Environment & Energy

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

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.

Abandoned Mines Across State To Get $55M In Cleanup Money

May 9, 2018
Reid Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will spend $55 million on abandoned mine cleanup projects around the state. 

Sarah Kovash / WESA

The view has shifted the past few years during Ken Holmes’ daily walks along the Ohio River, and on Tuesday, it changed yet again.

Until 2016, emissions from two smokestacks often billowed above Neville Island near Pittsburgh. When the Shenango Coke Works shut down, its stacks still dominated the landscape. But just before noon on Tuesday, they disappeared forever.

A series of planned dynamite blasts sent the stacks, plus a coal bunker, crumbling to the ground.

Allyson Ruggieri / 90.5 WESA

Environmental advocates in Pennsylvania want to see a faster switch to electric buses to help eliminate emissions that can worsen asthma and cause other health problems.

More than 23,000 diesel-powered transit and school buses exist throughout the state.

In the past, environmental groups have pushed to clean up diesel buses by taking steps like retrofitting the vehicles with filters to reduce pollution.

Kim Paynter / WHYY

As state lawmakers prepare for budget negotiations, Governor Tom Wolf is once again trotting out a natural gas severance tax proposal in hopes of slipping it into the final deal. 

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

The Allegheny Cemetery stretches 300-acres in Lawrenceville, bordered by Butler Street, Stanton Avenue and Mossfield Street. Between the rows of headstones and mausoleums that line the burial ground, many people run into some four-legged visitors.

PJM Will Study ‘Fuel Security’ Of Electric Grid As Natural Gas Use Rises

May 1, 2018
Bob Bird / AP

As low natural gas prices force more coal and nuclear plants to retire, the grid operator for 65 million customers in the mid-Atlantic region says it will look at whether it’s becoming more susceptible to outages forced by extreme weather or cyber-attack.

Study: Songbird That Needs Clean Streams Threatened By Fracking

Apr 26, 2018
Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren / flickr

The Louisiana waterthrush is one of the first migratory songbirds to appear in our region in the spring.

Reid Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

More than 20 residents and environmental advocates called for tough limits on water pollution from a coal-fired power plant northeast of Pittsburgh on Wednesday evening.

Jon Hurdle / StateImpact Pennsylvania

More than 100 spills have occurred during the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, and now, another troublesome spot has emerged in Delaware County outside Philadelphia.

Amy Sisk / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Gasoline prices in Pennsylvania will likely hit the $3-per-gallon mark this week, their highest level since 2014.

Rising gas prices are partly the result of high demand, said Jim Garrity, a spokesperson for AAA East Central, which includes Pennsylvania and nearby states. The demand for gas right now nationwide is greater than any other April on record.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

A near-century-old outdoor recreation club will now refrain from going outside because it is too dangerous out in the wilderness, according to officials at Penn State University.

The Penn State Outing Club, originally founded in 1920, announced last week that the university will no longer allow the club to organize outdoor, student-led trips starting next semester. The hiking, camping and other outdoors-focused activities the student-led club has long engaged in are too risky, the university's offices of Student Affairs and Risk Management determined.

The Lure Of The Saw-Whet Owl

Apr 19, 2018

The Northern saw-whet owl is the symbolic face of conservation in Pennsylvania. The Wild Resource Conservation Program uses a saw-whet owl as its emblem, and the Commonwealth featured a saw-whet owl on its first specialty state license plate in 1993.

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