Category Archives: Environment

THE GREEN NEW DEAL: LET’S GET VISIONARY

Lately there’s been a lot of bad news about climate change and the future of humanity.

Last October, the United Nations issued a major report warning of a climate crisis as soon as 2040. The day after Thanksgiving, the Trump administration tried to bury the release of its own report on the dire effects of climate change already occurring in the United States, which included dark predictions for the future.

In December alone, we learned that 2018’s global carbon emissions set a record high. NASA detected new glacier melts in Antarctica. There were wildfires. Coral reef bleaching. Ecosystem upheaval in Alaska as the arctic ice melts.

Meanwhile the Trump administration sent an adviser to the UN climate summit to promote coal and warn against climate “alarmism.”

So this all sucks. But here’s the thing about climate change: You can either ignore it, get depressed about doomsday scenarios, or believe that no matter how badly we’ve screwed up as a species, we’re also smart and creative enough to fix this.

If the alternatives are ignorance and despair, I’ll choose hope. Every single time.

So where can we focus our hope? What can we actually do about climate change?

I’m excited about the Green New Deal, an idea that’s been kicking around since 2007 but was popularized this fall by Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and the youth-led Sunrise Movement. At least 37 members of Congress have signed on, along with dozens of activist organizations.

Not only a plan to shake up environmental policies, it’s also a massive jobs program, named after the Depression-era New Deal. The basic idea is to get us to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, by putting Americans to work building a new energy infrastructure.

It merges the immediate concerns of working Americans — jobs and the economy — with the long-term concerns of climate change. We don’t have to choose between economic sustainability and environmental sustainability.

“This is going to be the Great Society, the moonshot, the civil rights movement of our generation. That is the scale of the ambition that this movement is going to require,” said Ocasio-Cortez during a town hall meeting with Bernie Sanders.

The ambitious plan touches on a “smart” grid; energy-efficient buildings; sustainable agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and infrastructure; and exporting green technology to make the U.S. “the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies.” Think of the scale of this program, and then think of all the jobs that would be created. This could be huge for rural America in particular.

Will the Green New Deal be expensive? Probably. But that doesn’t mean it will be a drag on our economy.

A recent study by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate revealed that we could save $26 trillion, worldwide, if we shifted to sustainable development. Another new study shows wind and solar power to be the cheapest sources for electricity around the world. Last year, the Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas switched his city to 100 percent renewable energy because of the low costs in the long-term.

On the other hand, at the UN climate summit in Poland, some of the world’s most powerful investors warned of a major financial crash if we don’t solve the climate crisis.

Is the Green New Deal too ambitious? No. We need ambition. The impending climate crisis is the biggest problem the human race has ever faced, and we can’t think small.

So let’s get visionary. Let’s dream big. Let’s fight for our children, and let’s invest in their future.

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Industry Officials, Protesters Confront Appalachia’s Future as a Possible Petrochemical Hub

Protestors outside the Marcellus and Manufacturing Development Conference in Morgantown, West Virginia on April 9, 2019. (Photo by Kat Procyk/PublicSource)

By Oliver Morrison

PublicSource.org

April 10, 2019 – Attendees at an industry conference in West Virginia on Tuesday cheered projections for increased petrochemical production in the next 40 years, while protesters outside held up withered single-use plastic bags to show the environmental harm of petroleum products.

Both groups, however, shared a common view that the economic hype and resulting environmental impact predicted for the region may not pan out. It’s how they feel about the prospect that diverges.

The Ohio River Valley region is projected to be on the brink of a petrochemical boom adding to its already booming natural gas industry: Production of ethane, which is used to make plastics, is expected to quadruple by 2025, according to a presentation by Brian Anderson, the director of the National Energy Technology Center at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Several top industry executives and analysts at the Marcellus and Manufacturing Development Conference in Morgantown spoke about the rare opportunity to create 100,000 jobs, an industry estimate, and bring billions of dollars in economic growth to the region, which includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

“This is the chance of a lifetime to create a generational change for the region,” said Michael Graney, executive director of the West Virginia Development Office.

But the mood at the conference was not always celebratory. Several speakers focused on the urgent need to continue to sell the Appalachian region’s potential to the rest of the world. Continue reading Industry Officials, Protesters Confront Appalachia’s Future as a Possible Petrochemical Hub

Opposition Growing Against Natural Gas Pipeline To Supply Beaver County Cracker Plant

Dec 3, 2018 – BEAVER, PA. (KDKA) — Some pipelines in the region have ruptured, causing massive explosions. Others under construction, like the Mariner East pipeline, have been slapped with hundreds of violations for spills.

