public land, a gas company takes private control

Aug 14, 2014
Fracking Tower
Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

On any given day Bob Deering doesn’t know how much trouble he’ll have getting to and from his home. He lives on a mountain in Lycoming County and he’s routinely stopped and questioned by security guards. It’s been happening for the past six years– ever since the natural gas boom began. Read more...