Category Archives: Environment

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

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You Asked Questions on Climate Change in Pittsburgh. We Got Answers.

A recycling container in Construction Junction’s drop-off lot in North Point Breeze. The poster shows the bottles, cans, tubs, jugs and jars that can be recycled in the City of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Teake Zuidema/PublicSource)

From what’s being done to support electric vehicles and composting to how the Green New Deal would affect Pittsburgh’s historic buildings and churches, this Q&A covers it all.

By Juliette Rihl
Public Source

Sept 18, 2019 – As part of the Covering Climate Now global reporting initiative, we asked you, our PublicSource readers, to tell us what you wanted to know about climate change in Pittsburgh. We selected six of your questions and answered them for you below.

1. Is there any chance of a plastic bag ban? How big of a difference would it make?

It’s difficult to evaluate chances for a plastic bag ban but the chances of it happening before 2021 are slim. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation that prevents municipalities from banning or taxing plastic bags until the end of 2020. In the interim, state agencies are researching the potential impact of such bans. Pittsburgh City Council unanimously opposed the legislation in a letter to Wolf on June 27.

Councilwoman Erika Strassburger said city council is looking into ways to decrease plastic bag consumption. If legislation is enacted at the city level after the end of 2020, a focus would be on equity, she said. “If there’s a [plastic bag] fee involved, we don’t want the burden to be on those who have the least ability to pay a fee,” Strassburger said.

Some local organizations and businesses are taking matters into their own hands.

Animal welfare organization HUMANE ACTION Pittsburgh, for example, started an initiative called “no plastic please” to encourage local residents and businesses to reduce their consumption of plastic. Although the initiative has broad community support, director Sabrina Culyba said getting retailers to opt in has been challenging. “A lot of businesses, their bottom line is at stake when it comes to making these switches,” she said. HUMANE ACTION Pittsburgh’s website lists participating restaurants and retailers.

Giant Eagle is currently conducting its own research on how to decrease the use of plastic bags in its stores. “Historically, Giant Eagle’s focus has been on recycling… But as an organization committed to our communities and our planet, we recognize that we have a responsibility to do more,” Dan Donovan, director of corporate communications, wrote in an email to PublicSource.

In a 2019 report by the environmental campaigning organization Green Peace on grocery store chains and plastic pollution, Giant Eagle scored poorly; it was ranked No. 16 out of 20 retailers for its overall practices regarding single-use plastics. Giant Eagle operates nearly 500 grocery and convenience stores.

While reducing plastic bags is one step toward sustainability, it’s not a fix-all solution. Sustainable Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable development in the region, is facilitating cross-sector conversations on how to tackle the problem of single-use plastics in the region. “It’s going to take more conversations to figure out what we can do here,” Executive Director Joylette Portlock said. “Because it’s not just straws, and it’s not just plastic bags.”

And, reusable bags aren’t a perfect solution. Studies show that the environmental impact of producing one reusable bag is the same as producing 131 plastic bags.

2. How much interest or investigation has there been into starting a compost waste program in the city?

The City of Pittsburgh accepts yard debris and Christmas trees at certain drop-off locations, but does not provide disposal of other forms of organic waste. Department of Public Works Director Mike Gable wrote in an email to PublicSource that the idea of a citywide compost program is being discussed, but no plans have been made yet. The City’s “Zero Waste” program aims to divert 90% of waste from landfills by 2030.

The absence of a citywide compost program isn’t due to a lack of interest. Laura Codori, founder of the local vermicompost company Worm Return, said she often gets calls from people asking if there is a compost drop-off site or pickup service. “People want to do this,” Codori said. She recently co-proposed a compost drop-off program to the Department of Innovation with Anthony Stewart of the environmental consulting firm DECO Resources.

3. If the Green New Deal or a similar proposal were to be enacted, what would that mean for Pittsburgh’s historic buildings and churches?

While the version of the Green New Deal that was struck down by the Senate in March doesn’t address historic buildings specifically, it does call for “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States.” However, buildings with historic designation are exempt from the International Building Code’s energy code at this time. They’re not subject to the same energy standards. It’s hard to say if, or how, future legislation could change that. Continue reading You Asked Questions on Climate Change in Pittsburgh. We Got Answers.

Montgmery Locks And Dams Repairs ‘Should Be Dealt With Now’

Green jobs for cleaner bulk transport

By J.D. Prose
Beaver County Times

USep 17, 2019 – POTTER TWP. — Tuesday offered beautiful weather for a tugboat ride on the Ohio River to view the Shell Chemicals’ ethane cracker plant site, but it was a distressing situation on those same waters that concerned an influential Ohio congresswoman.

After touring the Montgomery Locks and Dam at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17, Mount Lebanon, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat, expressed dismay at the crumbling condition of the 83-year-old structure.

“It’s a poster child for why Congress needs to pass an infrastructure bill and why the president needs to sign it,” said Kaptur, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and chairwoman of that committee’s subcommittee on energy and water development.

“This is really serious here,” said Kaptur, noting the cracks in the locks and damn officials pointed out to her on the walking tour. “This should be dealt with now, not five years from now, not 10 years from now. Now.”

A $1.09 million project to temporarily fix the damaged middle-lock wall began about a year ago with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimating that it had a 50 percent chance of failing in the next decade if it were not addressed.

A catastrophic failure would halt all river traffic, officials warned, and would significantly damage the regional economy. With construction on Shell’s $6 billion cracker plant now in full swing, repairing the locks and dam is even more vital, Lamb said.

“Fixing the locks and dams, especially the Montgomery Locks, is one of the most import infrastructure needs of western Pennsylvania, and it’s one that we can actually do,” Lamb said. “It’s cracked concrete, and we know how to fix that.”

Lamb and Kaptur were joined on the tour by officers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mary Ann Bucci, the executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, and Matt Smith, the president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and a former Allegheny County state senator.

The group toured the locks and dam and then climbed aboard a Campbell Transportation Co. tugboat to soak in a river view of the cracker plant before returning to shore.

Smith said keeping the Ohio River navigable for goods and products is essential to the region’s success.

“It’s billions of dollars of economic development,” he said.

Part of Lamb’s job now is convincing House colleagues in leadership roles, such as Kaptur, that the region’s locks and dams must be upgraded immediately.

In an April letter to Kaptur and her subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Lamb and four colleagues — U.S. Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14, Peters Township; Mike Doyle, D-18, Forest Hills; David McKinley, R-W. Va.; and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio — asked for the “highest possible increase” in funding for the Corps of Engineers’ account for pre-construction, engineering and design.

The bipartisan group noted that the account was funded at $125 million in the 2019 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, which is $48 million higher than the $77 million requested in the 2020 fiscal year budget.

Appropriating the highest amount would allow for the Upper Ohio Navigation Project to pursue funding. The region’s locks and dams fall under that project.

Kaptur credited Lamb with bringing photos of the Montgomery Locks’ condition to a subcommittee hearing to prove how bad the situation is there.

“A picture is worth a thousand words. We’re all very proud of America and proud of the places that we come from and when you see a cracked and degraded piece of infrastructure it makes you feel a little bit of ashamed,” Lamb said.

“That’s our responsibility as public officials … to maintain and improve that stuff so we can have a good quality of life,” he said. “I think the picture really communicates that, that we’ve let this go on for way too long and its urgent that we fix it right away.”

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.

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