Environment & Energy

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

Studies Show Groundwater Holding Own Against Drilling Boom

Jun 19, 2018
Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennslvania

New research suggests drinking water supplies in Pennsylvania have shown resilience in the face of a drilling boom that has turned swaths of countryside into a major production zone for natural gas.

Larkin Page-Jacobs / 90.5 WESA

Urban fishing returns to Pittsburgh’s East End this summer. Carnegie Lake in Highland Park has been stocked with catfish, bluegill and largemouth bass for the first time in more than 20 years.

Matt Slocum / AP

When President Donald Trump’s solar tariff took effect four months ago, it sent shockwaves through the solar energy industry.

Regulators Issue Split Ruling On Gas Pipelines Near Philly

Jun 14, 2018
Matt Slocum / AP

Pennsylvania utility regulators voted Thursday to let a pipeline resume transporting liquid fuels in the Philadelphia suburbs, reversing an administrative law judge's order, but they also upheld a halt to construction of two other, related pipelines.

Poet And Journalist Chronicles Human Cost Of Fracking In New Book

Jun 14, 2018
Macmillan Press

Poet and reporter Eliza Griswold’s nonfiction book, “Amity and Prosperity,” takes readers to rural Washington County, where Stacey Haney, a nurse, is living less than half a mile from fracking waste and drill cutting pits on a neighbor’s property.

Pennsylvania, For First Time, Sets Methane Requirements On Natural Gas Wells

Jun 8, 2018
Joe Ulrich / WITF

Pennsylvania has joined a growing number of states in issuing new methane requirements for natural gas wells.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The solar industry is one of the newest players to enter Pennsylvania’s energy landscape. During its infancy, making a career in it was a bit of a gamble, but Hal Saville decided to give it a go.

“It was something that I had to convince my family was the right thing to do because I had a pretty cushy job and could have retired from doing that, and the industry was somewhat slow to get on its feet and really gain momentum,” he says.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

More than 2 million people work in energy efficiency across the United States. It makes up the largest sector of the nation’s clean energy workforce.

Virginia McGrath has held one of these jobs for three years. She’s an energy auditor for Pittsburgh’s Conservation Consultants Incorporated.

“I think the energy efficiency field has made a transition,” she says. “Instead of saving energy and saving money, we’re talking about making a home safer and more comfortable. I think that resonates with people more.”

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

When something goes wrong in the natural gas fields like a spill or an explosion — somebody has to clean up the mess.

Mike Chicka gets these calls. The work, he says, can be pretty challenging.

“We’ve had times where we’ve had to build roads in the side of mountains,” he says. “We’ve brought in 30-, 40-foot pipes to be able to put through culverts to be able to divert the flow of streams and rivers, and bring in thousands of tons of stone to be able to build a road proper to get to the spill.”

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennslvania

Pennsylvania will begin enforcing tougher air pollution standards on its booming natural gas industry.

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh is known for its rivers. But many residents, like 90.5 WESA listener Judith Hoover, aren't sure where the bottom of each of the three lie. 

House OKs Bill To Relax Rules For Shallow Gas, Oil Drilling

Jun 6, 2018
Joe Ulrich / WITF

A Republican bill to relax regulations on the shallow oil and gas drilling that has gone on in Pennsylvania for more than a century passed the state House Tuesday despite firm opposition from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

The GOP-majority chamber voted 111-84 for a proposal that covers permits, rules for wells, spills and enforcement for drilling that does not include the much deeper wells tapping into the Marcellus Shale formation.

Building A Better Bat Cave

Jun 5, 2018
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

To save the bats of Pennsylvania, Greg Turner wants to build a better bat cave. Turner is a biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. His latest renovation project is a cave under a hillside in Central Pennsylvania. Indian Caverns used to be commercial cave, and there’s still an abandoned gift shop with fake display plants. It closed last year, and now the state is in the process of acquiring it as a way to preserve bats.

Report: Draft Memo Points To Trump Invoking National Security In Bailing Out Coal, Nuclear

Jun 4, 2018
Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The Trump administration could invoke two seldom-used laws to save faltering coal and nuclear plants, according to a Bloomberg News report. The plan would force electricity grid operators to pay more for electricity from coal and nuclear plants, which have struggled to compete in the electricity market, the report says, and would be an “unprecedented intervention into U.S. energy markets.”

Study Finds Health Threats From Oil And Gas Wastewater Spread On Roads

Jun 1, 2018
Courtesy of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Spreading oil and gas wastewater has been a common and cheap way for municipalities to suppress dust on unpaved roads in parts of Pennsylvania for years.

