Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.


Nearly 90 percent of Pleasant Hills sits above old mines. So, the state Department of Environmental Protection is sending mine subsidence insurance (MSI) reminders to about 2,000 property owners in the borough.

The fliers show each recipient’s property on a map in relation to the nearest abandoned mines and urge residents to apply online for MSI, with coverage ranging from $5,000 to $500,000.

Pleasant Hills will be the first municipality to receive the mailers, according to DEP spokesman John Poister.

Local Meets Global When It Comes to Fossil Fuel Divestment

Feb 12, 2015
Universal Pop / Flickr

Diplomats from all over the world are meeting in Geneva this week to draft a crucial plan to address climate change. For this reason, a worldwide fossil fuel divestment movement has marked February 13 and 14 Global Divestment Days.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Wolf fleshed out his plan to tax natural-gas drilling Wednesday, saying it would bring Pennsylvania into line with other gas-producing states and generate as much as $1 billion a year largely earmarked for helping the state's financially strained public schools.

The Democrat made his case for the tax during a visit to Caln Elementary School in Thorndale, located in one of the poorest school districts in Chester County, as he kicked off a statewide "Schools that Teach" tour.

The effort to reduce the carbon footprint of older Pittsburgh buildings is expanding beyond downtown to the area called “the Bluff” which houses Duquesne University and UPMC Mercy.

The Pittsburgh 2030 District: Downtown has a goal of a 50 percent energy, water and transportation emissions reduction by 2030. This better connects downtown to Oakland – though there are no plans to expand into the area between.

Researcher Maps Pittsburgh's Worst Air Pollution

Feb 10, 2015
Courtesy: Albert Presto

Pittsburgh is the 6th most offensive city in the country in terms of air pollution, according to a 2014 report from the American Lung Association.

Flickr user Cam Miller

Deer culling is set to begin in Mt. Lebanon, as soon as the state Game Commission approves the municipality’s permit application for the trap-and-euthanize method of population control.

But some residents and town commissioners are dissatisfied with the plan, which they say is only a short-term solution to an ongoing problem.

Marcellus Life: A Native American Protest to Stop a PA Pipeline

Feb 9, 2015
Natasha Khan / PublicSource

Chief Carlos Whitewolf beat a small hand drum and sang a Native American prayer for Mother Earth in the cold January air in Hershey, Pa.

Many of the 50 or so other protesters outside the Hershey Lodge, where national Republican leaders attended a retreat, demonstrated against issues like the Keystone XL pipeline and climate change.

But Whitewolf, chief of the Northern Arawak Tribal Nation of Pennsylvania, was objecting to something more local. In nearby Lancaster County, it’s the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project.

CO2 emissions accounted for 82 percent of all U.S. human greenhouse gases in 2012, and with renewable fuels becoming more and more popular researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have asked how to dispose of CO2, and maybe make it into a renewable fuel.

Past efforts to convert CO2 consumed more fuel than they produced according to John Keith, an R.K. Mellon faculty fellow in energy.

Solarize Allegheny to Kick Off in Point Breeze

Feb 2, 2015

Pittsburgh has only 59 fully sunny days each year on average, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Despite the somewhat cloudy climate, a campaign to double the number of solar-powered homes and businesses in Allegheny County will kick off Feb. 8 with a celebration in Point Breeze.

"Protect Our Parks" Fights Fracking in Allegheny County Parks

Feb 2, 2015
Marcellus Protest / Flickr

This Tuesday, the Allegheny County Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance to put a 2-year moratorium on further fracking in county parks.

The ordinance was introduced by the volunteer organization Protect Our Parks. Joining us in Studio A are Joni Rabinowitz and John Detwiler, volunteers with the organization.

The office of Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald said that he would veto any legislation related to a moratorium on fracking in county parks.

His office issued the following statement:

"The effort being led by Protect Our Parks is similar to legislation that was voted on previously and was defeated by Council. If such legislation were to pass, the Executive would veto it. He believes that blanket legislation sends a bad message to the industry and is a bad precedent. Each opportunity should be considered on a case by case basis. In the case of the Deer Lakes Park proposal, we were able to enter a lease that extends environmental protections to those communities that would not have been possible otherwise. That being said, the Executive has indicated that he has no intent of considering other drilling opportunities in the county at this time. He wants to see how the two current drilling operations will play out before moving forward with anything else." 

