Environment & Energy

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

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Although its air quality is improving, Pittsburgh still ranks among the most polluted U.S. cities.

That’s according to the latest State of the Air report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association (ALA). According to the study, Pittsburgh improved in all measures, including particle and ozone pollution levels, but still fell below national air quality standards.

First Energy’s Unit 1 nuclear reactor in Shippingport was shut down Saturday for routine maintenance.

Unit 2 will remain online during this time. Every 18-24 months nuclear reactors must be turned off for upkeep.

Many Pennsylvanians don’t know that they can choose who supplies the natural gas that comes into their homes, and many that have chosen a gas supplier have very little understanding of that relationship, according to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. 

Now the PUC has taken a step toward addressing the later.

The commission has approved a tentative order to require gas bills to set aside space for information about the company that is supplying the gas.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Started in the 1870s, Arbor Day is the nation’s oldest environmental holiday, and it’s now celebrated around the world. In Pittsburgh, groups of volunteers gathered at West Penn Park in Polish Hill Friday to plant new trees in honor of Arbor Day.

Nicholas A. Tonelli / Flickr

Pennsylvania is the 14th most eco-friendly state in the U.S., according to WalletHub.

Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub’s spokesperson, said the financial social network looked at 14 different metrics falling into the categories of either “Environmental Quality Rank” or “Eco-Friendly Behaviors Rank.”

When you think about wildfires or brush fires, you might think about hot July and August days, but May is actually the most dangerous time for uncontrolled fires in Pennsylvania.

“We don’t have a good green canopy yet, we don’t have grasses in our fields and we don’t have green brush, so just a day or two of sun and wind… can really create problems,” said Terry Brady, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The Department of Environmental Protection is moving forward with a plan to clean up the Kuhn’s landfill in Darlington Township, Beaver County.

The landfill was used to dump municipal and industrial waste from 1964 until 1980 when the DEP shut it down on legal grounds. After that the DEP placed a ground cap over the site to keep various hazardous material contained. Since then other more potentially dangerous threats have kept the attention and funding of the DEP — until now.

In an effort to bring down energy usage and cost, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) is planning to upgrade the lighting at five of its parking garages: one at the Pittsburgh Technology Center and four at Southside Works.

The URA and Green Building alliance will allocate $1 million for an upgrade to LED lights. That's after an engineering study showed it would be beneficial.

In Coal Country, What's Next for Miners?

Apr 10, 2015
Catherine Moore / For the Allegheny Front

At a fire hall in Logan County, West Virginia, dozens of coal miners and their families are mulling around a room. State officials called this meeting to help them figure out what to do next after the coal mine they worked in closed. Dell Maynard is one of these miners. His primary emotion right now is shock.

PublicSource

Whether you’re new to the Pittsburgh region or have lived here your whole life, you probably want to know what’s in the air you’re breathing and where it’s coming from.

This map from PublicSource identifies the facilities that federal standards say are the “major sources” of industrial air pollution in Allegheny County and the amount of pollutants they are allowed to release.

Courtesy of Michelle Johnsen via StateImpact PA

Local governments all over the country are trying stop the surge in oil and gas development by embracing a novel legal tactic–community-based rights ordinances. It’s a strategy that carries risks.

Flickr user Mike Myers

While University of Pittsburgh students criticize a lack of campus wide initiatives during the institution’s “Year of Sustainability,” the Katz Graduate School of Business is gearing up to host a water conservation panel on Tuesday.

The University of Pittsburgh last year launched the “Year of Sustainability,” which features speakers, programs and initiatives to make the campus more energy efficient. Many of the efforts have been student-led, but as the year comes to a close a group of students say Pitt’s administration didn’t do enough.

“We’re just disappointed, in the area of sustainability there weren’t really many administrative sustainability proposals or initiative for projects, all the things done on campus were student-led,” said Andrew Woomer, Pitt student and organizer with Free the Planet.

Pipelines: The New Battleground Over Fracking

Apr 6, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Forget the battles over the Keystone XL. Pipeline wars are now raging in Pennsylvania, where production is high and pipeline capacity is low.

In the West, Coal's Boom Resonates Across the Land

Apr 3, 2015
U.S. Geological Survey

Driving south of Gillette, Wyoming, through an arid and austere landscape once home to herds of bison, you pass coal mine after coal mine, for 70 uninterrupted miles, carving deep troughs into the prairie.

Jaime Dillen-Seibel / Flickr

Groups of local activists concerned about climate change took to New York City’s streets last September for the Climate Action March, and now they’re launching Pittsburgh350.org, an affiliate of the national 350.org.

Warwick Powell, a member of the steering committee, said the group will work to raise awareness about the increase of carbon in the atmosphere.

With many people hoping for an end to the chilly weather, one group of Pennsylvanians is eager for the cold snaps to continue.

Pennsylvanian maple camps usually produce more than 100,000 gallons of maple syrup each year, with 146,000 gallons bottled in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Submitted

Beatrice Dias has asthma, and her three-year-old has had his own respiratory issues, so she installed a personal air monitoring device known as a Speck to see if the air in her home was contributing to their health problems.

