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PennFuture Facts :: brief, interesting looks at topical environmental issues PennFuture Facts :: brief, interesting looks at topical environmental issues

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Is your community hazardous to your health? New map can tell you.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released EJSCREEN, a free, online environmental justice screening and mapping tool. EJSCREEN pairs maps along with demographic and pollution data to identify communities that face the greatest risks from air pollution, lead paint, hazardous waste sites, traffic congestion, and other hazards.

According to EPA, Environmental Justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

EJSCREEN allows anyone to look up their level of environmental risk and compare it to the rest of the state, EPA region, or nation. The reports and charts generated by EJSCREEN allow users to better understand which areas need increased environmental protection, infrastructure improvements, and climate resilience. This information can provide support for educational programs, grant writing, and community awareness efforts so that the public can participate meaningfully in decision-making processes that impact their health and environment.
The tool is easy enough to use and can be accessed at http://www2.epa.gov/ejscreen . There’s also a user guide  to help you get started. EPA wants you, the public, to use the tool and provide feedback so  they can improve EJSCREEN. You can provide feedback here.

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

Why voluntary standards alone will not reduce harmful methane emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently expanded its Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program, a voluntary framework for the reduction of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. While all efforts to reduce the emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, are welcome, it is clear that voluntary standards alone don't work as less than one percent of oil and gas producers are currently participating in the Natural Gas STAR program.

Methane has a global warming potential 84 times greater than carbon in the first 20 years after its release into the atmosphere. Along with other co-pollutants, it leads to the formation of ground-level ozone, or smog, a known contributor to asthma attacks and lung and heart disease. These twin climate killers are putting both public health and our environment at risk.

Photo credit: WCN 24/7 via Flickr Creative Commons


The technology exists today to capture and control methane emissions for pennies per thousand cubic feet of gas. What Pennsylvania needs are strong rules to curb methane emissions from both new and existing sources that include a robust leak detection and repair program. While programs that help achieve that goal are welcome, it's clear that voluntary standards alone won't do the trick.

Read more on the need for strong, enforceable standards on methane emissions from the National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Elaine Labalme is Strategic Campaigns Director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @NewGirlInTown.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Calling on Gov. Wolf to protect the Loyalsock State Forest

Summertime for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians of all walks of life means picnics, hikes, swimming and fishing on Pennsylvania's great public lands. One particular gem among our state parks and forests is the Loyalsock State Forest -- and this week, the Save the Loyalsock Coalition, representing 100,000 members, urged Gov. Tom Wolf to use his power to protect 25,000 acres of this irreplaceable place from gas drilling.


Rock Run - photo courtesy of Jeff Mitchell
The Save the Loyalsock Coalition was organized in 2012 in response to an urgent threat of proposed drilling on an extraordinary 25,000 acre tract of state forest land known as the Clarence Moore Lands, located primarily in Lycoming County. The Coalition's statewide and local conservation, recreation, fishing and outdoors organizations have engaged citizens and the previous administration in response to the threat of drilling in one of the area's last remaining unfragmented forests.

Gov. Wolf has already worked to protect other state lands from gas development, beginning with Executive Order 2015-03 to again prohibit new leases for gas development in our state parks and forests -- reversing the decision by the Corbett administration. However, since the Clarence Moore Lands are not protected by the moratorium, the magnificent Rock Run (pictured above), the Old Loggers Path trail, and an Audubon Society-designated Important Bird Area are all still at risk of being irreversibly altered by major gas development. 
"Unbroken wilderness areas across our Commonwealth are being increasingly reduced due to gas development infrastructure," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of PennFuture. "Keeping the Loyalsock's unique Clarence Moore Lands safe for citizens to hike, fish, and experience while protecting rare and endangered species' critical habitat are values shared by countless Pennsylvanians."
You can tour this beautiful and wild part of Penn's Woods via the Loyalsock story map, thanks to FracTracker. Read the Coalition's full letter and press release, and watch for more actions you can take to add your voice to hundreds of thousands of citizens saying: Save the Loyalsock Forest.
Kate Gibbons is northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Wilkes-Barre.

Safety on the line



In the last two years, there have been more than 65 cases of tank cars bound for or arriving in the Philadelphia region, where approximately 700,000 people live within a one-half mile potential evacuation zone around rail lines, that were “found to have loose, leaking or missing safety components” (ProPublica, Nov. 25, 2014). Similarly, more than 300,000 residents in the Pittsburgh region live within such a zone. Earlier this year, a train carrying oil derailed near downtown Philadelphia, shutting down traffic along I-95. And last year, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed over the Schuylkill River, near the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center and the Schuylkill Expressway, one of the busiest roads in the state. Fortunately, there were no injuries and no immediate environmental impacts. However, there have been many similar incidents across Pennsylvania in recent years. While a Lac-Mégantic level emergency would be devastating for any Pennsylvania community, it would be catastrophic in cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.



Unfortunately, most municipalities, including Philadelphia, have yet to develop emergency plans appropriate to handle a Lac-Mégantic level crisis. But as the frequency of derailments increases, conversations about the safety of aging rail lines and bridges, as well as the train tanker cars used to transport oil through heavily populated areas, has increased as well.

As newly retrofitted refineries continue to expand capacity in Philadelphia, the risks become that much greater for all Pennsylvanians. As a result, we are afforded uncommon leverage because the risks are so widespread, effecting urban and rural communities, endangering the health, safety, and local economies of both Republican and Democratic districts. In this sense, we have a unique opportunity to build legislative consensus in Harrisburg as well as to engage municipalities in public discussions about emergency planning in their communities.



