Episode 2 of “Environmental Voices: The PennFuture Podcast” shines a light on the coordinated effort of fossil fuel trade groups and politicians in Pennsylvania to use the Ukrainian crisis to their advantage.
Our guests include:
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Travis DiNicola (00:14):
Welcome back to another edition of Environmental Voices, the pen future podcast. My name is Travis DiNicola, PennFuture's director of development, and your host. Environmental Voices is sponsored by PennFuture - Pennsylvania's watchdog for clean air, clean water, and clean energy. You can find out more and become a member at PennFuture.org. On the inaugural episode of Environmental Voices, we spoke with three people fighting for environmental justice and voting rights in different parts of Pennsylvania. We took you from the industrial city of Clariton in Allegheny County to the general assembly in Harrisburg, in an effort to lift up the voices of advocates who are making a difference in the everyday lives of Pennsylvanians. Our goal on Environmental Voices is to tell the critically important environmental stories facing Pennsylvanians throughout all regions of the state. Today, we will try to accomplish that by speaking to an environmental activist who has spent years fighting back against the disastrous Mariner East 2 pipeline in eastern Pennsylvania. We will also chat with PennFuture's energy expert about the transitioning of Pennsylvania to a clean energy economy.
Before those conversations, however, we wanted to acknowledge the ongoing war in Ukraine and the human toll it is causing. Nobody should have to live under a state of constant violence and fear. And our hearts are with anybody impacted by this tragedy. Pennsylvania's home to more than 122,000 Ukrainians - the second most of any U.S. state. We know there are many, many people here who are touched by this tragedy on a daily basis. There is a tremendous amount of suffering unfolding daily in Ukraine because of the actions of one man, the autocrat Vladimir Putin, who has accumulated billions of dollars in oil and gas money that has now been used to fund the invasion. The world's focus should be on the Ukrainian people and how to help ease their suffering. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry here in America, hasn't embraced that message and is instead utilizing this humanitarian crisis to further pad the pockets of corporate polluters. It didn't take long for fossil fuel interest to exploit this invasion for their own gain.
In fact, it happened before the invasion even began. On the eve of Russia's invasion, through its trade association The American Petroleum Institute, the fossil fuel industry went public with a platform to replace a European dependence on Russian gas with a European dependence on American gas. According to industry leaders, all that's needed to accomplish that lofty goal is open access to drilling on America's public lands, streamline permits and taxpayer funded subsidies for new pipelines, and weakened environmental and public health regulations that keep us safe from polluters. The fracked gas champions in the Pennsylvania state legislature quickly got the memo. Within a week of the American Petroleum Institute publicizing its list of demands, state lawmakers announced plans to introduce no fewer than six new bills and resolutions designed further entrench the fossil fuel industry in Pennsylvania for decades. This includes efforts to speed up pipeline projects, reverse a ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin, and drastically scale up fracked gas drilling in Pennsylvania.
In some cases, the words and phrases used in these proposed bills were taken directly from the wish list unveiled by the American Petroleum Institute days before. Make no mistake, this is a coordinated effort from national fossil fuel trade groups down to local governments to use this crisis to their advantage. In response, today's episode of Environmental Voices is dedicated to shining a light on this issue with the help of one of the environmental voices that has been the most outspoken about these attempts. Bill McKibben is no stranger to most environmental advocates. McKibben helped fund the global grassroots climate campaign known as 350.org, and he hass organized for climate action on every continent, including Antarctica. He played a lead role in launching the opposition to big oil pipeline projects and the fossil fuel divestment campaign, which has become the biggest anti corporate campaign in history with endowments worth more than 15 trillion stepping back from oil, gas, and coal. His latest project is called Third Act, which works to organize Americans over the age of 60 to act on the climate crisis. McKibben has also been on the forefront of calling out the lies and manipulations of fossil fuel executives who are trying to use the Ukrainian crisis to their advantage. Recently, McKibben has been featured in the New York Times, The Guardian and the Washington Post. We are honored to have such a distinguished guest on the second episode of Environmental Voices to talk about this critically important issue. Please note that we recorded this interview earlier in March. Bill, welcome to the show.
Well, a pleasure to be with you.
