Friday, February 06, 2015
PennEast Pipeline: Scavello Wants Residents, Businesses To Have Pipeline Access
On a cold night in Klecknersville, Pennsylvanians came to an event hosted by State Representatives Marcia Hahn and Julie Harhart, with special guest Senator Mario Scavello to learn more about the proposed 36” diameter Penn East Natural Gas Pipeline . The Fellowship Hall of Covenant United Methodist Church packed in about 130 residents. In the introduction, the representatives were adamant about having a non-biased forum and to be respectful despite the controversy.
The Penn State Extension’s Dave Messersmith gave a presentation about the procedures, construction, positives and negatives and some land-owner’s rights as well. It presented like a college lecture hall, but provided a good basis for understanding what is going to happen. If you want to learn more, he makes this powerpoint available for the asking. He is based out of the Honesdale, PA extension office, and on the web at extension.psu.edu/naturalgas.
Next up was Attorney Carl Engleman, Jr., an attorney who primarily represents land owners with right of way issues and mineral rights leases. Despite any lawyer joke you could think of, the meeting picked up pace and became much more interesting. As someone with 20 years of practice, he was quick to point out all of the tricks that utilities pull when a new transmission front is proposed. As verified by some in the crowd, PennEast has hired what Englemann referred to as “Land Agents” to start surveying properties in the proposed right-of-way. Many of the agents surveying will put offers in front of land-owners immediately, with forms to give up any rights to sue after the line is installed and (illegally) threatening eminent domain. Englemann also covered topics like areas of historical significance, environmental concerns and proximities of schools can all be reasons to re-route the line. The bottom line is that PennEast doesn’t have a formal application to FERC yet, so no one can use eminent domain to threaten you. Edelmann also cautioned that your first offer is never the best offer. The biggest take away that could be gained from the meeting is that if you are in the direct path and want to fight it directly, be ready to pay for a Dream Team of experts to testify on your behalf in Washington, D.C., and that the land speculators are already out trespassing and surveying, stating they have a right to be in the utility right of way.
As with any meeting, the real show starts during public comment. The first questions asked were centered around what would make FERC deny the pipeline. As Atty Edelmann put it, FERC approves 99.9% of all pipelines. The idea behind the pipeline is that it can provide common good to the community. With PennEast, there hasn’t been much of a negative impact. My question was whether residents of the affected areas be able to have Natural Gas as an energy option. Neither Representatives, the Extension representative, the Senator or the attorney could answer my question, However, Senator Scavello mentioned he was pushing for terminals along the way for community benefit. The bottom line is that this line is being designed for export at this juncture. The biggest fireworks came when someone asked the pols directly if they received campaign funding from PennEast. All three denied it, but another audience member called them out to name other gas entities that sent them campaign funding and all three admitted to UGI as a company donating to their campaign funds. Scavello later called out these citizens after the meeting for being “paid to be there” as “anti-fracking activists.”
Representatives from the website Stop the Penn East Pipeline website were there as well, with literature and signs. Both Representative Hahn and Harhart had their gun targets and Game Commission bylaws and lit available for the taking. None of the targets had Bernie’s mug on them. I will give credit to both Representatives and Senator Scavello for staying until the last folks left the church.
In my rather extensive conversations with Representative Hahn, Harhart and Senator Scavello after the meeting, I asked a few more pointed questions about a severance tax, expanding infrastructure to rural areas along the line and what they were doing for their constituents. Senator Scavello was the most knowledgeable about expanding local infrastructure. He mentioned expanding natural gas lines into several business parks in the Poconos as well as converting Sanofi-Pasteur Pharmaceuticals in Swiftwater, PA from oil to gas use. His goal is to see that as many Pennsylvanians as possible have access to the fuel. Scavello also mentioned that there is a severance tax on the table of 5%. According to Scavello, Governor Wolf wants to see 8% but with 11 capped wells in Luzerne county because of the lack of transport, he feels 8% accomplishes nothing, but that he is open to the 5% number. Mario is pro-pipeline, and was a real pleasure to talk to with some intelligent points.
Representative Hahn and Representative Harhart did more listening to me than they did explaining their stances and action items. They both agreed it would be a good thing to see the pipeline built, but when I asked what they would do about infrastructure, I didn’t get much of an answer. Harhart went so far as to tell me it was a Federal Project and there wasn’t much she could do. I suggested that she and the General Assembly do have more power to push PennEast and ask what’s in it for their constituents. I hate having to deal with nice people sometimes… it gets in the way of some good conversation. My hope is that they heard about the predatory Land Speculation and will be actively looking to do something to stop it as well as looking at getting Pennsylvania natural gas to local homes and businesses.
Overall, it was a civil meeting, with a few jabs and a lot of information to take in. Fortunately, it’s still very early in the game. You can comment on FERC’s website Docket # PF15-1-00 through Mid February, and there will be a FERC scoping meeting at Northampton Community College Feb 10th at 6pm. Now is the time to get educated and make the right choices for you and your family.