Environment & Energy

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

Chris Squire / 90.5 WESA

The Allegheny River remains frozen, and there is still ice on the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, though barge traffic is getting through. Now, with rain forecast for the next couple of days the concern turns to flooding.

“There’s always a threat of flooding, particularly when you have ice and when it starts to move it can jam up in narrow valleys or behind bridges and cause water to rise behind the jam very quickly,” said Lewis Kwett, hydraulic engineer with the Pittsburgh division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

1.5 Million at Risk in PA for Crude Oil Derailment

Mar 2, 2015
Photo by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In Pennsylvania, nearly 1.5 million people are in potential danger if a train carrying crude oil derails and catches fire, according to a PublicSource analysis. That is about one in every nine Pennsylvanians.

Powerfund / flickr

It could be a big year for energy decisions; state and federal policies could affect everything from conservation to energy costs:

  • The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is set to unveil the next phase of its Energy Efficiency program, which requires electricity distribution companies to implement energy conservation plans, later this month.
  • Later this year, courts will decide whether conservation programs should be run by the utilities who sell energy or the owners of the grid who distribute it.
  • And, the Environmental Protection Agency will finalize new carbon emissions standards this summer.

Associated Press

If you think it's been a cold February in Pittsburgh, you're right — near-record cold, in fact.

The National Weather Service says the city is on track for the second-coldest February since record-keeping began in 1871.

Meteorologist Rihaan Gangat said Saturday that the temperature averaged about 18.6 degrees for the first 27 days of February.

That is just over the 18-degree average recorded in 1979, the coldest February in recorded Pittsburgh history.

The next coldest February occurred in 1963, with an average temperature of 19.3 degrees.

Better Energy Storage Gives Renewables a Boost

Feb 27, 2015
Tara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

Ted Wiley doesn’t look like your typical company vice president. He’s young, and wearing a casual blue sweater. At Aquion Energy’s small warehouse near the river in Pittsburgh, Wiley puts on clear safety glasses, and leads me down a ramp and into a room that houses the rotary dial press.

"It’s a 10-ton press and we use it to press the powders that we make one of the electrodes in our battery with," Wiley explains.

The machine isn’t really high tech. Similar models press powder into aspirin. This one spits out  black pellets which Wiley describes as, "kind of like one of the sides of an Oreo cookie."

City of Pittsburgh

Businesses in the West End neighborhood of Pittsburgh are paying for flood insurance they might not really need anymore.

That’s according to Patrick Hassett, Assistant Director of Public Works, who said work begun by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2000 has largely stamped out the threat of flooding from Sawmill Run.

“We dredged and put in retaining walls along the stream bed to better contain the flooding waters, and PennDOT came in and made highway improvements that elevated some of the bridges to reduce the obstructions,” Hassett said.

Oil Trains On PA Tracks Getting More Scrutiny After West Virginia Explosion

Feb 20, 2015
AP Photo/ Office of the Governor of West Virginia, Steven Wayne Rotsch,File

The fiery oil train derailment in West Virginia on President’s Day, which forced the evacuation of nearby residents and sent Bakken crude into the Kanawha River, has environmentalists and local lawmakers taking a more critical look at the oil trains running across Pennsylvania’s tracks.

AP Photo/Office of the Governor of West Virginia, Steve Wayne Rotsch

Speed doesn't appear to have been a factor in an oil train derailment in southern West Virginia, a federal transportation official said Thursday.

The CSX train was going 33 mph at the time of Monday's crash in the town of Mount Carbon.

West Virginia Oil Train Derailment Was 1 of 3 With Safer Tank Cars

Feb 18, 2015
AP Photo/Chris Tilley

The fiery derailment of a train carrying crude oil in West Virginia is one of three in the past year involving tank cars that already meet a higher safety standard than what federal law requires — leading some to suggest even tougher requirements that industry representatives say would be costly.

Courtesy PixController / Via YouTube

A pair of bald eagles being monitored on a live video feed has laid its first egg of the new breeding season.

Camera operator PixController says the egg appeared around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the nest in Pittsburgh's Hays neighborhood.

A round-the-clock stream featuring the city's beloved bald eagles went online in December. The cameras are mounted in nearby trees.

