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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Nov 4: Make Philly's Mayor’s Office of Sustainability Permanent

This Election Day – Tuesday, November 4 – the fate of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability is in the hands of Philadelphia voters. Earlier this year, the Philadelphia City Council passed charter change legislation to bring to the question of the department’s permanent status to a general election ballot vote.  A “yes” vote on ballot question 1 this Tuesday will make the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability a permanent fixture in city government. 

Need a little help making your decision? Consider this – since its inception in 2008, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability has achieved the following under the umbrella of its ambitious Greenworks agenda:
  • Brought in $41 million in outside grants 
  • Increased the amount of alternative energy as a percentage of our electricity use from 2.5 percent to 14.8 percent
  • Diverted 73 percent of waste from landfills, up from 53 percent
  • Greened 323 acres of land to help manage stormwater
  • Added 142 new acres of park and open space and more than 16 new miles of trails 
  • Increased the number of markets, gardens, and farms from 230 to 340
  • Planted 100,000 new trees
The continuation of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability is just the first step in bringing the many, many great initiatives that are under way across the finish line. 

The Next Great City coalition is proud of the tremendous progress we've made toward creating cleaner, safer, and healthier Philadelphia neighborhoods over the past seven years. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability has played a critical role in implementing and shaping our vision for what Philadelphia can and will be. The importance of a strong ally in city government cannot be underestimated.

It’s up to all of us to decide what Philadelphia's future will look like. Voting “yes” on ballot question 1 is a critical step in the right direction.   

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture’s Philadelphia outreach coordinator and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Our take: PA Lags on Methane Control

After the Scranton Times-Tribune's forceful editorial calling on the next governor to regulate methane emissions, Governor Tom Corbett's energy executive penned a letter to the Scranton Times-Tribune in which he claimed that Pennsylvania is "leading the way" on addressing methane. In a follow up letter, PennFuture strongly disagreed with this assertion: 
Editor: It was encouraging that Gov. Tom Corbett’s energy executive, Patrick Henderson (Your Opinion, “Emissions Managed,” Oct. 18) recognizes the importance of reducing methane pollution from the natural gas industry. 
Unfortunately, his claim that Pennsylvania is “leading the way” on methane regulations is not true. Under Mr. Corbett, Pennsylvania has taken a Swiss cheese approach to addressing methane and the commonwealth lags behind other states. Pennsylvania has no regulations directly regulating methane emissions. Instead, Pennsylvania has a patchwork of policies and federal rules that result in some reductions, but fall far short of the comprehensive regulations citizens deserve.
Instead of directly regulating methane, Pennsylvania has a voluntary permitting option — one that only applies to drillers who elect to follow it. For new Marcellus wells, an exemption says wells that meet some basic standards don’t need to be permitted by the Department of Environmental Protection’s air program. The exemption calls sources of methane emissions “trivial activities” that don’t require pre-construction approval.
While the current exemption is an improvement over a prior blanket exemption, many loopholes remain. For example, it applies only to new wells, not thousands of existing wells. 
Other states show leadership on this issue. Ohio adopted rules that require oil and gas operators to conduct quarterly leak and repair inspections — in contrast to Pennsylvania’s once-a-year requirement. Industry and environmental groups came together in Colorado to enact a comprehensive set of methane regulations for oil and gas operators. The bulk of operators have to perform quarterly methane leak inspections, with monthly inspections at the largest well sites.
The Times-Tribune’s recent editorial was spot on: Methane pollution from our natural gas industry is a serious threat and the time to take action is now. Our next governor must take necessary steps on methane pollution to truly claim a leadership role.
Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets at @RexBainbridge.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Go green, get green $$

Philadelphia is following up the success of the first two years of its citywide benchmarking program by encouraging buildings to participate in the Energy Reduction Race, a competition to cut down on building energy use. 

Any commercial building that is over 50,000 square feet that has been benchmarked this year is invited to participate. The competition challenges all participating buildings to reduce their building’s energy consumption by 5 percent between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015. As part of the competition, buildings also receive free building operator training. 

Within the group of participants, three buildings will receive an award of $5,000 based on the following factors: greatest total energy reduction, greatest energy reduction by square footage, and greatest increase in ENERGY STAR score. 

Even if you aren’t directly participating in this competition, its impact is extremely important both locally and globally. Reducing energy usage is a key component of mitigating climate change locally given that building energy use accounts for more than 60 percent of Philadelphia’s greenhouse gas emissions according to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. 

For those tuned into the Next Great City coalition, you may remember that disclosing energy costs to property buyers was one of our 2011 recommendations. Benchmarking legislation brought this recommendation to fruition in 2012, resulting in reductions in Philadelphia’s building energy usage. The Energy Reduction Race is an exciting way to continue this progress by encouraging buildings to meet achievable goals and compete over a worthwhile aim. 