John Detwiler talks about why Protect Our Parks wants to do away with fracking in the county parks: 

Flickr user midquel

Many Pittsburgh homeowners have tried to sell their houses, only to find out that construction decisions made long before they ever even purchased those homes threw a wrench into the process.

Now, the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority wants to lend a helping hand to homeowners stymied by such problems.

Governor Tom Wolf on Thursday reversed an order by his Republican predecessor, Tom Corbett, by issuing an executive order banning new gas drilling leases in state forests and parks.

Wolf’s order supersedes that signed by Corbett last May to resume issuing drilling leases for forests and parks.

In 2010 then Gov. Ed Rendell issued the moratorium—two years after his administration first allowed drilling in state forests.

National Digital Library of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikipedia

In 2012 a symposium was held in Pittsburgh, at Chatham University and the National Aviary, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s ground breaking book "Silent Spring."

Out of that symposium came the idea to develop a documentary about the late environmentalist-author’s life and humanitarian efforts, in a film called "The Power of One Voice." 

Producer/director Mark Dixon and Patricia DeMarco, former executive director of the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University teamed up with the Steeltown Entertainment Project, Carson's biographer Linda Lear and Carson's adopted son Roger Christie. 

Recyling To Ramp Up in Apartment Complexes

Jan 28, 2015

Pennsylvania Resources Council hopes to increase recycling rates at local apartment complexes.

They’ll host trainings with residents in select complexes and provide additional recycling bins to make recycling more efficient.

The Mackey Lofts in Uptown, will be the first of 15 complexes in the county to be a part of this initiative.

Faced with implementing a $2 billion sewer overflow project, ALCOSAN is turning to the community for help.  It is hosting a series of community discussions focusing on the issue that affects all 83 municipalities under ALCOSAN.

In 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a consent decree which requires the agency to create a plan to fix sewer overflow in the region.

Conservationists hope to keep a well-used section of Stonycreek alive thanks to a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

In all, the DEP is awarding more than $23.2 million for various watershed projects.

The DEP awarded the grants to a total of 109 projects in the commonwealth through the Growing Greener Program, Acid Mine Drainage Set Aside Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program.

Impact fees have been in place for counties with Marcellus Shale drilling sites, but if State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) gets his way, pipelines could be the key to spreading the wealth.

Dinniman plans to introduce legislation Monday that would establish a pipeline impact fee in Pennsylvania.

He said the burden needs to be taken off those who are directly affected by the pipelines carrying shale gas to the ports of Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore.

Flickr user Linday Attaway

A new gas-fired power plant has been proposed for Westmoreland County, and environmental groups have been scrutinizing the permit applications submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Omaha-based energy company Tenaska has been working on the proposal since 2009, and anticipates approval of the DEP permits in the next couple of months, according to project manager Monte Ten Kley.

“They’ve issued the draft permit and we feel we have answered and addressed all of their questions and provided them all the information that was required,” Ten Kley said.

After nearly five years of incorrectly reporting water withdrawal rates, Range Resources will pay a $1.75 million settlement to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

All oil and gas companies are required to report the amount of water they use to the DEP, and it must be within a specified amount. During July 2009 until February 2014 Range was misreporting its numbers saying the company was not using as much as it was, and at times not reporting to the DEP at all.

Range approached the DEP with its mistakes and has since worked to fix them.

Managing Wildlife at the Pittsburgh International Airport

Jan 15, 2015
Pit Airport / Flickr


Earlier this week, the WESA newsroom reported on the capture of a short-eared owl near the runway of the Pittsburgh International Airport. The medium sized owl is considered threatened in the state of Pennsylvania.

So special care needed to be taken to retrieve, tag, and relocate the bird. We talked with Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist with the National Aviary and Bobby Hromack, a wildlife specialist for the airport and biologist with the USDA, on the issue.

Mulvihill discusses why the owl is considered threatened by Pennsylvania but not federally:

The Obama administration laid out designs Wednesday to issue the first regulations to cut down on methane emissions from new natural gas wells, aiming to curb the discharge of a potent greenhouse gas by roughly half.

The White House set a new target for the U.S. to cut methane emissions by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2025, compared to 2012 levels. To meet that goal, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue a proposal affecting oil and gas production, while the Interior Department will also update its standards for drilling to reduce leakage from wells on public lands.

