Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) wants more consumers to choose their natural gas supplier.

The PUC voted unanimously to launch an investigation into the state’s retail natural gas market.

Pamela Witmer, PUC commissioner, said they want to assess whether effective competition exists within the market and search for places where improvements can be made.

She noted that Pennsylvania now has a “tremendous” resource of Shale Gas leading to an influx in the market.

Environmentalists are criticizing Pennsylvania power plants for their carbon emissions and are calling for more stringent regulations.

PennEnvironment’s report shows that, nationwide, the commonwealth has the third highest amount of power plant-borne pollution.

It comes in anticipation of federally proposed emissions regulations on new plants this year and existing plants next year.

Pennsylvania’s Climate Change Future: Read The Missing Report

Sep 10, 2013

A pair of legally-mandated reports outlining how climate change will affect Pennsylvania are currently a year overdue.

The state’s Climate Change Act required the publication of both reports in 2009, followed by an update every three years.

Both documents were due last year, but they’re still under review, and the state Department of Environmental Protection won’t say when they will be released.

Pittsburgh Innovations in Energy

Sep 6, 2013
Ari Moore / Flickr

When it comes to Pittsburgh’s growing energy landscape, innovation does not usually come to mind right away. But the region has been at the forefront of important energy innovations at the private, federal, and university level for more than 100 years.

Two events in the coming weeks aim to bring these worlds together, the Enterprise Forum Pittsburgh and the 3rd annual Energy and Innovation Conference.

Breathe Project Honors Clean Air Champions

Sep 4, 2013

The Breathe Project, a program of the Heinz Endowments, honored three local champions of clean air and sustainability on Tuesday during a ceremony at the Hill House Association.

After 100 years, Elk Population and Tourism Growing

Aug 30, 2013

One hundred years ago you could not even find an elk in Pennsylvania, now 75,000 to 100,000 tourists each year head out to north-central PA to get a look at the majestic animals.

Historically, elk were abundant throughout most of Pennsylvania until the arrival of European settlers, who hunted them until the death of the last native elk in the 1860s or '70s.

Feds Seek Public Input On Plan to Decommission Three Mile Island

Aug 29, 2013

Thirty-five years after the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, plans for the eventual decommissioning of the Three Mile Island plant are still causing a stir.

In a sparsely attended yet contentious public meeting Wednesday night in Hershey, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission discussed plans for the eventual decommissioning of the plant.

About a dozen people turned out to talk about the plans, which call for dismantling the mothballed Unit 2 along with the operational Unit 1 when its license expires in 2034.

How Could OSHA’s New Silica Rules Impact The Natural Gas Industry?

Aug 29, 2013

Federal labor officials are proposing new rules to help prevent an old hazard of the trade: diseases caused by breathing in silica dust. Silicosis has long been a plight of workers in construction and manufacturing, but concerns have shifted in recent years to those who toil in the growing natural gas industry.

Sand is an important ingredient in most fracking fluid recipes. It’s mixed with chemicals and water and blasted deep underground where the tiny grains help keep cracks in the shale rock open for all that natural gas to come through.

State Board Approves Tighter Oil and Gas Regulations

Aug 28, 2013

An arm of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has approved a new package of regulations that, if approved, would govern the surface operations of oil and gas producers in the state. The proposed rules from the Environmental Quality Board were developed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as part of a two year push to refine Act 13.

DEP spokesperson Lisa Kasianowitz said the package includes four main changes:

Consol Energy

Consol Energy plans to build six well pads and three impoundment ponds on land surrounding the Pittsburgh International Airport as it works to tap into the Marcellus shale under the facility. 

Miles of water and gas pipelines and access roads are also part of the plan that is currently up for public review.

Allegheny County Council inked a deal with Consol to drill at the airport pending regulatory approval from several agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration. The deal could be worth as much a $500 million dollars to the county.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority and Consol Energy will unveil the plan to drill for oil and natural gas at Pittsburgh International Airport during a public workshop Tuesday.

