Category Archives: climate

A New, Massive Plastics Plant in Southwest Pennsylvania Barely Registers Among Voters

Environmentalists in Beaver County alarmed by harmful emissions from the plant once it opens say they are discouraged by most voters’ inattention, but not deterred.

By Emma Ricketts

Inside Climate News
November 5, 2022

Photo: Shell’s new petrochemical plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Emma Ricketts

Environmentalists Fear a Massive New Plastics Plant Near Pittsburgh Will Worsen Pollution and Stimulate Fracking


Oct. 27, 2017 – A New Shell Plant in Pennsylvania Will Soon Become the State’s Second Largest Emitter of Volatile Organic Chemicals


ALIQUIPPA, Pa.—From the tranquility of her garden in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, Terrie Baumgardner worries that her grandchildren will grow up without access to clean air, clean water and a safe space to play outdoors.

For decades, Beaver County’s economy has been dependent on polluting industries—first steel, and more recently natural gas drilling. Many longtime residents, who remember the prosperity brought by the steel industry, have welcomed the construction of a massive new Shell petrochemical plant and the politicians that support it.

Baumgardner and other environmental activists are discouraged that local residents and politicians favor the continuation of fracking and the new mega plastics plant it has spawned, but they are not giving up their fight.

“People say that’s what we do in Beaver County—we trade our health for jobs,” Baumgardner said. “But it’s unfortunate, because it doesn’t have to be that way now.”

A reluctant activist, Baumgardner first became involved in environmental issues in 2011, when she learned about the dangers posed by fracking. Concern for the environment and health of local residents led her to canvas for signatures in 2016 as Shell moved toward building the plastics plant.

Spanning nearly 800 acres along the Ohio River, the plant is expected to open later this year. The facility will convert fracked gas into 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene per year.

Polyethylene, made from ethane, a form of natural gas, is the key building block in numerous common plastic products—from food wrapping and trash bags to crates and bottles.


Despite assurances from Shell that the facility will be safe for the surrounding community, environmental activists have warned that the plant will cause air and water pollution, and a protracted dependence on fracking.

Under Shell’s permit, the plant can release up to 159 tons of fine particulate matter and 522 tons of volatile organic compounds per year. Exposure to these emissions has been linked to issues in the brain, liver, kidney, heart and lungs. They have also been associated with miscarriages, birth defects and cancer.

“They’re going to unload all of these toxic chemicals, hazardous air pollutants, volatile organic compounds and millions of tons of CO2 gas. What’s going to happen?” asked Bob Schmetzer, a local councilman from nearby South Heights and a long-time spokesperson for Beaver County’s Marcellus Awareness Committee. He has opposed the plant since it was first proposed 10 years ago.

Jack Manning, a Beaver County Commissioner, does not share these concerns. “I have great faith in the technology and in the competency of those that will be running the facility,” he said. “It’s a state-of-the-art, world-class facility.”

Manning blamed people’s apprehension on unfair comparisons between the environmental impacts of the plant and those of the steel mills that used to occupy the area. “Those heavy particulates are a different type of pollution,” he said.

Shell has assured residents of the safety of its plant. “At Shell, safety is our top priority in all we do and that includes being a good neighbor by communicating about plant activities that could cause concern if not expected,” Virginia Sanchez, a Shell spokesperson, said in a statement. “When we are in steady operations, it is our goal to have little to no negative impact on our neighbors as a result of our activities.”

For activists, these assurances do little to allay concerns. On a grassy hillside overlooking the massive complex, Schmetzer spoke with his friend and fellow activist, Carl Davidson. While the plant is not yet operational, the grinding sounds of industrial machinery and screeches of train cars disturbed the clear fall day.

Photo: Bob Schmetzer and Carl Davidson, standing above the petrochemical plant. Credit: Emma Ricketts


Davidson, a self-professed “solar, wind and thermal guy,” wore a Bernie cap and alluded to his youth as a student leader of the New Left movement in the 1960s. While he estimates that around one-third of residents were concerned about the plant’s potential impacts from the beginning, he expects this number to grow once it opens. “People are starting to see two things,” he said. “Number one, there is all kinds of pollution that they didn’t know about. And second, all the jobs that were promised aren’t real.”

