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Etna Snags First-Of-Its-Kind Honor For Sustainability

Etna, population 3,700, lies about five miles north of Pittsburgh.


On today's program: Etna is the world’s first EcoDistrict; Murray Energy’s collapse could be a disaster for retiring coal miners; enrollment at Pittsburgh Public Schools is declining; a researcher is gathering data about plastics in PA rivers; and what to know before you vote today. 

Etna dubbed an EcoDistrict for its commitment to sustainability
(00:00 — 16:33) 

An international organization fostering sustainability in neighborhood development designated Etna this week as the world’s first EcoDistrict.

“EcoDistricts create better places, more resilient and more sustainable, and it also looks at the people and equity issues in a community, and how we build will and work together,” says Christine Mondor, founder of evolve EA, a green design firm that worked with Etna on its plan.

According to Mondor, an EcoDistrict must incorporate six quality of life aspects into its development: water, mobility, air, energy, food and equity. She says many communities around the country are working toward certification, but Etna is the first to meet all three criteria: a commitment to carbon neutrality, documentation of collaboration and a roadmap to achieve its goals.

“We were blown away,” says Robert Tuñón, Etna Community Organization board member. “It was such a beautiful process in our community, and to have it be recognized on this level, was certainly something special.”

The designation was made official at the 10th annual EcoDistrict Summit, where more than 200 neighborhood sustainability experts from across the country gathered in Pittsburgh.

Etna’s plan will officially be launched in December but work has already begun on a riverfront park, which will be the borough’s first direct link to the Allegheny River in 150 years. Officials are also working on a community library to replace one that was lost to flooding.

Murray Energy’s bankruptcy could threaten coal miners pensions
(17:22 — 21:22) 

The recent bankruptcy of Ohio Valley coal giant Murray Energy has renewed fears about the already shaky financial foundations of the pension plan that tens of thousands of miners and their families depend on. In its bankruptcy filing, the company reports $2.7 billion in debt and more than $8 billion in obligations under various pension and benefit plans. More information will likely come out as the bankruptcy court takes up the matter. 

Becca Schimmel, a reporter for The Ohio Valley Resource, says Murray Energy is among nearly a dozen coal companies to go bankrupt during the Trump administration, despite the repeated claims of a “coal comeback.” Some lawmakers worry that the combined impact could cause a domino effect for other multi-employer pensions across the country. Schimmel reports there has been a push in the U.S. Senate to shore up benefits for retirees, but it’s not clear when or if majority leader Mitch McConnell will take up the issue

Report projects continued decline for Pittsburgh Public Schools enrollment
(21:27 — 26:42)

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials plan to spend the next six months evaluating and re-aligning where kids go to school. According to an internal report released Monday, district enrollment overall dropped by almost 17 percent in the last decade. 

The 300-page report points to declining birth rates, economic and financial concerns, growing charter school enrollments and families moving away from the city and into the suburbs.

PPS chief of staff Errika Fearby Jones tells 90.5 WESA’s Sarah Schneider that the district isn’t looking at why families leave, but instead wants projected enrollment figures to help officials plan for the future. The district expects to hold community input meetings in December.

A Penn State researcher is measuring how much plastic is in PA rivers
(26:47 — 33:54)

Pictures of sea turtles with noses impaled by straws have served as a battle cry to clean plastic out of the oceans, but new research pays closer attention to plastic found closer to home.

Penn State chemistry professor Sherri Mason and her students have collected trash from a site along Mill Creek in Erie several times a week to take back to a lab for data analysis. The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant reports that the majority of plastic waste in the rivers are styrofoam containers and plastic bottles. Mason hopes the data she’s collecting can help inform regional public policy surrounding bans on plastic bags and single-use plastics. 

Election 2019: What to expect at the polls today
(34:00 — 38:42) 

Voters are taking to the polls today to cast their votes on several local issues and races.

As of late morning, county officials had reported a handful of concerns at area polling places, none of which were out of the ordinary. Turnout is expected to be light in the off-year contests, though the ballot is unusually full. 90.5 WESA’s Chris Potter breaks down what to look for and read up on ahead of casting a vote. 

Polls remain open until 8 p.m.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
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