Representatives from the airport authority and Consol Energy will answer questions about the plan and its environmental impact.

The workshop is meant to provide residents with more information about the oil and gas development plans, the environmental assessment, the drilling schedule and process.

But airport authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said it’s not an open forum.

Giving Voters a Say on Natural Gas Drilling

Aug 22, 2013
Flickr

When it comes to drilling for natural gas in the county’s parks, Allegheny County councilman Matt Drozd thinks the decision should be up to the voters. That’s why he recently introduced a resolution that will require the board of elections to ask voters if they should be consulted before the county approves drilling beneath a county park.

“Let them make a decision too and join in. They’ll learn more and they’ll feel more a part of the process,” Drozd said of his proposal.

Funding for the National Energy Technology Laboratory is set to be cut by 20 percent in the upcoming federal budget, and that has U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania upset. 

The Democrat has sent a letter to House and Senate leaders calling for the restoration of more than $80 million in the NETL budget. 

Casey said the funding is important to not only the region’s economy, but also the future of the nation's energy supply.

Nothing has been decided yet, but Allegheny County Council is considering an offer to develop natural gas found under Deer Lakes Park.

A new group made up of several grass roots organizations is planning to urge the group to say “no.” Members of Protect Our Parks will deliver their message at Tuesday’s County Council meeting.

Daniel Foster / flickr


Despite a declining number of wells, Marcellus Shale gas production in 2013 is up 50% from 2012. According to Nick Nanos, President and CEO of Nanos Research, this can be attributed at least in part to a shift of focus.

“The focus has been on higher quality drills and wells that can yield a greater value,” Nanos explains.

Laurie Barr, via Wikimedia Commons

A group charged with examining the Marcellus Shale industry in a comprehensive, unbiased manner has made several recommendations regarding the development, distribution and research of natural gas.

The Shale Gas Roundtable released its final report, and any further action is up to industry leaders, lawmakers and environmentalists.

Marcellus Shale natural gas production is rising even faster this year than energy experts had predicted, and that's having a national impact on energy.

Bentek, a Colorado company that analyzes energy trends, said 2013 production in Pennsylvania and West Virginia is up about 50 percent compared with last year. Figures for the pipelines that take gas out of the Marcellus show that in the first six months of the year, Pennsylvania produced about 1.5 trillion cubic feet of gas, with projections for a year-end total of about 3.2 trillion cubic feet.

Pennsylvania's bald eagle population could be taken of the state's threatened species list.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners will consider a proposal to de-list the species at a meeting in September and make an official ruling at a later date.

Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said the recommendation to move the eagle from the threatened to the protected list comes after the species met a list of criteria for five consecutive years. The criteria include:

The Allegheny Land Trust has protected more than 1,500 acres of land in Allegheny and Washington counties, but it’s not cheap. That’s why it was awarded a $110,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

Chris Beichner, ALT executive director, said the money from the grant will go toward general operations.

It’s 1950 in the city of Pittsburgh — the population is more than 600,000, and Pittsburgh is the Steel City.

Fast forward 60 years — the population is half as large, and Pittsburgh is working to become a “green” city.

The shrunken population has left once crowded neighborhoods with empty plots and less money from tax revenue to maintain those spaces and local parks.

“Given the times, there’s not enough resources to go around, so we’re trying to look at our parks and how we could manage it better,” said Director of City Planning Noor Ismail.

The Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG) released a report Thursday saying more than 5 million Pennsylvanians live near what the group calls a “high risk” chemical plant.

Representatives from the group gathered across from Union Station in downtown Pittsburgh to call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop the use of toxic chemicals and impose stronger transportation safety requirements.

Mary Kate Ranii, a canvass director for PennPIRG, said government needs to do a better job of protecting the public from harmful chemicals.

