Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Pittsburgh's three rivers remain heavily tainted with metals, harmful chemical compounds, pathogens, and silt, according to a report released last week by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Some of the most common sources of pollution are abandoned mines, as well as the "urban runoff" that results from a lack of vegetation along the riverbanks. Both of these are known to suppress aquatic life. The Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers are all experiencing problems from mine drainage and runoff. 

Visitors will soon be able to mosey about in one of the greenest buildings in the world, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at Phipps Conservatory.

Starting February 12, general admission will include access to the research and education facility situated behind Phipps' glasshouse gardens. Any Phipps visitor will be able to simply walk about and read up on the building's environmentally-friendly features.

Monongahela River Runs Away With Award

Feb 1, 2013

Even rivers get awards.

The Monongahela River, flowing through Greene, Fayette, Washington, Westmoreland and Allegheny counties, has been named Pennsylvania’s 2013 River of the Year following online voting across the state.

Terry Brady, spokesperson for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), said the Mon won because of the strong voter turnout.

Mention the recent surge in oil and natural gas production in the U.S. and one word comes to mind for a lot of people: "fracking." Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial technique that uses water, sand and potentially hazardous chemicals to break up rock deep underground to release oil and natural gas.

But there's another technology that is just as responsible for drilling booms happening across the country: horizontal drilling.

Environmental Consequences

The National Weather Service said a nuclear power plant in Shippingport, PA was partially responsible for a narrow band of snow that fell on parts of western Pennsylvania Tuesday night.

Chief Meteorologist Rich Kane said the conditions were ripe for the incident: the cooling tower spews moisture and the air outside was frigid.

“So it’s everything you need to have like a mini lake Erie,” he said, “if we had hundreds of cooling towers right upstream from us, we would have hundreds of plumes coming up and it would almost resemble a lake effect.”

Pittsburgh Prepares for New E-Waste Law

Jan 22, 2013

What do you do with your old computers and TVs when you break down and buy the latest piece of technology to hit the shelf?

Some people might stick the outdated one in the basement or give it to a friend, but many others set the old electronics out on the curb for the garbage men to cart off the next morning. From there, the "e-waste" is thrown into the local trash dump, where it proceeds to leak toxic metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium into the earth and possibly the groundwater.

Not anymore.

Technological advances in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are paving the way for companies to become both producers and consumers of natural gas. From Pennsylvania to Texas, diesel pump engines are being converted to operate on a cheaper bi-fuel mix of diesel and natural gas.

County takes input on North & South Park Projects

Jan 21, 2013

Allegheny County and the Allegheny County Parks Foundation will host two public input meetings to discuss improvement projects in North Park and South Park.

Residents are encouraged to attend the meetings to learn about the projects and to provide feedback and comments.

Christine Fulton, Executive Director of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, said the needs for renovations in the parks is actually a good thing.

Pennsylvania forests have a new, surprising ally. You might even call it a sponsor. Chevrolet is footing the bill for a 22,000-acre parcel near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The forest is owned by the city’s water authority, which draws off tributaries in the forested watershed to supply its 115, 000 customers.

“We’re anticipating- to be on the safe side- somewhere from $75,000 to $100,000 annually.   If we get more than that… great,” said Steve Repach, Authority director.

One way to take the chill off a January in Pittsburgh is to think tropical--as in a tropical plant exhibit.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is gearing up to open its Orchid and Bonsai Show Saturday.

Georgia Wahl, orchid manager at Phipps, said the display is appealing in the wintertime because orchids come in "endless" colors, shades, and hues.

Allegheny County Air Rules Weakened

Jan 9, 2013

The ever yo-yoing Allegheny County Health Department Board changed toxic air guidelines again on Wednesday.

In a 6-0 vote with two abstentions, the board approved an amendment to shrink the “public exposure boundary,” or the area where public health risk is measured. The change shifts the boundary from the industry’s property line to the nearest habitable structure.  The board had voted in November 7-1 in favor of the tighter rules.

Ben Avon Councilman Michael Bett argued against relaxed regulations.

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh finds low Vitamin D Levels early in pregnancy are associated with lower birth weights.

The study will be in the January edition of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Lead Author Alison Gernand from The Graduate School of Public Health says there has been an increased interest in looking at Vitamin D levels in pregnancy in recent years.

The Allegheny County Board of Health is accepting public comment on two proposed changes to air quality regulations. The changes are pretty minor, the first would get rid of the list of ambient air quality standards.

“That’s because whenever EPA updates these at the federal level, we have to go back and update our regulations. So just to make it easier and make sure that our regulations stay consistent with what’s happening at the federal level,” said Alaina Conner, pollution prevention and outreach coordinator at the county health department.

Pennsylvania’s Second Biggest Wind Farm Now Online

Jan 3, 2013

Right before the New Year, two new Pennsylvania wind farms became operational, including the state’s second largest. The Twin Ridges Wind Farm in southern Somerset County is a 140 megawatt facility, which can create enough electricity to power more than 45,000 homes each year.

“In total we had about 170 megawatts come online in the last week, bringing Pennsylvania’s EverPower portfolio to just over 200 megawatts and pushed us over 500 megawatts nationally,” said EverPower Wind Holdings Spokesman Dan Lagiovane.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is investigating a disease being found in smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna, Schuylkill, and Delaware Rivers.  Lesions are being found on the fish and hatchlings are dying off in significant numbers. The problem is that the culprit hasn’t been found.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission wants a portion of the Susquehanna to be placed on an impaired rivers list. But the DEP said if that were to happen, the agency would have to say why it’s impaired which means identifying certain pollutants that need to be reduced.