Next Great City is rooted in the idea that we can always be a greener, more innovative city and it’s clear that Philadelphia is up to the challenge.  

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture’s Philadelphia outreach coordinator. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

University of Pittsburgh research links autism to air pollution

A new study was released Wednesday showing a link between autism spectrum disorders and maternal exposure to toxic air pollution during pregnancy. The study was conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and the results add to a growing body of research pointing to a correlation between exposure to air pollution and incidence of human neurodevelopmental disorders.

We know that air pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone negatively impact our health by increasing rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease, and they are even being correlated to cancer. This new study shows that air toxics may be hurting us in another way, as well. The fact is that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among children in Pennsylvania more than doubled between 2002 and 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That increase is likely too large to be explained by genetics alone, leading researchers to look for environmental factors. It is becoming increasingly clear that air pollution in our state may well be contributing to a significant public health problem.

In this particular study, researchers conducted a population-based control study in six counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, estimating the association between autism spectrum disorders and 30 known neurotoxicants. Their research found that exposure to chromium, cyanide, styrene and other toxic air pollutants during gestation and a child's early years of life increased the risk of being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Enough is enough. We in southwestern Pennsylvania have been breathing unhealthy air for decades. Progress toward ensuring that everyone can exercise and play outside without risking their well being has been far too slow. Let's act now to find innovative solutions to the pollution problem. Bottom line: We all deserve to breathe clean, healthy air.

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

VIDEO: "Methane Matters: PA Needs to Know"

You've got questions and we've got answers. What is methane? Why is it leaking from Pennsylvania's natural gas operations? Why is methane such a threat to climate change? Check out this whiteboard animation video for a helpful primer -- then share it with friends.  

Methane Matters: PA Needs to Know from PennFuture on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Legislative #FAIL: PA House and Senate side with special interests on two bad bills

Late Wednesday, the Pennsylvania legislature passed two bad bills that will harm the water and air of Pennsylvanians. Both HB 1565, the Subdivision Flooding Bill, and HB 2354, the Stall on Carbon Bill, kowtow to powerful special interests as they dismiss the need for clean air and water for all Pennsylvanians.

The Stall on Carbon Bill allows either chamber of the General Assembly to block and delay Pennsylvania from submitting its carbon rule compliance plan to the Environmental Protection Agency, raising the likelihood that Pennsylvania cedes control of its compliance program to the federal government. By creating three different entities (House, Senate and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) with authority over the compliance plan, negotiation efforts by affected businesses and stakeholders will be confounded. 

Further, the bill raises serious constitutional issues related to separation of powers. Rather than craft a feasible system to enhance legislative oversight of Pennsylvania’s carbon rule compliance, the bill is rife with stalling tactics as it creates layers of legal and procedural complications to the detriment of the people and businesses of the state. The Stall on Carbon Bill is an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) initiative championed by Pennsylvania’s coal industry.

The Subdivision Flooding Bill ignores the twin issues of stormwater runoff and flooding as it caters to the state's powerful builders lobby. Pennsylvania citizens and communities have paid dearly in safety, life and property as a result of the consequences of flooding and stormwater. Part of the reason is the loss of riparian buffers in headwater and other streams that hold and slowly release rain and runoff. Passage of the bill now jeopardizes the riparian buffers along Exceptional Value and High Quality streams that not only reduce flooding and stormwater runoff, but markedly improve water quality, decrease pollution, protect drinking water, and improve habitat for fish and other wildlife.

Passage of these bills at the eleventh hour only serves to appease deep-pocketed interests and large campaign contributors. These bills can in no way be seen as helping to protect public health and safety. Rather, they do exactly the opposite. 

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

Regulating methane emissions makes dollars and $ense

Methane emissions from oil and gas development are contributing to the harmful impacts of climate change and it's not just environmentalists sounding the alarm bells. This week, leaders from the financial community took action regarding the urgent need to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector for the sake of our economy.  

"A group of investors managing more than $300 billion in market assets sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration and the White House, calling for the federal government to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. The letter urged covering new and existing oil and gas sites, including upstream and midstream sources, citing that strong methane policy can reduce business risk and create long-term value for investors and the economy. 
They spelled out in no uncertain terms that they regard methane as a serious climate and business problem – exposing the public and businesses alike to the growing costs of climate change associated with floods, storms, droughts, and other severe weather. 
The 18 signers make the point that proven, low-cost solutions already exist to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 percent."  
Colorado's smart methane policy serves as a national model and was developed with input from energy companies, state regulators, and environmentalists.  With the rapid expansion of the gas industry here in the Keystone State, Pennsylvania needs to follow Colorado's lead and regulate methane emissions for the sake of our communities, our climate, and our economy.

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