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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

#AskDrMann! Save the date: PennFuture's 9/17 Twitter chat with climate scientist Michael Mann

PennFuture is hosting a Twitter chat with renowned Penn State climate scientist (and our good friend!) Michael Mann aka @MichaelEMann on Wednesday, September 17, from 2pm-3pm EDT. Use the hashtag #AskDrMann to participate. You won't wanna miss it!

Mann has been at the forefront of the climate change conversation over the past decade, from his widely-recognized research to his many media appearances explaining the science behind global warming.

He recently penned an op-ed in the Allentown Morning Call, where he urged the public to become more involved in the climate debate, and called on policymakers to regulate both carbon dioxide and methane -- greenhouse gases that are accelerating climate change.

Mark your calendar!

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets @RexBainbridge. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Needed: Both state and federal methane standards

From Bloomberg:
The Environmental Protection Agency is considering rules that would force oil and gas producers to cut methane emissions, its chief said, stepping up efforts to curb the most potent greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, told investors at a New York forum today the agency will decide this year whether to issue regulations mandating emission cuts, or to rely only on voluntary steps.
“We are looking at what are the most cost-effective regulatory and-or voluntary efforts that can take a chunk out of methane in the system,” McCarthy said. “It’s not just for climate, but for air quality” reasons, she said.
Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and climate advocates have said that without curbs on emissions from the oil and gas industry, President Barack Obama will fall short of his goal to cut climate-change emissions. The administration’s plan to cut methane, issued in March, said the EPA would decide whether to regulate the industry. Rules, if issued, would take effect in 2016, the government said.
The threat of methane emissions from natural gas drilling has been coming into clearer focus this year, and there is palpable momentum for action. Some states aren't waiting for the feds.

  • In February, Colorado enacted a comprehensive suite of methane regulations for oil and gas operators – including an LDAR (leak detection and repair) program that requires the bulk of operators to perform quarterly inspections and even requires monthly inspections at the largest well sites.
  • Right next door, Ohio recently revised its general permit that requires drillers of unconventional oil and gas wells to conduct quarterly LDAR inspections – in contrast to the once-a-year requirement for Pennsylvania well operators to qualify under Exemption 38.
  • Last fall, Wyoming also implemented a new presumptive BACT requirement that includes quarterly inspections and repairs.
So, what is Pennsylvania doing? Not nearly enough. Pennsylvania's methane rules fall far short of what other states are doing -- and what is needed. The potential for federal methane rules is a big step in the right direction. This strategy has the potential to deliver the federal regulatory oversight that is needed to complement state efforts and make sure that all of the oil and gas industry meets basic, common-sense standards to deploy readily available technologies. But federal rules don't replace the need for state action. As the fastest growing natural gas producer in the country -- and a state that emits nearly a full percent of the world's greenhouses gases -- Pennsylvania can't afford to wait.

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets @RexBainbridge.

Having a say on pipelines

Submitting written comments on proposals involving regulatory agencies' approval is one of the behind-the-scenes ways PennFuture staff (our legal team as well as other staff) participates in federal and state environmental issues. The proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is an example of a current case in which we submitted concerns that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should consider.

Why submit comments, you might ask -- and who reads them? By law, federal agencies must consult the public in making rules and regulations. It's not just the law -- it's good governance in a democracy. The process for involving the American public in rulemaking has its origins in the New Deal of the 1930s, when a large number of new programs and agencies -- including Social Security, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Labor Relations Board – were launched following the Great Depression. Congress enacted a series of laws giving the public the means to weigh in on the development of rules that affect us, and requiring agencies to consider these submissions in the decisions and maintain them in a public record. For more on how that works (for policy wonks out there), the Congressional Research Service provides this detailed history.