I'll jump right in here that, uh, the war in Ukraine is unfortunately, another reminder that any economy tied to fossil fuels is unpredictable. In a recent piece in The Guardian you wrote that this is a war underwritten by oil and gas, a war whose most crucial weapon may be oil and gas, a war we America can't fully engage because we remain dependent on oil and gas. Can you explain to our listeners just how much of a role fossil fuels are playing in this war?
Sure. Um, I mean, it's interesting cuz it's not quite the, the sort of classic war for oil and gas - like some of the ones that America's found themselves embroiled in, in the middle east, but it's every bit is connected to hydrocarbons. Uh, 60% of Vladimir Putin's export earnings come from oil and gas. That's basically all that Russia has got. I mean, you can prove it to yourself, look around your house for something Russian to boycott or throw on a bonfire or something. Unless you've got an old bottle of Stolichnya in the liquor cabinet, that's it, you know, there's oil and gas is what they do. Uh, it's also their main weapon for 20 years. They've kept Germany and France cowering by threatening to shut off the flow of natural gas. Uh, and, and, and even here in the states, uh, you know, it was a real act of courage for Joe Biden to say, we're going to shut off the, uh, we're gonna embargo Russian oil because he knew it would send the price of gasoline a little higher.
Um, so, uh, this is the rule in this fight, but it's the general rule too because oil and gas are scattered in a few concentrated deposits around the world, it's no surprise that the people who sit on top of those deposits turn out to be more powerful than they otherwise would or should be. So Vladimir Putin or the King of Saudi Arabia or the Koch brothers or anybody else who ends up controlling this most important, uh, uh, of commodities. And it's why one of the reasons why it's so refreshing to imagine a world running instead on sun and wind and storing the power in batteries, um, because well, because we have sun and wind everywhere and not even Vladimir Putin can figure out a way to, you know, embargo the sunshine.
Well, it sure did not take long for the fossil fuel interest here at home, specifically in Pennsylvania, to use this crisis to their advantage in calling for expanded drilling and pipelines, as well as weaken regulations and rubber stamp permitting. I mean, can you tell us how you've seen the industry trying to use this crisis to further pad its own pockets with profits?
Yeah, no, the American Petroleum Institute within days was like, whoa, you know, let's spend the next 10 years deepening our dependence on fossil fuel in order to, uh, uh, fight Vladimir Putin. And it's what they've always done. It's what they've done for decades. I mean, in the same way that, you know, for Republican politicians, the answer to all questions is tax cuts, uh, for, uh, Big Oil. The answer to all questions is more oil. But this you can't get out of that way. I mean, um, um, anything that deepens our - and the world's - dependence on fossil fuels in the long run increases the power of people like Vladimir Putin. And so this is happily also being seized on by wiser people, including some in the Biden administration, as a moment when you might really start, uh, moving more decisively towards renewable energy, which, you know, I mean, no one's ever fought a war over sunshine and no one's ever going to.
Well, you've got a really interesting solution here. I mean, just this morning, I was reading the Washington Post - an article about your proposal to invoke the Defense Production Act, Emergency National Defense Law, to quote, “get American manufacturers to start producing electric heat pumps in quantity. So we can ship them to Europe where they can be installed in time to dramatically lessen Putin’s power.” Now this is something that we can do immediately. Whereas, you know, this whole idea of, of let's build more pipelines - that's not gonna make a difference for years, but you're talking about something we can do right away. Tell me more about this idea.
Well, so heat pumps are fantastic, and I confess I have 'em on my brain cuz that's how we heat our house, and they're great. Uh, they use a lot less energy. It's electric energy. Uh, they're cheaper to operate and, and obviously emissions go way down. But they're also the kind of thing you can put in pretty easily. It's less like installing a whole heating system and often more like installing a, um, an air conditioner. They really are just kind of an air conditioner that also works in reverse, uh, to heat. And so people have come up with plans for how we have a lot of spare air conditioner manufacturing capacity in this country - companies like Carrier and Train - and, and the president, without having to get the permission from Joe Manchin, could invoke the defense production act as both Trump and Biden have done around vaccine production. Uh, uh, and as presidents have done dating back to the Korean war, um, to start producing these things in, in quantity and shipping them off to Europe, much like we, you know, used the lend lease program in the years before the second world war to help support our European allies. You install a few million of these things, well that puts a dent in Vladimir Putin's leverage by November, which, which, you know, it's gonna get cold again in Europe come November, and his leverage is gonna ratchet back up.
How likely do you think this is that that could happen though?
