Environment & Energy

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

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennslvania

The Marcellus Shale runs under 60 percent of Pennsylvania. But the areas where drilling takes place feel the economic effects more than most. On Thursday, those counties received $8.1 million in state funding to support 44 local projects that address housing availability, community development and rental assistance.

Courtesy: Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium on Friday received its largest single grant ever-- $9 million from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

The grant supports the expansion of the Zoo’s conservation programs at both the zoo and the International Conservation Center (ICC) in Somerset County, a 742-acre space dedicated to helping endangered and threatened species.

“This will help us expand in our zoo and in our International Conservation Center, our wildlife programs, all of the different animals that we can work with now with this wonderful grant to be able to help wildlife here in the states and also in their native country,” said Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

Jon Dawson / Flickr

An environmental advocacy group filed a class-action lawsuit on Thursday against a coke production plant in Monessen, Westmoreland County, for over 225 pollution violations.

Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

Mary Beth Thakar is so passionate about getting the word out about Lyme disease, she wrote a song about it. Well, she re-wrote the lyrics to the tune “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.”

The first verse goes like this: I know an old lady who was bit by a tick...or some kind of bug...maybe a tick. She might get sick.

Thakar was just diagnosed with Lyme this year, but she thinks she might have become infected about five years ago.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle was given a Clean Water Star Award from the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority on Monday for his continued efforts to help move infrastructure improvements forward. 

courtesy, Powdermill Nature Reserve

John Wenzel believes there should be greater diversity among the ecologists working to preserve the globe’s biodiversity.

“We are not a very attractive career for a lot of minorities,” said Wenzel, director of Powdermill Nature Reserve, and that’s troubling.

“If you look at the ethnic composition of field ecologists, they’re overwhelmingly white Anglo, and the same way our studies of biology focus on diversity, most of us recognize we would probably do better as a field if we had a greater variety of people with different backgrounds and different perspectives doing the research itself.”

David Brossard / Flickr

An effort launched by the Green Building Alliance in 2012 to lower the environmental impact of buildings in Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland has been recognized by the International Downtown Association for revitalizing a business district.  

The 2030 District effort to cut energy consumption, water use and transportation emissions in half by 2030 is one of just four programs nationwide to receive the award this year.

Exploring Urban Islands: From Natural To Developed

Sep 28, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

Michael Catania walks on a rocky beach at Petty's Island. He picks up a flat stone and flings it out into the Delaware River. The stone skips a few times toward a shipping terminal and the church steeples of Philadelphia's Port Richmond neighborhood.

"I feel like a little boy when I come here," said Catania, chairman of the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust.

Wooden stakes protrude from the ground. The remains of an old pier line the perimeter of the beach. Plastic bottles, old tires, a TV, and bricks sliced in half — one side "key," the other "stone," litter the shoreline.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

On Oct. 3, Pittsburghers will walk up and down the formidable stairways of the hilly South Side Slopes neighborhood with maps in hand. The StepTrek, which started more than a decade ago, raises awareness and funds for the Slopes’ aging stairs.

todo / flickr

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is asking residents to help develop a plan to cut carbon pollution in the state.

The EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan on Aug. 3. It’s the first set of national standards to limit carbon emissions from power plants, the largest source of emissions in the U.S.

The plan sets to reduce 2005 emission levels nationally by 32 percent by 2030.

Each state will have to write an implementation plan with. The first listening session in Allegheny County is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 21 on Carnegie Mellon University’s campus.

allenran917 / Flickr

  Martha Isler, chairperson of the Pittsburgh Shade Tree Commission, has seen it all. 

Forgotten trees. Unwanted trees. Trees damaged by ill-advised pruning schedules. Trees poisoned by street salt. Someone once cut down a single tree to steal the bicycle it was chained to.

You can't just plant them and forget them, she said.

"Maintaining the health of those trees, that’s very important to us,” she said.

Karlis Dambrans / Flickr

Car cruises are a popular weekend getaway for many, but how often do you get to take a spin in an expensive electric car?

Marcellus Outreach Butler, a Butler County nonprofit group promoting alternative energy, will host its 3rd annual Fossil Free Energy Fair at the lower Kohl’s parking lot at Cranberry Commons in Cranberry Township on Saturday featuring a $100,000 Tesla and other hybrids available for rides.

Many common chemicals cannot be disposed of in traditional ways, and for that reason, the Pennsylvania Resources Council is hosting a drive-thru chemical collection from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the South Park Wave Pool parking lot on Saturday.

But Where Do You Live? Study Shows PA Shale Industry Is Fueled By Commuters

Sep 5, 2015

It's something Tim Kelsey has heard from people in Pennsylvania's gas fields since the beginning of the Marcellus shale boom.

"They see jobs being created but they also see a lot of Texas and Oklahoma and other states' license plates," said Kelsey, a Penn State economist. "I've often heard them ask: there are jobs here but how many of the jobs are going to local people?"

PA Climate Change Report Warns Of Hotter Summers, Destructive Storms, Floods

Aug 28, 2015
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Prepare for longer, hotter summers, more rain, more destructive storms, and bankrupt ski resorts. That’s the conclusion of a team from Penn State on what Pennsylvanians can expect from climate change.

