Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

State House Democrats and environmental advocates are asking the Corbett administration to block natural gas drilling in a state forest that straddles three counties in the thick of Marcellus Shale country.

Anadarko Petroleum owns subsurface rights to tens of thousands of acres of the Loyalsock State Forest, but it could only access the shale below by way of scattered chunks of land that also happen to be ecologically sensitive.

Now, some lawmakers want Anadarko’s request for an agreement that would allow drilling in the forest to be turned down.

Quaker Group to Protest PNC Mining Investments

Apr 22, 2013

The Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) is coming to Pittsburgh once again to challenge PNC’s financing of mountaintop mining.

The group made headlines last year as members set out on a 17-day walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to protest during the annual shareholders meeting.

While they’re not walking this year, EQAT will be protesting at Tuesday’s meeting.

As the weather warms, the chances increase for strong storms triggering power outages. 

The last U.S. blackout was nearly a decade ago, when a portion of the nation's power grid was overloaded by re-routed electricity. It impacted 50 million people over two days in the northeast portion of the nation, and a small portion of Canada.

Recent storms, like Hurricane Sandy, have also caused extended power outages. 

Across the world, people are celebrating Earth Day in a variety of ways today, from trash clean ups to tree plantings.

Pittsburgh didn’t wait for the actual day, as Earth Day events started last week and will continue in the coming weeks and days.

On Friday ALCOSAN workers gathered at several spots in Allegheny County to pick up litter.

“All the litter we pick up has the tendency to blow into the rivers,” said ALCOSAN spokeswoman Nancy Barylak, “so that litter you see on the side of the road could easily end up in the rivers.”

Earth Quaker Action Takes Direct Action Against PNC

Apr 20, 2013
Earth Quaker Action Team

  The mission of the Earth Quaker Action Team, also known as EQAT, is to call attention to PNC Bank’s financial funding of coal companies engaging in mountain top removal coal mining. Last year they set out on a two-hundred mile walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to protest at a PNC shareholders meeting. This year EQAT Board Member Ingrid Lakey is back in Pittsburgh, she talks with us about the actions they would like PNC's new CEO to take. 

White-Nose Syndrome Wiping Out PA's Bat Population

Apr 15, 2013

Since February 2006 when it was first discovered, White-Nose Syndrome has caused the deaths of 5.7 million to 6.7 million North American bats, many of those in Pennsylvania.

Greg Turner is a wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Diversity Section of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He counts and identifies hibernating bats and conducts migratory telemetry on our federally endangered Indiana bats.

When searching the abandoned Durham Mine in Bucks County, he found just 23 were alive and over 10,000 bats were dead.

Pittsburgh Opportunities for Green Infrastructure

Apr 10, 2013

Syracuse, NY has invested $25 million on more than 100 green infrastructure projects and now it is being held up as a model for what other cities could be doing. 

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission

A year after Pennsylvania enacted an impact fee on the Marcellus Shale industry, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) launched a new website that would allow the general public and local governments to see where the revenues are going.

Under Act 13, or the Unconventional Gas Well Impact Fee, signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett in February 2012, certain Marcellus Shale drillers have to pay a fee to the PUC every year. 

The Allegheny Land Trust is under contract to purchase 180 acres in Richland Township — land formerly owned by the Pittsburgh Cut Flower company but unused for the past 20 years.  

There are about 10 acres of dilapidated greenhouses and other structures on the property. Some may be reused, but most will be removed.  

Chris Beichner, Allegheny Land Trust's executive director, expects the sale to go through this summer if further environmental testing indicates the land can be made safe for public use. 

PennDOT Seeks Volunteers for Spring Cleaning

Apr 8, 2013

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is asking for volunteers to help "Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful." 

Each year, PennDOT conducts the "Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania" from the beginning of spring until the end of summer. It's a statewide effort to pick up roadside and shoreline litter and debris.

Pittsburghers can remember boating, fishing and ice skating on Schenley Park’s Panther Hollow Lake in years gone by, but in recent years, storm water runoff has degraded water quality and filled the lake with silt. 

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has developed plans to restore the 384-acre watershed.  

Panther Hollow Lake sits almost at the bottom of the watershed, according to Philip Gruszka of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, so to dredge and make capital improvements to the lake without improving the watershed would not be sustainable.  

The Emerald Ash Borer is an Asian beetle that arrived in the U.S. in 2002 through Detroit. With no natural predators, it may eventually kill most of the country’s ash trees, including Pennsylvania’s millions of native green and white species.

Philip Gruszka of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy said government agencies, nonprofits and individual donors have given money for pesticide treatments to save 350 ash trees in county parks and 158 in city parks for use in a future breeding program. 

Carnegie Mellon University has received its largest private foundation grant in the school’s history.

A $30 million grant provided by the Richard King Mellon Foundation will go toward a new institute to coordinate the university’s energy activities.

CMU President Jared Cohon said all seven colleges of the university are working on the topic of energy in some form. He said the grant will allow more collaboration between those colleges and their work.

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.