I don't know. I mean, look in normal times, it takes forever to get at any new, uh, uh, it takes forever to get any new idea through, you know, but these obviously aren't normal times, you know, people are, you know, within a matter of days, uh, everyone from, you know, McDonald's to, uh, uh, City Bank has been pulling out of Russia, you know. We're seeing things happen very quickly in very compressed time periods. And, and we know that it's possible that, you know, when the U.S., uh, decided to arm for the second world war in a year, it went from making cars to making tanks, planes, ships, and doing them at a, the, uh, such an incredible rate that that's how we won the war. We built and converted factories one after another. And we didn't sit around saying, oh, we can't do this or it's hard or something. We just did it. So we'll see.
We will see. I'm gonna wrap this up with one more question for you specifically about Pennsylvania. I know you've been paying some attention to what some of our politicians have been saying here. And again, trying to exploit this crisis for their benefit that they see in, in drilling for more oil and gas and fracking and more pipelines, you know. And of course, you know, we are seeing, you know, prices increase at the pump and, and people are recognizing that. I mean, I, I know you were in Vermont, but what would you say to Pennsylvanians who are confused by this whole situation right now?
Well, look, uh, for, for those of us who love the landscape of Pennsylvania, it's been very sad to watch the number of communities that have become divided, bitter, unhappy places across the hydrocarbon belt, across the fracking belt of Pennsylvania. Um, you know, it's a, sometimes a story writ small of the same tensions that happen across the planet. So I, I think and hope that we may be at a moment of change, and that's why a place like Pennsylvania is badly in need of leaders who can help shape that change instead of just, you know, clinging with, uh, old hands to a past that isn't gonna work for any of us much longer.
Mr. McKibben, I want to thank you very much for your time today. I know you're a busy man, and we here at PennFuture greatly appreciate the time you've given us for our Environmental Voices podcast.
Thanks for all your good work. And, and we will see you down the line, take care.
In the previous segment, you heard renowned environmentalist, Bill McKibben, talk about the fossil fuel industry's strategy to drill more wells, build more pipelines, and loosen the rules and regulations that keep us safe from polluters. This is not an innocuous ideology or harmless vision. If acted upon the priorities spelled out by industry executives will further tether Pennsylvania's economy to fossil fuels for decades to come at a time when we need exactly the opposite. It would also further lock-in significant health impacts associated with the pollution that accompanies industry. Doubling down on dirty energy is the wrong choice for our climate, our natural resources, and our communities. The fracked gas industry has shown time and again that it cannot operate within the bounds of Pennsylvania's laws. Water supplies have been permanently tainted, wetlands and other protected areas destroyed, and houses have actually been purchased by pipeline companies because of nearby sinkholes and explosions.
We've seen enough in Pennsylvania to know that the industry has not earned the trust required to expand its operations. Nothing illustrates that point better than the Mariner East 2 pipeline, which transports gas liquids, including propane, ethane, and butane from the Marcellus and Utica shale across Pennsylvania to a processing and export terminal in Marcus Hook, Delaware County. Built by a Texas-based company called Energy Transfer Partners, the high-pressure pipeline tunnels beneath 17 counties, cuts through 2,700 properties, and crosses more than 1200 streams and wetlands. It is difficult to overstate how disastrous this pipeline has been for Pennsylvania since construction started in February of 2017. Since then, the state Department of Environmental Protection has issued more than 120 violations against Energy Transfer Partners for polluting wetlands, waterways, and destroying about a dozen private water wells. And the company has been fined in excess of $20 million by the state.
Construction forged ahead, even after Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, filed 48 criminal charges against Energy Transfer last October. Behind those criminal charges, fines and violations are entire communities that are still being impacted by the pipeline today. It is hard to fully grasp what it's like living next to fracked gas infrastructure, unless you've done it yourself. Today, we wanted to chat with someone who can speak to that experience and also to the failures of the industry to protect local residents. Ginny Marcel-Kerslake lives in Chester County, not far from where Energy Transfer purchased at least five homes after its work damaged a nearby aquifer and created sinkholes. She has been a passionate and outspoken advocate against the Mariner East pipeline for years, and co-founded several grassroots organizations to raise public awareness about the project. We are thrilled to welcome Ginny to the show.
Oh, thank you. I'm uh, I'm grateful to be here and, uh, to share my story of Mariner East, which is so many people's story.