Shale Gas Production Expected To Decline

Aug 27, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

For the first time since the shale gas revolution began, natural gas production from shale formations in the U.S. will decline next month, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The federal government predicted Wednesday that gas production in the country’s largest shale formations will decrease in September to 44.9 billion cubic feet per day. That’s a drop of 1.5 percent below a peak of 45.6 billion cubic feet per day in May.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh’s industrial past has resulted in environmental contamination along its waterfronts, in areas which have been dubbed “brownfield” sites.

But Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said there are brownfields embedded in neighborhoods too.

Flickr user Paul Sihvonen-Binder

NASA uses houseplants to help absorb dangerous pollutants on spaceships, and according to Matt Mehalik of Sustainable Pittsburgh, it’s an easy way for offices and other workplaces to keep their air clean as well.

Certain plants can absorb formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene and other chemicals that can contribute to a phenomenon known as “sick building syndrome.”

Farmers Play New Role To Solve Rural Hunger

Aug 20, 2015
Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

In a parking lot, a line of people carrying laundry baskets and empty shopping bags curls around a brick church building in rural Somerset County, southeast of Pittsburgh. This is farm country. But a lot of people here don’t have access to fresh produce.

People haven’t driven here to go to church. Today, the parking lot is doubling as a drop-off site for a food bank. Joetta Shumaker has placed her laundry basket on a shopping cart, and weaves her way through rows of folding tables.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

City officials and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy unveiled restoration plans Monday for the Westinghouse Memorial in Schenley Park.

The months-long restoration to the 85-year-old memorial will include a new storm water management system.

“The plan for controlling the water and sending it to the right places is a real important part of this,” said Meg Cheever, conservancy president.

Gerry Dincher / flickr

A coalition representing students attending Mars Area School District teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union to fight a lawsuit brought by shale drilling corporations that contends the group’s actions are halting appropriate and legal drilling opportunities.

ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak called the suit filed by Dewey Homes & Investment Properties a "SLAPP" suit, or strategic lawsuit against public participation. Such suits have been made illegal in nearly half of U.S. states including Pennsylvania.

“What these are is lawsuits that really have no merit that are typically filed by corporate interests, often developers, against political opponents," Walczak said. "And they have virtually no chance of succeeding.”

DEP’s New Oil And Gas Rules Irk Both Environmentalists And Industry

Aug 13, 2015
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

State environmental regulators are asking for comments on the final version of new oil and gas rules. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released detailed updates to its oil and gas rules Wednesday. The proposals result from a four-year process that garnered nearly 30,000 public comments to DEP.  Still, this latest version is getting push back from both industry and environmentalists.

As little as a tenth of an inch of rainfall can be enough to overload sewers in some Pittsburgh neighborhoods, leading to the potential for untreated sewage to flow into area streams and rivers, according to James Stitt, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority sustainability manager.

Erika Beras/90.5 WESA

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Riverlife are partnering to conduct a 12-18 month study that they hope will eventually lead them to restoring the degraded banks along the Ohio River. 

The $258,000 study plans to look at ways to create a more diverse habitat that works with the existing infrastructure along the river. It will also create a natural landscape buffer to manage stormwater runoff.

Riverlife formed in 1999 to plan and manage riverfront revitalization in post-industrial Pittsburgh. Its longtime leader, Lisa Shroeder stepped down in December, and Riverlife recently hired a new President and CEO, Vivien Li.

Li comes from the Boston Harbor Association, where she worked to restore access and vitality to that city’s waterfront. Keystone Crossroads’ Irina Zhorov spoke with Li about what she wants to accomplish in Pittsburgh. 

Li starts at Riverlife October 1, 2015.     

Although they often go unnoticed, snails perform vital functions for the ecosystem, such as feeding squirrels and providing calcium in the shells of bird eggs.

The snail and its fellow mollusks will be the center of talk Monday at the Carnegie Science Center by Tim Pearce, assistant curator of mollusks at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Unmapped, Unregulated Maze Of Rural Pipelines Poses Hidden Risks

Aug 7, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

The Wolf Administration says Pennsylvania will be getting tens of thousands of miles of new pipelines over the next couple of decades. Recently we reported on how poorly mapped some of these pipelines are.  

Many of those unmapped pipelines are also unregulated. These are rural gathering lines, or pipelines that take the gas from the wellhead to a larger transmission line, or gas processing facility.

The Buzz Is Building Over 'Other' Bees

Aug 6, 2015
Lou Blouin / The Allegheny Front

If you want to hang out with a bunch of bees, you'd better be prepared for a little pain.

Mario Padilla, a honeybee researcher at Penn State University, can usually tell when his hives are getting agitated. But he’s already been stung three times today. And he’s about to get it again.

Now that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has unveiled its plan to set limits on carbon emissions, Pennsylvania will have until 2018 to determine how to comply.

The plan is anticipated to reduce emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels, up from a 30 percent reduction in the original 2014 draft.

Under the EPA mandate, Pennsylvania and other states have until September of 2018 to submit their final emission reduction plans. If a state doesn’t turn in a plan, they must comply with the federal model which will be finalized by summer 2016.

Emma Gross / 90.5 WESA

PennEnvironment announced Tuesday that it has officially sent a notice letter to steel company ArcelorMittal of a potential lawsuit for its violations of the federal Clean Air Act at its Monessen coke plant in Westmoreland County.

David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, an environmental advocacy group, said the threat of a lawsuit comes after months of pollution in Monessen, Donora, Monongahela, and Carroll Township, all located in either Westmoreland or Washington counties.

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