Environment & Energy

We explore issues of energy and the environment, along with our partners from Allegheny Front and StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Dick Daniels / Carolina Birds

The Highland Park Bridge is noisy—traffic speeds by as barges pass through the nearby lock and a train rattles underneath. But in the past few years, a new, natural sound has joined the orchestra of automobiles and industry: gulls. To be more specific: Herring gulls.

Fractracker Alliance / StateImpact PA

Pennsylvania’s shale gas drillers continued to break records for production in 2016, tapping about 5.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Although the increase in production was not as high as in previous years, it still represents an upward trend, while the number of new well permits are declining, according to data published this week by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Pennsylvania still ranks second behind Texas in total volume of natural gas production.

Want To Save Monarch Butterflies? Start Planting Milkweed

May 18, 2017
Vicki DeLoach / Flickr

If Monarch butterflies are going to stay off the endangered species list, they need more to eat. And it’s up to us to feed them.

'Aquahacking' Aims To Improve Water Quality In Lake Erie

May 16, 2017
via Allegheny Front

When we hear about hacking, it’s usually not a “good news” story. “Aquahacking” is an exception.

To improve water quality in Lake Erie, teams of engineers, software developers and students worked for months on a hacking competition. Erie Hack is billed as the intersection of the environment and the regional economy.  The Cleveland Water Alliance offered up cash and support, and the ideas started flowing. The final nine teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges.

midquel / Flickr

New data suggests that Pittsburgh sewer overflows may be 15 percent greater than prior estimates, which were based on data from 2003. A new report from the RAND Corporation analyzes data collected by ALCOSAN between 2004 and 2013.

 

Furthermore, the volume of water overflowing from local sewers could rise in coming decades, according to Jordan Fischbach, co-director of RAND’s Water & Climate Resilience Center.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

Next to steel and Super Bowl championships, Pittsburgh is synonymous with three rivers. In the summer, the Three Rivers Arts Festival dominates downtown and the moniker is part of a number of companies in the region -- not to mention there used to be a stadium that bore the name.

But does the city technically have three distinct rivers?

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Just ahead of Earth Day, two dozen Pittsburgh nonprofit CEOs are calling on residents to lobby against a rollback of environmental laws at the federal level.

President Donald Trump has proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent, as well as eliminating the clean power plan.

NRG Energy

When Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt visited a Greene County coal mine last week, he said, to applause, “the war on coal is done.”

One Way To Respond To A Warming Planet? Get Smaller

Apr 13, 2017
Kai Schreiber / Flickr

Though the earth is experiencing its first bout of human-induced climate change, the planet has faced massive global warming events in the past. For instance, 56 million years ago, the earth was 46 degrees hotter on average than it is right now. And in response, mammals literally shrank. Imagine an early horse ancestor the size of a cat.

Chris Stalnaker / 90.5 WESA

Although the smokestacks are largely gone, Pittsburghers still breathe some of the sootiest air in the Eastern U.S., according to a report issued Thursday by a local environmental advocacy group.

 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Seven years ago, the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew out, spilling an estimated 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Investigators found numerous mechanical and human errors, which led to the explosion at the concrete base of the rig. One of the possible failures included the foamed cement used to line the bore hole.

Bruce Damonte / Chatham University

Chatham University is inching closer to divesting its $80 million endowment fund of investments in the fossil fuel industry.

At a recent meeting of the investment committee of the Board of Trustees, members voted to approve two new investment opportunities that are specifically aimed at excluding fossil fuels and supporting sustainable energy.

Chatham’s Senior Vice President of Finance, Walt Fowler, said reducing the university’s support of fossil fuel companies is in line with its goal of pursuing sustainability in every part of its operations.

Report Finds Fracking Companies Often Get Slap-On-The-Wrist Fines

Apr 3, 2017
Ted Auch / FracTracker Alliance

According to a new report from the group PennEnvironment, only 17 percent of environmental or health violations by fracking companies in Pennsylvania resulted in fines. And when companies did get fined, the penalties were relatively small. In fact, the report found the median fine was just $5,263.

Lead-Tainted Water Is A Big Problem In Pittsburgh. So Is Lead In The City's Soil

Mar 29, 2017
Kara Holsopple / Allegheny Front

On a chilly Saturday afternoon in March, people trickle into Grow Pittsburgh’s Garden Resource Center in the city’s Larimer neighborhood. 

Is A Petrochemical Boom Heading For Pennsylvania?

Mar 23, 2017
GoogleEarth

Shell is expected to begin constructing its $6-billion petrochemical plant in Beaver County later this year. But a new, state-commissioned report says that may be only the beginning for Pennsylvania’s petrochemical industry.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh collection

When Emily Eckel moved to Knoxville, a neighborhood south of downtown Pittsburgh, she was told to buy special subsidence insurance, just in case the abandoned coal mine beneath her house ever caved in. She'd never heard of it.

“I just started imagining this vast maze of coal mines under the city," she said. "I was picturing coal miners going in with a pickaxe or a shovel and a yellow canary and a cage and mining all day. I don’t know if it was like that, and I would like to know.” 

It was not exactly like that, at least not in Pittsburgh.

