Environment & Energy

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

Mountain Climbers Clean Up Mt. Washington

Mar 22, 2012

For the 20th year, climbers will rappel the Mount Washington hillside Saturday in Pittsburgh. "No big deal" you might say, but they will be cleaning up trash along the way.

The annual event was started by two men who worked in city departments who saw a need to remove litter from the hillside along Grandview Avenue on Mount Washington. So, the Explorers Club of Pittsburgh use their climbing skills to get the trash that otherwise probably couldn't be touched.

State Holds Nutrient Credit Auction

Mar 19, 2012

Wastewater treatment plants operating in the Susquehanna and Potomac watersheds have the chance to buy nutrient credits at auction Wednesday.

Nutrient credits allow "regulated entities," typically wastewater treatment plants, to stay within the legal limits of nitrogen and phosphorus discharges. One nitrogen credit is equal to a pound of nitrogen taken out of a watershed.

The auction will be hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST).

Flash Flood Season Approaches

Mar 16, 2012

April showers bring — flash floods. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency advises the Commonwealth's residents to plan ahead to prevent damage and danger for the spring season.

PEMA Chief Deputy Director, Robert Full, says 18 people died last year because of historical amounts of rainfall that turns into flash floods.

"It's just so critical that our residents take seriously, just for a few moments, how important it is to be prepared," Full said.

Commission Approves Water Withdrawals from Susquehanna for Fracking

Mar 15, 2012

There were shouts from protesters, but no arrests at a public meeting of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission Thursday. The panel met to vote on permits from energy companies looking to withdraw water from the Susquehanna River for hydraulic fracturing. About 25 demonstrators opposed to fracking and natural gas drilling accused the SRBC of rubberstamping approval for 42 projects.

Susan Obleski, spokeswoman for the commission, said each project is examined on a case-by-case basis.

Governor Tom Corbett is optimistic about the announcement that Shell Oil Co. has chosen a site near Pittsburgh for a major, multi-billion-dollar petrochemical refinery. He said building such a facility could provide a huge economic boost to the region.

"We need to keep in mind that this announcement doesn't mean this is completed," said Corbett. "There are many steps that have to be taken between now and the time the first shovel goes into the ground. This is the first step."

Westmoreland County Okays Impact Fee

Mar 9, 2012

Westmoreland County Commissioners have agreed to divide the revenue from impact fees on 191 Marcellus Shale gas wells among all municipalities in the county.

Pennsylvania legislators passed a bill in February overhauling the state's natural gas drilling laws.

Under the impact fee law, elected officials in counties that have shale gas wells have until mid-April to enact a fee or choose not to collect. If the county officials refuse the fee, municipalities have 60 days to override the decision.

PA Senate Passes Bill To Repeal Summer Gas

Mar 8, 2012

Motorists in the Pittsburgh area won't have to fill up their tanks with a summer blend of gas if the state House follows the Senate's lead.

The Senate approved legislation sponsored by Elder Vogel, Jr. (R-Beaver, Lawrence Counties) that eliminates a regulation that requires service stations to sell gasoline with a low vapor pressure between May 1 and September 15 in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland Counties. Switching to the "summer gas" is intended to reduce emissions and curb air pollution.

Pittsburgh International Airport has received a $2 million grant from the state Capital Budget/Transportation Assistance Program for upgrades and safety enhancements.

Airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said the money will be used for a water treatment plant that will capture the chemicals used to keep runways from becoming icy during the winter.

"The stormwater treatment plant is for rescuing de-icing runoff that might end up going into the streams," Jenny said. "It would be helping the McLaren Run and the Enlow Run waters near the airport."

Connoquenessing Water OK

Feb 23, 2012

At least 10 households in western Pennsylvania fear their drinking water has been ruined by natural gas drilling, but state officials say tests don't show that.

Residents say Rex Energy Corp. has sent letters notifying them it will no longer deliver drinking water to the households after Feb. 29.

Rex Energy says in a statement that testing found no notable differences in pre and post-drilling water chemistry in Connoquenessing Township, about 35 miles north of Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania Remains Plum Pox Free

Feb 17, 2012

In 1999, a non-curable plant virus native to Europe was found in Pennsylvania, causing severe economic loss to the state and a potential threat to the rest of the nation's fruit production.

Nicole Bucher, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture says growers in Pennsylvania can "breathe a sigh of relief," because the commonwealth has been declared free of the plum pox virus since October 2009.

Going Green Even When Being Buried

Feb 17, 2012

The movement towards reducing carbon footprints, even in death, has come to the Pittsburgh region. The Penn Forest Natural Burial Park in Verona has been certified by the Green Burial Council, a national nonprofit that encourages environmental sustainability in the burial industry.

The growing popularity of natural burial is a sign that people may be starting to prefer forests over graveyards and existing trees instead of tombstones. But Joe Sehee, director and founder of the Green Burial Council, said natural burial isn't a new idea.

Bald Eagle Pair Get A New Home

Feb 14, 2012

While most people try to put off home improvement work until the spring, a pair of bald eagles got some help last week from a group of Pennsylvania Game Commission land managers with a very timely construction project.

About two weeks ago on Haldeman Island in Dauphin County, the tree limb supporting the eagles nest collapsed under the weight of the nest. On February 10, three Pennsylvania Game Commission employees went to the eagles' former nest on Haldeman Island to construct a platform to encourage the bald eagle pair to reuse the nest site.

PUC Assures Extension Of Energy Savings Law

Feb 12, 2012

Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission (PUC) has convinced environmental advocates that the state's energy savings programs will not be left for dead come next summer. PennFuture has withdrawn its petition to the commission asking to begin the process of extending the energy savings law known as Act 129, which is set to expire in May of 2013.