The plant sparked hope for a revival of economic prosperity in the area. However, now that construction is largely complete and thousands of workers have finished working on the site, the plant is expected to only employ about 600 people going forward, according to Shell.

While opponents wait anxiously for the plant to begin operations, they don’t think it will influence next week’s elections. The Shell plant has been a non-issue in the tight race for the 17th Congressional District in Beaver County between Democrat Chris Delluzio and Republican Jeremy Shaffer, both of whom support continued fracking.

In the state’s closely watched U.S. Senate race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz, both of whom support fracking, the environment has barely come up in a nasty campaign focused on abortion rights.

Similarly, fracking and the environment have hardly been mentioned in the governor’s race between Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, and Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Trump supporter and election denier.

Beaver County, while only counting for 1.3 percent of the votes cast in any given election in Pennsylvania, is a bellwether, according to Professor Lara Putman of the University of Pittsburgh. “It is socio-demographically similar to counties that, collectively, make up about one-quarter of Pennsylvania’s population. So in that sense, when Beaver shifts other places are usually shifting as well,” she said.

Baumgardner called the political candidates’ silence “disheartening.”

“I wish they would have the courage to speak up, to take a position and stick with it,” she said.

However, she understands the political risks associated with taking an environmental stand in a community that believes its economic fortunes are tied directly to pollution. She just wishes this wasn’t still the case. “We have alternatives,” she said. “We just need our political leaders to embrace them and get serious about renewables and removing the subsidies on fossil fuels.”


According to Davidson, the key to awakening the public is to ensure that alternatives are tangible. Good ideas aren’t enough to make people give up the job opportunities they have, he said. Clean energy projects are great in theory, but until workers can see a real job with similar wages, many will continue to support the status quo.

Progress might be slow, but Baumgardner, Davidson and Schmetzer remain hopeful that the realities of the plant will sway public opinion once residents’ senses are assaulted with the acrid smells and cacophony of relentless sound they expect the new plastics plant will emit. They each stand ready to educate people on its health and environmental impacts, as soon they are ready to listen. They may be discouraged, but are not deterred.

“Nothing is going to shut me down as long as my grandkids are here,” Baumgardner said.


Emma Ricketts is a graduate student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She focuses on politics, policy and foreign affairs reporting, with a particular interest in climate change and environmental issues. Previously, Emma practiced as a lawyer in a New Zealand-based commercial litigation team where she focused on climate-related risk.

Stop Catastrophic Climate Change in Congress

By Randy Shannon

August 1, 2021

The US Congress is an important battleground in the campaign to slow, stop, and reverse global warming induced catastrophic climate change. The dumping of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is overwhelming planet Earth.

The financial weight of the coal, oil, and gas industries and their Wall Street owners floods Capitol Hill with their thousands of lobbyists. They write legislation then lobby and threaten Congress to pass dozens of laws that transfer public funds to their industry. These funds are transferred in numerous ways – tax credits, depletion allowances, interest rebates, research funds, loan guarantees, amortization, foreign tax credits, oil spill deductions, income tax exemptions, credits for coal washing.

The carbon polluting industry’s control of Congress guarantees that taxpayers, and actually all citizens, directly subsidize global warming. And we are increasingly victimized by the effects of catastrophic climate change – increased hurricanes, floods, fires; rising ocean levels; melting arctic ice with consequent growing release of methane hydrates that accelerate global warming.

On July 28 Rep. Michael Doyle PA-18 introduced HR4758, co-sponsored by Rep. Conor Lamb PA-17, Mike Kelly PA-16, and Bill Huizenga MI-2. This bill “amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend and modify the section 45 credit for refined coal from steel industry fuel, and for other purposes.” This bill has not been printed yet, so the details are not yet available. (https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/117/hr4758)

Continue reading Stop Catastrophic Climate Change in Congress

Report: Pennsylvania Stands To Gain 243,000 Jobs A Year From Clean Energy Investment

Workers install solar panels on the roof of Global Links, a medical relief nonprofit, in Green Tree, Pa., on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. JARED MURPHY / 90.5 WESA

By AN-LI HERRING
WESA-FM

Jan 28, 2021 – Although President Joe Biden’s actions on climate change have stirred anxieties about job loss in energy-producing states like Pennsylvania, a new report predicts that plans like Biden’s could create roughly a quarter-million jobs annually in the Commonwealth. And within hours after the report’s release, local officials announced a small but symbolic down payment on green energy investment.

