Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

Breathing in the tiny particles emitted by automobile engines and power plants has been widely accepted by scientists and the public as being something to avoid.

But for a long time it was believed that these tiny particles, known as soot, were the sole toxic ingredient entering the lungs.  However, Reid Frazier of the Allegheny Front has discovered quite a different story. Scientists have found that soot leads a “secret life” after being released into the air, during which it picks up gases and other poisonous hitchhikers.  Before the soot actually enters the lungs these particles go through a unique evolution that involves a surprising combination of molecules.

Joseph A / flickr

According to a new report from a coalition of environmental and clean water groups, including the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action, at least 20 of 28 coal fired power plants in Pennsylvania discharge toxic coal ash or wastewater. These plants have no limits on the amount of toxic metals they are allowed to dump in public waters. Kim Teplitzky of the Sierra Club is one of the many concerned citizens calling for more stringent regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act.

Martha Rial / PublicSource

After 30 tons of fertilizer detonated in West, Texas last April, investigators are looking into the cause of the explosion that killed fifteen people, including twelve firefighters and emergency responders.  PublicSource reporter Bill Heltzel has been investigating chemical plant Dyno Nobel in Donora, PA, and gauging the town’s understanding of hazardous substance safety.  United Steel Workers safety officer Kim Nibarger represents union workers at the plant.

Schenley Park is getting two water management systems for the Panther Hollow Watershed. With green infrastructure, the pilot projects aim to decrease runoff by either collecting or re-distributing rain water.

Erin Copeland, senior restoration ecologist with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, said the recent flooding did not trigger the projects’ initiation. She said it has been in the planning process since 2010.

A landmark federal study on fracking shows no evidence that chemicals from the natural gas drilling process moved up to contaminate drinking water aquifers at a western Pennsylvania drilling site.

After a year of monitoring, the researchers at the Department of Energy in Pittsburgh, found that the chemical-laced fluids used to release natural gas trapped deep below the surface stayed thousands of feet below the shallower areas that supply drinking water. That's according to geologist Richard Hammack.

The fracking debate continues.

A study released Tuesday by an environmental activist group shows Pennsylvania’s bonding practices are inadequate to cover the cost and range of damage from drilling and fracking activities.

The report from the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center examined Pennsylvania’s financial assurance requirements for oil and gas drilling operations and found that the state’s requirements are lacking.

It’s hot out — really hot — and several organizations in Pittsburgh are taking action to prevent fatalities as temperatures are expected to reach into the 90s this week.

Meals on Wheels workers have been advised to not only deliver the meals, but also to make sure the seniors they serve are holding up well in the heat.

Boilermakers, utilities workers and politicians rallied Friday in an effort to save southwestern Pennsylvania coal jobs.

Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA-18) took to the megaphone outside of Boilermakers Local 154 Hall in Pittsburgh to take a stand against the Environmental Protection Agency and its latest regulations that contribute to the closing of two Pittsburgh power plants.

One day before flash flooding inundated southwestern Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation permitting municipalities to create stormwater authorities.

According to the environmental group PennFuture, runoff that is not managed properly can cause flooding and carry pollutants — heavy metals, sediment and nutrients — into waterways, but municipalities now have the option to create authorities to address these issues.

George Jugovic, chair of PennFuture’s law staff, said this is a big issue that people don’t usually consider.

Marvin Moriarty / United States Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikipedia

Not even Batman can save his fellow bat friends from a deadly disease that has been threatening the bat population across Pennsylvania.  White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a disease caused by a fungus that, when introduced into underground workings such as caves and mines, begins to eat away at live skins cells of hibernating bats. 

This originally European fungus is cold loving, meaning it prefers very cold, damp underground environments, precisely where non-migratory bats tend to flock for hibernation. When bats hibernate, however, their immune systems completely shut down creating what Endangered Mammal Specialist Greg Turner calls “the perfect storm.”