Pittsburgh International Airport flickr

Pittsburgh International Airport has booked three short-eared owls a one-way ticket to their natural habitat.

The medium-sized owls, which measure 13 to 17 inches tall, were spotted on the edges of the airport’s property at the beginning of this month, and the airport’s wildlife management team, along with environmental regulatory agencies, have relocated them to a safer habitat — safer for them and potentially safer for the aircrafts.

While the short-eared owl is not considered endangered or threatened at the federal level, it is in Pennsylvania. 

'Cans for Pets' Boosts Recycling, Helps Shelters

Jan 12, 2015
Kara Holsopple / The Allegheny Front

Recycling just one aluminum can save enough energy to run a television for three hours. But some segments of the population—like pet owners—apparently haven’t heard that message. Aluminum pet food cans are one of the least recycled household items.

Margaret Corrado is an exception to that rule. At a pet store south of Pittsburgh, she dumps about 40 little empty cat food cans from a plastic grocery bag into a blue recycling bin.


The FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit oil and gas industry watchdog, has launched a free iPhone app that allows users to track and report on the quality of nearby wells.

“Your geolocation gets shared with the app and so you can actually immediately see unconventional and conventional oil and gas wells near you…” said Samantha Malone, manager of education, communication and partnerships with FracTracker. “You can click on wells to see more information about a particular site, such as the operator or when it was drilled.”

Coal Company Wants PennDOT to Pay

Jan 8, 2015

A road is being built over land that can be mined for coal, and a lawyer is trying to figure out how his client will be compensated.

Robert Lightcap is an attorney for Penn Pocahantas Coal Company which owns approximately 16 blocks of coal covering several thousand acres in Somerset County where Route 219 is being constructed.

The highway will go over the coal reserves owned by his client.

Some of the coal is in release to PBS Coals. They already had a planned, permitted mine in place. Lightcap says acres of coal will be lost because of the road project.

An environmental group plans to appeal a court ruling that upheld the leasing of public lands for gas and oil drilling. Commonwealth Court rejected a 2012 lawsuit by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation seeking to halt drilling in state parks and forests and diverting revenues from a conservation fund to the general operating budget.

Michael Bett is a Ben Avon Borough Councilman, and he wants to see the Shenango coke plant on Neville Island shut down, for good.

Bett, who is a co-founder of Allegheny Clean Air Now, made his case for shuttering the plant to the Allegheny County Board of Health meeting Wednesday, ahead of a presentation from the county’s air program manager about plans to improve air quality in 2015.

Pittsburgh's Improving Water Quality

Jan 7, 2015
Joseph / Flickr

Although not as apparent today, Pittsburgh was once one of the top industrial cities in America- and one of the dirtiest.

Often described as “hell with the lid off,” Pittsburgh of old was a city of dark noons where workers had to change their white shirts during the day. Since the Steel City’s mid-century renaissance, the air quality has improved significantly.

Improving the water quality of the famed three rivers- which were often used as garbage disposal by past residents- has been a longer process.

But encouraging news came out of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently, when they announced that the Monongahela River had been removed from the department’s list of Rivers with Impaired Drinking Water.

The department’s Deputy Secretary of Water Management Kelly Heffner said that though this was a step in the right direction, there is still plenty of work to be done in Western Pennsylvania.

From Pets to Pipes, Cold Weather Takes a Toll

Jan 6, 2015

The National Weather Service is forecasting an overnight low of two degrees Wednesday night, well below the average temperature for this time of year.  The all-time record low for January 6th is one degree, and for January 7th is two. This current icy weather might be problematic for Pittsburgh’s home owners and pets.

John L. Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Super Service, says his company can handle approximately 20 service calls a day. When temperatures fall below 10 degrees, the company can receive as many as 300 calls in just a few hours. The culprit? Frozen pipes.

Ohio Earthquakes Linked to Hydraulic Fracturing

Jan 6, 2015
Nicholas Tonelli / Flickr

Researchers at Miami University in Ohio have concluded fracking was most likely the cause of earthquakes that have taken place in the state.

Last March, 77 earthquakes occurred in Poland, Ohio, a town near the PA-OH state line. Reporter Julie Grant of the Allegheny Front joins us to discuss this recent report.