Photo courtesy of Optimus Technologies

The city of Pittsburgh is gearing up to outfit 20 vehicles in the Department of Public Works with biodiesel technology and install a bio fueling station at its 29th Street garage.

Sustainability manager Grant Ervin said the city is teaming up with Homewood-based Optimus Technologies on the project aimed at reducing costs and emissions.

As Fracking Nears Schools, Parents Push Back

Feb 17, 2015
Reid R. Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Last week, Joanne Wagner got what —for her—is good news.

The drilling company Range Resources withdrew its application to drill near her childrens’ school in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The company already developed one well nearby. The latest plan would have added three more.

“Our school ultimately would be completely surrounded by wells,” if the plan had gone ahead, Wagner says.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Gov. Tom Wolf campaigned on a promise to pump $1 billion into public education, and he was in Monroeville Monday promoting his plan to do just that.

Wolf has proposed severance tax of 5 percent plus 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet of natural gas extracted. He said the Independent Fiscal Authority determined that would amount to an overall tax of about 5.8 percent.

Wolf Proposes Natural Gas Extraction Tax

Feb 13, 2015
Gerry Dincher / Flickr

Governor Wolf has proposed a 5 percent natural gas extraction tax that would be based on both the value and volume of gas extraction from natural gas wells.

For its part, the natural gas industry has fought hard against such a tax in Pennsylvania, saying it will discourage continued investment.

But is this myth or fact?

“The argument from the drilling industry is that the state already has high corporate income tax and the industry is ... paying its fair share in other ways beside a severance tax," says Reid Frazier, a reporter for the Allegheny Front. 

He goes on to say that environmental groups have been a bit silent about this proposal. 

“Some of the environmental groups are waiting to see more details, to see specifics. There are certain environmental clean up initiatives they would like to see. State programs to clean up run off from agriculture, abandon mine clean up. That’s a five billion dollar problem in Pennsylvania that is essentially not funded. They would like to see more funds go to that.”

Despite the frigid temperatures, a few dozen people showed up to a fossil fuel divestment rally at Oakland’s Schenley Plaza Friday.

Those gathered wanted the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University to divest from coal, oil and natural gas. It's unknown how much of the universities’ investments are in those fields.

Pitt junior Mihir Mulloth went to the rally because he said he reads climate reports and the state of our planet becomes more alarming the more he reads.

PA DEP

Nearly 90 percent of Pleasant Hills sits above old mines. So, the state Department of Environmental Protection is sending mine subsidence insurance (MSI) reminders to about 2,000 property owners in the borough.

The fliers show each recipient’s property on a map in relation to the nearest abandoned mines and urge residents to apply online for MSI, with coverage ranging from $5,000 to $500,000.

Pleasant Hills will be the first municipality to receive the mailers, according to DEP spokesman John Poister.

Local Meets Global When It Comes to Fossil Fuel Divestment

Feb 12, 2015
Universal Pop / Flickr

Diplomats from all over the world are meeting in Geneva this week to draft a crucial plan to address climate change. For this reason, a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement has marked February 13 and 14 Global Divestment Days.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Wolf fleshed out his plan to tax natural-gas drilling Wednesday, saying it would bring Pennsylvania into line with other gas-producing states and generate as much as $1 billion a year largely earmarked for helping the state's financially strained public schools.

The Democrat made his case for the tax during a visit to Caln Elementary School in Thorndale, located in one of the poorest school districts in Chester County, as he kicked off a statewide "Schools that Teach" tour.

The effort to reduce the carbon footprint of older Pittsburgh buildings is expanding beyond downtown to the area called “the Bluff” which houses Duquesne University and UPMC Mercy.

The Pittsburgh 2030 District: Downtown has a goal of a 50 percent energy, water and transportation emissions reduction by 2030. This better connects downtown to Oakland – though there are no plans to expand into the area between.

Researcher Maps Pittsburgh's Worst Air Pollution

Feb 10, 2015
Courtesy: Albert Presto

Pittsburgh is the 6th most offensive city in the country in terms of air pollution, according to a 2014 report from the American Lung Association.

Flickr user Cam Miller

Deer culling is set to begin in Mt. Lebanon, as soon as the state Game Commission approves the municipality’s permit application for the trap-and-euthanize method of population control.

