Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The Department of Energy estimates that gas from shale is expected to account for roughly half of the country’s natural gas supply by 2040. Pennsylvania is playing a major role, thanks to development of Marcellus Shale.

A symposium at Carnegie Mellon University Thursday examined the role of shale gas in manufacturing, transportation and the environment.

Shale To Solar: Farmers Use Gas Money to Build Solar Arrays

Apr 1, 2013
Margaret J. Krauss / The Allegheny Front

Dwayne Bauknight and Duane Miller share a first name. They live 1.9 miles apart on the same road and have almost nothing in common — except for a row of gleaming new solar panels on their farms.

Dwayne Bauknight drives onto his Washington County property in a golf cart. He pulls a U-turn to park between two rows of 15-foot tall solar panels and shows how they work.

Homeowners are beginning to pull mowers and trimmers out of garages and sheds to work on their lawns, and although the gasoline-fueled tools might make the yard look presentable, they could be bad news for human health and the environment.

Lawn mowers, trimmers, chainsaws and leaf blowers, which are powered by gasoline, can create volatile organic compounds according to a public/private air quality group.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, Michael Krancer, announced recently he will be leaving the agency on April 15 to return to Blank Rome, an influential Philadelphia law firm where he worked during the 1990′s.

With Earth Day approaching on April 22, the Pennsylvania Resources Council has announced its 2013 collection event schedule for electronics, pharmaceuticals, household chemicals and building materials.

On April 20 there will be a “Hard to Recycle” collection at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills. There will be no charge for turning in e-waste like computers, TVs, cell phones, printer/toner cartridges and CFLs, and a nominal fee for paper shredding, alkaline batteries, fluorescent tubes, specialty lights and small Freon appliances.  

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is awarding $2.2 million in grants to help counties combat the spread of West Nile Virus this year.

Department spokeswoman Amanda Witman said most people infected with the mosquito born disease will never experience symptoms because their immune systems shut the virus down. But for others, she warned, it can be dangerous.

"This virus can develop into West Nile Fever or West Nile Encephalitis - both of which are infections that cause brain inflammation and in the most severe cases, death," Witman said.

More than half of the nation’s river and stream miles are in poor condition for aquatic life. That’s according to the first comprehensive survey of river health by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Data was collected from about 2,000 sites across the country from 2008-09, and then federal, state and university scientists analyzed the information to determine how well the waterways support aquatic life and how major stressors might be affecting them.

Pittsburgh City Council District 7

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission is reviewing legislation that would create incentives for communications companies to conceal cell phone towers and antennas within regular urban structures.

A Pittsburgh resident originally proposed the idea to District 7 Councilman Patrick Dowd, who introduced the measure to Council on Tuesday.

District 7 communications manager Nathaniel Hanson said the legislation would encourage companies to hide their new antennas within the most workaday buildings and objects.

The National Map, U.S. Geological Survey

A new study from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) delineates how the construction of new roads and pipelines for Marcellus Shale natural gas development and other energy industries can mince up local forests, leading to smaller ecosystems and limiting wildlife.

Using aerial imagery, USGS researchers found that developers laid 140 miles of new roads and eight miles of new pipelines for the sake of 647 Marcellus Shale gas wells drilled in Allegheny County from 2004 to 2010.

Hunters killed roughly 343,110 deer in Pennsylvania during the 2012-2013 season, according to the state's Game Commission, a yearly increase of about 2 percent.

That includes roughly 133,860 antlered deer and 209,250 antlerless deer, both increases over the previous season.

Joe Neville, director of information and education for the Game Commission, said the numbers are on track with his agency's annual goal of harvesting about one-third of the state's population of roughly one million deer.

With Spring Flooding Looming, Are You Insured?

Mar 24, 2013

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department is encouraging people to buy their flood insurance policies early this year.

Melissa Fox, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, said the buildup of snow and ice in the winter can lead to early spring floods.

With more than 50,000 miles of rivers, streams, and creeks, Pennsylvania reported $1,425,000 in damages in 2012.

Fox said homeowners are required to carry flood insurance if they live in a designated flood plain, Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) or high-risk area.

The PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center recently released a report on the economical and environmental benefits of sustainably produced, local agriculture. The organization also offered a blueprint of policies they hope state legislators will adopt and introduce in Pennsylvania.

The report, "Healthy Farms, Healthy Environment: State and Local Policies to Improve Pennsylvania’s Food System and Protect our Land and Water," highlighted programs, such as Vermont’s Farm to Plate Initiative, which pushed for developing sustainable agriculture methods.

Drilling Companies Agree to Settle Fracking Contamination Case for $750,000

Mar 21, 2013
Mark Schmerling / Courtesy of Protecting Our Waters

Range Resources, MarkWest Energy and Williams Gas agreed to settle a high profile contamination case in Washington County for $750,000, according to recently unsealed court records.  

An order to unseal the records was entered Wednesday in Washington County Court of Common Pleas by President Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca. Judge O’Dell-Seneca reversed an earlier decision to permanently keep the more than 900 pages of court records secret. In the order she stated that the drilling company’s claims of privacy rights had no merit.

A new Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization has been created to independently certify companies that develop shale natural gas based on their adherence to 15 pollution control standards.

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development was created with funding and input from southwestern Pennsylvania foundations, gas companies and environmental groups.

"Unusual bedfellows in this day and age, to be sure," said Robert Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments.

A Washington County  judge says the public has the right to see a sealed settlement between gas drilling companies and a family that claimed the drilling operations damaged their health.

Judge Debbie O'Dell-Seneca ruled Wednesday that openness in the court system is more important than the interests of the companies.