A report by the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center shows that, over the past four years, gas operators accumulated 3,355 violations of environmental laws. [PDF] The study was compiled using information from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Erika Staaf, clean water advocate with PennEnvironment, claims more than 70 percent of the violations were possibly a direct threat to the environment.

Pennsylvania's House has passed a Mar­cel­lus Shale impact fee on a 101–90 vote. Now that the leg­is­la­tion is on its way to Gov­er­nor Corbett's desk, what hap­pens next? Here are some key mile­stones to look for.

Read the rest of this story at StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Shale Fee Deal Could be on the Books Today

Feb 7, 2012

The governor's budget address usually sets the legislative agenda for the year, but today, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's speech may be overshadowed by news of a Marcellus Shale fee structure.

The House and Senate are primed for final votes on the issue that has hung over the Capitol since 2009. The measure would place a fee on every Marcellus Shale well, overhaul Pennsylvania's natural gas regulations, and restricts local governments' ability to zone and regulate drilling.

Environmental Group Attacks Impact Fee

Feb 6, 2012

PennFuture is blasting a proposed impact fee that could be approved by the state Senate as early as tonight.

House Bill 1950 was agreed to by Republican legislative leaders and Governor Tom Corbett, without input from Democrats. It would require Pennsylvania's natural gas industry to pay an estimated $190 million in the first year. The impact fee would then rise and fall with the price of natural gas and inflation. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati says the total fee amount would increase as more wells are drilled.

Senator Wozniak: “Emissions Test A Waste of Consumers’ Money”

Feb 6, 2012

A Democratic state lawmaker wants the federal government to reconsider the requirement for vehicle emissions inspections in Pennsylvania. State Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria, Somerset Counties) is sponsoring a resolution calling on Congress to reevaluate the enhanced emissions inspection program.

"Today's cars are cleaner and annual emission testing isn't as effective," Wozniak said. "Virtually all cars pass the test and it's time to reevaluate whether it's just a waste of money for consumers."

Dozens Of Grants Go To Remedy Stormwater Runoff, Acid Mine Drainage

Feb 3, 2012

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced that it will invest $13 million in 73 watershed protection projects.

57 projects will be funded through the state's Growing Greener program, while an additional 16 will be supported by the federal government through a Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Grant and the Clean Water Act.

White-Nose Syndrome Devastates Pennsylvania Bat Population

Jan 30, 2012

The little brown bat could be wiped out in the northeastern United States within the next decade by white-nose syndrome according to new projections.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that since 2006, when white-nose syndrome was initially discovered, as many as 6.7 million bats have died from that disease.

Bats control pests on farms and in forests and serve as important pollinators.

Spokeswoman Ann Froschauer says some bat species are affected more than others, but typically the fungal disease is 80 to 85 percent fatal.

Where Did All the Gas Go?

Jan 28, 2012

The federal government gave the Marcellus shale a big thumbs down this week. It dramatically downgraded its estimate of technically recoverable natural gas in the formation, from 410 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) (enough to heat and power the U.S. for 20 years) to 141 Tcf (about a 7 year national supply).

Green WorkPlace Challenge Gauges Progress

Jan 27, 2012

After four months of a Sustainable Pittsburgh challenge posed to local businesses to "green" their buildings and practices, the organization announced the aggregate energy savings on Friday.

First Energy Corp.'s generation subsidiaries will retire six coal-fired power plants by September 1, 2012. The reason, said spokesperson Mark Durbin, is new environmental requirements.

"By no means is it a reflection on the fine work that's been done by our employees at those plants, but it's related to what the financial impact will be for these new environmental rules," he said.

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on continued development of natural gas in the country, but he said it must be done in a way that protects the environment. This message didn't sit too well with PennEnvironment, a statewide environmental advocacy group. Clean Water Advocate Erika Staaf said natural gas isn't a clean energy, noting that the track record in Pennsylvania has been clear.

A bill being considered in Harrisburg on Tuesday would require that the design, construction, or renovation of any state-owned or state-leased building comply with specific energy standards. The so-called "Green Building" bill was introduced by State Representative Kate Harper (R-Montgomery).

Robinson Township's IKEA is helping Pittsburgh become more "green." The company announced it will be installing solar panels at an additional 20 of its 44 U.S. stores, including the one in Robinson Township.

IKEA spokesman Joseph Roth said the money saved from the energy bill might not necessarily go back into the community, but the installation could create some short-term jobs and will have environmental benefits.

Public Invited to Tree Meetings

Jan 23, 2012

Have a tree in your neighborhood that you love? How about one you can't stand? Pittsburgh residents interested in discussing the city's trees now have the opportunity to share their opinion at one of four meetings.

Natural Gas From Shale Could Worsen Climate Change

Jan 19, 2012

Instead of being an answer to climate change, shale gas might actually be a major generator of greenhouse emissions.

According to a new study done by three Cornell University researchers, the problem with shale gas is the amount of methane it releases into the atmosphere.

But there is still debate over the impact of a ton of methane compared to a ton of carbon dioxide. Methane has a half-life of 10 years, while carbon dioxide has a half-life of decades. So shale gas supporters say any methane released in the atmosphere will disappear faster than carbon dioxide.

Changing Priorities: Science Funding Slashed Under Corbett Administration

Jan 19, 2012

Members of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbet administration routinely insist their Marcellus Shale drilling policy is based on science.

EPA Charts Greenhouse Emissions from Big Operations

Jan 12, 2012

In 2008 Congress tasked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with creating a first-of-its-kind, national, comprehensive greenhouse gas reporting system. On Thursday, the agency released the facility level greenhouse gas data to the public.

Gina McCarthy with the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation said the data is a boon to those who want to chart and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.