Well, you have quite the story. So I, I wanna start by, you know, asking you how you, you, you got started organizing around Mariner East. I mean, um, you've been an advocate pretty much all your life, right? Uh, environmental, uh -
No, no, actually, uh, I haven't, um -
No, not at all. I'm teasing you. This is, so tell me, tell me about how this all came about.
Yeah, it's, it's kind of funny because they – we’re often painted as activists or even fringe activists. And, um, I like, you know, really, so many people that have stepped up in this are just people who, you know, we were just living our lives and, um, and then all of a sudden we were hit with this, uh, huge pipeline project coming through our properties and through our communities. That's how I got involved, uh, to begin with.
Yeah. How many, how many years ago was that? I mean, it, it is fairly recent, right?
It is. Uh, so for me, um, the Mariner East really started in 2017 when they started construction here, um, in Westland where, where I live and, you know, a larger in Chester County and we are in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The project itself was actually, you know, probably in the making about 10 years before that. They started to come around with easements, for people to find in 2014 here. And that was well in advance of even getting the permits. The permits didn't come until early 2017. So, uh, the project was in the works for a while before people really woke up to it.
And you weren't necessarily against it at the beginning. Were you?
Um, well, I think it's better to say that I really didn't know much about it in the beginning. Um, for us Mariner East started with a knock on the door in 2014 from a land agent. And, uh, the land agent said that, uh, we're going to be putting two new pipelines across your property. And we're here for you to sign these papers. The project is going to be just like all the other pipelines that are around here. We are going to be in and out in two weeks. You're not going to see us, hear us, or even know that we're here. And, uh, by the way, you really have no say in this, because if you don't sign, we are going to take it anyway because we have eminent domain, and we'll cut across your property, whether you sign the papers or not. And if you refuse to, we'll also take you to court.
Wow. So you really didn't have much choice at that point.
Uh, no we didn't. And so, so we ended up signing. We believed a lot of what they said. At that time, we weren't in a position to fight it. We didn't understand really what was going to be happening. There are people who knew more who to sign, and it didn't make a difference. They had their, they had their land taken by eminent domain anyway.
So, tell me how things progressed after that.
Um, so nothing really happened for the next few years. And then in, uh, the spring of 2017, three years later, one Saturday, we heard chainsaws. And we went outside, and they were taking down a bunch of big trees right across the road from our house. And that's how we came to learn that they were making a huge, um, horizontal, directional drill site, right across the road from our house. All of our neighbors - we were all surprised because we'd all been told the same thing by the land agent, that there would be a drill site, you know, far back behind this apartment complex. And, you know, we wouldn't see it, but this was right in our face. When we started asking questions, we learned that it wasn't going to be two weeks of construction. It was going to be, uh, up to 350 days of drilling that could stretch over a three year period. Yeah. So it actually, because of all the delays on this project, we actually had that drill site across the road for four and a half years.
And you still live there.
Yep. We still live here. We live in a house that was built in 1797. We've lived here since 2004. We raised our two sons here and put a whole lot of work into restoring this property and house. And, you know, it's just a place we really love.
And you still love it, but you've got that right across the street from you. I mean, how's that, you know, changed your quality of life there?
Well, they have, they cleaned up and moved out, uh, last fall. Um, so it doesn't, you know. We, the drill site's not there anymore, but all it was there. And during the drilling, which did last about, you know, 300 plus days over that four and a half year period, and, and when they were drilling, it's extremely loud. Um, you, you can't be outside and enjoy your property at all. And even inside the house, you can hear the vibrations, like the windows rattled and it, but it's more what you feel. It's almost like you feel these waves. And feel it in the, the boards. I mean, like I said, our, we have this big solid stone house, 18-inch-thick walls. Uh, some people have newer construction, they hear it. Frames rattle. So that's, that's a big part of it. And then all the construction noise that goes along with it. So for, for my family, um, that was, that was the biggest part of the, um, impact to, to our lives over that. And that construction, by the way, um, our township ordinance allows that noise with no limit, um, from Monday through Saturday 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. So we would really, just, during those construction times, we would just breathe a sigh of relief when, you know, Saturdays at seven, we knew we were gonna get a break in the noise, um, until Monday morning. So, um,
That sounds just like -
Awful to live through. I mean, I mean, so many things you had to suffer through during that time period. Was there one moment or that really pushed you into your activism?
