Marcellus Shale bill HB 1950

It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Not, however, if that step is mostly in the wrong direction.  That is the case with the recent bill passed by the Pennsylvania House and Senate on Marcellus Shale drilling

A comparison to the Principles for Considering Drilling in the Marcellus Shale: an Ethical Analysis  authored by PA IPL shows how inadequate this legislative response is.  Some principles it only begins to address.  For example, instead of ensuring that overall environmental and health impacts are sharply reduced (principle 2),  this bill provides only minimal environmental protections.  Some principles it fails to address at all.  For example, this bill does absolutely nothing to move Pennsylvania toward a sustainable energy future (principle 1).  And in one case, this bill is a step backwards.  Principle 3 notes that drilling has already set neighbor against neighbor, and has done little to create sustainable economic development.  By levying the lowest fees of any state, and especially by placing the burden of levying those fees on counties, this bill will encourage the very “race to the bottom” that our principles warned of.  Drilling companies will be able to threaten to leave any counties that decide to levy fees and take their business to neighboring counties.  The disputes we have already seen may very well be exacerbated by this legislation.

We are heartened that, despite pressure both from the Governor and from those profiting from drilling, there was significant, bipartisan opposition to this bill.  We hope that future sessions of our state legislature will learn from this inadequate “solution” and draft legislation that will protect our present and help move us to a better future.

We hope that members of PA IPL and other Pennsylvanians will continue to engage in creative and constructive dialogue about these issues. 


  • If you haven’t read  Principles for Considering Drilling in the Marcellus Shale: an Ethical Analysis, we encourage you to do so.  It is a framework for thinking about the moral and ethical principles involved in the decisions we and our lawmakers must make.  Each section begins with a quote from a sacred text.  We invite individuals (both lay people and clergy) to join us by signing on to the document.  You may do so via email.  
  • State Impact PA is a collaboration of WITF, WHYY, and NPR covering “fis­cal and envi­ron­men­tal impact of Pennsylvania’s boom­ing energy econ­omy, with a focus on Mar­cel­lus Shale drilling.”  It links to newspaper articles all over the state as well as to reports on the 3 radio stations.
  • HB 1950, now Act 13.  The bill is written in legislative language, and is 174 pages long, so you may wish to refer to a more digested version, or ask your local legislator for help understanding some of the provisions. 
  • Here is a summary just of the bill’s provisions for local zoning from the Centre Daily Times.   A community forum for discussing the shale fee has been set in Centre County.  Look for opportunities for public discussion as well as local experiences and concerns in your local paper.
  • A free Public Issues Forum (cosponsored by State College Area School District Community Education,  the Schlow Centre Region Library, and the Centre Daily Times) will be held at CPI on April 14.

Carbon-Intensive Keystone

PA IPL Board member Joy Bergey has been researching the Keystone Pipeline.  While an oil pipeline from the tar sands of western Canada to Texas seems very far from Pennsylvania, the impacts reach beyond the extraction and transport of the fuels.  This fuel is very carbon intensive.

Below is Joy’s list of reasons (initially written to appear in a non-faith-oriented context, as was the contact information) that this pipeline is ill-advised.  Let’s use this as a call to use only what we must, and to do so efficiently.  Let us also use this as a starting point for thinking about the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels generally.  How we might create capacity based on fuels that have a much, much smaller lifetime impact on God’s earth, peoples, and creatures?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Keystone XL pipeline is a really bad idea whose time should never come. Here’s why:

  1. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry toxic tar sands oil 1,700 miles from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico to be refined and exported.
  2. Tar sands are the most carbon-intensive source of oil on the planet — just the production creates three times as much global warming pollution as conventional crude oil.
  3. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the pipeline would add 27 million metric tons of heat-trapping CO2 annually.
  4. The pipeline would do little for our energy security or our domestic economy. Its main purpose is to make this oil available for export.
  5. The refineries on the Gulf Coast at the end of the pipeline are in Foreign Trade Zones where oil can be exported to international buyers without paying U.S. taxes.
  6. The pipeline threatens America’s water resources. Tar sands oil is more acidic and corrosive than conventional oil and is transported under higher pressure, posing a far greater risk of blowouts in the pipeline.
  7. Over the last five years, pipelines in Midwestern states with the longest history of moving Canadian tar sands have spilled three times as much crude per mile as the national average.
  8. These tar sands pipelines are not environmentally safe. The Keystone I pipeline was predicted to spill 1.4 times per decade, yet spilled 14 times in just the first year of operation.
  9. In summer 2011, an older tar sands pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River — at $725 million, the most expensive U.S. pipeline accident on record.
  10. We cannot ensure the security of the nearly 2,000 mile pipeline, making it a target for terrorists.
The facts are clear: This pipeline is bad for our environment, our economy, and our security.

We need clean energy, used wisely and without wasting it, to build our 21st economy.