An audit by the Pennsylvania Public Utility  Commission (PUC) includes 10 recommendations that could save Duquesne Light close to $2.4 million annually--some of which could be passed along to customers.

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said says the biggest potential cost reductions involves a shift in employee hours.

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) has protected 230,000 acres of state land in its 71-year history. With the announcement of its first comprehensive fundraising campaign, the WPC seeks to safeguard even more of the state’s beauty. The WPC seeks to raise $40 million.

Though WPC may be best known for its management of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, a National Historic Landmark, they seek to conserve water, land and life in diverse environments throughout the region, said Tom Saunders, WPC President and CEO.

New Limits Could Make Pine Creek Safe for Fun

Mar 12, 2013

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is setting limits on pollution into Pine Creek—hoping to make fishing and recreation safe in the watershed.

Pine Creek flows through 14 municipalities in the North Hills of Allegheny County before joining the Allegheny River in Etna.

Jon Capacasa, Director of Water Protection Division in the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region, said they are establishing a TMDL, or a Total Maximum Daily Load for Pine Creek,

A TMDL identifies the leading sources of pollution and assigns responsibility in reducing it to each major source. 

Emily DeMarco/PublicSource

Morry Feldman downs two horse pills with breakfast. Then, he uses four different sprays. Two puffs into the mouth.  Two into the nose. Repeat at dinner.

Feldman, 59, has severe asthma and allergies. And Pittsburgh is among the worst places he could live or work because of the region’s poor air quality.

“If I miss a dose, I start to get sick,” said Feldman, a senior account executive at WQED Multimedia.

Feldman is one of nearly 97,000 adults in Allegheny County with asthma.

The county received F’s in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 study.

Russ Lyod / 90.5 WESA

By mid morning Wednesday, the snow had moved out of the Pittsburgh region and most of the city’s streets were treated.  Pittsburgh Public Works crews used 62 trucks overnight and into the morning to clear the blanket of heavy wet snow.   

Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski reminded city residents to be careful when they start to clean their cars, sidewalks and drive ways and asks that home owners not just to drop the snow anywhere.

Water Quality Monitors Wanted

Mar 6, 2013

3 Rivers Quest monitors water quality in rivers, tributaries and headwater streams that drain more than 25,000 square miles in five states.  Local watershed groups may apply for grants up to $7000 to help collect samples.  The four geographical regions and those partnering with West Virginia University in the project are the Monongahela (West Virginia Water Research Institute), Upper Ohio (Wheeling Jesuit University), Southern Allegheny (Duquesne University) and Northern Allegheny (Iron Furnace Chapter of Trout Unlimited).

Rana Xavier/Flickr

Acid mine drainage is the most widespread water pollution problem in Pennsylvania. When water wells up inside abandoned coalmines, it leaches the iron compound ‘pyrite’ from the rock to form an acidic, sulfuric brine — called “yellowboy” for its color. As the pressure builds in the empty, underground mines, it often begins to seep out, the risk of a blowout increases, and, at times, the yellowboy could end up flowing into the nearest stream and killing wildlife.

Democratic State Senators have a few problems with Governor Tom Corbett's proposed budgets for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

First of all, State Senator John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) said DCNR's budget is too dependent on royalties garnered from Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling in state forest land. While $53 million of the DCNR budget comes from the state's General Fund, roughly $77 million comes from royalty fees on gas extraction.

The state Game Commission is still working to determine how it will respond to an apparent outbreak of chronic wasting disease among Pennsylvania’s wild deer population.

The brain illness, fatal to deer but not harmful to humans, has been detected in the wild in Pennsylvania. It’s the first time the disease has been found in the commonwealth’s wild deer population in 15 years of testing.

Deanna Garcia/90.5 WESA News

Wednesday February 27th is International Polar Bear Day, a day aimed at raising awareness to the continuing threat to polar bear habitat and encourage action to reduce individual carbon footprints.

Last year was the worst year ever for sugar content, but this year's maple syrup is back to normal, according to Everett Sechler, owner of the Sechler Sugar Shack in Somerset County.  "We've already made a third of what we made last year.  We're hoping that we do not have an early spring because if it turns to spring, that will speed up the buds in the trees, and the sugar season will be over.  The 10-day forecast looks like it's going to remain cold except for two days, and the trees should perhaps pour the sap out those two days."

DEP’s “Falcon Cam” is Back!

Feb 19, 2013
PA Dept of Environmental Protection

For those of you missing the Wisconsin recall cam, the webcam that gave thousands of people an inside look into the life of bureaucrats, the Pennsylvania DEP’s “falcon cam” might just catch your attention with nesting falcons.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today launched its annual 24-hour a day webcast of the peregrine falcon nest on its Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg.

A group of Pike County residents are spending President’s Day locked to a gate in the Delaware State Forest. The gate is used by pipeline workers clear cutting trees for the Tennessee Gas Pipeline northeast upgrade construction. The new Loop 323 will stretch from Milford, PA to New Jersey. Milford resident Alex Lotorto is one of the activists locked to the fence, because, he said, the impact of the pipeline will be detrimental to the area’s economy.

http://notennesseepipeline.blogspot.com/

A group of Pike County residents are spending President’s Day locked to a gate through Delaware State Forest.

Pedaling Forward For A New Bicycle Trail

Feb 17, 2013

A bicycling group in western Pennsylvania has been given permission to get plans rolling to put up to 17 miles of trails on Quemahoning Reservoir land.

The Cambria Somerset Authority gave the Laurel Highlands Off Road Bicycling Association (LHORBA) permission to build the mountain bike trails this summer, as long as the group flags the area first and then has CSA staff inspect it.

Earl Waddell, the operations manager for the Cambria-Somerset Authority, said even though the trail had been approved there was still some planning that needed to be done.

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