Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Pittsburgh Golf Course Scores Birdie with Audubon Certification

Aug 8, 2014
Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

Eleven-year-old Richard Allan is lining everything up perfectly to take a swing at the fourth hole at the Bob O’Connor Golf Course in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park.

He’s been golfing for a few years, and already has some tips, like which areas to avoid on this over 100-year-old course.

"There are no sand traps here — it’s basically all high cut grass. Yeah, it’s basically all natural," he explains.

Pennsylvania investigators have faulted site managers in a report on a Chevron natural gas well fire in Dunkard Township, Greene County that killed a worker in February.

Climate Change Keeps Allergy Sufferers Sneezing

Aug 6, 2014
Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

If even hearing the word “ragweed” makes your eyes water, you might be one the nearly 45 million Americans with seasonal allergies. And allergists say the number of people with sensitivities to ragweed and other plants is growing. Our series on the local impacts of climate change continues, with a look at how higher temperatures are fueling the rise in allergies and asthma.

Penn Power and West Penn Power customers could pay more for their electricity beginning this fall.

The companies, subsidiaries of FirstEnergy, filed rate hike requests with the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) Monday.

West Penn Power, which serves about 720,000 customers, is seeking an increase of more than $115 million per year. If approved, average residential customers would see a nearly 15 percent increase—or $13.26—in their monthly bill.

The two-day EPA hearing on the proposed rules to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants wraps up Friday evening in Pittsburgh. This closes a series of hearings on the subject held in four U.S. cities.

“We collect all the comments that we received here. There’s also a process for us to take comments from folks who want to submit them between now and Oct. 16,” said Shawn Garvin, administrator for the EPA mid-Atlantic region. “Those will help inform us as we put together a final rule.”

Shawn Garvin said there’s a misconception that people must be either pro-environment or pro-economical development. 

He is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator for the Mid-Atlantic region and believes that they are not mutually exclusive and can, in fact, go hand-in-hand.

That’s why Mayor Bill Peduto hosted a roundtable discussion Thursday centered around how the city can support the growing “clean technology” movement.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

As two days of hearings on the proposed EPA rules to cut carbon emissions, protesters and supporters gathered for rallies and marches outside of the Federal Building. Before the hearings got underway Thursday, downtown streets were relatively quiet. One small group had set up a stand on the corner of Liberty Avenue and Tenth Street speaking out against the proposed rules and calling for the impeachment of President Obama.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by 30 percent by 2030. 

The proposal has been hotly debated since then, and one of only four public input sessions nationwide begins Thursday morning in Pittsburgh. 

Because the power industry is responsible for more than a third of all carbon emissions in the U.S, it seemed to many to be the best place to start. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency received approximately 300,000 public comments before the hearings began.

The Marcellus Shale Industry continues to grow, though at a slower pace than years past. That’s according to the recently-released Annual Workforce Survey from the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Industry companies expect to hire 2,000 workers in 2014, a 50 percent drop from 2013 numbers.

“We’ve seen a reduction in rig count, primarily due to the drop in natural gas prices not only Pennsylvania, but across the country,” said Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, “kind of victims of our own success.”

Dr. Alan Lockwood said he has seen way too many children in emergency rooms struggling to breathe while their parents look on confused and helpless.

That is why he and other health professionals from Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) support the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which aims to limit carbon emissions from power plants and the effects of climate change.

Improving Pittsburgh's Air Quality

Jul 30, 2014
Dane Summerville / Flickr

Pittsburgh does not have the best air quality in the nation- far from it- but ask anyone who grew up in the city before the 1950’s and they’ll tell you that it used to be much worse.

Smog blanketed the city, leading to days in which the streetlights were kept on around the clock. The era of Pittsburgh being known as “hell with the lid off” ended when Mayor David Lawrence began enforcing the Smoke Control Ordinance in the late 1940s.

Doctors and scientists are being called upon to speak at the hearings being held this week in Pittsburgh over the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan.

To asses the new plan from the health angle were Dr. Alan Lockwood of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Kevin Stewart, director of Environmental Health American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.

Dr. Lockwood believed that the new regulations would be a huge step toward improving air quality.

Economic Benefits Of Renewable Energy?

Jul 30, 2014
Roland Peschetz / Flickr

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan is the cornerstone of President Obama’s climate action plan. Four hearings are being held in four different cities: Atlanta, Washington D.C., Denver, and Pittsburgh.

During these hearing, environmental, business, and health experts will share their opinions on whether the gains that the plan gives the country are greater than the sacrifices that will need to be made.

To examine this issue from an economic standpoint we had Communitopia president Joylette Portlock and Blue/Green Alliance executive director Kim Glass stop by our South Side studio.

