PF Nav/HeadImage

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission denies Right to Know Law request

[This post, and more information about this issue, can be found at]

Despite a brand new website with a section labeled "transparency," the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) denied PennFuture's Right to Know Law request, which sought information about the agency's proposal to rip through the Allegheny ridge in order to eliminate the Allegheny tunnels.

PennFuture attempted to access the documents on behalf of its client, the Mountain Field and Stream Club, which owns and conserves the land along the ridge that will be destroyed if the tunnels are turned into an open cut. Rather than release any documents, the PTC made a number of legal arguments about why it did not need to release any information that would provide public insight into its decision making process and, instead, directed us to its project page. However, the project page appears to have been last updated in 2013. The PTC even sought to hide documents relating to its last decision to not proceed with this project, back in 1996.

Among the highlights in the agency's response denying our request: 
  • Despite the fact that the PTC has its own website about the project, the Commission claims to not know what documents we are seeking in its response. 
  • Even though our request sought the hard data that supposedly supports its need for the project, the PTC denied access to the documents under a claim that it concerns "pre-decisional" discussions. Ironically, this includes a study that the PTC claims will "evaluate public involvement.
  • The Commission says it hasn't made a decision on its "preferred alternative" and can keep the public in the dark until it makes that decision. That sure seems to us to defeat the point of transparent government that claims to include public involvement. 
PennFuture has appealed the Commission's decision to the Office of Open Records. 

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

C'mon, hop to it! Come to PennFuture On Tap!

Photo of a Pilsner glass filled with beer, etched with the PennFuture logo, and hops flowers around its base
Please join us for a great night of good beer and tasty food at our premiere PennFuture on Tap* event.

We'll host this fundraiser at Yards Brewery Company, the first brewery in Pennsylvania to be  completely powered by wind, from 7:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. on Friday, June 19. 

Support local sustainable businesses and PennFuture when you purchase your tickets on our secure website and then watch our tagline -- Every environmental victory grows the economy -- come to life at this unique event venue. 

Pennsylvania's growing craft brewery industry -- ranked fourth in the U.S. by the Brewers Association -- contributes $2 billion annually to our economy and provides over 20,000 Pennsylvania jobs.

To make all that beer, the brewing industry needs lots of clean air and clean water. That's where we come in: PennFuture works hard every day to protect these resources for all of us. And that's where you come in: To help PennFuture continue this work, we need YOU and your support!

Our special guest will be Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug, a national leader in urban sustainability and the creator of Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program. Alongside Commissioner Neukrug's leadership, the Philadelphia Water Department provides clean drinking water and integrated wastewater and stormwater services for more than 2.3 million people.

Please join us. Learn something new. Enjoy an open bar with Yards' Revolution and Signature Ales. Sample food from Guerilla Ultima Food Truck. Take a brewery tour and bid on something wonderful in the silent auction.

Sponsorships are available. For more information on that, email Susanne Whitehead at

Don't miss this hopportunity (last pun, promise) to support PennFuture -- and have a great time while you do it! Buy your tickets today!

*Must be 21 years old to participate.

Mary Kane is development associate for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg.

Methane emissions: A short, easy to understand video on a climate killer

The conversation around how to deal with methane emissions is quickly heating up in Pennsylvania. As the fastest growing gas producing state in the nation, the rate of methane emissions and leaks being generated by our natural gas industry could quickly put us into climate disaster territory.

Natural gas itself is largely methane -- a potent greenhouse gas that accelerates the warming of our atmosphere and leads to more ground level ozone, or smog, which contributes to asthma attacks and lung and heart disease. Affordable technologies exist today that will allow natural gas drillers to capture and sell a great deal of the methane that's currently leaking -- and the cost is mere pennies per thousand cubic feet of gas. This is a problem that already has a solution, yet drillers refuse to act in a meaningful way. It's why we're calling for the direct regulation of methane emissions in Pennsylvania.

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

The above video explains clearly what methane emissions are and why Pennsylvania must address them. Now. The health of our families, and planet, cannot afford to wait. Please share this video far and wide!

Elaine Labalme is strategic campaigns director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @NewGirlInTown.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Earth Day + Clean Energy = One Great Event

Last week, PennFuture and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) co-sponsored a roundtable for business leaders in northwest Philadelphia to hear from speakers on federal, state, and local policies related to clean energy and climate and why business leaders should get involved. The takeaway? A clean energy future is good for the economy and the environment.

Attendees heard from a slate of speakers, each bringing a different perspective to the table. Alice Tong and Bob Keefe of E2 welcomed the attendees and gave an overview of the work their organization is doing in Pennsylvania, highlighting a clean energy jobs report they jointly released with the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance (KEEA.) The report identifies highlights from the clean energy industry and opportunities for growth. (There are currently 57,000 clean energy jobs in Pennsylvania and additional jobs can be created if the state takes action to improve Pennsylvania’s national energy efficiency ranking from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE).)

Speaker Rich Freeh from Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability addressed our clean energy economy from the local perspective. Currently, over 60 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from building energy usage. The city of Philadelphia’s energy benchmarking program is raising awareness about building energy usage by having buildings of 50,000 or more square feet disclose their energy use in a standardized database, the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. This database allows building managers to look at their energy use relative to comparable buildings to help identify areas for energy use reduction and, as a result, generate cost savings and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Alex Dews of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council discussed energy efficiency – aka energy we don’t need to produce – as the cheapest, cleanest energy resource available and a viable option for creating jobs. He highlighted that we should not only be looking at ways to make new buildings as efficient as possible, but also be thinking about ways that we can make energy efficiency improvements to buildings that have been built in the recent past and will be around for decades to come.  

PennFuture’s policy director, Matt Stepp, gave a comprehensive overview of the Clean Power Plan and its potential positive effects on Pennsylvania. Stepp noted that with the planned retiring of coal-fired power plants across the state, Pennsylvania is on track to reach half of its carbon reduction goals as specified in the Plan absent further action. He emphasized the opportunity for the growth of the renewable energy sector, a sector that will hopefully receive additional support from Pennsylvania’s state government in the coming years. (Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget includes $225 million to be invested in renewables, conservation, and clean technology investments. It’s a relative drop in the bucket compared the $3.25 billion in state subsidies to the fossil fuels industry, but I digress.)

Business leaders attending the event signed postcards addressed to Senators Casey and Toomey supporting the Clean Power Plan as a means to reduce our carbon emissions and an opportunity to invest in a sustainable, clean energy economy. It’s critically important that we make our voices heard in support of good economic and environmental policy! 

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

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], 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] 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.