The theme of taking action today to combat climate change tomorrow ran rampant through Tuesday’s BlueGreen Alliance roundtable on president Obama’s recently released climate change plan. 

While the event spent very little time talking about the specifics of the president’s plan, it did offer several opinions on making sure climate control efforts also benefit the local economy.

David Bennett / Flickr

Before exploring the issue of creating green jobs in the 21st century economy, Essential Pittsburgh took the time to air some answers to environmental questions from listeners.

In response to a question on why the energy conversation won't embrace the possibility of more drastic advances in alternative energy such as nuclear fusion, James Clad, a consultant and distinguished research fellow at the National Defense University acknowledged that the energy conversation had been turned into a one note discussion on fossil fuels. 

"The energy world is defined by oil and gas and everything else is just an add on." said Clad

Wikipedia Commons

Extreme weather, greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide and glacial melting; all these buzzwords have increasingly entered the public vernacular in the past 20 years. 

Following a UN report by the World Meteorological Organization, scientists expect that the topic of global warming and climate change will continue to be a hot issue.  The report, “The Global Climate 2001-2010: A Decade of Extremes,” cites that the past decade has seen an abundance of greenhouse gas emissions that has caused increased temperatures on both hemispheres, all oceans and an accompanying rapid decline in arctic sea ice and glaciers. 

Director of Science at the Carnegie Science Center, John Radzilowicz, has been following the topic of global climate change and was not necessarily surprised by the UN report.  He was optimistic, however, that the report was gaining attention and combined a multitude of data pointing to the extremes in weather conditions throughout the world.

The state is providing $1.65 million in grants to support mine mapping projects.

The Pennsylvania of Department of Environmental Protection has awarded the Mine Map Grants to seven institutions, including six Pennsylvania universities.

Amanda Witman, spokeswoman for the DEP, said the grant recipients will add mapping information to the already active Mine Map Atlas, an interactive compilation of mine maps across Pennsylvania.

While Pennsylvanians celebrate the Fourth of July this week, they might also want to celebrate the growing population of America’s national symbol — the bald eagle.

According to the Game Commission, there are currently 252 bald eagle nests in the state, 46 more than last year.

“I think it says a lot about the state’s efforts not only to see the number of bald eagles increase as it has, but also to see that population spread out into new areas and follow those watercourses they traditionally inhabited,” said commission spokesman Travis Lau.

California has more solar panels soaking up the sun and creating electricity than any other state, but researchers say those panels would be better off in places like cloudy Pittsburgh.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers said the same is true in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia when it comes to wind farms.

Kyle Siler-Evans, co-author of the recently published research paper, said the goal of solar and wind power is to mitigate climate damages and improve health and air quality, but the plants are going out west where they are not needed as much.

When it rains in Pittsburgh, chances are raw sewage will be discharged into its rivers because so many pipes receive not only sewage, but also storm water, and the system can't handle the volume.  

When this happens, the Allegheny County Health Department issues combined sewer overflow (CSO) flag alerts between May 15 and September 30.

Indigo / Flickr

The connection between reliable sources of energy, global prosperity and security has profoundly impacted international relations since before the industrial revolution.

According to James Clad, consultant and distinguished research fellow at the National Defense University, "energy is inextricably part of a contemporary society."

As dependent as we are on oil in the United States, it's commonly known that a shift away from petroleum-based energy could dramatically impact our economy and way of life. Clad says petroleum based economies are very mobile and agile, private vehicles let us go from point A to point B without relying on large expensive infrastructure.  Which is why economies like ours find it hard to completely do away the use of hydrocarbons.

Canada is now the number one supplier of energy to the United States. Canadian researcher Nik Nanos, chairman of Nanos Research Group, says while we've relied on oil from the Middle East in the past, with shale gas and new discoveries of oil in North America, there's a new narrative for energy policy and Western PA is a big part of the picture.

