Environment & Energy

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

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.

How Climate Change Skeptic Myron Ebell Is Shaping Trump's EPA

Feb 9, 2017
NASA

President Trump has been making good on a variety of campaign promises, from his executive order on immigration to his pick to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

A coal company has laid off 200 miners in Pennsylvania because of a state environmental ruling that limits mining beneath a park creek in western Pennsylvania.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

A western Pennsylvania school superintendent has resigned after water problems forced an elementary school to close and relocate students to a previously shuttered building.

According to the Butler Area School District’s website, Dr. Dale Lumley’s resignation is effective immediately.

Summit Elementary in Summit Township was closed for two days

About two weeks ago, the district and Department of Environmental protection worked to rectify high lead levels in the well water provided to the property.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Scientists from Carnegie Mellon University have been climbing onto local rooftops and installing air quality monitors. It’s a project of CMU’s Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions, funded in part by the Environmental Protection Agency. Similar centers were also set up at Harvard and Yale.

Citizen Complaints Over Drilling Have Soared During The Gas Boom

Feb 3, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

For the first time, the public can view a comprehensive record of citizen complaints about oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania. The investigative website Public Herald has scanned and published more than 9,000 complaints made by residents over 12 years to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection about conventional and unconventional drilling, or fracking.

Appalachian Region Could Support 4 More Cracker Plants, Says Report

Jan 27, 2017
Marie Cusick / State Impact

The Appalachian region could support up to four more petrochemical processing plants, known as crackers, according to a forthcoming report from IHS Markit.

Denise Brinley, a special assistant to the Secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, previewed the report Thursday during a presentation at the Hart Energy Marcellus Utica Midstream conference in Pittsburgh. She says it will be published in the next few weeks.

Trump Gives Pipeline Industry A Boost, But Leaders Warn Against Complacency

Jan 26, 2017
Kyle Pattison / Public Herald

Donald Trump’s public support of big pipeline projects is giving the industry a shot in the arm. But it still faces hurdles from state and local opposition, according to industry leaders.

On Tuesday, Trump signed executive orders to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and expedite environmental reviews on some projects. 

Scientists Rush To Backup Climate Data

Jan 26, 2017
NASA

Since President Trump’s inauguration, the climate change page at whitehouse.gov disappeared. Reuters also reported that climate references were to be removed from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, though it appears that’s been delayed.

Mining Permit In State Park Halted By Judge

Jan 25, 2017
Friends of Ryerson State Park / Facebook

A judge has ordered a halt to mining underneath a state park in Greene County. Environmental Hearing Board Judge Steven C. Beckman issued the order Tuesday, regarding a Consol Energy plan to expand its Bailey mine complex beneath Ryerson Station State Park. Environmental groups had argued the plan would have damaged a high-quality stream in the park.

Brian Peshek

On the Sunday before buck hunting season started in late November, Randy Santucci, chair of a group called the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, got up early to show me some of his favorite hunting sites.

Santucci is a big guy, in his 50s, and owns a machine shop in Robinson Township near the Pittsburgh airport. Today, he’s wearing a camo shirt, a ball cap and what looks like a week’s worth of scruff on his face.

Handling The Rising Tide Of Climate Change In Our Region

Jan 12, 2017
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

In a farewell address this week, President Obama reiterated his administration’s commitment to acting on climate change—and his thoughts on the gravity of issue.

“Without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change. They’ll be busy dealing with its effects,” he said.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

 

Two of Pennsylvania’s leading environmental groups are forming a new strategic alliance in response to what they call an “unprecedented anti-environmental political climate at the federal and state levels.”

PennFuture and the Conservation Voters of PA will combine policy, advocacy, and legal resources to mobilize voters around environmental issues and hold lawmakers accountable.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / NCTC Archives Museum

Rachel Carson would recognize the conflict between environmental regulation and corporate interests as it is manifesting in President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

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