Now, opposition is growing for another pipeline to supply the cracker plant in Beaver County.

With the sprawling $6 billion plant under construction on the banks of the Ohio River, Shell Oil promises to bring thousands of jobs and economic vitality back to the county.

The mammoth plant also, however, brings safety and environmental concerns, including the proposed pipeline that will bring it natural gas.

“There’s never been a pipeline that never leaked. That’s a fact. Every pipeline leaks sooner or later, and some of them, as we just saw in Center Township, they explode,” Bob Schmetzer, of Aliquppa, said.

New natural gas pipelines are criss-crossing the state, and the Energy Transfer Company gas line exploded less than a week into its operation. The fact that the explosion was caused by shifting ground doesn’t inspire confidence in homeowners like Rachel Meyer.

“We certainly know that this past year with the rains, we’ve seen a lot of landslides, and it looks like that was the reason that that happened. So, you know, it’s scary that there wasn’t more preparation and understanding that that could have been something that would happen,” Meyer said.

The cracker plant will need a continual supply of ethane gas to crack or transform into plastics. Shell is proposing the two-legged, 97-mile Falcon Pipeline to bring the gas from Washington County, Ohio and West Virginia.

But it will need to cross streams and wetlands like the Beaver County Conservation District and the headwaters and water line of the Ambridge reservoir that supplies more than 6 million gallons of water per day to people in Allegheny and Beaver counties.

Residents like Bob Schmetzer worry about pollution and spills contaminating the water supply.

“This needs another route. Stay out of the watershed. Take it around. Do what you have to do, but don’t come through here and jeopardize 100,000 people and a whole economy,” he said.

For its part, Shell says it has spent two years working with landowners and engineers to put establish pipeline route, taking into account environmental concerns and planning safeguards for streams and water sources.

In a statement, the company said: “Shell executed numerous environmental studies and intends to take other steps to avoid or minimize any potential environmental impacts that could arise as a result of construction and operation of the Falcon Pipeline. Protecting the environment and ensuring the safety of communities where we operate is Shell’s top priority.”

Still, the Ambridge Water Authority opposes the route and the state Department of Environmental Protection has sent the oil giant a “technical deficiency letter” withholding construction permits at this time.

The cracker plant is already employing thousands of construction workers and promises to be an economic boon to Beaver County, but folks in the region say that should not come at the expense of the environment or their safety.

Continue reading Opposition Growing Against Natural Gas Pipeline To Supply Beaver County Cracker Plant

Green Jobs and the Ohio: A Bold New Vision for Restoring America’s Most Polluted River

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The Ohio is the archetype of a “working river.” Its near-thousand-mile course connects cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Louisville and is lined with industrial facilities and power plants. In this February 2016 photo, a coal barge pushes past the industrial town of Marietta, Ohio. Photo: Mike Tewkesbury via Flickr

By Kara Holsopple

AlleghenyFront.org

October 21, 2016 – In many ways, the Ohio River is an unsung resource for the region it serves. The Ohio’s near-thousand-mile course flows through Pennsylvania and five other states before emptying into the Mississippi. It’s a source of drinking water for more than five million people. But its long legacy as a “working river” has also made it the most polluted in the country. Today, many cities and towns along the Ohio are rethinking their relationship to the river—and weighing how a large-scale restoration effort could be critical to the region’s future. But just how do we get there? As part of our Headwaters series, we talked with the National Wildlife Federation’s Collin O’Mara, who’s hoping to ignite a new way of thinking about one of the region’s most vital natural resources. (Photo: Shannon Tompkins via Flickr)

The Allegheny Front: So tell us why the National Wildlife Federation is turning its attention to the Ohio River.

Collin O’Mara: One of the things that we’re seeing is that there have been amazing investments made in the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. But these investments tend to be in places that are seen as destinations: Folks plan vacations or retire or have second homes in some of these places. But we’re not seeing the same level of investments in what I would consider the “working waterways”—places like the Allegheny River leading into the Ohio River Valley, or places like the Delaware River. But 25 million people live in the Ohio River Valley Basin—that’s almost a tenth of the country. And yet we’ve seen virtually no investment of federal resources in trying to clean up the legacy pollution. The Ohio is still the most polluted waterway in the entire country. Over the last 50 years, between the Clean Water Act and reducing the direct discharge of pollutants into the water, there has been some progress. But folks don’t plan fishing vacations around going to the Allegheny, even though cities are seeing investments in their riverfronts as a way to revitalize their downtowns. So the next thing is having that investment not stop at the river’s edge—literally. We can have the water itself become a place you can swim, fish, recreate and enjoy the benefits that come from that.