As In Flint, Cost-Cutting May Be To Blame For Pittsburgh's High Lead Levels

Mar 23, 2017
Steve Johnson / Flickr

Inside the bowels of the Pittsburgh Water Treatment Plant, what looks like a row of high-quality science fair entries hums with pipes, tanks and motors. Gina Cyprych points to a plywood structure with the number “12” on it. It’s rigged with a loop of plastic and metal pipes.

“The metallic-colored one is a lead pipe. It looks grey,” says Cyprych, the acting head of water quality for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), which provides 300,000 people with their drinking water.

Seth Perlman / AP Photo

Twenty stories—and one controller's audit!—to get you up to speed on Pittsburgh's lead problem, from our partners and other local outlets.

 

 

“Pittsburgh to Provide Water Filters to All Residents to Reduce Lead Exposure"
90.5 WESA News
March 8, 2017

 

Three Mile Island Accident Changed His Entire Life

Mar 11, 2017
John Zeedick / AP

It's been 38 years now, but the long legacy of the March 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant lingers to this day.

The crisis touched off a public panic in central Pennsylvania, ultimately leading to mass evacuations. This, as mixed messages and outright misinformation from both the power company and public officials masked the truth and eroded trust when it most mattered.

Federal Cuts At EPA Will Trickle Down To Pennsylvania

Mar 9, 2017
Tom Whitten / Flickr

As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to drastically reduce the size and scope of the Environmental Protection Agency. A memo by the White House Office of Management and Budget indicates that’s still the plan. The memo outlines a proposed 25 percent cut to EPA’s $8-billion budget, including reductions in state grants for clean air and water programs.

Alan Levine / Flickr

State officials want to grow Pennsylvania’s solar energy production by 20 times by 2030.

The goal of the Finding Pennsylvania’s Solar Future project is to grow the state’s current share of less than a half-of-a-percent to 10 percent in the next 13 years – or about 12 gigawatts of electricity.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection launched the 30-month planning project.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Opponents of the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline have raised tens of thousands of dollars for a new encampment in Lancaster County, but most of the money is from one source–  British cosmetics firm, Lush.

Philadelphia Gas Works Seeks Rate Hike To Boost Revenue Amid Climate Change

Mar 1, 2017
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Philadelphia Gas Works is asking state regulators for permission to raise its rates and generate $70 million more in revenue because of climate change.

Warmer winters and more energy efficient appliances mean customers are using less natural gas, so the city-owned utility is making less money. The company says it’s seen an 11 percent decline in sales volume since 2009 — the last time it sought a rate hike from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Meanwhile, the cost of doing business has gone up and natural gas prices have gone down, said spokesman Barry O’Sullivan.

Marufish via Flickr

The number of jobs in Pennsylvania’s solar industry increased by a sunny 23 percent in 2016, according to the National Solar Jobs Census.

The report found industry jobs have risen 25 percent since 2015, resulting in 260,077 solar workers nationwide.

Andrea Luecke, president of the Solar Foundation, which commissioned the annual report for the U.S. Department of Energy, said American solar companies are expecting another 10 percent increase this year.

Auslandsoesterreicherflickraccountinhaber / Flickr

Ticks don’t always wait until the spring to become active. A warm snap in western Pennsylvania could mean more breeding among the insects, and more cases of Lyme disease.

Pennsylvania has had the highest rate of Lyme disease in the nation for years – and that number is going up. More than 12,000 cases were reported last year -- one-third the total cases of Lyme disease across the country.  

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The sounds of buzzing chainsaws echoed through the hills around Raystown Lake on Thursday afternoon as contractors for Sunoco Logistics cleared trees to make way for the new Mariner East 2 project.

The 8,300-acre lake in Huntingdon County is a popular spot for swimming, boating, hiking and mountain biking. It draws about 1.5 million visitors annually.

Pennsylvania Confirms First Fracking-Related Earthquakes

Feb 22, 2017
Mark Schmerling / FracTracker Alliance

Pennsylvania officials say they’ve confirmed the state’s first fracking-related earthquakes took place last year in Lawrence County, northwest of Pittsburgh. As a result, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is stepping up its requirements for drilling in that part of the state, which is known for seismic activity.

PA Department of Environmental Protection

Pennsylvania environmental regulators are set to release the findings of their investigation into a series of minor earthquakes that took place near fracking operations by an oil and gas company.

The quakes were recorded last April about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh and three-quarters of a mile from a natural gas well owned by Houston-based Hilcorp Energy Co. They were too weak to be felt by humans and no damage was reported.

Environmentalists Oppose Permits For Pennsylvania Pipeline

Feb 15, 2017
Matt Slocum / AP

Environmental advocacy groups are trying to halt construction of a $2.5 billion natural gas liquids pipeline across southern Pennsylvania while they appeal newly issued permits that they say would unleash massive and irreparable damage to the state's environment and residents.

In filings Monday night, three groups said the state Department of Environmental Protection had approved incomplete and legally flawed permit applications for Sunoco Logistics' Mariner East 2 pipeline hours earlier "in response to heavy and sustained political pressure."

Keri Rouse / Allegheny Land Trust

A 450-acre parcel of land in McKeesport that was once an industrial site has been nursed back to health to the point that it has been recognized as a Pennsylvania wild plant sanctuary.

The land, known as Dead Man’s Hollow was acquired by the Allegheny Land Trust in 1994 and crews began in earnest in 2014 to remove non-native invasive plants and build foot trails.

Pages