The Senate could vote on the Keystone pipeline soon!
Call our senators right now:
Sen. Casey (202) 224-6324
Sen. Toomey (202) 224-4254

Tell them to “Vote No on the Keystone pipeline.”

It’s fine to leave a message on voice mail; just be sure to include your name, municipality and zip code. Thank you.

A beautiful Collect

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church chose its monthly Evensong service as its Preach-in service.   It was a beautiful service with a full choir, a wonderful guest sermon by Rev. Bill Thwing (and a delicious reception afterward!)  Thank you to all the people who made it happen, both for what you created, and for inviting members of the Creation Care Coalition of Centre County to join you. 

The Collect is a collective, responsive prayer connected to the message of the church day.   Should some of you be looking for inspiration for your own Preach In material, or your own prayers, here is the one Barbara Ballenger wrote for this evening:

We pray for the healing of your creation, oh God.  For the departed land, the dying forests, the barren stretches of ocean, the melting ice caps and snow peaks, the rising sea levels, the thirsty and hungry creatures.  We pray:
Lord have mercy.

We pray for the healing of your creation, oh God.  For the beautiful, complex and diverse sepcies that you have fashioned and that we have endangered.  For those lost to us forever, we pray:
Lord have mercy.

We pray for the healing of your creation, oh God.   For all people overcome by drought, and flooding, and by shifts in season that destroy crops and dry up water sources.  For the countries that are most at reisk of environmental disaster caused by climate change: for Haiti and Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Madagascar, Cambodia and Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi and the Philippines.  May they find ways to adapt, and resources to survive the damage already done.  We pray:
Lord have mercy. 

We pray for the healing of your creation, oh God, in thanks for the return of the rain to Somalia where tens of thousands of people fled drought this year, in search of food and water.  For those who return to work the land and for those who did not survive the journey.  We pray:
Lord have mercy.

We pray for the healing of your creation, oh God, where environmental disasters displace more people than war.  Where the poorest, who use the least of the world’s fossil fuels, are hit first and worst by climate change.  We pray:
Lord have mercy.

We pray for the healing of your creation, oh God.  You who called the rich young man to give up everything to follow you, call us now to give up that which harms and threatens the world you have made.  For what we have done, and for what we have failed to do, we pray:
Lord have mercy.

Creator God, hear our prayer.  We do not wish to be like the rich young man, who finds the price of everlasting life too high.  We need your grace.  And eyes to see the consequences of our ways.  And ears to hear the cry of those who suffer.  And hearts that beak with love.  Grant that we might turn the rising tide and help your world to heal.

Of Sheds and Songs

A reflection from Rabbi Daniel Swartz, Rabbi of Temple Hesed in Scranton, PA, and vice president of the PA IPL Board.  He also carries the important title of dad to Alana, who wrote for this blog last year

Of Sheds and Songs

This past week, I’ve had some experiences that have highlighted for me both our connection to the world around us and what we should be doing about that connection.  I learned my first series of lessons as my wife Marjorie and I worked on getting a shed set up in our back yard.  We needed to first create a completely level gravel pad for the shed to sit on.  The problem was that our yard, like most of the natural world, was not level.  So we built a retaining wall — and that’s where the first lesson came to my attention.  Just a few years ago, you had to look far and wide to find any wood treated for outdoor that did not incredibly toxic chemicals put on it, including significant levels of arsenic.  At that time, the Environmental Protection Agency tried to issue a “health standard” on arsenic that protected the chemical companies involved with treating wood, but did not protect children.  Faith groups helped convey two key messages to our government — first, that children both need and deserve special health protections, and second, that “environment” is not something that consists of faraway parks and pandas, but is where we live, eat, play, work, and pray.  EPA was forced to issue a stronger standard — and now, I can go into a store and don’t even have to ask about arsenic — because its use has been banned.

The second lesson was a bit more physical.  Once we finished the retaining wall, we were supposed to get 11 tons of gravel (from a nearby quarry, so the carbon footprint was lower!) put into it. Because of the warm winter (climate change all around us!), however, the ground was too soft for the truck to get all the way to where it was supposed to be.  So in the end it delivered about 3 tons of gravel into the walls, and about 8 tons outside of them.  Marjorie and I suddenly had to shovel 8 tons of gravel!  At first, it looked completely impossible.  And even after an hour of shoveling, it didn’t look like we had made even an dent in the wrongly-placed pile of gravel.  But we didn’t give up — and by the end of the afternoon, all the gravel was inside and beautifully leveled!  The next time that I start feeling despair about the difficultly of changing our society from its current dependence on fossil fuels into one that functions sustainably, I’ll remember the gravel pile and how the impossible can become very doable with a little persistence.

My next lesson wasn’t quite so fun.  A couple of days after we were done shoveling, my wrist started to swell up painfully.  About a day after that, it actually began to squeak when I moved it — loudly enough that someone sitting next to me could hear it clearly!  A quick call to my doctor (and a quick Google of “squeaky wrist”) made it clear that I had tendonitis.  The lesson — all of us, and the ecosystems we live in as well, have limits.  When we exceed those limits, things might still appear to be fine — but over time, problems become clearer and clearer.  By the time these problems become clear, however, it is really too late.  It’s much better to make the effort to prevent them in the first place!