The 243,000 clean-energy jobs that could be created each year over the next decade in Pennsylvania “are jobs across the board,” said Robert Pollin, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and one of the study’s authors.

“We’re looking at jobs for carpenters, machinists, environmental scientists, secretaries, accountants, truck drivers, roofers, agricultural labor,” Pollin said, referring to positions that would be required to achieve higher energy efficiency standards, develop new products and infrastructure, and restore land that’s been used for mining and drilling.

UMass Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute released the report Thursday, a day after Biden signed a round of executive orders that aim to supercharge the country’s efforts to curb carbon emissions.

Co-authored by Pollin, the report quantifies the potential impact on Pennsylvania jobs of a clean energy strategy developed by ReImagine Appalachia, a coalition of progressive policy and environmental groups. The coalition seeks to facilitate a “just transition” to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, whose economies have traditionally depended on extraction-based fossil fuel industries. ReImagine Appalachia’s blueprint strives to ensure those states can generate well-paying jobs during a decades-long shift to carbon-free energy.

With adequate funding over the next 10 years, the plan would fuel the creation of an average of 162,000 jobs annually in clean energy and 81,000 positions a year in public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration, and agriculture, according to Thursday’s study.

The study estimates that an average annual investment of $31 billion would be needed from both the public and private sectors. During the presidential campaign, Biden pledged to invest $2 trillion in such efforts, with the goal of eliminating carbon pollution from the power sector by 2035 and from the entire U.S. economy by 2050.

“The level of funding necessary [is] a lot. But it’s 3 percent of [the] GDP of the state … So it’s affordable,” Pollin said. And he noted that the employment gains his report predicts would amount to about 4 percent of the state’s workforce.

“So if you’re looking at an economy which has a 7 percent unemployment rate [similar to Pennsylvania], these programs lower the unemployment rate to 3 percent – that’s how dramatic it would be,” Pollin said.

Powering up

Allegheny County took a modest step toward that goal on Thursday, when County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that, starting as early as mid-2023, all county-owned facilities will draw energy from a low-impact hydropower plant located on the Ohio River.

Fitzgerald called the move a “long-term investment in how we light and power our facilities using our natural resources without using fossil fuels.” He said it comes during a “landmark week,” during which the county met federal air quality standards for the first time ever.

Continue reading Report: Pennsylvania Stands To Gain 243,000 Jobs A Year From Clean Energy Investment

In ‘Marshall Plan’ For Region, Pittsburgh’s Mayor Peduto Hopes Biden Can Pull Spending Plan From Dysfunctional Washington

By Daniel Moore
PostGazette Washington Bureau

DEC 8, 2020 – WASHINGTON — The architects of a newly unveiled 10year, $600 billion climate plan to revitalize Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley region are moving forward with a difficult task of building political willpower in Washington while gaining the trust of rural communities tied to the coal and natural gas industries, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told a group of sustainable development advocates Tuesday.

That coalitionbuilding — a communications strategy to be forged over the next six weeks among academic institutions in Pittsburgh and seven other cities — is a critical step toward executing the plan Mr. Peduto described as both idealistic and grounded in reality.

It is also necessary as a divided Congress gears up for a fight next year over PresidentElect Joe Biden’s proposal to pull the country out of an economic downturn while investing in clean energy development. Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans for a COVID19 relief bill have dragged for months, raising the question of whether Mr. Biden’s plan could garner enough support.

“We have been in touch during the [plan’s] research phase with the Biden campaign and their ‘Build Back Better’ authors,” Mr. Peduto said, referring to PresidentElect Joe Biden’s jobs and economic recovery plan.

Peduto joins mayors from W.Va., Ohio, Ky. to call for public/private support in climate-friendly industrial growth

Since Mr. Biden won the White House last month, Mr. Peduto and other local officials “have had contact with the transition team,” he said, “working to see what we can try to be able to get on the radar in Washington during the first 100 days of a new administration, while simultaneously working with grassroots organizations.”