But some residents and town commissioners are dissatisfied with the plan, which they say is only a short-term solution to an ongoing problem.

Marcellus Life: A Native American Protest to Stop a PA Pipeline

Feb 9, 2015
Natasha Khan / PublicSource

Chief Carlos Whitewolf beat a small hand drum and sang a Native American prayer for Mother Earth in the cold January air in Hershey, Pa.

Many of the 50 or so other protesters outside the Hershey Lodge, where national Republican leaders attended a retreat, demonstrated against issues like the Keystone XL pipeline and climate change.

But Whitewolf, chief of the Northern Arawak Tribal Nation of Pennsylvania, was objecting to something more local. In nearby Lancaster County, it’s the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project.

CO2 emissions accounted for 82 percent of all U.S. human greenhouse gases in 2012, and with renewable fuels becoming more and more popular researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have asked how to dispose of CO2, and maybe make it into a renewable fuel.

Past efforts to convert CO2 consumed more fuel than they produced according to John Keith, an R.K. Mellon faculty fellow in energy.

Solarize Allegheny to Kick Off in Point Breeze

Feb 2, 2015

Pittsburgh has only 59 fully sunny days each year on average, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Despite the somewhat cloudy climate, a campaign to double the number of solar-powered homes and businesses in Allegheny County will kick off Feb. 8 with a celebration in Point Breeze.

"Protect Our Parks" Fights Fracking in Allegheny County Parks

Feb 2, 2015
Marcellus Protest / Flickr

This Tuesday, the Allegheny County Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance to put a 2-year moratorium on further fracking in county parks.

The ordinance was introduced by the volunteer organization Protect Our Parks. Joining us in Studio A are Joni Rabinowitz and John Detwiler, volunteers with the organization.

The office of Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald said that he would veto any legislation related to a moratorium on fracking in county parks.

His office issued the following statement:

"The effort being led by Protect Our Parks is similar to legislation that was voted on previously and was defeated by Council. If such legislation were to pass, the Executive would veto it. He believes that blanket legislation sends a bad message to the industry and is a bad precedent. Each opportunity should be considered on a case by case basis. In the case of the Deer Lakes Park proposal, we were able to enter a lease that extends environmental protections to those communities that would not have been possible otherwise. That being said, the Executive has indicated that he has no intent of considering other drilling opportunities in the county at this time. He wants to see how the two current drilling operations will play out before moving forward with anything else." 

John Detwiler talks about why Protect Our Parks wants to do away with fracking in the county parks: 

Flickr user midquel

Many Pittsburgh homeowners have tried to sell their houses, only to find out that construction decisions made long before they ever even purchased those homes threw a wrench into the process.

Now, the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority wants to lend a helping hand to homeowners stymied by such problems.

Governor Tom Wolf on Thursday reversed an order by his Republican predecessor, Tom Corbett, by issuing an executive order banning new gas drilling leases in state forests and parks.

Wolf’s order supersedes that signed by Corbett last May to resume issuing drilling leases for forests and parks.

In 2010 then Gov. Ed Rendell issued the moratorium—two years after his administration first allowed drilling in state forests.

National Digital Library of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikipedia

In 2012 a symposium was held in Pittsburgh, at Chatham University and the National Aviary, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s ground breaking book "Silent Spring."

Out of that symposium came the idea to develop a documentary about the late environmentalist-author’s life and humanitarian efforts, in a film called "The Power of One Voice." 

Producer/director Mark Dixon and Patricia DeMarco, former executive director of the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University teamed up with the Steeltown Entertainment Project, Carson's biographer Linda Lear and Carson's adopted son Roger Christie. 

Recyling To Ramp Up in Apartment Complexes

Jan 28, 2015

Pennsylvania Resources Council hopes to increase recycling rates at local apartment complexes.

They’ll host trainings with residents in select complexes and provide additional recycling bins to make recycling more efficient.

The Mackey Lofts in Uptown, will be the first of 15 complexes in the county to be a part of this initiative.

Faced with implementing a $2 billion sewer overflow project, ALCOSAN is turning to the community for help.  It is hosting a series of community discussions focusing on the issue that affects all 83 municipalities under ALCOSAN.

In 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a consent decree which requires the agency to create a plan to fix sewer overflow in the region.

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