PennFuture's written comments to FERC, submitted by staff attorney Mike Helbing, are now part of the public record on the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, which will cross 192 miles of Pennsylvania's lands and waterways from Lancaster to Susquehanna counties. It is clear that this project will create numerous environmental impacts across its route. We know that our history as a Commonwealth has been marked by ill-conceived use and misuse of our natural resources, leaving environmental devastation. This pipeline project has major direct and indirect impacts that threaten water, air and land resources as well as public safety. To prevent history from being repeated, it is important that each of these impacts be carefully considered before ground is broken for the new pipeline.

mong the issues PennFuture raised are the potential for increased methane emissions, additional forest fragmentation and subsequent decrease in wildlife habitat, and water quality impacts. We emphasized to FERC the importance of performing a thorough cumulative impacts analysis and considering the project’s indirect effects as part of its Environmental Impacts Study (EIS).

So, what happens next? The pipeline company will submit a formal application and FERC will prepare the EIS, taking the public comments into consideration. Once the EIS is complete, the public will again be given an opportunity to review and comment on it before it is finalized. (You can learn more about the process through FERC’s website.) Finally, all written comments and public testimony submitted by the hundreds on this pipeline are available at (Search for Docket Number: PF14-8) -- and are a reminder of the role we as citizens can play in protecting our natural resources and public health.

Kate Gibbons is PennFuture's Northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Methane + carbon: A parallel strategy for clean power and climate action

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held public hearings in Pittsburgh and three other cities on the Clean Power Plan it released earlier this summer. The proposed rules would limit carbon pollution from existing power plants using its authority under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. The hearings attracted hundreds of speakers and thousands of observers, including environmentalists, coal miners, and other stakeholders. 

The hearings sparked a high level of engagement in large part because Pennsylvania is the nation’s fastest growing producer of natural gas. Because of this, we can reasonably expect natural gas to play a significant role in Pennsylvania’s approach to future climate rules. Natural gas produces half the carbon dioxide of coal when burned and emits fewer ozone precursors and sulfur dioxide. It also produces almost no particulate matter or mercury. 

But natural gas production creates another air pollutant that is just as responsible for warming the climate as carbon dioxide – methane. Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas that traps 84 times more heat than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. While addressing carbon dioxide will help us stabilize the climate 100 years from now and is important, addressing methane will start slowing the rate of warming today and is equally important

Many policymakers look at carbon dioxide and methane as two separate options for addressing climate change. But just like diet and exercise produce better weight loss results when used in conjunction with one another, addressing both carbon and methane will deliver the best possible outcome for our climate

The longer we allow climate change to continue, the harder it will be to slow the rate of warming. A recent White House report found that the cost of delayed policy actions on climate would result in substantial economic damage in addition to climate damage. Climate change mitigation costs would rise by 40 percent if delayed just 10 years. 

Acting now on carbon dioxide and methane is a smart solution to an increasingly urgent problem. Failing to act on methane will reduce the effectiveness of carbon-focused rules like 111(d). We need to deploy both options for best results

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets at @RexBainbridge. 

Preparation is key for extreme weather, says Pa. Congressman

Protecting public health and safeguarding our human life, natural resources, and our economy in the face of climate change is an urgent task which PennFuture has been dedicated to since our founding. We're pleased to add our support to U.S. Congressman Matt Cartwright's Preparedness and Risk management for Extreme weather Patterns Assuring Resilience (PREPARE) Act

In Rep. Cartwright's announcement of the legislation last week, PennFuture joined with a diverse set of stakeholders -- including the U.S. Green Building Council, National Parks Conservation Association, members of the insurance and building industries, and conservation groups -- to support this commonsense, bipartisan effort to immediately begin preparing for extreme weather as it increases in our changing climate.

The Congressman represents Pennsylvania's 17th Congressional District in Northeastern PA which includes the cities of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Pottsville, Easton and surrounding municipalities -- and has a population of over 700,000. In much of Pennsylvania and this district, most of our major weather disasters are due to flooding. But whether extreme weather consists of floods, wildfires, or droughts, this bill ensures that the federal government takes steps now to share information and prepare plans to address them. According to Rep. Cartwright"In the last two years, there have been 20 extreme weather events that have each inflicted at least $1 billion in damage and have taken a total of 409 lives. Right here in northeastern Pennsylvania, many of our citizens are at risk of flooding. The Susquehanna River threatens Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding neighborhoods...This common sense, zero cost legislation builds off the GAO’s recommendations and some planning procedures already in place." 

Rep. Cartwright recently blogged on this as part of the Congressional Safe Climate Caucus.