Continue reading In ‘Marshall Plan’ For Region, Pittsburgh’s Mayor Peduto Hopes Biden Can Pull Spending Plan From Dysfunctional Washington

Book review: ‘THE MINISTRY for THE FUTURE’

It’s unwise to ignore Mother Nature, and not to find ways to live in harmony with her, and all other beings as well

By Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbit ($28)

Reviewed by Tom Cox

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Make no mistake, Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel, “The Ministry of the Future,” is a good old-fashioned monster story. As with most monster stories, there is an inciting incident witnessed by a few wide-eyed and hysterical nobodies, but their cries are deemed “unreliable.” Who knows what they saw? It only affected those people. And besides, what do they expect us to do, empty the beaches on a holiday weekend just because somebody thinks they saw a shark?

In many of these tales, the monster is a metaphor for something else, such as “Babadook” (grief), “Rosemary’s Baby” (motherhood), “Get Out” (racism), and “Frankenstein” (humanity). But some of the scariest monster stories give us nightmares about the normal things we see in life. Not vampires, werewolves, blobs or radioactive lizards but crazed fans, preppie New York investment bankers or creepy hotel clerks. In “The Ministry of the Future,” Mr. Robinson aims his flashlight into the black waters to reveal just such a monster: climate change. Yeah, we’re going to need a bigger boat.

True to good monster lore, our story begins with an attack: a record-setting Indian heat wave knocks out power and roasts 20 million of the planet’s most vulnerable in two weeks’ time. Enter Mary Murphy, head of the Ministry of the Future, a rather toothless U.N. watchdog agency based in Zurich and created by an international treaty. Nevertheless, Murphy is serious about making a difference in the world and about her agency’s stated mission: “to advocate for the world’s future generations and to protect all living creatures, present and future.” Despite the Indian tragedy, her attempts to enact real and drastic reduction in carbon emissions is resisted. National sovereignties are cited. Fingers of blame are pointed at the long-term carbon culprits, who in turn accuse the most recent contributors. Financial institutions entrench behind privilege and market share. The monster is not our problem.

When the rebuffed Murphy is confronted and briefly held captive in her own home by an addled survivor of the Indian carnage, she recognizes in his frantic demands not a criminal element but perhaps humanity itself (her own humanity?) crying out for drastic steps to be taken — acts of eco-terrorism and even the assassination of select carbon perpetrators. After the man is captured and her safety assured, Murphy finds it hard to dismiss his humble sacrifice and haunted eyes. Does confronting a monster like climate change call for more drastic steps? If black ops are used to fight terrorism, why not this? Maybe it’s time to get our hands dirty. She soon discovers, however, that her darkest notions of such an unauthorized, covert and lethal outfit already exists.

Whereas Mr. Robinson’s earlier novels on climate change, “New York 2140” and “2312,” are set far in the future and deal with the long-term aftermath of the destruction it caused, “The Ministry of the Future” dares to set events within our lifetimes, or at least within the lifetimes of our children. Thirty years from now, the devastation is just beginning. Things can still be done to stop the monster, but only if drastic and expensive steps are immediately undertaken and only if the whole world takes it seriously. If you have met the world, however, you know that this probably isn’t going to go well.

Mr. Robinson’s intrigue and geopolitical drama are well supported by his meticulous research into every sort of environmental theory, proposed solution and geo-engineering possibility, which he deftly incorporates into his work. If you’ve been looking for an environmental monster story in which the heroes are scientists who aren’t above taking off their gloves and getting their hands dirty, this might just be the campfire story for you.

Tom Cox is a writer living in Penn Hills.

Pennsylvania Is Ready For A Just, Clean-Energy Future

By Colleen Kennedy
OurFuture.org

Oct 7, 2019 – Pennsylvania is ready for a just, clean-energy future. Ever since 1859, when Edwin Drake ushered in the modern era’s addiction to fossil fuels when he struck “rock oil” in Titusville, our state has been at the front lines of the extraction industry’s booms and busts. We are way past ready for a Just Transition to renewable sources of energy and a sustainable future for us all.

