Environment & Energy

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

Pennsylvanians are more willing than many other Americans when it comes to switching electric suppliers.

According to a North American report, Pennsylvania is the second best state, trailing only Texas, for residential, commercial and industrial electric competition.

The Annual Baseline Assessment of Choice in Canada and the United States (ABACCUS) ranks the 16 states and two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Alberta, that have electric supply markets in terms of competition and consumer awareness of their options.

Mystery Continues Over Radioactivity In Western PA Stream

Jul 30, 2015
Reid Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

On the banks of Ten Mile Creek, a stream that snakes through Greene County, Ken Dufalla looked out at one of his favorite fishing spots.

“That’s probably one of the best walleye fishing there is in the evening you can find. I’ve caught muskies, walleyes, saugers,” Dufalla said.

Hot, stagnant conditions with a high of 91 are expected to cause unhealthy ground-level ozone levels for the third consecutive day on Wednesday.

The Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest PA Air Quality Partnership declared an "code orange" Air Quality Action Day on Monday and Tuesday. Ever worsening temperatures are forecasted Wednesday for parts of the Pittsburgh region.

The first code orange of 2015 occurred June 12.

Pennsylvania’s new pipeline task force convened Wednesday for the first time as it tries to create best practices for the construction of gas pipelines over the next decade.

“We are in the midst of a wave of energy development that is unlike any other in the state’s history,” said John Quigley, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and chair of the 48-member task force.

Current and former workers in the nuclear weapons industry are eligible for compensation due to illnesses caused by their job, but some may not know how to go about getting that compensation.

The U.S. Department of Labor is hoping to help by deploying its traveling resource center around the country. Wednesday it will make a stop in southwestern Pennsylvania outlining benefits available under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act.

More than 230 air emission sources and 350 natural gas drilling sites are located within one mile of a school in southwestern Pennsylvania, according to Women for a Healthy Environment.

Lou Blouin / The Allegheny Front

Larry Schweiger just couldn’t sit on his back porch in the North Hills watching his grandchildren and not do something about their future.

It was “just too much,” Schweiger said. The Pittsburgh native needed to be involved “in the enormous struggle ahead to move away from carbon pollution and move to a clean, safe environment,” he said.

With three rivers to take care of, Pittsburgh certainly has its hands full when it comes to making sure the waterways are clean.

This week, volunteers will be pitching in to do just that Friday, July 10 at 4th Street on the South Side, beginning at 5 p.m.

Since 2003, Allegheny CleanWays/Keep Pittsburgh Beautiful has removed 525,840 pounds of debris, including 3,203 tires and 21,660 pounds of metal and other recyclables on local riverbanks and streams under the “Keep Pittsburgh Rivers Beautiful: A Tireless Project.”

In Gettysburg, An Extreme Makeover: Battlefield Edition

Jul 1, 2015
Lou Blouin / The Allegheny Front

Even more than 150 years after the battle, there's still plenty at Gettysburg that kind of makes you feel like you're stepping back in time. Some things, like the stone walls that are an essential part of any Civil War landscape—those are actually the real deal. Other things are a little more kitschy, like visitors doing battlefield tours in horse-drawn carriages.

Supreme Court Rules Against EPA Power Plant Mercury Limits

Jun 29, 2015
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The Supreme Court ruled Monday against the Obama administration's attempt to limit power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants, but it may only be a temporary setback for regulators.

The justices split 5-4 along ideological lines to rule that the Environmental Protection Agency failed to take cost into account when it first decided to regulate the toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired plants.

Two Men. One Coal-Ash Dump. No Answers.

Jun 26, 2015
Reid R. Frazier

George “Sonny” Markish stood in his yard with a TV reporter in April 2013 and pointed to a towering hill next to his house in LaBelle, Fayette County.

The camera zoomed in on Markish, with slicked-back gray hair, swiping his hand across a window sill coated in a dusty substance.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Supporters of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants say the plan will protect the environment and eventually save energy consumers money. Opponents say the harsh mandates would increase utility bills and shut down power producers.

The EPA announced the plan last summer to cut nationwide carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030. The agency says power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions which must be limited as arsenic and mercury emissions are at power-plants.

Environmental permits issued to Royal Dutch Shell could pave the way for construction of the proposed Appalachia ethane cracker in Beaver County, the Department of Environmental Protection said Monday. 

AP Photo/Andrew Rush

Although Pennsylvania has experienced a recent boom in natural gas production, many wells have no direct connection to the main infrastructure of pipelines.

The Wolf administration has created the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force (PITF), to oversee the fulfillment of the demand for connecting pipelines.

Pittsburgh-area Catholics can expect to hear about a topic this Sunday that is not usually the focus of their pastors’ homilies — the environment.

On Thursday, Pope Francis issued a teaching document laying out his theological argument on the imperative to curb climate change and protect the environment.

Francis framed climate change as an urgent moral issue in his encyclical, “Laudato Si’ (Praised Be),” and blamed global warming on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that harms the most poor.

AP Photo/Ralph Wilson

Somehow Pennsylvania lost 160,000 gas industry jobs overnight.

