Environment & Energy

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

New Vertical Wind Turbine Powering Phipps

Nov 24, 2011

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has installed a renewable power source, further helping the effort of the Living Building Challenge, and achieving a new zero-energy goal. The Gale 10 vertical axis wind turbine, made by Tangarie, is expected to harness more than 10,000 kWh annually from the wind.

Thousands Call For Local Regulation On Drilling

Nov 23, 2011

When Pennsylvania lawmakers return from their Thanksgiving recess, they'll face thousands of names on petitions urging them not to strip municipalities of their rights to regulate drilling.

In separate actions, the House and Senate approved HB 1950 and SB 1100 respectively, which limit local regulation. That led Ron Slabe of Westmoreland County to start an online petition drive urging members of the House and Senate to reconsider their positions.

It's a common perception that making a large-scale switch to renewable energy would mean a less reliable power supply and higher costs for the consumer. A new report says just the opposite is true, and projects a net savings of $83 billion over the next 40 years.

Future Costs

Pittsburgh Councilman Doug Shields has accepted that natural gas drilling will likely go on in Pennsylvania, but he is introducing legislation to hold companies responsible for any water contamination they might cause.

Shields said that drilling pollutants can be troublesome when mixed with other chemicals in the region's rivers.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has released its Fukushima Nuclear Accident Report, explaining the agency's response and findings after the March nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. The nuclear crisis followed the devastating tsunami and earthquake that struck Japan.

About 120 municipal leaders, non-profits and conservationists gathered in downtown Pittsburgh for a forum on creating sustainable communities. While that is a broad term, the conference focused mainly on green infrastructure, healthy communities, and low-cost land management practices.

Women Take Charge of Their Woods

Oct 29, 2011

Nancy Baker stands in the pantry of her farmhouse in Bradford County. It's layered in family history, from the floorboards up. "All the woodwork trim in this old part of the house is American Chestnut. My mother had it painted white, it looks very nice, but I like the chestnut," says Baker.

Like some Pennsylvania forest owners, Baker inherited the family home and the acres of forest land that came with it. But unlike many women woodland owners, she isn't intimidated by it: she's a retired forest ecologist.

The National Wildlife Federation released a report outlining ways for Congress to reduce the federal deficit while also protecting programs they say are critical to public health and the environment. The Conservation Works report outlines how the U.S. would be affecting by cuts to conservation programs. In Pennsylvania, one of the areas that would take a hit is outdoor recreation.

More than 40 organizations and a growing number of individuals are taking on the challenge of improving Pittsburgh's air quality as part of the so-called Breathe Project. That's a multi-million dollar effort that includes scientific research, public awareness campaigns and calls to action.

As the temperatures begin to drop, residents of Allegheny County start to take advantage of their outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and chimineas.

County Health Department Spokesman Guillermo Cole said that's a great idea, but people should know the restrictions.

"Our [county] regulations generally allow the use of such outdoor burning units because it's considered recreational burning, but we do have some requirements that do apply to their use," Cole said. "For example, you should only use dry, clean wood in wood burners and not use any garbage or debris."

Endangered Bat Found Dead Under Turbine

Oct 18, 2011

A dead bat discovered under a turbine in the North Allegheny Windpower Project has put a freeze on their nighttime operation. The 35-turbine farm in Portage, Washington, and Cresson townships in Cambria County is the second location where endangered Indiana bats have been found dead under turbines. Two bats were found at a wind farm in the Midwest.

In 2004, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was in the second year of his administration. The Democrat wanted to jump-start the state's alternate energy landscape, which at that point, was nonexistent. He sent out that mandate to his department heads and to the State House and Senate.

"We relied almost exclusively on – in the beginning of the last decade – on two things. Nuclear power and coal-fired power plants. Not even gas," said John Hanger who served as Rendell's Secretary of Environmental Protection from 2009 to 2010.

Referendum On Drilling Ban Will Proceed

Oct 4, 2011

The township manager of a Washington County community says officials will not appeal Common Pleas Judge Paul Pozonsky's decision to allow an anti-drilling referendum to be placed on the November ballot.

The Peters Township Marcellus Shale Awareness group collected 2,500 signatures to place the question on the ballot to allow voters to decide whether to amend the township's home rule charter to ban gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. But township officials tried to block the referendum.