It, yes, there was. So in 2017, they started to do the construction, uh, across the road on the first of, of those two new pipes. And, um, when they're doing a horizontal directional drilling, um, and for people who don't know it, it's a way of putting the pipes in the ground. And in some places here in Chester county, the pipes are a couple hundred feet under ground. So they're, they're drilling through hard rock. And then once they get this, the whole section, uh, up to the next exit pit, which in our case was uphill in, uh, in the neighboring township, then they'll pull the pipe through. So in, uh, in June of 2017, they started this and within two weeks of drilling, but there was all of a sudden, there was all this water rushing down the pilot fold, they were drilling and onto the drill site.
And we became aware of this, uh, because we could hear it, we could see it, the, all these trucks started coming in. And they just kept on doing this for like the next two weeks. And what had happened was they had punctured an aquifer uphill from our house that provides water to roughly 30 homes. And, and we are on public water. So we didn't notice anything in our water, but there are people in that neighboring township and even in our township at the top of the hill. Um, but at the time, I didn't know, but, and they didn't realize that this had happened. Uh, meanwhile their private wells had been impacted, and there was drilling mud that probably got into the aquifer. Energy Transfer denies that, but they never actually tested for the drilling mud. Um, but people noticed the locked in pressure and everything. And that's that got me involved and made me realize that there were people who had already started organizing to, to fight this pipeline.
So that was, that was a moment. And up until that point, I thought the part of this project was all that noise and an infringement on your property rights. And it didn't even occur to me how much we'd been lied to about what this project was for and what would be transported and how dangerous this is. And when I first started to hear from people, well, you they're doing what they're transporting and, and how dangerous it is. And I thought, no, that can't possibly be right. Nobody would allow that. And, and then I realized, no, they actually are transporting these very dangerous materials through our densely populated communities. And from there, from then on, there was no turning back for me. I, I had to fight this. It wasn't something I was gonna do on my own, you know, started part of this community organizing, uh, effort.
Well, so the pipeline itself's complete, but it's not actually in service yet. Correct?
That is partly correct. A few weeks ago, Energy Transfer told its investors and told the press that both ME2 and ME2X - the two new pipelines - that construction had been completed. That's not actually true because in Delaware County, which is the county, that neighbors hours, they have been doing construction as recently as yesterday on a couple sections where they've had problems. And there are people, uh, who live there who have documented this, uh, there's drone images. I just saw this morning of pipe that had been taken outta the ground and new pipe put in. So yeah, construction is, is not absolutely finished. It certainly wasn't done like roughly a month ago when they made that announcement,
You referenced some pretty horrible things that are gonna be pumped through that pipeline. Can you tell me more about that?
Yeah. So Mariner East is being built primarily to transport LNG overseas to make plastics. It is the, that can also transport propane and butane. These are known as natural gas liquids, or highly volatile liquids, and they are, they're a byproduct of fracking from methane. So when, and they frack for methane or natural gas, uh, which is used as a fuel, they also pull off ethane, butane, and propane. And we have a glut of ethane in the United States. And so Mariner East was cooked up as a plan to, to get rid of some of that ethane, partly to increase the price because, you know, the supply would dwindle. And now it actually, uh, made this may turn out to be, you know, a primary reason to frack. And while there's this push to grow the petrochemical industry, as we pull away from using fossil fuels. So it's, it's part of a, you know, a bigger push by the industry. But that, that's what it's for as it's to transport ING and, and these ethane, butane, and propane are even more dangerous than methane than the natural gas pipeline
You are entering chapter two here, the first part you had to suffer all those years of the drilling and the noise and, and, and the construction, but now you're gonna be living right next to something that potentially if it would ever break threatening your entire community.
Absolutely, absolutely. The, you know, the construction impacts were, were bad enough for us. It was, you know, the noise and, you know, quality of impact for many people in Pennsylvania. It actually meant that they, you know, lost their clean running water. And that continues to this day. You know, there are families in, in Pennsylvania that, you know, their, their private wells have been ruined, and they're still getting water trucked in at their own expense or, or at, uh, Energy Transfer’s. But that aside, all those impacts, I hate to almost say pale and comparison, but the, the larger problem is going to be when Mariner East leaks and what the consequence of the will be, especially in densely populated communities, which, you know, that's what Mariner East goes through here in Chester and Delaware County.
You say when, and not, if it leaks.
