Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Five townships and two boroughs in Berks County have been placed under quarantine by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in the fight against the Spotted Lanternfly, which was found for the first time in North America in the county earlier this fall.

The quarantine prohibits residents from moving any material or object that could help the spread of the insect, which attacks grapes, apples, stone fruits as well as pines.

Studies Show Naturally Occurring Methane In Northeast PA Water

Nov 14, 2014

A pair of studies released today by the U.S Geological Survey found low-to-moderate concentrations of naturally occurring methane in private water wells in Wayne and Pike Counties– a region of the state without Marcellus Shale drilling.

Those two counties fall under the jurisdiction of the Delaware River Basin Commission, which currently has a moratorium on fracking.

Blue Mind: How Water Improves Our Quality of Life

Nov 12, 2014
joseph a / Flickr

 Why is the sound and image of water so soothing to us? Why does being near water improve our wellbeing? And how can this understanding help us make better decisions about water conservation and urban design?

Author,

and neuroscientist, Wallace J. Nichols explores these questions and many more in his book “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science that Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.”

He’s coming to Pittsburgh to take part in the Inspire Speakers Series, in conjunction with Riverlife, a local organization that works on the development of Pittsburgh's riverfront park systems. Wallace J. Nichols joins us along with Stephan Bontrager, Director of Communications for Riverlife.

Reid R. Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Inside a government lab near Washington D.C., Denise Akob holds up a glass jar filled with water. At the bottom of the jar is what looks like sand.

“It just looks like mud from any old stream—it’s got this brown color, it’s rocky, the water is still really clear,” says Akob, a microbiologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The sediment is from a clean streambed. It’s been inside the bottle for 90 days.

The Polar Vortex Returns Later This Week

Nov 10, 2014
Matt Niemi / Flickr

The Polar Vortex is back and it's ready to blast 200 million people with arctic air, lunging into the North Central U.S. this week and expanding southward and eastward.

The outbreak of unusually cold air is expected to linger well past the middle of the month.

We'll talk with John Radzilowicz, Director of Professional Development at ASSET STEM Education.

You may have noticed the street lights on Bigelow Boulevard have taken on a different hue over the last year.

That’s because they’re now LEDs, or light emitting diodes, which the city is expecting will save thousands of dollars in energy and maintenance costs.

But it’s not quite sure just how much energy and money is being saved by the LEDs installed near roadways and in business districts across the city, which is where a new $25,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments comes in.

The Allegheny Land Trust wants a 30-acre chunk of land in Sewickley, and a new grant might help obtain it.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has provided a $250,000 grant to acquire the green space along Waterworks Road.

“It’s primarily going to be used for wildlife habitat, water interception, absorption and the scenic character of the borough and surrounding boroughs around Sewickley,” said Chris Beichner, Land Trust CEO and president.

Online Tool Pinpoints Wood Burning Areas

Nov 2, 2014

A Pennsylvania-based clean air activist group has launched a new on-line tool it says will encourage discussion about open wood burning and wood smoke pollution.

The online application launched by The Clean Air Council, called I See Smoke, allows users to pinpoint the area where they are noticing wood smoke pollution on a map. This information is given to the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), which can use the data to resolve the issue.

PA Governor Candidates on CO2 Cap and Trade

Oct 30, 2014
AP Photo / Keith Srakocic

The U.S. is ratcheting up efforts to combat climate change, with the final carbon rules for power plants expected from the Environmental Protection Agency next year.

When Pennsylvanians elect a governor in November, they will, in part, be making a choice over how the state should move toward complying with the new rules. One way is by joining with other states in a cap and trade program.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

A new demonstration project in Sarver, about 30 miles outside Pittsburgh, is taking a decades-old problem and turning it into a possible solution for the natural gas industry. Winner Water Service has launched treatment facility that aims to clean up polluted water – and sell it to natural gas developers for use in fracking operations.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh think they have found a link between prenatal and early life exposure to air pollution and autism.  The study focused on 217 families with children on the autism spectrum. 

Autism now affects one in 68 children in America.  That is up nearly 800 percent in the last 20 years. Principal investigator Evelyn Talbott said her research found exposure to increased levels of chromium and styrene increased the risk of autism by 1.4 to two times. 

A recent survey of 37 energy companies in southwestern Pennsylvania found some 7,000 jobs will need to be filled between now and 2020, jobs that are critical to ongoing operations.

That’s according to the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which conducted the survey. CEO Dennis Yablonsky said with more than 1,000 energy companies in the greater region, the job needs are likely much higher. The problem is finding enough skilled workers to fill those jobs.

Enter the Appalachia Partnership Initiative.

Daniel Foster / Flickr

Are state police in Pennsylvania tracking activists for Marcellus Shale drillers? 

We’ll pose that question to journalist Adam Federman who recently reported on this issue for the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia City Papers.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

A group of 50 climate activists made their way into Pittsburgh from Los Angeles Tuesday — on foot.

The Great March for Climate Action” is the brainchild of former Iowa State Representative Ed Fallon.

He said the idea came to him last February, after a discussion with environmental activist Bill McKibben about how best to address the what he calls the “climate crisis.”

“It’s not an issue; it’s a crisis,” Fallon said.

Flickr user KordIte

As the natural gas boom continues across Pennsylvania and the rest of the country, producers are looking for new markets for their products.

A recent study commissioned by America’s Natural Gas Alliance, an industry trade group, identified opportunities for the use of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to power cargo vessels on the nation’s waterways and railroads.