Pittsburgh 2030 District Challenge

Aug 8, 2013
Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

It’s been a year since the beginning of Pittsburgh’s 2030 District Challenge. The private-public initiative aims to cut energy, water and transportation consumption of downtown buildings in half by the year 2030.

According to Sean Luther, Director of the Green Building Alliance, a number of the big name buildings have signed on to the program’s pledge. Some of the most notable buildings include the US Steel Building and one of the oldest buildings downtown, the Allegheny Courthouse. In total, the buildings involved in the challenge account for more than 50% of downtown’s square footage.

Rhonda Schuldt / Local Goodness

Three years ago an administrator at Shady Side Academy noticed there was no market near the school’s location in Fox Chapel.  This motivated the school to host a Farmer’s Market

Two years later, stemming from the school’s commitment to sustainability, the Shady Side Academy Farm was planted.

The farm is managed primarily by students and is successfully integrated into the school’s curriculum. Rhonda Schuldt of Local Goodness explains the roles that students play in the farm and the market.

Garfield Farms

From the country to the city, many urban dwellers are beginning to develop self-sustainable farms in the backyards of their Pittsburgh apartments. These “city farms” engage communities in the farming process and improve nutrition to citizens that do not live near a grocery store or market.

Small gardens and urban livestock such as chicken and bees can be found on balconies, roofs and oftentimes in revitalized vacant lots.

Heather Mikulas works in local food infrastructure and agricultural entrepreneurship for the Penn State University Extension Office in Allegheny County and helps backyard farmers develop their own agricultural techniques. She says that everyone has a different reason to start planting an urban garden, but anyone can do it.

The University of Pittsburgh is concluding its Energy Law and Policy Institute Friday, a two-day forum bringing together legal experts, policymakers and industry representatives to discuss the nation’s energy future.

Topics covered at the event include tax incentive financing for energy projects, the law and policy of pipeline infrastructure and fossil fuel exports, changing environmental regulations regarding shale gas development, and land use and title law in energy issues.

Lifelong Gag Order Imposed on Two Children in Western PA Fracking Case

Aug 2, 2013

Two young children are forbidden from speaking about Marcellus Shale or fracking for the rest of their lives. The court action stems from a settlement in a high-profile Marcellus Shale lawsuit in western Pennsylvania.

The two children were 7 and 10 years old at the time the Hallowich family settled a nuisance case against driller Range Resources in August 2011. The parents, Chris and Stephanie, had been outspoken critics of fracking, saying the family became sick from the gas drilling activity surrounding their Washington County home.

Ari Moore / Flickr

A PowerPoint presentation leaked to reporters at the LA Times and other news agencies implies that methane from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, did contaminate wells in Dimock, PA.  The report comes from a regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency. Many believe the information was not disclosed as a result of pressure from lobbyists and political figures at the national level. 

According to the PowerPoint, the regional mid-Atlantic office of the EPA did not agree with the national decision to close the investigation in Dimock. Susan Phillips, Energy Reporter for StateImpact PA and shale gas reporter and author, Tom Wilber explained the difficult nature of regulating fracking and natural gas.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority on Wednesday submitted a $165 million plan to meet a 2002 federal mandate to reduce sewage overflows into Pittsburgh waterways.

“We’ve been working on the plan for a little over 10 years,” said Jim Good, PWSA’s interim executive director. “If you printed it out on paper the plan weighs 29 pounds.”

Good said the plan is “compliant gray,” but the authority went a step further. 

Two state agencies are warning proposed legislation would strip their authority to determine which species are labeled endangered in Pennsylvania.

The measure would require the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission, now independent agencies, to instead run their decisions through certain legislative committees and a state regulatory review agency.

The city of Pittsburgh’s Cool Roof program is a newer initiative aimed at reducing energy costs in buildings. So far, five city buildings have gotten cool roofs, and on Saturday, weather permitting, Engine 37 on the North Side will also get the cool roof treatment.

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