Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

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.

A model ordinance and zoning code for solar power installation on homes and small businesses, which was one year in the making, is now available for all municipalities to consider with the hope that it will lower barriers residents and businesses face when looking to install new systems. The SunShot Rooftop Challenge initiative, funded by the US Department of Energy and coordinated by PennFuture, involved 24 local governments in Allegheny and Beaver counties including Upper Saint Clair, Pittsburgh, and Monaca.

Winter Storm Batters Northeast; 500,000 Without Power

Feb 9, 2013

A storm that forecasters warned could be a blizzard for the history books, with a potential for up to 3 feet of snow, clobbered the New York-to-Boston corridor on Friday, grounding flights, sending office workers home early and knocking out power to half a million customers across the Northeast.

http://2cccd5dfe1965e26adf6-26c50ce30a6867b5a67335a93e186605.r53.cf1.rackcdn.com/Web RAND Emissions.mp3

In 2011, air pollutants from natural gas extraction and transportation in Pennsylvania cost the state between $7 million and $32 million in healthcare, agriculture, and infrastructure costs. That’s according to a recent study from the RAND Corporation. For comparison, the state’s largest coal-fired power plant alone cost $75 million in damages.

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.

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