We can’t wait for a domestic Lac-Mégantic to prompt action on crude-by-rail safety. One of the most significant barriers toward establishing safeguards is the oil industry’s huge investment in rail and the rail industry’s dependence on DOT-111 tanker cars, which creates a system of financial dependence on an inherently unsafe mode of transit to recoup their investments, at least in the short-term. To be sure, these tanker cars are not being phased out as quickly as they should be. The challenges are compounded by sophisticated oil and rail industry lobbying efforts, targeting legislators and regulators, to push back against stricter laws and costly regulations.



PennFuture is committed to eliminating the safety risks associated with crude-by-rail transport. In Pennsylvania, there are too few government railroad inspectors, poor oversight of railroad bridges, a lack of transparency and minimal access to rail maintenance records, and insufficient penalties for regulatory violations.

As the number of derailments continues to increase, so do the chances of a catastrophic accident in Pennsylvania on a scale many times larger than the tragic events of Lac-Mégantic. But disaster need not be inevitable. With effective and transparent government oversight of rail lines and bridges as well as a ban on the use of outdated DOT-111 tanker cars for crude-by-rail, we can prevent the loss of life and the destruction of our environment.



Jay Andrews is PennFuture’s Director of Outreach and is based in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

New name, old problem, easy solution for oil and gas drillers

A series of just-published scientific studies are showing methane emissions from oil and gas operations in Texas' sprawling Barnett Shale region to be 50 percent higher than previous estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The problem of methane emissions from this industry is well known, however, this newest research, undertaken by institutions including Duke University, Penn State and Princeton, is now using the term "functional super-emitter" to better classify sites with the greatest level of emissions relative to their production. There has long been concern that diffuse and unpredictable sources are a significant part of the problem, and this has now been credibly established.

What is also well known is that this is a problem with a ready solution: frequent leak detection and repair (LDAR). As noted by Steve Hamburg of the Environmental Defense Fund in a blog post this week, "Frequency is critical...monthly inspections resulted in reducing emissions by 80 percent, while annual inspections reduced emissions by less than half."

The technology is readily available today to cut methane emissions by over 40 percent over five years for a penny per thousand feet of produced gas. However, most companies are not availing themselves of this easy fix.

Here in Pennsylvania, industry lobbyists are pleading for voluntary standards while bemoaning the perceived "operational disruption" of asking drillers to capture and sell more of their own product since methane is the main component of natural gas.

Colorado is currently the only state in the nation that directly regulates methane emissions from oil and gas operations, and insists on frequent LDAR. Pennsylvania, as a longtime oil and gas producing state and ground zero for the burgeoning Marcellus Shale play, clearly needs to follow Colorado's lead. The science is becoming ever clearer -- it is time to act.

Elaine Labalme is Strategic Campaigns Director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh.

W-B attorney named to pipelines task force

Mike Helbing, a PennFuture staff attorney since June 2013, was recently appointed to the new Pennsylvania Pipeline Infrastructure Taskforce. The task force was established by Gov. Tom Wolf and is comprised of 48 members who will develop recommendations on natural gas pipeline infrastructure to be submitted to the governor by February 2016. Task force meetings beginning later this July will be open to the public and streamed live, according to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Mike will serve on the Environmental Protection workgroup, which is one of twelve covering specific areas. The task force is expected to address a range of issues and develop best practices and strong policies for the significant number of planned gas pipeline projects across Pennsylvania.

Mike transferred in July from our Philadelphia office to our Wilkes-Barre office, just one county over from his native Lackawanna County. Prior to coming to PennFuture, he was an associate chief counsel for litigation at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is an alumnus of Penn State University and Yale Law School.

Mike's work covers water quality, stormwater, and gas drilling issues focusing on the Delaware and Susquehanna River watersheds, and includes reviewing and filing comments on pipeline and transmission line permit applications and on revisions to DEP’s oil and gas regulations. In a win for citizen participation and water quality, he was a lead negotiator on a November 2014 settlement with DEP to improve Pennsylvania's municipal stormwater permitting process.

Kate Gibbons is northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Wilkes-Barre.

New PennFuture CEO "an environmental and climate champion for our times"

On Monday, July 6, PennFuture issued a statement announcing Larry Schweiger as its new president and CEO. We couldn't be more excited to have Larry on board and look forward to his leadership and collaborative spirit as we continue to address energy and environmental issues in Pennsylvania. The text of the statement is below.

     PennFuture announced today the appointment of Larry J. Schweiger as president and CEO of the statewide environmental advocacy organization after a four-month national search. He succeeds Cindy Adams Dunn, who left the organization in January to assume the role of Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
     "We're thrilled that Larry is willing and eager to lead PennFuture at this critical juncture for energy and the environment in Pennsylvania," said David Lane, chair of PennFuture's board of directors. "His depth and breadth of experience on these issues is unparalleled and he retains a passion and commitment for the work we do tat is second to none. He is an environmental and climate champion for our times and ready for the challenges, and opportunities, that lie ahead."
     Schweiger comes to PennFuture after ten years at the helm of the National Wildlife Federation, where he led the organization's four million members and supporters and 47 state and territorial affiliates. He is a past president and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, held a key leadership role at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and served as Executive Secretary of a bipartisan environmental committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The Pittsburgh-area native is an author, national speaker and highly-regarded nature photographer, creating resonant images of, among other things, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, tar sands mining, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He is an avid fresh and saltwater angler, boater and canoeist.
     "America works best when we work together," said Schweiger. "Clean energy, natural resource protection and a safe environment are not partisan issues, rather, they touch us all. I am committed to helping give these issues the priority they deserve here in Pennsylvania. PennFuture has long been mindful of the impact of its efforts on this and future generations and it's the lens through which we will continue to view all our efforts."


Elaine Labalme is Strategic Campaigns Director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh.