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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Speak up at public hearings on oil and gas regulations

On April 4, 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a “Notice of Final Rulemaking” regarding the state’s updated oil and gas regulations (Chapter 78 and 78a). Over a year ago, the state sought public input on proposed requirements for oil and gas operations and received over 24,000 comments. Some of those comments were incorporated into the revised rule, which was released this month.

The DEP will hold three public hearings on these latest revisions. This is our last chance to weigh in on Chapter 78 and 78a of the PA code (78a, which addresses unconventional “fracked” wells, begins on page 121).

Add your voice at the upcoming hearings to submit concerns about the final rule and to show your support for strong drilling standards. We need our regulators to prioritize our health and communities – to reduce toxic air pollution, preserve our waterways and prevent the harmful fragmentation of our natural lands. 

Listed below are a few of our comments and concerns. We continue to review the proposed rule and will incorporate updates here. You are welcome to use these points to guide your testimony. Feel free to contact us at souter-kline [at] pennfuture.org, with any questions.

PennFuture Chapter 78 and 78a rulemaking comments and concerns:

  • We support the DEP’s decision to prohibit new on-site pits for storage of flowback wastewater at unconventional operations, and to require those pits that are currently in use to be closed. 
  • The revised rule makes clear that earth disturbance operations must comply with the agency’s Chapter 102 regulations, use best management practices for erosion and sedimentation control and stormwater management, and incorporate the agency’s forest buffer guidance. Further, unconventional well operators that propose to work in a high quality or exceptional value watershed must comply with the anti-degradation requirements of Chapter 102.These improvements will help to protect our most pristine waterways from degradation due to erosion and deforestation. 
  • The revised rule recognizes that schools and playgrounds are important public resources, and requires an operator proposing to locate a well within 200 feet to demonstrate what will be done to avoid or mitigate harm to that resource. PennFuture continues to have serious concerns about the impact of air pollution caused by shale gas drilling operations on our children. Young lungs are especially vulnerable to pollution and we would like to see expanded buffers around schools. 
  • PennFuture supports the proposal that any affected drinking water supplies must be restored either to Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) standards or, if pre-existing water quality was higher than SDWA standards, to the better pre-existing condition.
  • While we support including a noise mitigation plan requirement, we are concerned that the provision will not result in meaningful noise reduction or control at well sites. As outlined, the noise requirement is vaguely worded and fails to set an objective standard for evaluating problems, making it difficult, if not impossible, to assess compliance. 
Valessa Souter-Kline is western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @ValessaSK.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Northern Long-Eared bat listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act

This post was originally shared on our site dedicated to protecting Allegheny Mountain.

There is a rare bat hibernaculum adjacent to the Allegheny Tunnel, known to house the endangered Indiana bat. Now, the Northern Long-Eared bat will be another protected species in harm's way if the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission cuts an open highway gash through 1,400 acres of roosting, swarming and migratory habitat found above the tunnel. Bat populations are dwindling at an alarming rate due to white-nose syndrome and habitat degradation. Let's not make the problem worse.  

Valessa Souter-Kline is western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @ValessaSK.

Let's clean up Cheswick Power Plant and our air

Photo of Cheswick Power Plant from the author's home
On April 2, 2015, community members met in Springdale, Pa. along with PennFuture partner organizations including Sierra Club, GASP and Women for a Healthy Environment to discuss the impact that pollution from the Cheswick Power Plant has made on the local community and the county. NRG Energy, one of the largest owners of coal burning power plants in the United States, owns the Cheswick plant. In 2013, the plant was the largest major point source of air pollution in Allegheny County.

Major point source pollution makes a major impact on a community. In 2010, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Cheswick’s mortality rate was 87 percent over the national average with diseases linked to air pollution such as cardiovascular disease, COPD, and asthma. Allegheny County has some of the highest rates for asthma in the states and a growing number of cases in children

Allegheny County currently violates federal safeguards for particulate and smog standards of the Clean Air Act.The Cheswick Power Plant is a source of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide in the county. In 2013, the plant accounted for half of the nitrogen oxide pollution in the county and was the third largest contributor of fine particles. Upgrades at the plant to limit emissions have helped but Cheswick continues to rank among the highest polluters in the county.Though not a violation, the plant's sulfur output has almost tripled between 2013 and 2014, a worrisome trend. 

There are limits to the amount of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide that a power plant can emit. To meet those limits, plants can install and run pollution control technology or, in some cases, purchase credits to pollute. Currently, Cheswick’s permit allows the facility to emit unhealthy smog-forming pollution (NOx) at a rate that exceeds the capacity of the technology installed to control that pollution. Worse yet, the plant does not consistently run the pollution control technology that is installed onsite. This has contributed to the region’s ongoing elevated smog levels, which continue to violate federal safeguards. 

The Title V permit for the Cheswick Power Plant expires at the end of 2015. These permits are required under the Clean Air Act to establish pollution limits for large emission sources. Environmental groups in the region are reaching out to the Allegheny County Health Department to strengthen the polluting limits of the plant. The permit will be drafted this summer and meetings will be held to collect public input. If you'd like to get involved, email Valessa Souter-Kline (souter-kline[at]pennfuture.org) or add your name to Sierra Club's email campaign to clean up the Cheswick Power Plant.

Guest post by Courtney Mahronich, Project Coordinator for the Trail Town Program and PennFuture volunteer extraordinaire. Courtney lives near the Cheswick Power Plant.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Know your Environmental Rights

What is Pennsylvania's Environmental Rights Amendment? How did it come to be? What is the future of the environmental movement in Pennsylvania in light of the Supreme Court’s decision that invalidated sections of the state's Oil and Gas Act, saying the people have a fundamental right to clean air and water?

These and other questions will be addressed at an environmental symposium on Sunday, April 12 at the Market Square Presbyterian Church in downtown Harrisburg.

The speakers are:

Franklin Kury, former state legislator and author of the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, adopted by voters in 1971. Mr. Kury will discuss the origins of the amendment, its legislative history, and its intent.

John Dernbach, distinguished professor of law at Widener University. Mr. Dernbach will speak on the amendment's history after adoption and its treatment by the courts.

John Childe, attorney with the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation. Mr. Childe will cite the amendment in a pending suit against the commonwealth involving the leasing of public lands for natural gas development.

This event is open to the public. Free parking is available in the Market Square Garage, adjacent to the church.
Date: Sunday, April 12, 2015
Time: 3:00 pm
Location: Market Square Presbyterian Church
                 20 South 2nd Street
                 Harrisburg, PA 17101

Pennsylvania's Environmental Rights Amendment states:
 
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

In 2012, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Act 13, a law meant to further natural gas development by limiting local regulation of oil and gas operations. After significant outcry from citizens, a case was brought before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by municipal and environmental parties. After considering both sides' arguments, the Court struck down several provisions of Act 13. A plurality of justices on the Court, basing their decision on the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, reasoned that those provisions violated both the environmental rights of citizens and the Commonwealth’s obligations as a trustee of public natural resources under the Amendment.

This landmark decision has breathed new life into the Environmental Rights Amendment and marked the first time the amendment was interpreted by the courts in such a manner as to have any meaningful impact.
The event is sponsored jointly by the church, the Pennsylvania Sierra Club, and Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture).

Jennifer Quinn is central Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg. She tweets @QuinnJen1.

Don't trash Philly

This piece was originally published on PlanPhilly's Eyes on the Street Blog.

Filthadelphia. We’ve all heard the nickname before. It’s a moniker our city can shed if we enact smart policy solutions but, thus far, efforts to curb improper litter and trash disposal have hardly topped the list of pressing concerns dominating this mayoral season. While no one can say that schools and the economy should not be priority issues, a sound leader will be able to manage these agenda items alongside other issues that persist and add to the top tier problems the city faces.


It’s not just a cosmetic issue


Our ‘Filthadelphia’ status does more harm to the city than just the bad optics of our perennial top ten-ranking among America’s dirtiest cities. Sure, litter on the streets looks bad but research shows that the presence of litter encourages more litter and crime and lowers property values. The short dumping of tires – Philadelphia currently picks up more than 140,000 per year – is not only an eyesore, but tires also serve as a breeding ground for insects and rodents. The Philadelphia Water Department has to skim trash out of our rivers and filter out sediment from polluted rainwater at its treatment plants. Yes, there is a measurable cost to all the litter and trash on our streets.  


Practical solutions to a fixable problem


So, what’s the solution? The Next Great City Coalition took great interest in this topic and came up with five recommended action steps that can be taken in the first term of the next mayoral administration. The coalition looked at policy solutions with a particular focus on cost and how we will pay for them. From small to large:


1. Publicizing and circulating L&I Circular Non-Delivery Decals and creating a simple electronic reporting mechanism for violations.


2. The city should require tire stores to have on hand a manifest that shows proof of legal tire disposal. Given the sheer volume of tires that are illegally dumped, we can safely say the source is not simply individuals dumping tires in single-digit quantities, rather, businesses that have a large quantity of tires in need of disposal.


