Environment & Energy

Environment & Energy news from 90.5 WESA.

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

This Earth Day, volunteers are taking Point State Park back in time to the French & Indian War — or at least they’re taking the shrubbery back.

About 25 volunteers from the Student Conservation Association (SCA), American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) Association and the Penn State Master Gardeners planted native shrubs and flowers at Point State Park Tuesday.

The planting is part of the ongoing renovations at the park and AEO and SCA’s alternative spring break program, which centers around service projects.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) will protest PNC’s financing of mountaintop removal mining.

Outside of PNC headquarters, underneath the 2,380-square-foot Green Wall, EQAT members and activists announced their plan to attend the bank’s annual shareholders’ meeting, which has been moved to Tampa.

Last year, the EQAT disrupted the shareholders’ meeting by asking each PNC board member to publicly state his or her position on mountaintop removal mining. The meeting lasted 20 minutes.

Pau Cooper / Flickr

For the sixth year, the city of Pittsburgh, along with the Pittsburgh Shade Tree Commission, is giving away free trees for Earth Day.

“We give away approximately 1,000 native seedlings,” said city forester Lisa Ceoffe. “This is a way to get folks in tune with spring, get a tree with their hand, and we have a lot of information going on this whole week as far as Earth Day, Arbor Day and the city celebrates Tree City USA.”

Dane Summerville / Flickr

This past Saturday, Governor Corbett and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) published a draft plan intended to reduce dangerous smog pollution that puts nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvanians’ health at risk.

However, some feel the expected plan falls short, failing to set meaningful limits on smog-causing pollution from the state’s largest emitters – coal-fired power plants.

Kim Teplitzky, deputy press secretary of the Sierra Club said all of South Western PA has been designated unsafe in terms of air quality by the EPA. She compares the breathing in of smog pollution to a sunburn on your lungs. 

A new way to reduce energy in the workplace developed at Carnegie Mellon University could save companies thousands of dollars.

The Intelligent Dashboard lets employees know how much energy they are using at their desk. Developers say this will encourage workers to take action to save energy by unplugging devices that are not in use.

“We wanted to investigate if there is any good way to show their energy usage and if there is any good way to motivate them to conserve energy at work,” said Ray Yun, PhD students and lead developer.  

Report Details Effects of Gas Drilling

Apr 17, 2014

The effects of natural gas drilling under state forests aren’t being ignored, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

The department’s first Shale Gas Monitoring Report, released Wednesday, outlines its efforts through 2012 to monitor the impacts of gas development on water, air, energy, forest health, soils and wildlife.

The fight over placing a nonconventional gas well about a half-mile from five Mars Area School District schools has moved out of the district’s boardroom and into the boardrooms of a pair of local townships.

An advisory committee tasked with helping the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources manage natural gas drilling on state land will meet for the third time.

The Natural Gas Advisory Committee (NGAC) will cover two major issues in its April meeting.

April showers bring May flowers, yet April is one of the worst months for wildfires in Pennsylvania. 

Mid-March through Mid-May is designated as fire prevention season in Pennsylvania. Terry Brady of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) said there were easily more than 100 wildfires in Pennsylvania .

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has proposed what it believes to be a “win-win” situation for the environment and existing power plants.

The DEP has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking for more state flexibility when it comes to carbon dioxide emission standards for existing fossil fuel-fired power plants in competitive energy markets and a change in how pollutants are measured.

The DEP wants to make some changes to the New Source Review (NSR) provisions under the Clean Air Act.

'Unclear' Circumstances on the Ground During Chevron Blaze

Apr 11, 2014
Katie Colaneri / StateImpact PA

It recently came to light that Department of Environmental Protection investigators were blocked by Chevron employees in the days after a natural gas well explosion in Greene County. The explosion, which killed one Chevron employee, set off a fire which blazed for five days in February.  

StateImpact reporter Katie Colaneri recently broke the story and said Chevron would not allow the DEP to park or drive onto access roads toward the well for nearly two days. Colaneri says the rules are pretty straightforward concerning incidents such as the well explosion.

The DEP has authority over companies like Chevron during environmentally dangerous conditions, but Colaneri says the overall situation is still very unclear. 

Chatham University graduate students, Ann Payne and Kristen Reynolds, and their professor have created an entire exhibit about water -- and they hope it has a rippling effect.

“The Drop Project” is an interactive exhibit that shows the relationship among Pittsburgh, its residents and water.

Molly Mehling, sustainability professor and ecologist, said they want to create a networking event.

This winter was a harsh one, with days of bitter cold temperatures that caused many households to turn up the thermostat.

Because of the high demand, many consumers who’d signed up for variable rate pricing plans had a nasty shock when their bills increased dramatically. Now the Public Utility Commission is stepping in to try and ensure customers understand what they are signing up for.

Climate Change Not So Sweet For Maple Syrup

Apr 6, 2014
Julie Grant / The Allegheny Front

Maple trees could be in trouble in the Northeast U.S. in the coming decades. Federal climate models have predicted the region will lose most of its maples by next century. But producers don't seem worried: maple syrup prices are high, and with technology, the sap is flowing just fine.

Jason Blocher’s livelihood each year largely depends on the weather in February and March. He’s the third generation in his family to run Milroy Maple Farms in Somerset County, on Pennsylvania’s southern border, just a few miles from Maryland.

Gas Drilling Impact Fee Revenue Up 11 Percent This Year

Apr 4, 2014
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Pennsylvania expects to collect $224.5 million in impact fees levied on natural gas drilling companies this year– an 11 percent increase over the amount collected last year.

