Speaking at a Senate Majority Policy Committee hearing, Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) president David Callahan said the inability to acquire operating permits in a predictable time frame is one of the most critical challenges for his industry here in Pennsylvania.
“Whether they are permits required to produce, process or transport the gas through pipeline development, Pennsylvania’s process is entirely unpredictable and unnecessarily time-consuming,” said Callahan. “While the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) has, on its face, a Permit Decision Guarantee policy, in reality, the policy is not adhered to.”
Rather than approving or denying a permit, Callahan said PA DEP too often takes no action. Instead, Callahan said it constantly re-engineers product designs, requests additional or supplemental information from applications far beyond what the permit instructions compel, or imposes permit criteria on applicants that are not found in either statute or regulation.
“There is significant inconsistency across the commonwealth as to how these rules are applied as well.”
Advocates for ending the use of fossil fuels say producers are just worried about their financial bottom line. Pennsylvania is the second largest natural gas producer after Texas, and much of that natural gas comes from the MSC. Critics also believe alternative energy technologies such as wind and solar are needed to improve air quality and combat climate change. This is part of the reason why, in 2019, then-Gov. Tom Wolf began to fight for Pennsylvania to be placed in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Representatives of organized labor also testified at the committee hearing, urging all sides to move forward to protect good-paying jobs in the state’s energy sector. Pennsylvania relies far more on fossil fuels than solar and other alternative energy technologies, especially in times of extreme weather such as Christmas 2022.
“We need to sit down with Democrats, Republicans, environmentalists, industry leaders, union leaders, and we need to come and start making intelligent decisions,” said Shawn Steffee with Boilermakers Local 154. “We’re going to make compromises and we got to deliver a true energy policy to our new governor, Josh Shapiro, so he can get behind it, deliver to the people of Pennsylvania, and we can move on with our economy.”
In addition to what he called the “war on fossil fuels,” Steffee said we have the RGGI or carbon tax hanging over everyone’s head, as well as a push to start taxing water use at power plants.
“I’m not against the renewables but we know that we can’t put our eggs in one basket,” said Steffee, who warned that China stands to benefit from U.S. weakness in this area. “China is building all of our renewables but yet they’re banking on fossil fuels to deliver these products to us.”
Callahan pointed the committee’s attention to the disparity between north central Pennsylvania, where operators are generally able to acquire permits in a predictable timeframe, albeit longer than what the Permit Decision Guarantee dictates; and southwestern Pennsylvania, where Callahan said it can take 200, 300 or even more days to obtain a simple, straightforward earth disturbance permit to build a well pad, compressor station, or pipeline.
It remains to be seen where all of Pennsylvania’s legislators are on this issue, but Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) promised to continue to review the concerns and weigh the comments. That includes the situation regarding RGGI, something Laughlin called the perfect example of unnecessary red tape that will drive manufacturing out of Pennsylvania.
Lauren Connelly, vice president of local government affairs and advocacy at the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, hopes legislators stay focused.
“As businesses consider where they want to invest, we know that we can make our region more attractive and competitive as part of that decision-making process by showing that Pennsylvania has created forward-thinking, predictable, and efficient systems through early, active and thoughtful policymaking processes,” said Connelly.