3. We believe that landlords should be required to provide adequate trash storage. The city’s litter index shows that litter rates are higher in areas with a large number of renters. Anecdotally, we found that the lack of adequate trash storage in rental properties leaves residents with nowhere to store household garbage between trash collections. Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown has taken action on this problem with the recent introduction of a bill that would require landlords to provide adequate trash and recycling receptacles for dwellings with six or more units.


4. A nominal bag fee is also critically important to reducing the number of plastic bags we see on our streets, in our trees, and in our waterways. A study of Washington D.C.’s bag tax shows that four years in, a small charge in that city has made a measurable difference


5. Investment in a citywide street cleaning program would show the city’s commitment to neighborhood quality of life. The Philadelphia Streets Department estimates that a citywide mechanical street cleaning program would require an initial capital investment of $18.5 million for the street cleaning equipment and another $3.5 million in annual salary to clean the entire city twice a week. In the long term, however, street cleaning will create savings to the city and specifically to the Water Department by catching trash, debris and pollutants before they enter our stormwater system. And: It’s worth moving your car. After a decades-long hiatus, Baltimore street sweepers removed 400 tons of litter, broken glass, vehicle fluids, bacteria and other pollutants from neighborhood streets in their first month of operation.


Hope for the future
Now that we’re in the third iteration of the Next Great City Coalition, I often hear the refrain, “Are we ever going to actually be the Next Great City?” My answer is that being great means we recognize we’re never quite finished. There’s always something that we can do better and making a dent in our litter problem is achievable, desired, and timely.
Simply put: The mayoral candidates are on board with policy solutions that will help curb litter and trash problems and they understand the big-picture impacts of litter on communities – it’s a matter of making this issue a priority. The people want it, the candidates are in favor, let's do this.

Katie Bartolotta is southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Natural gas lobbyists want to silence "public interests."

At a hearing of Pennsylvania's Oil & Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB) on March 20 to discuss proposed revisions to the state's oil and gas regulations, natural gas industry lobbyists said that "public interests" should not be among the "considerations" when weighing new drilling standards. We're not kidding -- they really said that, and it was picked up in a story by Laura Legere of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dave Conti at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review also weighed in.

These lobbyists would just as soon dismiss the over 24,000 public comments submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on the proposed rules, which will cover everything from how to handle fracking wastewater -- to keep it from leaching into our drinking water -- to surface activities at well sites including contamination of our air and land as well as noise and light pollution.

Pennsylvania's oil and gas law, Act 13, was passed in 2012. Since then, industry has been dragging out and delaying the process for common sense rules of the road that will help ensure public health and the environment are protected, a standard requested by Gov. Tom Wolf more than once on the campaign trail and since he took office.

Specific proposals include centralized wastewater impoundments; the placement of well pads near public resources that could include schools, parks and playgrounds; and restoring contaminated drinking water supplies to pre-drilling conditions. Similarly, we will need to address methane emissions -- a potent greenhouse gas -- with strong rules as voluntary measures are not working.

It's outrageous that natural gas interests believe the public interest should be dismissed. The impacts of natural gas drilling, an inherently industrial activity, affect our children and families today and may well into the future. We have a right to be heard, and the TAB has the responsibility of recommending standards that will protect the public interest.

Elaine Labalme is director of communications for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh.

Make your voice heard on environmental issues


On March 18, Philadelphia City Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown invited citizens and activists to participate in the “State of the Environment” hearing before Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on the Environment. Speakers participated on a series of four panels – oil train safety, water, air, and litter and trash.

The goal of the hearings was to bring forth solutions to address environmental issues in the City of Philadelphia, particularly solutions that can be initiated by City Council.
In representing PennFuture, I had the pleasure of testifying on the water panel alongside Clean Water Action and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. As a group, we tackled water quality as it relates to stormwater management, litter and trash issues, climate change adaptation, and oil train traffic. The full text of PennFuture’s testimony can be found here.

Opportunities like this serve as a reminder of the critical importance of publicly supporting issues of concern in our region. Elected officials need to hear from organizations, but they particularly need to hear from individuals on issues affecting our communities. You need not be an expert to have your voice heard.

So what environmental issues do you think are important to address?
  • Improving the health of our waterways?
  • Ensuring that every community in the city has access to green space?
  • Monitoring trains carrying crude oil through our neighborhoods?
  • Getting litter out of our streets and waterways?
  • Protecting vulnerable people and places from the effects of climate change?

Let us know! PennFuture supporters are active citizens -- whether it’s by sending online action alerts, attending public events, or testifying before elected bodies. To get involved, sign up to volunteer or become a member today.

Katie Bartolotta is southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.