Kate Gibbons is PennFuture's Northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Wilkes-Barre.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Black & Gold City is still Going Green

This past Saturday, we had 12 volunteers who helped distribute 137 free energy-saving toolkits to residents in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The contents of the bags include CFL light bulbs, a smart power strip, LED night lights, window and door caulk, and various pamphlets with energy saving tips.

Each bag helps to avoid over 3,817 pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere and saves each household over $100 in electricity costs per year. From the collective effort of our volunteers, we helped to avoid over half a million pounds of CO2 from being released, which is equivalent to taking 50 cars off the road or planting 6,082 trees. Those are pretty astounding numbers for just a few hours of volunteer work!

The Black and Gold City Goes Green campaign engages the residents of Pittsburgh in simple actions they can take at home in order to reduce their energy demand and, therefore, their carbon footprint since most electricity is generated from coal-fired power plants. The main focus is on promoting energy efficient products and behaviors, as well as educating individuals about using renewable energy to power their homes. This project was created by PennFuture in 2009 as the community aspect of the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative (PCI). The PCI raises awareness and engages Pittsburgh’s residents, businesses, government and institutions of higher learning in taking concrete actions that reduce heat-trapping gas and air pollution and its impact on our local economy and human health.

Neighborhood blitzes provide direct community involvement to help reduce Pittsburgh’s greenhouse gases—a major contributor to climate change— and improve the region’s air quality. According to an analysis by the Clean Air Task Force using 2010-2012 data, out of 338 urban areas surveyed, Pittsburgh’s air quality is in the dirtiest 10 percent for average annual particle pollution. This is a major cause of concern because poor air quality poses serious risks for public health, including heart and lung disease, cancer, asthma and birth defects, to name a few. (For more information related to the region’s air quality and what is being done about it, check out the Breathe Project.)

Since the neighborhood blitz was adopted as a proactive outreach model in 2010, the Black and Gold City Goes Green campaign has organized 24 blitzes throughout 16 different neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that have reached a total of 2,139 households.

Nicole Catino is PennFutute's 2014 Student Conservation Association Green Cities Sustainability Fellow and is based in Pittsburgh.

State audit criticizes DEP's handling of drilling industry

Yesterday, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released his report on the Special Performance Audit of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The audit made clear that DEP is falling well short in its regulatory oversight of the shale gas industry. 

The Auditor General indicated that while DEP disagreed with all of its findings, the Department was willing to accept a majority of its recommendations. He also indicated that while there have been improvements since the audit began in 2013, the “telltale sign” of the audit's success would be the implementation of its 29 recommendations. 

PennFuture's Vice President, John Norbeck, released this statement on the audit: 

While we commend the employees at DEP for their ongoing efforts to address the environmental impacts of Pennsylvania's natural gas drilling boom, it's clear that the Department is not keeping up with its statutory role. The Auditor General noted in his report eight key findings that outlined, among other concerns, the Department's failure to issue administrative orders when violations occurred, effectively allowing the industry to police itself. Further, the report noted that the Department had no clear inspection schedule for gas wells, and evidenced a startling lack of transparency and accountability. When our citizens have greater access to information about kennel inspections and restaurant inspections than they do natural gas well inspections, we have a problem.” 
“DEP is severely underfunded and understaffed at a time when the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania is experiencing substantial growth. The Corbett administration should be increasing agency staffing, not decreasing it, and ensuring that DEP employees have the necessary tools to do their jobs. Anything less is a failure of leadership. We are again issuing the call for a drilling tax that will allow for rigorous monitoring of the natural gas industry as it makes drillers more accountable for the inevitable environmental damage that will result from this industrial activity.”  
This report could not be clearer: DEP needs additional funding, more cops on the beat, and a robust monitoring system. While other gas drilling states are pursuing world-class inspection standards, Pennsylvania is falling short. We can ill afford to let another extractive industry run roughshod over the Commonwealth. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past, mistakes for which we are still paying dearly.”
For more coverage of the audit: Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, StateImpact, Associated Press, Philadelphia City Paper.  

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's Director of Outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets at @RexBainbridge.