Portluck said that even without the new regulations, the coal industry has been shrinking its workforce.

What Role Will Coal Play in Pennsylvania's Future?

Jul 30, 2014
Joseph A / flickr

Coal has long played an important role in the history of western Pennsylvania. It was coal that was excavated in the areas surrounding Pittsburgh, and then shipped to the city where it was used to power the steel mills.

It made for an effective system of production, but the smog that blanketed the city could turn days into nights.

Following World War II, civic leaders sought to clean up Pittsburgh, and reducing smog was particularly important. That struggle continues today- coal is still a major player in local energy, but the government is still looking to further curtail its pollution.

The EPA announced it’s Clean Power Plan in June, and hearings are being held this week in several U.S. cities. One of those cities is Pittsburgh- the biggest city in Appalachia, the heart of coal country. Environmentalists strongly support the reforms, but plenty of citizens in the region worry about a loss of jobs and an increase in energy prices.

Michael Lynch / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania is the fourth-largest coal-producing state in the nation and Fred Hails, a fifth-generation coal miner from Washington County, wants to see it stay that way.

“You’re going to see rolling blackouts,” he said. “You’re going to have high electric bills, and I don’t see the sense in shipping our jobs overseas and buying back energy to support our country.”

Along with pop bottles and cigarette butts, another big name is joining the roadside trash Pantheon, televisions.

In January 2013 the Covered Device Recycling Act became effective across Pennsylvania. The law made it illegal for municipal trash collectors to pick up devices such as TVs, computers, and even keyboards. The purpose of the law was to rid landfills of harmful materials usually found in these devices including cadmium, beryllium, and lead.

Kee Won Song / Special to 90.5 WESA

Agriculture is the leading economic enterprise in Pennsylvania.  Between 1982 and 1997, over a million acres were developed and converted to other uses—the equivalent of 209 acres a day.  In 1988, the state instituted a program to help slow the loss of prime farmland.

After an 18-month audit, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been called “outdated, understaffed and underfunded” when it comes to monitoring the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling on water quality. 

“For an analogy internally we believe it’s like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

The audit resulted in eight findings with 29 recommendations. DePasquale said 18 of the recommendations would not cost tax payers any more money.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Department of Energy is holding meetings across the country on infrastructure needs for the natural gas industry.

On Monday the, the seventh such meeting, the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) Public Meeting, was held in Pittsburgh. The day-long meeting focused on key infrastructure needed for transmission, storage and distribution of energy – especially natural gas, which continues boom, especially in this region.

The Corbett administration has announced that no new natural gas leases will be issued under state parks and forest land while the case of PEDF v. Commonwealth progresses in court.

The decision is part of a settlement, which includes the continued funding of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The suit was brought by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation.

Commonwealth Court Throws Out Several Challenges to Act 13, Including ‘Doctor Gag Rule’

Jul 17, 2014
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Pennsylvania doctors have nothing to worry about when it comes to the so-called “gag order” on chemical exposures from oil and gas drilling. That’s the message from the Commonwealth Court today in a much-anticipated ruling on provisions of the state’s two-year-old oil and gas law. The court issued the ruling after the Supreme Court passed on the controversy, sending it back to the lower court.

Local governments across Pennsylvania have some new options to address the widespread problem of storm water runoff. 

“It’s another tool,” said Jennifer Quinn of the environmental group PennFuture.   

She said SB 1255, signed by Gov. Corbett Thursday, builds upon Act 68 of last year that allows municipalities to establish storm water authorities to address the widespread problem of runoff. 

Under this new law, the storm water authorities can offer credits to homeowners and businesses to reduce their fees by implementing storm water management best practices.

What You Should Know About Crude Oil On Trains Coming Through PA

Jul 13, 2014
Association of American Railroads; graphic: Natasha Khan and Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

More trains carrying crude oil to East Coast refineries mean a greater risk of accidents. Derailments in Pennsylvania and throughout the country are a signal to some that an accident could be disastrous.

Why is more crude oil moving through Pennsylvania?

TV Dumping, A Growing Problem Throughout the Region

Jul 10, 2014
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

In 2010 a statewide ban was passed as part of the Covered Device Recycling Act. It called for electronic waste, or E-Waste to be taken to approved recycling drop-off sites. However, discarded televisions have been showing up curbside throughout the city.

Justin Stockdale, western regional director of the PA Resources Council said the problem tends to be caused by a lack of knowledge of the proper methods of getting rid of old televisions. The largest problem is figuring out which facilities take them, a task even Stockdale admits can be difficult.