Joseph / Flickr

For people who remember their elementary school history, the Lewis and Clark expedition began more than 200 years ago as Capt. Meriwether Lewis and his crew made their way from Camp Dubois in Illinois to meet William Clark in Missouri to find new trade routes and explore the west.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

The nonprofit Trust for Public Land recently released its annual ranking of 100 city park systems in the country. This year, Pittsburgh's ranks 23rd -- a 16 place jump from last year.

The rankings are based on four primary factors: park access, meaning the amount of residents living within a ten-minute walk of a park; park acreage, the median size of city parks and total city area designated to parks; park amenities, such as restrooms, water features and dog parks; and park investment, meaning the amount of spending per resident on parks.

Courtesy of Kathleen Knight

Researchers have a new plan to tackle the emerald ash borer in the Allegheny National Forest.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Bed bugs are equal opportunity infesters. They don’t discriminate who they’ll bite based on any socioeconomic or demographic factors. With students returning home from college and tenants moving to new apartments, bed bug incidents in Pittsburgh are likely to increase.

Wolf's Fracking-Health Record Hammered By New Industry Opposition Group

May 25, 2018
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A coalition of anti-fracking groups says Gov. Tom Wolf should pay more attention to the health impacts of fracking, and that he’s “turned his back” on people who say they’ve suffered from the state’s natural gas industry.

Judge Shuts Down Work On Sunoco Pipelines, Cites Danger

May 24, 2018
Matt Slocum / AP

An administrative law judge has shut down work on a natural gas liquids pipeline in the Philadelphia suburbs, saying Sunoco has failed to take reasonable steps to warn people and protect them from danger.

PA Mother Works To Ban The Chemical That Killed Her Son

May 24, 2018

Lauren Atkins says her 31-year old son Joshua was the picture of health.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA


Behind a chain link fence on Montana Street in Pittsburgh's Perry North neighborhood lies a brick maintenance building, a looming radio tower and a collection of discarded satellites.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Steel mills and coal mines once powered the economy of the Laurel Highlands. Amid the collapse of those industries, some Cambria County residents are looking to build jobs around clean energy to help revitalize the region.

Andrew Harnik / AP

In this week’s episode of the Trump on Earth podcast, we explore a new rule that would throw out vast amounts of scientific research in the name of transparency.

Burning The Forest To Protect One Of Its Most Threatened Visitors

May 15, 2018
Reid Frazier / 90.5 WESA

On a ridge at the top of the Allegheny Mountains, Gage Meyer, a supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, walked around a forest with a metal tank filled with a mix of diesel and gasoline.

“It’s not too potent but it does the job,” he said. “It’ll happen fast, especially on a day like today.”

It was sunny and dry on this spring morning. Meyer pulled out a lighter and lit a pile of leaves, damp with a mix of diesel and gasoline. Then he sprayed fuel in a straight line away from the fire from a metal can with a nozzle on it. The forest floor shot up in flames.

Where Are The Trees Going In Allegheny County?

May 11, 2018
Gene J. Puskar / AP

The nonprofit Tree Pittsburgh released some disturbing data about Allegheny County’s tree canopy earlier this year. 

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

According to a 2016 report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, low-income Pittsburghers spend 9.5 percent of their paychecks on energy costs. The national average is 3.5 percent.

The Grassroots Green Homes program, which helps people make their houses more energy efficient, is launching in Homewood this weekend. It is grant-funded and free for participants, eliminating financial barriers to decreasing one's carbon footprint.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania will use the $118 million it received in a settlement with Volkswagen to fund grants and rebates for cleaner vehicles and engines.

The money comes to the state after the German automaker programmed diesel vehicles to cheat emissions tests and reached a $14.7-billion settlement with the federal government. Most is going toward buying back vehicles and compensating owners, but some is going into a trust that divvies up the money to states.

In Pennsylvania, funds will go toward buying new engines or retrofitting old ones.

Pennsylvania Funds Clean Air With VW Settlement

May 10, 2018
Michael Sohn / AP

Pennsylvania's governor said Thursday the state will use a $118 million settlement with Volkswagen over the company's cheating on emissions tests to cut air pollution in the state.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf told The Associated Press that he is setting up Driving PA Forward , a program to distribute grants and rebates that aim to boost air quality.

The goal is to replace older diesel engines with new technologies, and cut nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 27,700 tons.

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