Pa. federal court fight over Delaware River fracking ban heats up | Wednesday Morning Coffee

March 31, 2021 7:10 am

The view north up the Delaware River from the Reading Railroad Bridge between Ewing, N.J., and Lower Makefield Township, Pa. (< a href=",_New_Jersey_and_Lower_Makefield_Township,_Pennsylvania.jpg">WikiMedia Commons photo)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

In a local story with national implications, Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate are waging legal war over a regional reguiatory agency’s decision to impose a de facto moratorium on natural gas drilling in the Delaware River basin.

On Monday, Senate Democrats announced they’d been granted a motion to intervene in the January lawsuit filed by Sens. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, and Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, along with the Senate Republican Caucus, challenging the Delaware River Basin Commission’s decade-old policy, arguing the agency had usurped the Legislature by imposing its moratorium.

“My colleagues and I are participating in this lawsuit to preserve the authority of the Delaware River Basin Commission to protect the drinking water of more than 13 million individuals,” Sen. Steve Santarsiero, a Bucks County Democrat whose district runs along the riverfront, said in a statement “Working within its authority, the DRBC has been taking critical steps to protect both the waterways in the Delaware River Basin, and our land from the harmful effects of fracking.”

Some background:

After imposing its de facto moratorium in 2010, the commission voted Feb. 25 to formally ban fracking in the basin, StateImpact Pennsylvania, an environmental news outlet, reported at the time. All four of the commission’s member states: Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, joined in the action.

In a statement delivered by an aide, Delaware Gov. John Carney, the panel’s chairman, said he
“[welcomed] this opportunity to provide the fullest protection to the more than 13 million people who rely upon the Delaware River Basin’s waters for their drinking water.”

To back up its decision, the commission pointed to a 2015 health study and an environmental impact statement done by New York, as well as a 2016 EPA report, along with current research, StateImpact Pennsylvania reported.

The commission “received tens of thousands of comments, letters, and petitions from a diverse cross-section of the public from within the basin and beyond,” its executive director, Steve Tambini, told StateImpact. The comments, buttressed by reports and studies, and the “conclusions of other government agencies on the impacts of HVHF [high-volume hydraulic fracturing] on water resources were reviewed and evaluated by the DRBC staff and the commissioners,” Tambini told StateImpact.

More astute readers will recall that high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the full scientific term for what’s popularly come to be known as fracking, or the practice of of pumping water and chemicals into shale formations to release natural gas. Its delightful environmental and health fringe benefits (sarcasm font engaged) are well-documented.

A Marcellus shale natural gas well in Jackson Twp., Butler County, Pa. Photo by WCN 24/7 for (Flickr Commons)

In a Feb. 25 statement, Yaw, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Environmental Resources Committee, called the commission’s vote not only an “assault on private property rights, ” but also “another example of neighboring state’s dictating our energy policy,”

The commission, Yaw argued, “is using New York’s failed policies to institute a ban on development.  Pennsylvania has robust rules and regulations in place to protect our environmental resources, which have allowed for the safe development of natural gas in our state. This action serves to undermine economic development and job growth in the region and statewide.”

To back up his argument, Yaw pointed to a Trump administration report concluding that a fracking ban would “reverse oil and natural gas growth and return the United States to a net-importer of oil and gas by 2025. It would weaken our position on a global scale and negatively impact our national security.”

In their statement Monday, Santarsiero and his Democratic colleagues argued that Republicans don’t have the legal standing to bring the challenge, as he accused them of “trying to turn the state constitution’s environmental rights amendment on its head,” by “arguing the [regional] compact requires we monetize our resources.

“That’s not at all what the legislation stands for, and not what the people of Pennsylvania agreed to when they ratified it at the ballot box,” Santarsiero said.

John L. Micek | Editor

A Berks County school system employee gets the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, 3/15/21 (Commonwealth Media Services screen capture)

Our Stuff.
In a story you’re not going to read anywhere else today, Capital-Star Washington Reporters Laura Olson and Ariana Figueroa, joined by States Newsroom editors and reporters in 22 states, have catalogued which members of Congress have — and have not — been vaccinated for COVID-19. Nearly every member of Pennsylvania’s Capitol Hill contingent responded to our survey.

