State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten responds to Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2) grant funding/project

HARRISBURG, Oct. 13 – State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, today made the following statement in anticipation of President Joe Biden’s visit to Philadelphia on the heels of announcing $750 million in federal grant funding for the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2) for Southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware.

“While MACH2 is being promoted as predominantly ‘green’ and ‘pink’ hydrogen, an internal abstract shows that ‘blue’ hydrogen from fracked gas with carbon capture is a key component of the project and will be the hub’s first product,” Friel Otten said.

“Hydrogen technology is an important part of a clean-energy transition, with the potential to fuel hard-to-decarbonize sectors like steel and cement manufacturing, chemical production, long-haul transportation, and aviation. But without adequate regulation, oversight, and scrutiny, this proposal has the potential to be the latest exercise in greenwashing.

“While I recognize the importance of developing this technology, our path thus far has been too reminiscent of the early days of the fracking revolution - lack of transparency, essentially no community engagement, nor a willingness to bring affected parties to the table to responsibly negotiate a regulatory framework. From a regulatory standpoint, Pennsylvania is woefully unprepared to make an investment of this magnitude while upholding our constitutional mandate to protect the people’s right to public health and safety, private property, clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural environment.

“Pennsylvania has a long history of allowing industry to turn our communities and our environment into a Wild West that privatizes profits to unchecked corporate interests while socializing the costs and damages to our public health, public safety, and environment. Unleashing a taxpayer-funded hydrogen revolution led by the same old fossil fuel interests and corporate polluters on Pennsylvania today, under our current, inadequate regulatory framework, would be irresponsible and reckless. I am calling on my colleagues in the House and Senate, alongside Governor Shapiro, to act now to establish guardrails and policies that center our residents, protect our communities, and position Pennsylvania to be a true leader in clean-energy production.

“At the helm of the MACH2 project is the same executive who led Energy Transfer’s Mariner East project through our backyards, destroying our aquifers, drilling and spilling, creating landslides that led to the burning of homes and more than two acres of mature trees, and causing sinkholes that swallowed a whole residential block, displacing families from the homes where they had invested generations of their lives. That project resulted in more than 120 DEP Notices of Violation, as well as the operator’s conviction on 48 counts of environmental crimes by then-Attorney General, now Governor, Josh Shapiro. Then-Attorney General Shapiro said at the time, ‘[f]rom this day forward, any time Energy Transfer applies for a permit … they will have to contend with their criminal history.’ Failing up, by moving an executive and creating a new company name, is not the accountability that Pennsylvanians deserve and are looking for.

“Far too many times, even in just the past few years, we have seen the devastating consequences when the profits and interests of industry operators are prioritized over the health and safety of our communities. As industry continues to wreak havoc on our rural, urban, and suburban communities, it is the responsibility of elected leaders and regulatory agencies to insist upon and engage in the scrutiny, regulation, and oversight necessary to uphold our constitutional mandate. Pennsylvania’s lawmakers and regulatory agencies can no longer allow the communities and taxpayers of our commonwealth to bear the costs and risks of multi-billion-dollar corporations.

“While the proposals for the hydrogen hubs to be sited in Pennsylvania promise ‘no new easements,’ the MACH2 project description specifically mentions that pipelines within the existing easements ‘will either be replaced, modified, or undergo new line installation.’ We have seen this story play out in our communities before, as Mariner East used 90-year-old easements, public utility status, and 90-year-old ‘certificates of public convenience’ to build new pipelines in old easements and carry out eminent domain for private gain, with very little oversight and woefully inadequate regulation. But this time we’re doing it with higher pressure, higher volatility products, potentially in the same easements and the same communities that have already experienced extensive disruption and damage from pipeline construction.

“While Pennsylvania has taken a wait-and-see approach, allowing corporations to dictate the rules of the game, states like Colorado have been doing the important work to attract investment while protecting their state’s resources and communities from the harms of unintended consequences. Colorado passed legislation that layers state hydrogen incentives on top of federal Inflation Reduction Act incentives, includes protections for environmental justice communities, and requires new projects to meet the ‘three pillars’ of additionality, deliverability, and hourly matching to qualify for state tax breaks and PUC approval. Their policies target the use of hydrogen for challenging applications where electrification may not be feasible, recognizing that direct electrification is far more cost-effective and efficient wherever it is viable.