“It was as simple as turning on the hood vent above the stove and realizing, ‘wait, the air quality is getting worse, what am I doing wrong? This was supposed to be good for it,’” she said. “But then I followed the trajectory of the air and realized the hood vent was just venting the air up as opposed out of the house.”

Revelations like this is why the Community Robotics Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab began selling Speck Monday.  The air quality monitor detects fine particulates in a room by using a fan to create a vacuum that sucks the matter into the sensor.

In Kentucky, A Prairie Made By Coal

Mar 27, 2015
Reid R. Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Patrick Angel pulls his pickup truck off a small road in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, and points to a long ridge covered with dried, brown grass.

“If you didn’t know where you were, you'd think you were standing in a prairie land in South Dakota or Wyoming, because it’s all grass,” says Angel, a forester with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM).

Litterbugs beware: There might be someone watching you.

A Pennsylvania environmental group has launched a new initiative to provide municipalities with the equipment to catch people illegally dumping trash on camera.

  Despite Wednesday’s rain and a harsh winter the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental (DEP) has placed 27 counties on a drought watch for low levels of groundwater.

“Fortunately we have had a significant amount of snowmelt. That does help, but specifically we’re dealing with low groundwater levels, and groundwater takes a little bit more time to recharge then say surface water would,” said DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman.

Turn out your lights.

That’s what several Pittsburgh organizations are doing Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. during Earth Hour. The organizations are hoping to spark awareness about sustainability.

This year, much of Pittsburgh’s skyline will be dark.

Anna Siefken, of the Green Building Alliance, hopes to see the entire community come out to watch the lights go out.

When the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection asked for public comment in December regarding rules about conventional oil and gas development, the department received an “unprecedented amount” of submissions.

That’s according to Scott Perry, deputy secretary of the department’s Office of Oil and Gas Management, who said tens of thousands of people reached out to the DEP, showing intense interest.

Michael Lynch / 90.5 WESA

Public safety officials from around the Pittsburgh region joined U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) at the Allegheny County Courthouse today as he announced his support for a bill that would form a national train derailment task force.

The Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs and Safety Evaluation, or RESPONSE ACT, would create a new set of training and resource recommendations for derailment first responders. It would be a subcommittee under the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Ricky Romero / Flickr

Kyle Bibby, a University of Pittsburgh professor of civil and environmental engineering  has been studying the microorganisms in Pittsburgh's drinking water. He's received some help in this endeavor from students at the Pittsburgh Gifted Center and the Carnegie Science Center. Professor Bibby explains what we may, or may not want to know about the microbes in our tap water.

"We like to think of water as "sterile," but really nothing is sterile, in the sense that microorganisms exist everywhere. Understanding what's there is essential to understanding why it's safe. It's also just very scientifically interesting." - Professor Kyle Bibby

Also in this hour, the once in a lifetime date Super Pi Day arrives, host Guy Raz of the TED Radio Hour stops by, and the New Girl gives a guide to traveling the States with the luck of the Irish.


Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A new proposal from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) strengthens regulations on the oil and gas industry, while attempting to increase transparency and protect the general public.

“The release of today’s draft update to the commonwealth’s Oil and Gas regulations  in my view represents a great step forward for responsible drilling in Pennsylvania, and my definition of responsible drilling is protecting public health and the environment, while enabling drilling to proceed,” said Pennsylvania DEP Secretary John Quigley.

New Map Shows Fracking on PA State Lands

Mar 9, 2015
Courtesy photo/ PennFuture

  There are more than 8,000 Marcellus Shale natural gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania, with 430 on public lands. Now the public can see exactly where drills are on state lands, thanks to environmental interest group PennFuture, which collaborated with digital media artists from the FracTracker Alliance to create an interactive map that shows the overlap between public lands and gas wellheads.

Flickr user Kara Newhouse

Sunoco’s pipeline division has withdrawn its request that its Mariner East I pipeline be designated as a public utility, a development environmental groups are hailing as a victory.

The pipeline runs just south of Pittsburgh from the MarkWest Energy Partners processing and fractionation complex in Houston Pa. to an existing Sunoco pipeline in Delmont Pa..

Environmental groups say Sunoco was seeking to have the pipeline designated as a public utility by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in order to obtain eminent domain authority.

Wolf Reverses Natural Gas Tax Hike

Mar 6, 2015
Mike Mozart / flickr

Late last year, the Corbett administration increased the state's tax on liquefied natural gas, following a Department of Energy change in how LNG is measured at the federal level.

This week, Governor Tom Wolf reversed the tax increase and made it effective retroactively to January 1, 2015.

Chris Squire / 90.5 WESA

The Allegheny River remains frozen, and there is still ice on the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, though barge traffic is getting through. Now, with rain forecast for the next couple of days the concern turns to flooding.

“There’s always a threat of flooding, particularly when you have ice and when it starts to move it can jam up in narrow valleys or behind bridges and cause water to rise behind the jam very quickly,” said Lewis Kwett, hydraulic engineer with the Pittsburgh division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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