For a century and a half, we’ve watched corporations pull poisons from the ground, then leave the health and safety of our communities in ruins as they move on with all the riches. From poisoned rural waterways to the nearly catastrophic explosion at a South Philadelphia oil refinery earlier this year, no part of the state has been left unscathed. But even after a century and a half, the extraction industry still thinks the people of Pennsylvania can be fooled by its false narrative. We won’t.

Rose Tennent, a longtime conservative pundit and surrogate for the Trump campaign, now leads this unholy choir in Pennsylvania. She recently penned an op-ed decrying Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to ban fracking entirely under her presidency.

Presumptuously claiming to speak for all Pennsylvanians, Tennent argues Warren’s proposal will kill the “desirable” jobs that have accumulated in the state as a result of the fracking industry, which she irresponsibly calls “responsible.”

Let’s talk jobs first – because the statistical data Tennent relies on is grossly inaccurate. She overstates the positive impact the fracking industry has had on communities.

Speaker Mike Turzai, Tennent’s extraction-loving wing man in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, doesn’t even bother to remove industry emblems from the handouts he uses to promote fracking. Like Tennent, he touts the number of jobs he says fracking has created in the state. But we need to look beyond this headline to get to the truth. Continue reading Pennsylvania Is Ready For A Just, Clean-Energy Future

Climate Change In Pittsburgh: Locals Aired Concerns on Pollution, Industry and Legislation at Town Hall

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, who led Wednesday’s event, called out President Donald Trump for framing climate change as a ‘hoax.’

By Varshini Chellapilla
PublicSource,org

August 15, 2019 – Pittsburgh isn’t a coastal city, in the hurricane belt or among the areas with the worst heat, but there was no shortage of local concerns to discuss at Wednesday’s town hall on climate change. About 200 people showed up to the event organized by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, and the conversation ranged from the cracker plant in Beaver County and regional air pollution to the Green New Deal and the Trump administration attempting to roll back Obama-era carbon restrictions.

“I want to provide you with information on how we can go about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and curbing climate change before it’s too late and, particularly, how can we make a change while we have a president who thinks climate change is a hoax and an EPA which is trying to protect polluters instead of people,” said Doyle (D-Forest Hills) while stressing the urgency to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 as advised by the United Nations.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in the fall calling for a cut of 40% to 50% of emissions by 2030 to limit global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Even if that goal is met, there are still expected to be consequences, like worsening storms, heat waves and forest fires.

Climate change “is really inextricably tied to every other system and problem we see,” said Anaïs Peterson, an urban studies student at the University of Pittsburgh, at the event held in the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum.

However, like several other attendees, Peterson was not satisfied with the format of the event, which included two expert panels, followed by a question-and-answer session with the public. Doyle gave an introductory speech, briefed attendees on action in Congress and answered questions.

“I feel like it’s so rare to actually have this face-to-face time with people from Washington,” Peterson said. “I would have liked to have him be more present and have more of a voice throughout the conversation.”

One of the biggest concerns raised by some attendees was Doyle’s stance on the Green New Deal. Introduced in February by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), the Green New Deal calls for swift action to solve the climate crisis and curtail carbon emissions. The Green New Deal is a proposed overhaul to the U.S. economy that includes ending the use of fossil fuels and shifting transportation systems to use only renewable energy, among other proposals. Doyle is not a co-sponsor of Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution.

“The Green New Deal got a lot of attention when it was introduced in February, but I believe it kicked off an important conversation and has built momentum to address climate change that is affecting our planet,” Doyle said. “I agree with supporters of the Green New Deal’s goals of getting the U.S. economy to net-zero carbon emissions quickly. I share many of its long-term goals as well, and I believe that the components of the Green New Deal will be a part of any comprehensive climate bill that comes out of the House of Representatives.”

Gerald Dickinson, who is challenging Doyle for his seat, criticized Doyle’s stance.

“It is very low key,” Dickinson said after the event. “It’s too incremental and not enough urgency and not enough desire and energy to actually make a difference.” Continue reading Climate Change In Pittsburgh: Locals Aired Concerns on Pollution, Industry and Legislation at Town Hall