Pittsburgh Adds 22 Certified Green Buildings In 2012

Dec 27, 2012

More green buildings, new and rehabilitated, continue to pop up in the Pittsburgh region.  Pittsburgh ranked fourth among 15 benchmark cities by adding 22 Certified Green Buildings this year for a total of 109.

Winter Storm 'Euclid' Continues to Nag Travellers

Dec 27, 2012

Wednesday's snowstorm, named 'Euclid', dumped four and a half inches of snow on Pittsburgh Wednesday, and many modes of transportation are still experiencing the delays associated with the weather.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County says it is experiencing some delays on certain bus routes, although most routes are not affected by the snow. PAT warns bus riders to leave extra time in case their buses are experiencing delays.

A study commissioned by the commonwealth found economic benefits associated with Pennsylvania's 'water trails' -- the 21 rivers outfitted by the state with boat launches, access points, and campgrounds.

The data gathered by ICF International show that just four of those water trails generated roughly $750,000 in local economic activity over three months this summer. From July to September, ICF conducted interviews with water trail visitors at the Schuylkill River; the Susquehanna River's north branch; the Juniata River; and the Three Rivers area in Allegheny County.

Count Some Birds

Dec 25, 2012

Whether an expert or a beginner, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is asking for your help.

Game Commission officials are asking wildlife enthusiasts to join tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the United States in the Audubon Society’s 113th annual Christmas Bird Count.

Local counts will occur on one day between December 14 and January 5. Volunteers can pick the most convenient circle or participate in more than one count.  Each circle focuses on one specific geographical area.

Voting For PA River Of The Year Has Begun

Dec 25, 2012

Six waterways across the state, including two in the Pittsburgh region, have been nominated for the 2013 Pennsylvania River of the Year.

The public is invited again to vote online for one of the nominated rivers: Kiskiminetas and Monongahela Rivers in the southwest; Juniata River and Swatara Creek in south central Pennsylvania; Lackawanna River in the northeast; and Schuylkill River in the southeast.

Southwestern PA Coal Waste Dump to Close

Dec 17, 2012

A federal judge has signed off on a deal for FirstEnergy Corp. to close a coal slurry dump along the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border in about four years. The Little Blue Run dump in Beaver County collects slurry pumped from the Bruce Mansfield coal-fired power plant, about 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Once closed, the dump will stay in place, but no additional waste will be added.

Water Testing Begins on Ohio and Allegheny Rivers

Dec 4, 2012
Joseph / Flickr

After three years of testing the Monongahela for pollution the West Virginia Water Research Institute is now turning its attention to the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers.

Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, the institute’s director, said the institute began testing the Monongahela in 2009 after high concentrations of “total dissolved solids” (TDS) began to appear. TDS include sulfide, chloride, and other chemicals that affect drinking water standards.

A judge won't rule until next year on the fate of a proposed tires-to-energy plant in western Pennsylvania.

Thomas Renwand of the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board this week extended deadlines for submitting evidence about the proposed plant until January 18, and motions in the case until February 1.

Crawford Renewable Energy plans to build the $350 million plant in the Keystone Regional Industrial Park outside Meadville. It would burn about 900 tons of chopped-up waste tires daily to produce enough electricity for about 75,000 homes.

Environmental advocacy groups are pushing Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators to support the extension of two tax credits that aid the wind power industry.  The renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) and the offshore wind investment tax credit (ITC) which both support the construction of new wind farms, are due to end come January.

Daniel Lagiovane, Project Communications Manager for Everpower, a Pittsburgh area wind power company, said if the tax credits expire, the wind industry will be “severely hampered."

Sandy Damage in PA hits $16 Million

Nov 28, 2012

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency says the state's damage from superstorm Sandy in Pennsylvania tops $16 million.

PEMA spokeswoman Ruth Miller said Wednesday that the agency's staff continues to compile damage cost estimates that are still being reported.

The Pennsylvania figure is dwarfed by the billions of dollars in damage being reported in New Jersey and New York, but is in line with several other states that sustained damage.

With the number of natural gas wells growing in Pennsylvania, the likelihood of negative effects on the landscape is also increasing. A report released by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) was able to document highly detailed patterns of disturbance related to the industry.

Hunters Looking To Help Hungry Families

Nov 27, 2012

750 thousand hunters are expected to take to the woods across Pennsylvania during the two-week deer hunting season that began Monday, and hunters are being urged to donate deer meat to the “Hunters Sharing the Harvest’’ program, which distributes venison to Pennsylvania food banks, soup kitchens and pantries.

“Hunger affects more than 1.5 million Pennsylvanians in all corners of our state,” said PA Agriculture Department spokesperson Samantha Krepps, “By donating venison, hunters can help keep food on their neighbor’s tables this winter.”

There’s little debate left among scientists that climate change is real and that the Earth is experiencing some of its effects already. To what extent, and to what extent further changes can be affected is up for debate. The head of the National Wildlife Federation will deliver a talk Tuesday evening in Pittsburgh, “Living in a New Climate Paradigm.”

7,600 Pittsburgh Area Kids At Risk For Lead Poisoning

Nov 25, 2012

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is urging families to have children younger than six years old tested for lead poisoning.

Nearly half a million children nationwide have elevated blood lead levels that may significantly damage their health, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health Department spokesman Dave Zazac says that the ACHD each year encourages these blood tests.

Pittsburgh Botanic Garden: Almost a Reality

Nov 21, 2012

The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden has been in the works for more than 20 years without much result. Finally there's something to see with the promise of much more to come. Doug Oster, contributor to The Allegheny Front and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist, takes us on a tour of the site with Botanic Garden president Greg Nace. See photos and listen to the story at our partner Allegheny Front's website.

 

 

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