The final lesson of the week took place today.  We were having a PAIPL executive committee call.  I had to leave just a bit before the end to go teach a music class at the local Jewish Senior Home.  Without having planned it in advance, I realized that the psalm we were going to explore musically, Psalm 92, had some very relevant themes in.  It read, in part, “How great are Your works, O Eternal, how very profound are Your designs.  The brutish one cannot know, the fool cannot understand this.”  Wow, what a vivid description of the current situation of the world — some appreciating the wonder of the world around us, some being foolishly unaware.  The psalm then continues, “The righteous bloom like a date-palm, thrive like a cedar of Lebanon.”  In the Hebrew Bible, righteousness and the flourishing of the natural world are inextricably intertwined.  Without righteousness, the world withers — and no one can be truly righteous if they don’t consider the treatment of the world around us as part of their moral calling.  But when righteousness is tied to care for the earth, then we, like the earth, bloom and prosper.

So, even though I am typing this with a wrist brace on, all in all, I’d have to say its been a very good week.  Kind of reminds me about another week called “very good,” come to think of it.
Daniel Swartz

Thanks at Thanksgiving, plus a little inspirational downtime

It seems appropriate this week of Thanksgiving to share our ways of giving thanks.  My family joins hands and sings a simple grace most nights as we gather around the table.

Evening is here
the board is spread
thanks be to God
who gives us bread

The one below  is longer, and we use it less often, but it’s one of my favorites.  It captures so much in so few words, and I am thankful for the miracle of renewing life that provides my food, and for all the hands that touch it from seed to mouth.  It can be sung in a 4-part round.

For sun and rain
for grass and grain
for all who toil
on sea and soil
that we may eat
this daily food
we give our loving thanks to God.

Does anyone else have favorites?  Please share in the comments!

Inspirational downtime
When you’re done with your dinner, your post-prandial walk, and as many games of Clue, charades and Bananagrams as you can handle for one evening, consider sharing some truly stunning scenery with your family.  It might even count for extra credit in earth science for your middle school relatives.

Several PA IPL members in State College recently attended a screening of the 93-minute video, HOME at Penn State.  The website description introduces the film in the paragraph below.  Reviews just call it “eye candy”   It’s available in several languages, so choose the one you know best, or one you’re learning. 

“Internationally renowned photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand makes his feature directorial debut with this environmentally conscious documentary produced by Luc Besson, and narrated by Glenn Close. Shot in 54 countries and 120 locations over 217 days, Home presents the many wonders of planet Earth from an entirely aerial perspective. As such, we are afforded the unique opportunity to witness our changing environment from an entirely new vantage point. In our 200,000 years on Earth, humanity has hopelessly upset Mother Nature’s delicate balance. Some experts claim that we have less than ten years to change our patterns of consumption and reverse the trend before the damage is irreversible. Produced to inspire action and encourage thoughtful debate, Home poses the prospect that unless we act quickly, we risk losing the only home we may ever have.”

Arthus-Bertrand’s website GoodPlanet has more stunning film related to the International Year of Forests.  A series of free photo-art posters are available for schools and others wanting to host educational events about forests.  They’re gorgeous.  Would they spark inspiration, discussion, or prayer in the halls of your congregation’s building?

A letter from Canadian faith leaders

A letter released on October 25, 2011 titled “Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change” is worth reading.  Excerpts appear in Canada’s Embassy magazine here.  A PDF of the entire text can be downloaded from the national IPL website here. (Click on “read this important statement” just below the paragraph announcing the letter.)

The first paragraph states
“We, representatives of Canadian faith communities, are united in our conviction that the growing crisis of climate change needs to be met by solutions that draw upon the moral and spiritual resources of the world’s religious traditions.  We recognize that at its root the unprecedented human contribution to climate change is symptomatic of a spiritual deficit: excessive self-interest, destructive competition, and greed have given rise to unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.  Humanity’s relationship with the environment has become distorted by actions that compromise the welfare of future generations of life.”

Paragraph 4 is my favorite as an inspiration for both speech and action by individuals, voices of faith, and communities of faith in our wider communities.
“All religious traditions uphold the nobility of the human spirit, calling us to seek moderation and service to the common good.  Such a vision empowers individuals to take responsibility for relationships with each other and our planet.  Indeed, our everyday choices about food, transportation, clothing and entertainment are all practical expressions of what we value.  At the same time, disconnections between our professed beliefs and our daily actions indicate our need for personal and collective awareness and transformation.  We need to seek coherence between our beliefs and our actions, so that our lives and consumption habits reflect our relationship with the rest of humanity and the Earth itself. “

Which parts speak to you?  Please use the comments to lead us to the writings within your own denomination or tradition that have inspired you to act on energy use and climate change!