Environment & Energy

We explore issues of energy and the environment, along with our partners from Allegheny Front and StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Active duty Navy Sailor Ed Klonowski is an outdoorsy guy. He grew up in the country in a family that hunted and fished and watched birds. So when he was deployed to Iraq, those were the kinds of things he missed.

Pennsylvania is one of the best prepared states when it comes to readiness for water-related threats of climate change, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that ranks all 50 states on their level of preparedness.

Water-related climate change impacts include threats to water supply and quality, more frequent and severe storms, floods, and drought events.

Scrubbers Coming to Indiana County

Apr 3, 2012

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has approved the installation of $725 million in pollution controls at a General Electric coal-fired power plant in Indiana County.

The controls will be installed by Edison Mission Energy, which operates the plant.

The Homer City Generating Station is Pennsylvania's second largest and produces enough energy to power two million homes. The pollution controls are commonly referred to as "scrubbers."

The widely-used herbicide Roundup has been discovered to induce physiological changes in animals, particularly amphibians according to Rick Relyea, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and head of Pitt's Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology.

It has been found that "sublethal" and environmentally relevant concentrations of Roundup, the world's most popular weed killer, caused two species of amphibians to alter their morphology. According to Relyea, this is the first study to show that a pesticide can induce morphological changes in a vertebrate animal.

For the 14th year in a row, Pennsylvania's forests have been certified and the state acknowledged for doing a commendable job to ensure their conservation.

SmartWood, a third-party forest-management certification branch of the Rainforest Alliance, honored Pennsylvania for its sound management of 2.2 million acres of forests, including responsible management of drilling activities and protection of sensitive species.

Bayer Pesticide Under Fire for Bee Colony Epidemic

Mar 30, 2012

Two surveys conducted in the United Kingdom and France indicate that a class of pesticides created by Bayer CropScience could be the cause of the dwindling honey bee population seen over the past several years by commercial beekeepers.

The class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, has been in use since the 1990s according to David Fischer, Director of Environmental Toxicology and Risk Assessment for Bayer CropScience. He says that Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, has been a documented phenomenon since the 1800s.

Earth Hour Returns

Mar 29, 2012

The lights will go off at many major buildings in Pittsburgh for an hour tomorrow night. Saturday from 8:30-9:30 PM, Pittsburgh will officially participate in Earth Hour, a global event aimed at making a statement about climate change and energy use by doing something simple: turning off lights for one hour.

Stormwater Bill Rolls Through Pennsylvania Senate

Mar 27, 2012

The Pennsylvania state Senate last Monday unanimously passed legislation which allows local municipalities to create stormwater authorities.

Senate Bill 1261 comes in response to flooding that has occurred across Pennsylvania over the past year, including a flash flood on a Pittsburgh street in August that killed four people.

The sponsor Senator Ted Erickson (R-Delaware) said after all the flooding, something needed to be done.

The Allegheny Health Department has issued a draft permit for the first Marcellus Shale compressor station in the county, and already more than a hundred people have expressed concern over what that could mean for air quality.

The planned gas compressor would be located on Kissick Lane, near the Pittsburgh Mills Mall in Frazer Township. A public hearing on the plan is slated for Tuesday evening, and several environmental groups are teaming up to voice their concern.

Impending Deep Frost Just Part of the Season

Mar 26, 2012

With predicted temperatures to hit lows in the mid-20's overnight into Tuesday morning, gardeners and orchard owners have some reason to be concerned.

But Susan Feather, a commercial educator for the Allegheny Extension of Penn State said there is a little bit of an overreaction to the drop in temperatures.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be hosting online information sessions about the implementation of Act 13, also known as House Bill 1950, which was signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett in February.

DEP Says Blast Not Likely To Have Caused Breach Of Flooded Mine

Mar 23, 2012

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) does not believe that blasting Wednesday at the Marquise Number 4 mine in Somerset County caused water to burst from a nearby flooded abandoned mine. According to the DEP, the water was not acidic but carried sediment through a street in Shade Township and flooded Dixie Run, a tributary of Stonycreek River.