Anti-Drillling Campaign Focuses On State Parks

Sep 29, 2011

Concerned about the end of a moratorium on gas leasing in state parks, the environmental group PennFuture announced its "Don't drill through the heart of Pennsylvania" campaign Thursday, aimed at preventing Marcellus Shale drilling in the parks. In February Governor Tom Corbett overturned former Governor Ed Rendell's executive order against leasing more park land to drillers.

Whitewater Rafting Hinges On Valve Test

Sep 26, 2011

Crews will soon begin another series of tests on the Quemahoning Reservoir's release valve following a just-completed $59,000 repair project. The valve's performance could determine the future of a rafting and kayaking corridor on the Stoneycreek River from the base of the dam past Benson to Johnstown in Cambria County. Project supporters are hoping for a greater flow and more scheduled releases of the water from the reservoir to enhance the whitewater experience and attract more visitors.

What's Black and Gold and Green All Over?

Sep 16, 2011

Pittsburghers are being rewarded for cutting energy use and pollution through the Black and Gold City Goes Green Campaign, a community action plan of the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative, which works to make Pittsburgh a greener city. The environmental group PennFuture is one of the partners in the Initiative.

Most natural gas drillers operating in areas impacted by last week's flooding shut down operations before water levels rose. But according to StateImpact Pennsylvania, a public radio collaboration, the energy companies weren't required to tell state regulators whether or not they had halted production.

Governor Tom Corbett says he asked drillers to stop production, as the Susquehanna River and its tributaries began spilling over their banks last week.

Major Flooding Continues in Susquehanna Valley

Sep 8, 2011

For those who saw the Susquehanna River turn a muddy brown after the rains from Hurricane Irene, it's about to get murkier, still. As extensive flooding continues in southeastern Pennsylvania, swift water rescue teams are coming in from western Pennsylvania. The Susquehanna River is forecasted to crest in Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg Friday and Saturday. Gov. Tom Corbett said the same teams were sent in before Hurricane Irene. "Last time we staged them for a short time at the farm show and then sent them to northeastern PA and to southeastern PA.

Suit Filed over Dunkard Creek

Sep 7, 2011

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission announced Wednesday that it is pursuing a pair of lawsuits against Canonsburg-based Consol Energy Inc. over a fish kill two years ago in Dunkard Creek. The kill impacted about 30 miles of the waterway in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The agency said the Pennsylvania lawsuit was filed in Greene County on Wednesday. A similar complaint was filed in Monongalia County, W.Va., last week.

The commission blames discharges from a Consol mine for the deaths of about 43,000 fish, 15,000 mussels and 6,500 mudpuppies.

The environmental group Sustainable Pittsburgh is hosting a "Green Workplace Challenge" competition for the city's businesses.

Sustainable Pittsburgh Program Manager Matt Mehalik said the friendly competition will rank businesses in the Pittsburgh area, based on how many green design features they can implement and how much energy and water they can save over the next year.

Tiny Wasps Used to Attack Ash-Destroying Beetle

Aug 22, 2011

The Emerald Ash Borer has destroyed or severely damaged more than 40 million ash trees in 15 states, including Pennsylvania. The beetle is native to China, but was first detected in 2002 in Michigan, and then was found in Pennsylvania four years ago. At least 12 counties in the commonwealth are infested with the pest. Past eradication efforts have not succeeded, so agriculture and forestry officials have been trying to contain the pest by placing quarantines on hardwoods.

The Eastern Hellbender is a salamander of many names:

"The snot otter's probably my favorite. Waterdogs is what a lot of people call them in the area. Allegheny Alligator is another one, I've heard that one as well," says Eric Chapman. Chapman works with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the PPG Aquarium, and Purdue University to study eastern hellbender salamanders in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Hellbenders live in large streams and rivers. Chapman and his team have been conducting hellbender surveys in the Little Mahoning Creek Watershed since 2007.

It's Saturday morning and Father Dan Walsh and his neighbor Jim McCue have joined the throngs of Pittsburghers who shop in the Strip District, a veritable Mecca of fresh foods. The men split up long grocery lists. "I'll get the fish and see you over there", says Walsh to McCue.