Well, pipelines leak, you know, we, we, we know that. And it it's horrifying to think what will happen. And the, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has stated on the record that in these densely populated communities and in it used Westland township where I live as just such an example, that there is a potential for a catastrophic event when Mariner East leaks. The problem is that not only these are high volume pipelines, Mariner East 2 is one 20 inches, 2X is 16 inch. And then they've also, they're also using the old eight inch, a 90 year old eight inch pipeline that they repurposed. We've heard them reference 740,000 barrels per day is the maximum amount. And when, when these gases, when these liquified gases leak, they revert back to a gas, and these gases are denser than air. So methane is actually lighter than air. If it leaks, it dissipates. These ethane, butane, and propane, they will form a low like ground hugging vapor cloud. And they're extremely explosive. They're easily ignited by something as ubiquitous as, you know, a lawnmower or, you know, a, a car engine, um, even a cell phone can ignite these gases. And then when they ignite, they have a blast radius of anywhere from half a mile to 1.3 miles. And that's based on modeling done by three independent risk assessments on Mariner East.
Jenny, this sounds terrifying.
One other thing I didn't add is, you know, we've all heard stories about, uh, natural gas pipeline leaks, and, you know, people smell something and, you know, they'll report it. They'll call they'll go, you know, your, your propane tank that you are on your barbecue. If you, you know, you smell that smell, those are odorants that are added for safety reasons. There is no odorant added to the gases on Mariner East. The operator has refused to add one. Um, so we wouldn't even smell this if it leaks. They've refused to add it because it's too costly for them to remove it at the end point. And nobody wants to buy plastics that smell like that. So, you know, there's a key example of how, you know, a, a safety measure that could be made is not, is not being made.
So I, I wanna know Jenny, you've been an activist you've been involved with many grassroots organizations. You've done Ted talks. You've been a part of, of political campaigns. You're on our podcast today. And now you're about to enter a period where you're living, you know, next to this potentially combustible pipeline. I mean, do you, do you feel that you've been able to make any difference in, in your work?
Yes, yes, I do. And, and I I'd like to start by saying the work is not over because while we have been trying to stop the construction of it, so that we don't have to face this operation, now that it is getting close to being put into service, we have to continue to, to fight because there is no emergency plan to warn and protect the public. And, and that's a failing of, that's a non-compliance of our, our governments, subdivisions, county, township school districts - they're required under, uh, Pennsylvania law to have emergency plans, credible emergency plans in place. And we don't have one for Mariner East. So that's, that's something that we, we will keep fighting on that basis.
So Jenny, if it starts to leak, what are you supposed to do?
Well, we are told that we are really on our own. We have to self-evacuate. And what that looks like is run a half mile up, wind on foot. And I could do that if I have enough warning before it ignites. But if that's really an impossible situation for many people here - people who physically can't or mentally can't, or have, you know, young children. Mariner East passes through school yards, through daycare centers, past senior living facilities. And there is really no plan.
And because it's so explosive, you, you shouldn't start a car to try to get out of there. Right?
Exactly. That's why we have to self-evacuate. Um, the first responders cannot come into an area where the vapor clouds are. So it's even a question of how would you notify people because we have a reverse 911 system here not everybody's even signed up for it, but even if they were, you would be setting off thousands, literally thousands of cell phones in, in the blast zone. And that there is the potential for that to ignite these gases. So, I mean, notification itself in is an issue. And then evacuation that's that's on foot. They may as well tell us to flap our arms and, you know, fly away. That's, that's how not credible it is. But your other question about, you know, do we feel we've made a difference? I, I feel that we have made a huge difference. Part of what we've always said is when people say to us, you know, nobody can stop this project.
It's too big. And, um, we've said, well, we have to try, and hopefully we'll stop it. But if we don't, we're certainly going to make it harder for this to happen to any other people - any other families, any other communities. And so we've been successful in, you know, elevating this issue and like inserting it into, into our elections and, and, you know, who gets selected. Everything that you read on the, on the news, the fact that I'm on this podcast today, that's the result of so many people speaking up, documenting all these problems, um, getting, getting the press’ attention, and then that, you know, we have a more informed public. And if somebody came in with a similar project, again, they're probably not going to be answering the door and not asking questions that should have been, that should have been asked, or perhaps even they're being more of an uprising at the beginning and, and trying to stop this from happening.