“Many of these processors, even Goodwill industries, in fact, was collecting TVs up until about the middle of last year and realized, again, they were confronted with the same problem: they don’t generate enough revenue as part of this OEM sponsored program, to cover the cost of management. And so they step away from it, and now we’re left with Best Buy stores, Construction Junction,  our PRC operated events, and that’s about it for western Pennsylvania.”

If a resident does leave a television to be picked up by collectors, Stockdale says the city will often place a sticker on the discarded television. These stickers do not issue fines for residents, but Stockdale says some provide information in the form of a website link, to where residents can take their old televisions to be recycled.

Colony Collapse & the Buzz on Beekeeping in Pittsburgh

Jul 7, 2014
Justin Leonard / Flickr

Two years ago we took a look at the world of urban farming in Pittsburgh, with a focus on beekeeping in particular. As in many cities, those who want to build apiaries in Pittsburgh have had to jump through various bureaucratic hoops and deal with the myths and fears surrounding honeybees.

President Obama recently stressed the importance of preserving our honeybee populations for the sake of food security. And the White House has even announced plans to form a task force to investigate honeybee colony collapse.

With renewed attention on the decline of pollinators, Steve Repasky, President of Burgh Bees and David Tarpy, Professor and Extension Apiculturist in the Department of Entomology at North Carolina State University are working to preserve the honeybees in Pittsburgh and the rest of the country.

Repasky said the local laws for beekeeping have not changed within the last two years, and the rules for keeping bees are pretty strict. But he thinks there has been a good push for positive change in Pittsburgh, and hopes to get a change in the urban agriculture ordinance.

Rewards Offered in Woodstove Roundup

Jul 7, 2014

Despite the popularity and appeal of summer bonfires, too much wood smoke can cause problems, according to Allegheny County Health Department. The smoke can contain toxins, act as an asthma trigger and prevent neighbors from opening windows to receive cool breezes.

That’s why the ACHD’s Air Quality Program offered rewards for older, uncertified wood furnaces and wood-fired boilers.

On May 17th, 62 woodstoves were collected in North Park, loaded into trucks, and recycled by Tube City IMS.

Flickr user smilin7h

Since 1990, the Clean Air Act has reduced emissions of six common pollutants by 41%, but according to a handful of environmental groups, Pennsylvania is not doing its job when it comes to haze.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the Clean Air Council, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Sierra Club, has filed a second lawsuit against the EPA for its approval of a haze plan that they say does not meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

When it Comes to High-Tech Roofing...Plastic Bottles are Key

Jun 30, 2014
Reuse Everything Institute / Facebook

Reuse Everything Institute, a local non-profit, has created an innovative means of reusing wasted plastic bottles. The non-profit has developed a business solution that could help people in developing countries out of poverty.

Institute founders, David Saiia and Vananh Le hope to use plastic bottles to create high-tech thatch-style roofing. Le says the affordability for consumers is the main focus of REII.

“The roof is high in quality, and we want to make it affordable to the consumer. It requires much less energy than recycling in that we are automating our process. The machine that David created was hand cranked, now we are automating it so that we make it more cost effective for people, generally, pretty much to run mom and pop businesses. So, we actually don’t melt the plastic like recycling, we just cut it into continuous strips of ribbon and convert them into other products.”

Why Solar Power is Such An Underutilized Resource

Jun 30, 2014
Christine / Flickr

Solar power has been in the news and discussed since the 1970’s. So why isn’t being utilized more in the United States?

Germany, a country half the size of Texas, harnesses the sun’s energy for many of its residential homes as Mayor Peduto found out earlier this year

Joylette Portlock, President of Communitopia and creator of the Don't Just Sit There, Do Something About Climate Change web series, thinks that Pittsburgh can better utilize the sun’s rays for energy.

"The idea of harnessing the sun's energy for power has been around since the industrial revolution started, it's been around for a long time.  Just as a country, we've had the notion that fossil fuels were cheaper or more easily available, easier to exploit, and we've really built up the infrastructure around those.  And it's only when you get to periods of time, like we saw in the 70's with the oil crisis, where people change their focus and say 'hey, maybe we shouldn't be depending on other countries for our energy,' or maybe, 'we should find a fuel that's free.'"

Coudersport Ice Mine Back in Business Naturally

Jun 30, 2014
Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

On Ice Mountain, part of the Appalachians in North Central Pennsylvania, at the top of Ice Mine Road, $4 will get you one admission into something a little different from the campsites and hiking trails around here.

A lot of folklore is attached to the Coudersport Ice Mine, including the rumor it’s man-made. That’s because some people, even people who live here, can’t believe that ice inside the ice mine only forms here during the summertime. 

Pennsylvania environmental regulators are wading through more than 25,000 public comments on a proposed overhaul of the state’s oil and gas regulations.

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