"The [seismic] monitor 150 feet from the blast would gather anything unusual if the charge was too big or set off some sort of a seismic action," DEP spokesman John Poister said.

DEP Updates Drilling Waste Regulations

Mar 23, 2012

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has revised its guidelines for the processing and use of liquid waste from oil and gas sites. The Residual Waste Beneficial Use general permit, an across the board regulation, encourages recycling liquid waste to freshwater standards after it has been used. Liquid waste includes flowback water, drilling muds, and storm water.

DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said it is easier to transport and use wastewater once it has been processed into freshwater.

Mountain Climbers Clean Up Mt. Washington

Mar 22, 2012

For the 20th year, climbers will rappel the Mount Washington hillside Saturday in Pittsburgh. "No big deal" you might say, but they will be cleaning up trash along the way.

The annual event was started by two men who worked in city departments who saw a need to remove litter from the hillside along Grandview Avenue on Mount Washington. So, the Explorers Club of Pittsburgh use their climbing skills to get the trash that otherwise probably couldn't be touched.

State Holds Nutrient Credit Auction

Mar 19, 2012

Wastewater treatment plants operating in the Susquehanna and Potomac watersheds have the chance to buy nutrient credits at auction Wednesday.

Nutrient credits allow "regulated entities," typically wastewater treatment plants, to stay within the legal limits of nitrogen and phosphorus discharges. One nitrogen credit is equal to a pound of nitrogen taken out of a watershed.

The auction will be hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST).

Flash Flood Season Approaches

Mar 16, 2012

April showers bring — flash floods. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency advises the Commonwealth's residents to plan ahead to prevent damage and danger for the spring season.

PEMA Chief Deputy Director, Robert Full, says 18 people died last year because of historical amounts of rainfall that turns into flash floods.

"It's just so critical that our residents take seriously, just for a few moments, how important it is to be prepared," Full said.

Commission Approves Water Withdrawals from Susquehanna for Fracking

Mar 15, 2012

There were shouts from protesters, but no arrests at a public meeting of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission Thursday. The panel met to vote on permits from energy companies looking to withdraw water from the Susquehanna River for hydraulic fracturing. About 25 demonstrators opposed to fracking and natural gas drilling accused the SRBC of rubberstamping approval for 42 projects.

Susan Obleski, spokeswoman for the commission, said each project is examined on a case-by-case basis.

Governor Tom Corbett is optimistic about the announcement that Shell Oil Co. has chosen a site near Pittsburgh for a major, multi-billion-dollar petrochemical refinery. He said building such a facility could provide a huge economic boost to the region.

"We need to keep in mind that this announcement doesn't mean this is completed," said Corbett. "There are many steps that have to be taken between now and the time the first shovel goes into the ground. This is the first step."

Westmoreland County Okays Impact Fee

Mar 9, 2012

Westmoreland County Commissioners have agreed to divide the revenue from impact fees on 191 Marcellus Shale gas wells among all municipalities in the county.

Pennsylvania legislators passed a bill in February overhauling the state's natural gas drilling laws.

Under the impact fee law, elected officials in counties that have shale gas wells have until mid-April to enact a fee or choose not to collect. If the county officials refuse the fee, municipalities have 60 days to override the decision.

PA Senate Passes Bill To Repeal Summer Gas

Mar 8, 2012

Motorists in the Pittsburgh area won't have to fill up their tanks with a summer blend of gas if the state House follows the Senate's lead.

The Senate approved legislation sponsored by Elder Vogel, Jr. (R-Beaver, Lawrence Counties) that eliminates a regulation that requires service stations to sell gasoline with a low vapor pressure between May 1 and September 15 in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland Counties. Switching to the "summer gas" is intended to reduce emissions and curb air pollution.

Pittsburgh International Airport has received a $2 million grant from the state Capital Budget/Transportation Assistance Program for upgrades and safety enhancements.

Airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said the money will be used for a water treatment plant that will capture the chemicals used to keep runways from becoming icy during the winter.

"The stormwater treatment plant is for rescuing de-icing runoff that might end up going into the streams," Jenny said. "It would be helping the McLaren Run and the Enlow Run waters near the airport."

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.