But there's another thing we, we have had had a big victory. Um, and this is something that's going on right now with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Okay. So they are going through a rule making right now to enhance the safety, um, regulations for pipelines like this. What, what, what has been recognized is that we don't have that in place. And while, you know, we would, we would rather the pipelines, um, not be there. It is - at least we are looking at putting some, some things in place. There should be. I mean, there should be setbacks. There should be all kinds of leak detection. There could be things that the industry says, well, we can't possibly do that. It will be too costly for us. Well, then it shouldn't be built.
I'm glad to hear you say that you have had those successes. That's, it's encouraging. Cause it's so difficult.
Like I said, with Mariner East, the fight is not over, um, as long as, as long as those here's products are flowing through this pipeline, we, we, we can't stop.
Ginny, let me ask you this. I mean, you've made it very clear that what's gonna be going through this pipeline has nothing to do with powering electric stations or anything like that. It's, it's, you know, gonna be turned into, into plastics. So when you hear industry boosters and politicians using the current crisis in Ukraine to call from even more drilling and more pipelines, I mean, what's your first thought?
Uh, well, my first thought is that this is, this is the industry. Um, just being opportunistic and using what's happening in Ukraine to advance its own interests. I have, you know, I've, I've always been aware and concerned, deeply concerned about climate change. My background is in earth science and soil chemistry. You know, it was 35 years ago when I started learning in university courses about climate change. And so I've always been concerned about that. What Mariner East did for me - and for many people in Southeastern PA - is to wake us up to what has been happening to people in, in the fracking areas over in like in Western, um, Pennsylvania in that case, it's a lot of it is it's personal property rights again, but it's also, um, health impacts and pollution of their water. And it's all, you know, whether you're fighting pipelines in Pennsylvania or you're fighting the, the fracking, it's, it's all the, it's all the same thing. You can't have one without the other. And the way that communities here are placed in sacrifice zones is the same as out there. You know, it's a, it's all part of a, a, a bigger problem. And so when I hear the industry or, or certain politicians calling for increased fracking and build out of more fossil fuel infrastructure in response to what's going on in Ukraine, um, it's just so clear to me that that's not what we should be doing. Um, this is actually an indication that we should be moving more quickly to clean energy and, and, you know, stopping our dependence on this polluting, destructive industry that increases global instability.
Ginny, I couldn't agree with you more. I wanna thank you so much for taking the time today to talk to us on Environmental Voices, the PennFuture podcast. It has been a great honor to chat with you, and I wish you the best of luck in your future activist work.
Thank you so much.
In our second segment, you heard a firsthand account of what it's like living next to fracked gas infrastructure. Ginny's story is a powerful one, but it's not unique. Thousands of people across Pennsylvania experience the negative impacts that come along with fossil fuel extraction, processing, and consumption. Our mountains are still stripped bare from excess coal consumption. Water supplies are still permanently tainted, Rivers and streams still run orange from legacy pollution. Hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells remain abandoned across the Commonwealth. It's impossible to tell Pennsylvania's history without recognizing the role that dirty energy has played in our economy. Even today, the fossil fuel industry in Pennsylvania is subsidized to the tune of the 3.8 billion annually, and courting massive corporate polluters like shell and Exxon still remains a crutch for politicians promising economic development. Pennsylvania's economy is still intricately intertwined with fossil fuels, but not because it has to be. It's because our elected officials choose for it to be. What would happen if the roles were reversed?
If we invested in renewable energy, instead of subsidizing pollutant, fossil fuels both as a nation and as a Commonwealth, according to a national environmental advocacy group called environmental entrepreneurs, nearly 94,000 Pennsylvanians had careers clean energy in 2019 before the pandemic impacted nearly every sector of our economy. The group ranked Pennsylvania 11th in the country for green energy jobs, but made it clear that the sectors underperforming and failing to reach its robust potential. What would happen if Pennsylvania prioritized its clean energy economy in the same enter as its neighbor New York, which had 1.7 million green energy jobs in 2019 and has committed 1.4 billion toward renewable energy projects within the last five years. There's nothing stopping Pennsylvania from aggressively pursuing a clean energy economy in a similar manner. Science and common sense both tell us that we need to immediately transition away from dirty energy if we want to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change, what's stopping the Keystone state from embracing a clean energy future and cutting this historical tether to the fossil fuel industry?