Starting next week, Pa. school kids can be 3 feet, not 6 feet apart, under updated social distancing guidelines, Cassie Miller reports.

A new Black-owned microbrewery in Philadelphia, which pairs a social mission with its mission to produce great beer, has rolled out its latest brews. Our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune profile the effort run by two brothers.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a University of Nebraska/Omaha scholar says today’s nationwide Day of Transgender Visibility offers the community a chance to stand in solidarity and support of their transgender neighbors and friends. And in this season of hope, we need that precious commodity more than ever, opinion regular Lloyd E. Sheaffer writes.

(American Bridge screen capture)

From our Presidential Visits Desk:
With President Joe Biden bound for Pittsburgh today to roll-out a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure plan, the progressive super PAC American Bridge is out with some new digital spots plugging the benefits of the administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan for Pennsylvania.

The ads, which compliment a TV campaign in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, are part of a broader, $100 million effort to build up Biden’s bona fides in key battleground states ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, because, yes, we’re already talking about those. God help us.

“The American Rescue Plan is already making a difference for workers, families and small businesses in every community throughout Pennsylvania,” the super PAC’s president, Jessica Floyd, said in a statement exclusively obtained by the Capital-Star “Our job at American Bridge 21st Century is to make sure voters across the Keystone State know that despite unanimous opposition from Republicans in Congress, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party delivered on their promise to put money in pockets, shots in arms, and the economy back on track. Help is here thanks to President Biden.”

Check the Capital-Star later this morning for more details about Biden’s infrastructure plan, and his visit to Pittsburgh.

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a rally in Wilmington, Del. on Saturday, 11/7/20 (Screen Capture)

The Inquirer
 explains why Joe Biden is returning to Pittsburgh, where he launched his presidential bid, to pitch his infrastructure plan.
The state Department of Health’s shift to favor big outlets for COVID-19 vaccines is leaving McKean County, in rural north-central Pennsylvania, behind, the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive reflects on the 10th anniversary of the Sandusky scandal at Penn State.
New COVID-19 cases in Lancaster County have jumped by 46 percent over the last week, LancasterOnline reports.
As the state starts to wrap up Phase 1A of its vaccination plan, a fight over COVID-19 ‘vaccine passports’ may be brewing as well, the Morning Call reports.
The Greater Nanticoke Area Schools in Luzerne County are expanding in-person learning for students in grades 6-12, the Citizens’ Voice reports.
The York Daily Record looks at where the COVID-19 vaccine is going in Pennsylvania (paywall).

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley says the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘returning to where it began a year ago,’ WHYY-FM reports.
Gov. Tom Wolf won’t say when Pennsylvanians in Phase 1B — and beyond — will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccineWITF-FM reports.
A scaled-back Whiskey Rebellion Festival will return to southwestern Pennsylvania this summer, the Observer-Reporter reports.
Ex-Erie state Sen. Anthony ‘Buzz’ Andrezeski, of Erie, will stay on the spring primary ballotGoErie reports (paywall).
In his first ad of the spring campaign, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto addresses criticism of his racial equity effortsPoliticsPA reports.
Pandemic-paused plastic bag bans are facing renewed reports.
Roll Call looks at the ‘unlikely alliances’ pushing for new infrastructure spending — and wonders how long they’ll last.

What Goes On.
9 a.m., Live Streamed:
 Senate Democratic Policy Committee
9 a.m, G50 Irvis: House State Government Committee
10 a.m, Live Streamed: Pa. Capitol Preservation Committee
1 p.m., 418 MC: House Democratic Policy Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
Philadelphia City Councilmember Cherelle Parker
 holds a virtual reception at 6:30 p.m. Admission is a very real $50 to $1,000.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Have a birthday you’d like noted in this space? Email me at [email protected].

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s some baroque pop from singer-songwriter Morris Madrone that kind of reminds me of Urge Overkill. It’s ‘Under the Moon.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Carolina dropped a 2-1 decision to Chicago on Tuesday night. Today’s a new day, guys.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.