Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

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).

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.

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.

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.

Most of the attention about the drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania has focused on job creation or the suspected negative impact on water from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) or on air quality from released natural gas, as well as the stress on roads from trucks hauling water to and from well pads.

Stormwater Utilities Might Become More Popular

Dec 27, 2011

On days when the region sees heavy rain, many creeks and streams jump their banks and a slew of sewage systems overflow, pumping raw waste into the region's rivers. The federal government is trying to eliminate those overflows and has entered into consent decrees with many of the region's sewage utilities.

The leader of the Marcellus Shale Coalition said that the past year was a mixed bag for Pennsylvania's shale gas industry, and she expects more of the same next year.

Coalition President Kathryn Klaber said that the industry added 200,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania in 2011, and expanded shale gas infrastructure across the state. However, she said that she's disappointed that the legislature didn't pass a set of statewide laws to regulate industry practices.

Christmas Bird Count Underway

Dec 23, 2011

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is inviting wildlife enthusiasts to help in the Audubon Society's 112th Annual Christmas Bird Count. Last year, 62,624 people counted more than 60 million birds throughout the United States, Canada, and Latin America.

Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said that information gathered during the event is very helpful.

A Texas-based company is moving forward with plans to build a pipeline to transmit natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania to distributors along the eastern seaboard.

The Williams Company of Houston has filed a pre-application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to review its preliminary plans to construct the 258-mile pipeline from West Virginia through southern Pennsylvania, including Somerset and Bedford Counties.

The PennFuture Center for Enterprise and the Environment commissioned a study detailing the impacts of Act 129 on the state's families and businesses. The report, conducted by Optimal Energy, found that the law succeeded in its goal of cutting energy demand [PDF].

For several years now, Duquesne University has used a cogeneration plant driven by waste heat from its heating and cooling facility to cover 80 percent of its electricity needs. The remaining 20 percent was supplemented through wind power. About one third of that wind power was generated in Pennsylvania, the rest was from out of state.

Starting this month, the university has switched to getting all of that wind energy from sources within Pennsylvania. That energy plan, said university officials, makes the campus unique.

Is it more environmentally friendly to have an artificial tree, or to cut a real one down? The debate is rehashed year after year — in the media, in the industry, and in who knows how many living rooms. But more often that not, the debate ends, the season passes, and the average consumer is still left in the dark. This year we looked for some answers.

Charlene Lepant said that every year she has one of each: an artificial tree and a real one.