Bill Would Eliminate Buffer Requirement For Pennsylvania’s Cleanest Streams

Oct 13, 2014
Scott Lamar / WITF

Yet another battle of the economy versus the environment is taking place in Harrisburg. This time, conservationists say Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams are at stake.

A bill (HB1565) working its way through the state legislature would eliminate a requirement for 150-foot buffer zones between new developments and specially protected watersheds.

For the first time in decades Heth’s Run in Highland Park will soon reach the Allegheny River, and the change is as much due to a transportation project as it is an environmental effort. 

Pittsburgh's Urban Forest One of the Largest in the Country

Oct 3, 2014
Corey Cousins / Flickr

As the colors of autumn entice us to do some foliage watching, many people in Pittsburgh need look no further than their nearby neighborhoods.

According to the U.S. Forest Service and the University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab, 42 percent of Pittsburgh is covered by tree canopy. That’s more than green cities like Portland, Washington D.C., Austin and Philadelphia. Despite our reputation as an industrial town, Pittsburgh has one of the largest urban forests in the country. So how did these forests form? What is an urban forest and where can they be found?

In 2011 the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommended a registry to collect health data from people living nearing fracking operations. Three years later that registry has yet to be created, and a state Senate panel says such a database is an important step toward tracking and responding to public health complaints related to gas drilling.

State Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) says individual health studies are fine, but the state needs to develop data that covers all parts of the commonwealth.

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

It’s October, and that means it’s time for cider, sweaters, pumpkins and colorful leaves, but for the Pittsburgh area it might be a couple more weeks before the yellows, oranges and reds really emerge.

Rachael Christie, Environmental Education Specialist at the 58,000 acre Forbes State Forest in Fayette, Somerset, and Westmoreland Counties, predicts this year will be great for fall colors, “we’ve had the cooler nights, and we’ve had the nice sunny days as well. So [this is] very ideal fall weather patterns to have some really beautiful fall foliage.”

Air Quality Complications and Shenango Coke Plant

Oct 1, 2014
Jon Dawson / Flickr

The Shenango Coke Works on Neville Island has consistently violated local clean air regulations leading some citizens to ask why the Allegheny County Health Department doesn't shut the plant down.

We pose that question and more to Jim Thompson, Air Quality Program Manager for the Allegheny County Health Department. Hear from Bellevue resident Ken Holmes and other local residents who are concerned about air quality in the area.

Locals Seek Control at Fracking Waste Wells

Sep 26, 2014
Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

As natural gas production continues to spread across the country, some citizens are trying to fend off drilling rigs and waste sites in their backyards. While gas companies say they already face tough state regulations, that oversight doesn’t always ease residents’ fears.

As Ohio quickly becomes a go-to destination for the nation's fracking waste, some people worry about earthquakes and water contamination, and argue the state has taken away their authority to decide whether oil and gas waste should be allowed.

Nikki Abban / 90.5WESA

The borough of Etna recently debuted its green infrastructure plan. Like many other communities along the Allegheny river, Etna has had a history of problems with flooding, and the community of some 3,400 people was hit especially hard as a result of Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Etna’s master plan was designed to handle large amounts of storm water without flooding the sewage systems. What can their experience in Etna tell us about how other communities in our region can institute green projects of this kind? 

How Can We Take the Lead on Climate Change?

Sep 24, 2014
John Gillespie / Flickr

The United Nations Climate Summit took place in New York City this week. While more than 100 world leaders took part, and thousands demonstrated in the streets of NYC for the People's Climate March, it's not certain how much, if any, tangible action will be taken on a global scale, especially on the part of the United States. 

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

The Emerald Ash Borer has all but wiped out ash trees in and around the Pittsburgh region, and even though the insect only goes after one tree species, the effects will be felt on a much wider scale.

Pretty soon you won’t be able to tell dead trees from live trees as leaves begin to fall. For now, as you’re driving around Pennsylvania, you can look out over stands of trees and see lush, green landscape – but – that landscape is dotted in many areas with dead trees.

A recent series of stories produced by The Allegheny Front and 90.5 WESA explored the influence of industry money on Pennsylvania’s oversight of the natural gas boom.

In one of the reports, there was an assertion from environmental group PennFuture that the former head of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was available mostly to industry:

Daniel Foster / Flickr

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced it has signed a consent order and agreement with Range Resources for violations at six of its impoundments in Washington County. The $4.15 million fine is the largest ever brought against a company in the Marcellus Shale era. We'll be joined by DEP spokesman John Poister.

A new report finds that Pennsylvania emits the third most carbon dioxide in the country.

PennEnvironment released the report, “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants,” Thursday – which found that Pennsylvania tails only Texas and California.

The report took 2012 data – the most recent available - from the Environmental Protection Agency and ranked power plants in the United States according to their CO2 emissions.  It then compared each state to total carbon emissions of entire countries.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced it has signed a consent order and agreement with Range Resources for violations at six of its impoundments in Washington County.
 
“We have fined Range Resources $4.15 million, the largest fine that has ever been brought against a company in the Marcellus Shale era,” said DEP spokesman John Poister.
 
In addition, Range Resources has agreed to close five impoundments and upgrade two others. The impoundments in question are used to store water.
 

Can Living Near a Fracking Site Cause Health Problems?

Sep 17, 2014
Ari Moore / Flickr

 A new study has found that residents in Western Pennsylvania living close to natural gas drilling sites were twice as likely to report health problems than those living farther away. We talk with the study's lead author Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, who says public health researchers surveyed nearly 500 adults and children in Washington County, southwest of Pittsburgh.

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