A recent poll from Nanos revealed 3 out of 4 Americans feel there should be a continental energy strategy.

Pittsburgh, he says is part of an energy triangle that includes Houston and Calvary, Canada. As part of the triangle Pittsburgh and the rest of the U.S. must have a good relationship their neighbors to the north, and rethink energy in more broad terms than electric bills and gas prices.

Pennsylvania’s Act 13 Marcellus Shale impact fees from the state’s 6,000 wells so far amount to $400 million: $204 million for 2011 and $198 million for 2012 (because the price of natural gas declined). 

A fixed amount goes to agencies that oversee the industry, and the rest goes to local entities. 

Counties where drilling takes place get 60 percent of the remainder, while 40 percent goes into the Marcellus Legacy Fund, which is accessible to all.

http://tomwilber.blogspot.com/

Journalist Tom Wilber has been reporting on hydraulic fracturing since 2008. He’s been our guest in the past to discuss the issue and help us sort fact from fiction when documentaries on the topic come out. He recently attended a screening of Gasland II, in his hometown of Binghamton, New York.

www.naturalgas.org

Filmmaker Josh Fox joins us to talk about his HBO documentary "Gasland II," a followup to 2010's "Gasland." Fox says his latest film demonstrates how the stakes have been raised in the controversial method of natural gas and oil extraction in the last three years.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The Cool Roofs program has officially launched in Pittsburgh. Through the servePGH initiative, the roofs of 10 city-owned buildings will be coated with reflective paint.

“In the coming months, volunteers will help paint approximately 50,000 square feet of city-owned roofs with a special, eco-friendly white coating,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

The reflective surface will help reduce carbon emissions and decrease energy costs for the buildings, and eventually that energy savings could extend to wider areas.

Michael Lynch / 90.5 WESA

The Clean Rivers Campaign announced Monday it is filing a legal challenge to ALCOSAN’s denial of an open records request.

In May, the group requested any and all documents related to the scope of the work being done on ALCOSAN’s study of green infrastructure. That request was denied by ALCOSAN.

Of the 1 million homes in Pennsylvania that sit above underground mines, one in 2,000 insured buildings are damaged by mine subsidence, costing an average of $50,000 per structure.

That’s according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which has launched an underground Mine Map Atlas, an online mapping system that allows the public to view underground mines across the state.

usda.gov / Creative Commons

Thanks to the presence of disease and tree-killing insects such as the emerald ash borer, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is reminding residents of the firewood quarantine in place.

People are asked to not move firewood more than 50 miles from its origin, and wood products cannot be moved out of Bucks County at all because of thousand cankers disease.

Drilling Opponents Pack DCNR Meeting On Loyalsock State Forest

Jun 4, 2013
Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

After facing months of public pressure over the possibility of expanding natural gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) held a public meeting on the issue.

Nearly 250 people turned out Monday to Lycoming College in Williamsport. The meeting ran an hour over its scheduled time slot, due to the number of people who wanted to comment.

Doug Butchy / Flickr

Allegheny College, located 90 minutes north of Pittsburgh, has been nationally recognized for its sustainable initiatives. But could the green campus get a black eye if it leases land for hydraulic fracking? Right now it's the campus is considering whether or not to open portions of the college's land to the option of shale gas drilling.

To comply with federal law, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority submitted a plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in January to reduce sewage overflows into creeks and rivers at a cost of $2.8 billion. 

At the same time, ALCOSAN requested an 18-month extension to do a study of incorporating "green" infrastructure components proposed at public meetings. Now the people who advocated those changes say they are being shut out of the process.

airnow.gov

The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are partnering on the so-called School Flag Program, which debuted last week at the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park.

“The School Flag Program was developed by the EPA, and it’s an engaging, hands-on way for students to inform their entire school and community about the region’s air quality and then to take necessary steps to minimize their exposure to high levels of air pollution,” said Karrie Kressler, of GASP.

Pages