Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Connoquenessing Water OK

Feb 23, 2012

At least 10 households in western Pennsylvania fear their drinking water has been ruined by natural gas drilling, but state officials say tests don't show that.

Residents say Rex Energy Corp. has sent letters notifying them it will no longer deliver drinking water to the households after Feb. 29.

Rex Energy says in a statement that testing found no notable differences in pre and post-drilling water chemistry in Connoquenessing Township, about 35 miles north of Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania Remains Plum Pox Free

Feb 17, 2012

In 1999, a non-curable plant virus native to Europe was found in Pennsylvania, causing severe economic loss to the state and a potential threat to the rest of the nation's fruit production.

Nicole Bucher, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture says growers in Pennsylvania can "breathe a sigh of relief," because the commonwealth has been declared free of the plum pox virus since October 2009.

Going Green Even When Being Buried

Feb 17, 2012

The movement towards reducing carbon footprints, even in death, has come to the Pittsburgh region. The Penn Forest Natural Burial Park in Verona has been certified by the Green Burial Council, a national nonprofit that encourages environmental sustainability in the burial industry.

The growing popularity of natural burial is a sign that people may be starting to prefer forests over graveyards and existing trees instead of tombstones. But Joe Sehee, director and founder of the Green Burial Council, said natural burial isn't a new idea.

Bald Eagle Pair Get A New Home

Feb 14, 2012

While most people try to put off home improvement work until the spring, a pair of bald eagles got some help last week from a group of Pennsylvania Game Commission land managers with a very timely construction project.

About two weeks ago on Haldeman Island in Dauphin County, the tree limb supporting the eagles nest collapsed under the weight of the nest. On February 10, three Pennsylvania Game Commission employees went to the eagles' former nest on Haldeman Island to construct a platform to encourage the bald eagle pair to reuse the nest site.

PUC Assures Extension Of Energy Savings Law

Feb 12, 2012

Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission (PUC) has convinced environmental advocates that the state's energy savings programs will not be left for dead come next summer. PennFuture has withdrawn its petition to the commission asking to begin the process of extending the energy savings law known as Act 129, which is set to expire in May of 2013.

A report by the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center shows that, over the past four years, gas operators accumulated 3,355 violations of environmental laws. [PDF] The study was compiled using information from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Erika Staaf, clean water advocate with PennEnvironment, claims more than 70 percent of the violations were possibly a direct threat to the environment.

Pennsylvania's House has passed a Mar­cel­lus Shale impact fee on a 101–90 vote. Now that the leg­is­la­tion is on its way to Gov­er­nor Corbett's desk, what hap­pens next? Here are some key mile­stones to look for.

Read the rest of this story at StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Shale Fee Deal Could be on the Books Today

Feb 7, 2012

The governor's budget address usually sets the legislative agenda for the year, but today, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's speech may be overshadowed by news of a Marcellus Shale fee structure.

The House and Senate are primed for final votes on the issue that has hung over the Capitol since 2009. The measure would place a fee on every Marcellus Shale well, overhaul Pennsylvania's natural gas regulations, and restricts local governments' ability to zone and regulate drilling.

Environmental Group Attacks Impact Fee

Feb 6, 2012

PennFuture is blasting a proposed impact fee that could be approved by the state Senate as early as tonight.

House Bill 1950 was agreed to by Republican legislative leaders and Governor Tom Corbett, without input from Democrats. It would require Pennsylvania's natural gas industry to pay an estimated $190 million in the first year. The impact fee would then rise and fall with the price of natural gas and inflation. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati says the total fee amount would increase as more wells are drilled.

Senator Wozniak: “Emissions Test A Waste of Consumers’ Money”

Feb 6, 2012

A Democratic state lawmaker wants the federal government to reconsider the requirement for vehicle emissions inspections in Pennsylvania. State Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria, Somerset Counties) is sponsoring a resolution calling on Congress to reevaluate the enhanced emissions inspection program.

"Today's cars are cleaner and annual emission testing isn't as effective," Wozniak said. "Virtually all cars pass the test and it's time to reevaluate whether it's just a waste of money for consumers."

Dozens Of Grants Go To Remedy Stormwater Runoff, Acid Mine Drainage

Feb 3, 2012

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced that it will invest $13 million in 73 watershed protection projects.

57 projects will be funded through the state's Growing Greener program, while an additional 16 will be supported by the federal government through a Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Grant and the Clean Water Act.

White-Nose Syndrome Devastates Pennsylvania Bat Population

Jan 30, 2012

The little brown bat could be wiped out in the northeastern United States within the next decade by white-nose syndrome according to new projections.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that since 2006, when white-nose syndrome was initially discovered, as many as 6.7 million bats have died from that disease.

Bats control pests on farms and in forests and serve as important pollinators.

Spokeswoman Ann Froschauer says some bat species are affected more than others, but typically the fungal disease is 80 to 85 percent fatal.

Where Did All the Gas Go?

Jan 28, 2012

The federal government gave the Marcellus shale a big thumbs down this week. It dramatically downgraded its estimate of technically recoverable natural gas in the formation, from 410 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) (enough to heat and power the U.S. for 20 years) to 141 Tcf (about a 7 year national supply).