AF: There have been some efforts to cooperate around water in this region, but they have largely stalled. So what can be done to move that effort forward?

CO: We’ve been working with some of the mayors and different advocacy groups in the region, trying to just begin talking about the Ohio River as a system and [develop] a vision for the entire watershed. There’s been some good work in places like the Beaver River; there are a bunch of groups in Kentucky working on the Green or the Cumberland. So we’re trying to unite those voices under a common vision. This has been done in places like the Chesapeake or the Great Lakes. So it’s really about trying to have a vision so folks are as excited about restoring these iconic waterways that, in many ways, help build our country.

AF: Well, it seems like the most exciting thing happening on the Ohio recently is the ethane cracker facility that Shell is planning to build near Pittsburgh. People are excited about the jobs and the economic development around that. How do you strike a balance between restoration and economic development?

CO: So often, in places that are working waterways, we basically treat these water bodies as simply a support for larger industrial facilities. And you see it with crackers or refineries, and you have many of those across the entire basin. Those jobs are important, but we don’t value the economic loss when you degrade these waterways. Right now across America, the outdoor economy is about a $646 billion economy. It employs more than six million people. And that puts it on par with many of the largest industries in the country. A lot of those jobs are water-dependent jobs related to fishing or swimming or outdoor activities. So one of the cases we’re trying to make is that it doesn’t have to be “either/or.” The technologies exist now that we can actually have some industrial facilities and still not have to contaminate the waterway. The old dichotomy of having to choose between the economy or the environment really isn’t true, and there are places in the country that are making those choices that they want both. What we’re trying to figure out is how do we work with leaders across the region to prioritize this. The cities are already making investments. In Pittsburgh, for instance, there’s obviously a focus on the fact that the water is what separates Pittsburgh from other cities in the region. So the question is, how do you take the next step?

AF: So do you imagine a scenario where Pittsburgh is more like the Chesapeake Bay—where it’s more of a recreational hub and that becomes a viable alternative to more industry?

CO: I absolutely do. Obviously, you have PCBs and dioxins and other things we have to get out of the water column that are legacy pollution. It’s not cheap, but it can be done. But there are amazing opportunities. (Continued)

Continue reading Green Jobs and the Ohio: A Bold New Vision for Restoring America’s Most Polluted River

Hard-Pressed Rust Belt Cities Go Green to Aid Urban Revival

A community farm in Detroit, which has been a leader in green urban renewal.

Gary, Indiana is joining Detroit and other fading U.S. industrial centers in an effort to turn abandoned neighborhoods and factory sites into gardens, parks, and forests. In addition to the environmental benefits, these greening initiatives may help catalyze an economic recovery.

By Winifred Bird

Beaver County Blue via Environment 360 Yale.edu

May 31, 2016 – Depending on how you look at it, Gary, Indiana is facing either the greatest crisis in its 110-year history, or the greatest opportunity. The once-prosperous center of steel production has lost more than half its residents in the past 50 years. Just blocks from city hall, streets are so full of crumbling, burned-out houses and lush weeds that they more closely resemble the nuclear ghost town of Pripyat, near Chernobyl, than Chicago’s glitzy downtown an hour to the northwest. Air, water, and soil pollution are severe.

Yet in the midst of this, Gary has quantities of open space that more prosperous cities can only dream of, and sits on a stretch of lakeshore where plant biodiversity rivals Yellowstone National Park. Now, the big question for Gary, and for dozens of other shrinking cities across the United States’ Rust Belt — which collectively have lost more than a third of their population since the middle of the 20th century — is how to turn this situation to their advantage.

The answer that is beginning to emerge in Gary and other cities of the Rust Belt — which stretches across the upper Northeast through to the Great Lakes and industrial Midwest — is urban greening on a large scale. The idea is to turn scrubby, trash-strewn vacant lots into vegetable gardens, tree farms, stormwater management parks, and pocket prairies that make neighborhoods both more livable and more sustainable.

These types of initiatives have been evolving at the grassroots level for decades in places like Detroit and Buffalo; now, they are starting to attract significant funding from private investors, non-profits, and government agencies, says Eve Pytel, who is director of strategic priorities at the Delta Institute, a Chicago environmental organization active in Gary and several other Rust Belt cities. “There’s a tremendous interest because some of these things are lower cost than traditional development, but at the same time their implementation will actually make the other land more developable," she said.

Or, as Joseph van Dyk, Gary’s director of planning and redevelopment, put it, “If you lived next to a vacant house and now all of a sudden you live next to a forest, you’re in better shape.”