The state’s 2012 oil and gas law, Act 13, charges drillers for each well. The fee can range from $40,000 to $60,000 per well, depending on the price of natural gas.

This year, drillers paid $50,000 for new horizontal wells– up from $45,000 last year because the price of gas increased. Smaller, vertical wells paid $10,000.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has released annual emissions data for Marcellus Shale natural gas production for 2012. Emissions are tracked each year in an effort to assess air quality in the state.  

“The data shows two decreases and four increases in pollutant categories from natural gas emissions,” said DEP spokeswoman Morgan Wagner. “However, overall, total air contaminate emissions across the state have continued to decline.”

Woodstoves and boilers might have helped keep homes warm over the winter, but they also could have harmed the environment.

That’s why for the second year, the Allegheny County Health Department is collecting old woodstoves and outdoor wood-fired boilers that do not meet the current national emission standards.

An egg has hatched in a bald eagle nest in a Pittsburgh neighborhood.

The nest in the city's Hays neighborhood along the Monongalia river has three eggs and a live video stream of the nest has become popular locally. The female bald eagle previously fought off a raccoon that tried to raid her eggs.

Experts say it's too soon to say whether the new chick is a male or female.

The live-stream camera of the nest is provided by Murrysville-based PixController, which is working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Three Mile Island: Measuring The Impact 35 Years Later

Mar 28, 2014
Flickr user Ted Van Pelt

Friday marks the 35th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history. On March 28, 1979, one of the reactors at the The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Dauphin County partially melted down.

Back then, no one knew exactly what was going to happen. The incident was unprecedented.

Former Governor Dick Thornburgh was at the center of the crisis. He marked the anniversary at an event Thursday at Penn State’s Harrisburg campus in Middletown–not far from the plant.

ucy Schaly / Beaver County Times via PublicSource

Walking with his daughter from a Friday night football game in New Brighton, Pa., Fire Chief Jeffrey Bolland heard what sounded like a jet overhead and saw an orange glow in the distance.

Twenty-three rail tank cars of ethanol derailed on a bridge above the Beaver River on that night in 2006, setting off an explosion that burned for 48 hours. Some of the black, torpedo-shaped cars tumbled into the river.

No one was injured, but 150 people were evacuated and a nearly multi-million dollar cleanup ensued in the city about 30 miles Northwest of Pittsburgh.

A new report from a nonpartisan office of the state legislature says that Pennsylvania's taxes on the natural gas drilling boom are among the lowest in the nation.

The figures released Thursday by the Independent Fiscal Office found that Pennsylvania is the only state with significant production that doesn't impose a severance tax based on the volume of gas produced.

Did Congress Kill Wind Energy Jobs in PA?

Mar 21, 2014
Reid Frazier / The Allegheny Front

Bradley Molinick started work at Gamesa’s wind turbine blade manufacturing plant in Ebensburg, Pa. in 2006, before the plant was even finished.

“I was offered a job right out of the interview. I started January 30, 2006.”

Almost eight years to the day that he started, he was called into a conference room for a 7 a.m. meeting. It was supposed to be a teleconference with top managers from the company. But last minute came word. Those managers had come to town for the meeting.

When the temperatures dropped across North America this winter, many Pennsylvanian’s saw their electricity bill skyrocket because they had contracts with their electric supplier that allowed for variable rates. Now a state senator hopes her legislation will help to protect consumers from unexpected spikes in the future.

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton County) introduced legislation Wednesday that would among other things shorten the time it takes to switch from one rate plan to another. 

Allegheny County Council is set to consider a lucrative deal to allow Range Resources to drill for natural gas beneath a Pittsburgh-area park, from well sites on neighboring private properties.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald outlined the deal at a news conference Monday, saying it includes a $4.7 million bonus, a $3 million donation to a park improvement fund, and 18 percent royalties that are estimated to generate $3 million a year.

Officials say air quality in the county around Pittsburgh met federal standards for fine soot pollution for the first time in 2013.

Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Karen Hacker says in a Friday statement that the news marks "a huge leap forward" in efforts to improve air quality. All eight monitoring sites in the county met standards for fine particulate pollution, which can come from coal-fired power plants, autos and trucks, and plants that produce coke for steel mills.

After a sharp cut this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District has received $176.3 million in new federal funding for the 2015 fiscal year.

“It’s more than we received last year, it’s pretty much standard for what we received in the past few years,” spokesman Dan Jones said. “But last year was just an anomaly.” The Corps received approximately $110 million for fiscal year 2013-14.

Policy and research groups from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio have joined forces to urge their states’ governors to adopt a common severance tax rate for companies drilling for gas and oil in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations.

PENNDot Calls for Spring Cleaning

Mar 9, 2014

Spring cleaning isn’t only for homeowners. It’s for the state, too.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has teamed up with the Department of Environmental Protection for its annual Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania  running now through May 31.

The cleanup calls on volunteers and groups to help clear litter from roadways, trails and shorelines across the commonwealth.

The last phase of an effort to treat water discharge from the Indianola mine pool is slated to start March 17.

The project is expected to improve the water quality of Little Deer Creek. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation and the Clean Streams Foundation is designing a settling pond to handle the discharge that currently flows into Little Deer Creek.

Is it “a common sense solution” to problems resulting from an “outdated, burdensome and convoluted federal permitting system” or an attempt to “undercut responsible decision making?”

By a vote of 229-179, the House Thursday approved RAPID, the Responsibly And Professionally Invigorating Development Act, and sent it to the Senate.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA-10) said the review and permitting process for energy, infrastructure and other construction projects which can now take as long as 10 to 15 years.

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