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

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 other 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.

Biking the GAP

I have a bicycle but I’m not much of a biker. Although I had intended to ride more this year, the summer raced by and it was already October before my first real bike ride of 2014. For this debut ride, I pedaled a mere 150 miles (go big or go home, right?) along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), a trail that runs from Pittsburgh, Pa. to Cumberland, Md. From Cumberland, the trail continues on the C&O Canal Towpath for 184.5 miles to Washington, D.C. (I’ll save that second leg of the journey for another day).

Biking the GAP was added to my bucket list when I moved to Pittsburgh in April and first learned about the trail. So, when I heard a group of my fellow Student Conservation Association Fellows were planning a four-day trip along the GAP, I immediately joined them. With only one week to prepare for departure and no panniers, tent, sleeping pad or mess kit, I was faced with a bit of a challenge. Here is the part in the story where working at an environmental non-profit pays off, however, as PennFuture staff had me outfitted in borrowed gear in no time and they even threw bike shorts in for good measure.

I’ll pause here for a brief Public Service Announcement: Don’t ever bike 150 miles without bike shorts.

Since the GAP trail is largely built upon abandoned rail beds, it is relatively flat and easygoing on a surface of crushed limestone (with a couple miles of pavement) leaving Pittsburgh and leading into Cumberland. Although the path seems pretty flat, there is a slight .8 percent grade going eastbound that you start to feel after 100 miles or so but once you pass the Eastern Continental Divide, it’s a refreshing 24-mile coast (elevation change = 1,754 ft.) into Cumberland with a stunning view of the Allegheny Mountains shortly after the Big Savage tunnel.

Small towns appear along the trail every ten miles or so and they are a major highlight of the GAP. Each one has its own character and they all come with important things like grocery stores for snacks, bike shops for repairs, and B&Bs, hostels, and hotels for a dry night if it happens to rain on your journey or if you simply prefer modern amenities. Our group made pit stops in a couple towns along the way for lunch and water breaks, and I even bought some locally produced maple syrup in Meyersdale –- it's quite delicious! For sleeping accommodations, we camped at Cedar Creek Park the first night, Ohiopyle State Park the second night, and the third night we spent at the Hostel on Main in Rockwood. If you’re thinking of biking the GAP, be sure to plan out your trip and expected miles per day beforehand so you know what and where to find the accommodations you may need.

Despite physical fatigue, a sore butt, and getting caught in a thunderstorm right before we reached the campground at Ohiopyle, the trip was memorable. The autumn air was fresh and crisp, the changing leaves on the trees made every mile exciting and beautiful, and the company of my comrades lent itself to a great experience. If you ever have the opportunity to bike the Great Allegheny Passage, I definitely recommend taking the time to do so — it is one decision you won’t regret and the memories will last a lifetime.

Want to know more? Watch 150 Miles in 150 Seconds. 

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

Scranton Times-Tribune ed board: Look to Colorado on methane rules

The chorus calling for Pennsylvania to address methane emissions from the natural gas sector continues to grow. Last week, the editorial board of the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal said that stopping methane leakage should be a critical focus of the Wolf and Corbett campaigns -- and both candidates were asked about the issue in last week's final gubernatorial debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

This week, the Scranton Times-Tribune's editorial board weighed in and said Colorado should be a model for Pennsylvania:
...Colorado is the only major gas-drilling state to regulate against methane emissions. Its rules, implemented earlier this year, were crafted by a coalition of energy companies and environmental groups and should become a model for Pennsylvania. Several other gas-producing states, including Ohio, have begun to consider regulations based on the Colorado model.
The Colorado regulations require companies to find and repair methane leaks, processes for which technology already exists. Four of the biggest producers and processors in Colorado — Encana, Anadarko, Noble Energy and DCP Midstream Denver — worked on the new regulatory regime with the Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation Colorado, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, WildEarth Guardians and Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project.
The companies say compliance will cost the industry about $20 million a year, but opponents of the new model say it could cost up to $100 million. Some of the cost will be offset because the companies will sell the methane they capture. According to Colorado government estimates, the new system will recover about 65,000 tons of methane a year that otherwise would have escaped. The same system also will capture another 90,000 tons of smog-causing volatile organic compounds, the state estimated.
For gas to fulfill its potential as a “bridge” fuel, methane emissions must be controlled. Pennsylvania should adopt the Colorado model.
Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets at @RexBainbridge.