What happened? Did drillers flee at the specter of a new tax on production? Not quite. Although companies have been laying off workers and cutting costs– lackluster market conditions don’t explain this shift.

Those crutches that you still have from when you broke your ankle 10 years ago. The bike your kids never ride anymore. Even your old VHS tapes.

These are a few of the donations you can make at the Pennsylvania Resources Council’s fourth annual “ReuseFest” this Saturday, June 13 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at UPMC Passavant in the North Hills.

ReuseFest will feature eight local nonprofit organizations that will be taking donations, including Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wildlife Center, Construction Junction, Off the Floor Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Gives Back and Goodwill.

After nearly a year of study and work from water suppliers, state officials, environmental groups and others, a plan has been announced to protect drinking water from its source – the rivers.

The River Alert Information Network (RAIN) announced the Lower Allegheny Regional Partnership and the Lower Monongahela Regional Partnership. It’s a consortium of water suppliers which, in addition to protection, will employ an early-warning spill detection system.

DEP To Investigate Creek Near Mine Discharge For Radioactivity

Jun 5, 2015
Natasha Khan / PublicSource

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will investigate whether there are radioactive materials in Ten Mile Creek, a major tributary of the Monongahela River in Greene and Washington counties.

The Monongahela is a primary source of drinking water in the region, but John Poister, a DEP spokesman, said it is too early to tell whether there are any public health concerns.

Cleaning The Air, One School Bus At A Time

Jun 5, 2015
Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

If you drive behind a diesel truck, you might not be surprised when it spews a big plume of smoke from the tailpipe. That can also happen behind a school bus. Pollution from school buses is bad for the kids on board, or anywhere nearby. But state and federal laws are starting to make some difference.

Pregnant women who live close to fracking sites are more likely to have babies with lower birth weights, according to a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Researchers used public records to cross-reference the proximity of gas wells to health information for 15,451 newborns in Washington, Westmoreland and Butler counties born between 2007 and 2010.

Chevron Appalachia has agreed to pay a nearly $940,000 fine levied by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources over an explosion and fire that killed a contractor at a company well site in Dunkard Township, Greene County. 

Andrew Russell / Trib Total Media

John and Adrienne Essey own what could be Western Pennsylvania’s smartest home.

“As I adjust the slider to dim them, it tells me I’m using less wattage,” John Essey, 35, said about the lights in his Dormont home, which like door locks and appliances are connected to computer software, motion detectors and voice sensors.

More Land For Sewickley Heights Park

May 27, 2015

The Borough of Sewickley Heights has an additional 58 acres of common green space.

The undeveloped land, which is surrounded by Sewickley Heights Park had been privately owned but used as communal green space for years.

“For many years people thought that this property was part of our borough park when it fact it wasn’t, it was private property,” said Sewickley Heights Mayor John C. Oliver.

Duquesne University received one of seven new clean energy project grants awarded by the Department of Community and Economic Development throughout the state.

The university will use the $2 million to replace its current 50-year-old boilers with larger, higher-efficiency ones.

“We found out about this and we made a decision, why don’t we apply for it and see if we could get it,” said Rod Dobish, executive director of facilities management at Duquesne. “We made a conscious decision to do that.”

Pennsyvlania Department of Agriculture

Invasive insects can have devastating impacts on native plants and trees, as evidenced by the Emerald Ash Borer’s effect on the state’s ash trees.

That insect was first found in Michigan in 2002; it continued to spread and has wiped out tens of millions of ash trees nationwide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Now there’s another bug to worry about – the Spotted Lanterfly. The pest was first spotted last fall in Berks County.

“We believe it’s been here a season or two, so it can live here, it can survive here, it’s been tested,” said Russell Redding, Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary. “What we want to do is send it packing.”

When you think of must-see parks in Pennsylvania, what comes to mind? Point State Park? Keystone State Park in Westmoreland County? Hillman State Park in Washington County?

The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation is encouraging state residents to participate in the 100 Icons of Summer Campaign to nominate their favorite parks and forests. These submissions should reflect what residents “see” after closing their eyes and then thinking of their parks and forests. Throughout May and June, the foundation will accept suggestions for the 100 icons.

When an out-of-state customer at County Councilman John Palmiere's Brentwood barbershop commented on the beauty of Allegheny County being covered in litter, he decided to go for a drive.

Palmiere said he quickly realized she was right.

“You see it all the time, and you don’t see it," he said. "So I just took a ride around one evening after she said that and she’s right. The place is just … we have so much debris and litter.”

Pittsburgh-area apartment complexes typically “fall through regulatory cracks” when it comes to recycling programs, according to Mary Kate Ranii, program and outreach coordinator for the Pennsylvania Resources Council.

Because of their ineffectiveness, the PRC began a recycling program in January of this year that aims to provide education and resources to influence residents in local apartment complexes to better their recycling habits.

PA Game Commission

  A communicable brain disease similar to mad cow was detected in south central Pennsylvania wildlife.

The two most recent cases were detected in roadkill found along Bedford County highways in the western portion of Disease Management Area number 2, according to officials with the The Pennsylvania Game Commission. The discovery forced the state to slightly expand the watch area, which already includes portions of Somerset, Cambria, Huntingdon, Bedford and Blair counties. 

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