Our last guest today as Rob Altenburg, who serves as Penn future Senior Director for Energy and Climate. Rob is one of the foremost experts on clean energy in Pennsylvania, working with regulatory agencies and clean energy industry experts on climate and energy issues across the Commonwealth. He's provided testimony to both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and to the White House on energy issues. And co-authored a chapter on federal climate policy in the second edition of the book, Climate Change and U.S. Law. Before the pandemic, Rob traveled extensively throughout Pennsylvania to talk to students, community groups, and other organizations on climate and energy issues, and of the benefits of transitioning to a clean energy economy. Rob, welcome to the show.
Yeah, great to be here.
Rob, we seem to be at an inflection point here in Pennsylvania with fossil fuel boosters and their friends in the state legislature aggressively calling for more pipelines and dirty energy because of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Can you explain to us why using the crisis in Ukraine just simply doesn't make sense to justify this?
Yeah, sure. The, uh, the fossil fuel advocates are claiming that by producing more, uh, fracked gas, they will be able to somehow alleviate the crisis in Ukraine. That's just not possible. We already are at record high production for gas and oil. And the process to increase our export capacity would take years and cost potentially billions of dollars. So there's nothing that can be done in the short term to address the problem in Ukraine. In the long term, the European countries simply don't want the gas. 13 European countries are already ahead of their climate targets. They're all intending to be net zero by 2050. Having a project that's going to take 25 years potentially to pay for itself, just doesn't make financial sense in that the European countries just aren't doing that.
What would make more sense here?
Well, we should be doing really what a lot of the European countries are doing now. And that's investing more in energy efficiency and more in clean, renewable generation. You know, people have said that the, uh, only energy source that nobody owns, that nobody can pressure you with is wind and solar. If we, we want energy independence, if we want energy security, we should maximize those investments.
Well, earlier on this episode, Bill McKibben said that no one has ever fought a war over sunshine. What do you think of that?
And that's exactly right, because it's not a commodity that somebody owns. When we have extractive industries, there is going to be a tension between the people that are profiting and the people that are suffering the damage.; people that own the resources can use that ownership to pressure - whether it's politicians or whether, you know, its entire economies. With wind and solar, we simply can't do that.
And yet there's a pretty big gap in Pennsylvania in terms of how much public support is being used to subsidize fossil fuels compared to subsidizing clean energy.
Yes, certainly. I mean, we identified over $3 billion worth of subsidies that go to the fossil fuel industry in Pennsylvania alone. And that's not counting the federal subsidies. It, you know, it shouldn't be surprising considering the decades well more than a century where the fossil fuel industry has had huge political presence in Harrisburg and huge influence amongst our, uh, policy makers. So maybe that's not surprising, but we really need to get away from that and move to cleaner, more sustainable sources.
And how do we do that?
And the big step right now is investment. Uh, there's a, there's a number of programs that we talk about in Harrisburg - whether it's enabling community solar, increasing our alternative energy portfolio standards for clean generation, uh, increasing our energy efficiency standards. There's, there's a lot of things that we can do in forms of policies, but what the, what these all have in common is that they encourage people to invest in clean generation and energy efficiency.
So it sounds as much political as it is. Uh, anything else right now to make these changes happen?
Well certainly, as long as we are actively subsidizing dirty energy, it's going to be harder for cleaner, more sustainable alternatives to get a foothold. So yes, it is a political fight.
Rob, I wanna thank you for your voice today, for joining us on Environmental Voices. It's great to have a chance to chat with you about this.
Great. Thank you.
And that does it for our second episode of Environmental Voices, the PennFuture podcast. Thank you to Bill McKibben, Ginny Kerslake, and Rob Altenburg for being our guests today. If you'd like to learn more about the work each of them do, you can check out our show summary at PennFuture.org slash podcast. And of course, make sure to subscribe and leave behind a review of Environmental Voices, the PennFuture podcast, wherever you get your podcast. And please let us know what you'd like to hear on the show. Environmental Voices is sponsored by PennFuture, Pennsylvania's watchdog for clean air, clean water, and clean energy. You can find out more and become a member pennFuture.org. Today's show was written by Jared Stonesifer. It was produced by Donna Kohut, Michael Mehrazar, and Jared Stonesifer. The executive producer is Matt Stepp. Our music is thanks to Pixabay.com. I'm your host, and audio engineer, Travis DiNicola. Thank you for listening to Environmental Voices, the Penn future podcast.