Explanation of the three pillars, by Evergreen Action:
1. New clean supply, or additionality: Electrolyzers should be powered by new clean energy that is not already on the grid. Buying credits from existing clean energy doesn’t cut it because that can just shuffle power around the grid without actually decreasing climate pollution—the marginal gas plant just powers another user.)

2. Deliverability: Electrolyzers should use local sources of clean electricity that are physically delivered to them by facilities in their region of the grid. (In short, facilities can’t claim credits from a part of the grid that isn’t reacting to their facility’s demand.)

3. Hourly time-matching: Electrolyzers must run during the same hours as the clean electricity is being generated. (This prevents facilities from buying solar energy credits while running a plant overnight on fossil gas.)

A report released this week by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center ranked Pennsylvania 50th out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for renewable energy growth in the 10 years since 2013. (Only Alaska ranked lower.) The leading states include many that have enacted thoughtful, responsible, forward-looking environmental policy that protects communities and environmental resources while incentivizing renewable project development and the creation of good, clean-energy jobs. We have a lot of work to do in Pennsylvania to move toward a clean-energy future.  And if we want to become carbon-free, we need to explore new technologies, including hydrogen technology. But we need to do it in a way that learns from, rather than repeats, our commonwealth’s past mistakes.

“Now is the time to break Pennsylvania’s longstanding habit of allowing industry to set de facto environmental policy. We must act now to develop a sustainable, responsible, and future-ready energy framework by adopting the three pillars modeled by Colorado and finally addressing the many unresolved issues surrounding pipeline installation and operation.

“Under current Pennsylvania law, there are no regulations over how many pipelines are in each easement, or what product those pipelines may carry. Before we take things up a level by installing new pipelines or sending a more volatile product under higher pressure through existing pipelines, we need to ensure the safety of our communities and ensure that operators—not taxpayers—bear the costs of all pipeline expansion by:

  • Requiring independent studies and hydrological investigations of aquifers that may be potentially impacted by pipeline construction.
  • Requiring advanced leak-detection and incident-detection and warning systems.
  • Requiring automatic or remote shutoff valves on pipelines that impact high consequence areas throughout Pennsylvania.
  • Establishing impact fees to be distributed to the counties and municipalities impacted by pipeline construction and operation.
  • Holding pipeline land agents accountable by defining their role and requiring registration with the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission.
  • Ensuring that all pipelines, including repurposed, old pipelines, meet up-to-date ground cover requirements.
  • Requiring pipeline operators to disclose critical risk and safety information to impacted residents and emergency management coordinators.
  • Requiring pipeline companies to seek approval from the PUC, the DEP, the local governing body of a county, and local emergency management coordinators prior to construction of a new pipeline.
  • Considering the additional and cumulative air and water quality impacts of new and existing infrastructure, particularly in historically overburdened communities.
  • Expanding setbacks in Pennsylvania to protect homes, schools, hospitals, and other vulnerable facilities like nursing homes and childcare centers.
  • Requiring the regulation of gathering lines used to transport unconventional gas hundreds of miles.
  • Requiring hydraulic fracturing (fracking) companies to publicly disclose all chemicals used in drilling and fracking.
  • Requiring safer transport of contaminated fracking waste.
  • Allowing the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General original criminal jurisdiction over environmental crimes.

“These are all proposals that are currently introduced in the House and/or Senate, have been introduced in prior legislative sessions, or have been successfully enacted and implemented in other states. The building blocks for safe, responsible, and economically attractive energy policy are right at our fingertips. It’s our job as legislators to do the work of putting them together to create a responsible and forward-thinking regulatory framework that positions Pennsylvania as a leader in the evolving energy landscape and prepares our commonwealth for a clean-energy future.”