Van Dyk noted that city planning in the U.S. had long been predicated on growth. But, he added, “That’s been turned on its head since the Seventies — Detroit, Cleveland, Youngstown, Flint, Gary have this relatively new problem of, how do you adjust for disinvestment? How do you reallocate your resources and re-plan your cities?”

Detroit, which has at least 20 square miles of abandoned land, has been a leader in envisioning alternative uses for sites that once would have been targeted for conventional redevelopment. The city has 1,400 or more urban farms and community gardens, a tree-planting plan so ambitious the local press says it “could serve as a model for postindustrial cities worldwide,” and $8.9 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement green infrastructure projects and install solar panels on other vacant lots.

But while demolition itself has added an estimated

$209 million to the equity of remaining homes in Detroit, Danielle Lewinski, vice president and director of Michigan Initiatives for the Flint-based Center for Community Progress, said hard data on the value of greening projects is more difficult to come by.

“There’s opportunity in Detroit to see an impact in surrounding property values, and therefore people’s interest in that area,” said Lewinski, who has been involved in land-use planning there. “The key, though, is that it needs to be done in a way that is strategic and links to other attributes that would attract a person to move into a neighborhood. My concern is that green reuse, absent a connection to a broader vision, may not be nearly as successful from an economic value standpoint.”

In Gary, the broader vision is to concentrate economic development in a number of “nodes,” each of which would be surrounded by leafy corridors of “re-greened” land. The corridors would separate the nodes, helping to give each neighborhood a more distinct identity, as well as bring residents the benefits of open space and serve as pathways for wildlife moving between existing natural areas. A land-use

plan for preserving Gary’s core green space is already in place, and officials are currently revising the city’s Byzantine zoning regulations to make redevelopment of the nodes easier. Continue reading Hard-Pressed Rust Belt Cities Go Green to Aid Urban Revival

Everything Goes Somewhere: Yet Another Argument for Green Energy

State records miss half the waste pumped into injection wells

By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG, April 16, 2015 — State environmental officials didn’t account for half the waste pumped into injection disposal wells last year, a comparison with federal data shows.

The state’s injection wells took 330,000 barrels of waste left over after natural gas drilling last year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about six truckloads a day.

The state Department of Environmental Protection only accounted for 167,500 barrels, according to its records.

That means about three truckloads of waste per day are unaccounted for in the state’s tracking system.

The discrepancy “begs the question of whether Pennsylvania should let the industry expand,” said Nadia Steinzor, eastern program coordinator for Earthworks Action, an environmental watchdog.

Pressure is mounting for more disposal wells to serve the burgeoning gas drilling industry.

Steinzor’s group released a report earlier this month that criticized efforts of Pennsylvania and three other states — Ohio, West Virginia and New York — in managing waste generated by the industry.

Injection wells are a conventional way of disposing of liquid waste from fracking, the process in which drillers use pressurized water and chemicals to release underground reservoirs of gas.

Controversy stems from studies that have blamed injection wells for earthquakes. Neighbors of proposed well sites also raise fears about pollution to water supplies and problems related to truck traffic.

Continue reading Everything Goes Somewhere: Yet Another Argument for Green Energy

U.S. Geological Survey: Fracking Waste Is the Primary Cause of the Dramatic Rise in Earthquakes

By Jen Hayden
Beaver County Blue via DailyKOS

Feb 23, 2015 – The U.S. Geological Survey has backed-up what scientists have been suggesting for years–that deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes:

    Large areas of the United States that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes.

    Instead, the increased seismicity is due to fluid injection associated with new technologies that enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs. These modern extraction techniques result in large quantities of wastewater produced along with the oil and gas. The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S. 

    “The science of induced earthquakes is ready for application, and a main goal of our study was to motivate more cooperation among the stakeholders — including the energy resources industry, government agencies, the earth science community, and the public at large — for the common purpose of reducing the consequences of earthquakes induced by fluid injection,” said coauthor Dr. William Ellsworth, a USGS geophysicist.

Emphasis added. In the last five years alone, Oklahoma has detected a staggering 2500 earthquakes. Scientists involved in the study are calling for a dramatic increase in transparency and cooperation:

    “In addition to determining the hazard from induced earthquakes, there are other questions that need to be answered in the course of coping with fluid-induced seismicity,” said lead author of the study, USGS geophysicist Dr. Art McGarr. “In contrast to natural earthquake hazard, over which humans have no control, the hazard from induced seismicity can be reduced. Improved seismic networks and public access to fluid injection data will allow us to detect induced earthquake problems at an early stage, when seismic events are typically very small, so as to avoid larger and potentially more damaging earthquakes later on.”