Green WorkPlace Challenge Gauges Progress

Jan 27, 2012

After four months of a Sustainable Pittsburgh challenge posed to local businesses to "green" their buildings and practices, the organization announced the aggregate energy savings on Friday.

First Energy Corp.'s generation subsidiaries will retire six coal-fired power plants by September 1, 2012. The reason, said spokesperson Mark Durbin, is new environmental requirements.

"By no means is it a reflection on the fine work that's been done by our employees at those plants, but it's related to what the financial impact will be for these new environmental rules," he said.

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on continued development of natural gas in the country, but he said it must be done in a way that protects the environment. This message didn't sit too well with PennEnvironment, a statewide environmental advocacy group. Clean Water Advocate Erika Staaf said natural gas isn't a clean energy, noting that the track record in Pennsylvania has been clear.

A bill being considered in Harrisburg on Tuesday would require that the design, construction, or renovation of any state-owned or state-leased building comply with specific energy standards. The so-called "Green Building" bill was introduced by State Representative Kate Harper (R-Montgomery).

Public Invited to Tree Meetings

Jan 23, 2012

Have a tree in your neighborhood that you love? How about one you can't stand? Pittsburgh residents interested in discussing the city's trees now have the opportunity to share their opinion at one of four meetings.

Robinson Township's IKEA is helping Pittsburgh become more "green." The company announced it will be installing solar panels at an additional 20 of its 44 U.S. stores, including the one in Robinson Township.

IKEA spokesman Joseph Roth said the money saved from the energy bill might not necessarily go back into the community, but the installation could create some short-term jobs and will have environmental benefits.

Natural Gas From Shale Could Worsen Climate Change

Jan 19, 2012

Instead of being an answer to climate change, shale gas might actually be a major generator of greenhouse emissions.

According to a new study done by three Cornell University researchers, the problem with shale gas is the amount of methane it releases into the atmosphere.

But there is still debate over the impact of a ton of methane compared to a ton of carbon dioxide. Methane has a half-life of 10 years, while carbon dioxide has a half-life of decades. So shale gas supporters say any methane released in the atmosphere will disappear faster than carbon dioxide.

Changing Priorities: Science Funding Slashed Under Corbett Administration

Jan 19, 2012

Members of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbet administration routinely insist their Marcellus Shale drilling policy is based on science.

EPA Charts Greenhouse Emissions from Big Operations

Jan 12, 2012

In 2008 Congress tasked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with creating a first-of-its-kind, national, comprehensive greenhouse gas reporting system. On Thursday, the agency released the facility level greenhouse gas data to the public.

Gina McCarthy with the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation said the data is a boon to those who want to chart and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Local Power Plant May Undergo Clean Changes

Jan 11, 2012

The Homer City power plant in Indiana County might lose its reputation for being one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in America with a proposed installation of pollution controls.

Doug McFarlan, Vice President of Public Affairs for Edison Mission Energy (EME), which owns and operates the plant, unveiled the plan at a four-hour open house in Homer City.

Water Well Rules Proposed for Pennsylvania

Jan 10, 2012

A Pennsylvania lawmaker says that more than 20,000 private water wells are drilled every year in Pennsylvania, but a lack of regulations means that there's nothing to ensure water quality for homeowners. Water quality has been a focus in the ongoing Marcellus shale drilling debate.

The Stonycreek River, running from Cambria into Somerset County, is Pennsylvania's 2012 River of the Year. The river's corridor, located in the Laurel Highlands, is home to the Forbes Trail, the Flight 93 National Memorial, Greenhouse Park, and Whitewater Park.

The Stonycreek was chosen by online voters from among four nominees, including the Kiskiminetas, the Middle Monongahela, and Upper Juniata Rivers. Last year's winner was eastern Pennsylvania's Delaware River.

Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) is asking the Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) to release the findings of a review done on the Guaranteed Energy Savings Act (GESA).

Powdermill Grabs $730K Grant

Jan 6, 2012

The Carnegie Museum's Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystems and Powdermill Nature Reserve has been awarded a $730,000 dollar grant by the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The grant will be used to expand the Center and the Laurel Highlands based Reserve, which just celebrated 50 years of research in 2011.

At the Allegheny County Board of Health meeting on Wednesday, one Bellevue resident told the board to be strict in its punishment of Shenango, Inc., a coke battery which was recently cited and fined many times for air pollution.

Nonprofit consultant William Bartlett said that Bellevue's Northgate School District has an asthma rate of nearly 37 percent, much higher than the state average, and he said that Shenango is to blame for much of the air pollution that led to the high asthma rate.

PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club have filed suit against PPG Industries over what they say are ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act. Erika Staaf is a clean water advocate for PennEnvironment. She said that the lawsuit singles out the Ford City waste site, which is about 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Armstrong County. The site covers nearly 150 acres and includes 77 acres of waste slurry lagoons. Staaf said that the slurry in those lagoons contain high levels of metals.

Pittsburgh residents can drop off their old Christmas trees at four locations across the city as part of the Department of Public Works' annual holiday recycling program.

Pittsburgh Recycling Supervisor Sean Wigle said that he expects thousands of trees to be dropped off at the Public Works stations in the East End, Hazelwood, the West End, and the Strip District.

He said that the evergreens will be composted or mulched by a contractor. A percentage of the material will be used in Pittsburgh's parks and other city property.