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Friday, November 22, 2013

Death of Red Wolf Highlights Problems With Changing Pennsylvania Law

In North Carolina, a sixth red wolf in the past month was killed by an apparent gunshot wound and recovered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday.

There are less than 100 red wolves left in the wild. This death brings the total to 14 this year. Nine have been confirmed or suspected as having resulted from a gunshot wound.

The dead wolf was found on private property in western Hyde County, one of five North Carolina counties that form the only free roaming habitat for the federally protected species.

You can read more about the story in this Sun Journal report, which points out that there is no record of a red wolf ever attacking a person unprovoked, and that there is a reward being offered for information leading to the responsible person.

This incident points out one of the significant flaws with Pennsylvania HB 1576, the law that would undercut the ability of the Game and Fish and Boat Commissions to make independent, science based decisions on whether to list threatened and endangered species.

HB 1576 naively requires that the Commissions create a "centralized database" that provides, among other things, detailed information about the "specific areas" where each listed or designated species is "known to be present."  This is more than publicly designating a habitat that needs to be protected for species recovery - it means directly informing those with both a direct and indirect financial stake in the development specifically where threatened and endangered species are known to exist.

It's the rule of unintended consequences. The publication requirement will make efforts to ensure recovery of the species more difficult for conservation organizations.  It will inevitably lead to increased poaching of protected species, increased harm to protected habitat, and decreased likelihood that the species will be removed from the protected list. Where the law plainly aims to promote commercial development over species protection, it's long term effect is likely to do just the opposite.

HB 1576 is a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation that needs to be put in a No. 2 mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnall's porch, and forgotten.

George Jugovic, Jr. is chief counsel for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pennsylvania shines as host of Greenbuild, in spite of Harrisburg obstruction on key green building policy

This week, Pennsylvania is at the center of the green building universe.

Our state's world-class innovation and creativity is on display as over 40,000 green building enthusiasts are in Philly for Greenbuild -- the largest conference dedicated to sustainable building in the world.

One of the key policy drivers of green buildings: Updated building codes. Buildings account for 72 percent of U.S. electricity use and 36 percent of natural gas use. Modern codes arm policy makers and the building industry with new levers to drive greener buildings and healthier communities.

So how does Greenbuild's host state stack up on this key green building policy? [Spoiler: not well.] Is Pennsylvania seizing the opportunity of high-performing, energy efficient, twenty-first century buildings through modern building codes? [Spoiler: no.]

Changes to the building code update process, made by the state legislature and Governor Corbett in 2011 -- at the behest of the home building industry -- are preventing updates to building codes. This means that cost-effective industry best practices are being rejected at the expense of health, safety and energy efficiency.

Hundreds of changes to the building codes recommended in 2012 were all rejected by the board of political appointees charged with updating the state code. These rejected changes include safety improvements in addition to updated energy codes.

Pennsylvania is now building to the 2009, not the 2012, codes. If this process doesn't change, it is unlikely any new code will be adopted in the future.

Even worse, home builders are recommending further changes that would make it even harder to update building codes and could even result in rolling back previous code adoption decisions, enabling codes to revert to much older standards.

With the spotlight of the green building universe on the Keystone state, it's past time for our leaders in Harrisburg to provide the state with the tools to drive innovation and save energy. In Philly parlance: Yo, Harrisburg! Get with the program and fix the building codes mess you created!

Visit BuiltItSafe to tell your legislator to support modern, 21st century building codes.

Giving Tuesday is like a breath of clean air, a drink of pure water and a bright solar day!

This year, PennFuture will kick off its annual fundraising campaign on Tuesday, December 3, in conjunction with a nationwide network of charities, families, businesses, and individuals that are coming together to transform the way we think about, talk about, and participate in the giving season.

It's called #GivingTuesday and it's a simple idea. 
Find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to join in acts of giving. Tell everyone you can about what you are doing and why it matters. Join a national celebration of our great tradition of generosity.

You can help make #GivingTuesday as successful as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 
The recession has hit nonprofits hard and the goal of #GivingTuesday is to drive donations of time, money, or services to nonprofits with the same enthusiasm that Black Friday and Cyber Monday drive shoppers to great bargains. PennFuture has joined with over 5,900 nonprofits nationwide to create a stronger culture of giving during this holiday season. We're proud to be a part of this special community. Please join us at

Know that we could not do what we do without your support.
Twelve days from now on #GivingTuesday, please remember the positive difference you can make in our state during the holiday season to protect our environment.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hell with the lid off? Maybe not, but work to be done.

Pittsburgh used to be so polluted that it was referred to as “hell with the lid off.” The pollution is mostly invisible these days, however, “out of sight” usually means “out of mind.”

A recent survey by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette showed that Pittsburghers care about the environment more than ever. Sixty four percent of responders believe that climate change is a problem and a whopping 96 percent believe that the environment is important to Pittsburgh’s economic outlook, but the majority still doesn’t believe that the region’s air quality is a problem because they can’t see it. Unfortunately, it's the pollution that can’t be seen by the naked eye that can do the most damage. Fine soot particles can wreak havoc on the body, and contribute to lung cancer, lung disease, and heart disease.

Still, it's great to see that area residents feel strongly about the environment. There are many great organizations in the region, and campaigns including the Breathe Project, that are educating citizens about the state of our air and how we can improve it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Will Philly get a real land bank? Or a land-bank-in-name-only?

Last week, Philadelphia took a significant step in its quest to fix its broken vacant property disposition system and create a single predictable, transparent and streamlined process for vacant property disposition.

The good news: Bill No. 130156 was reported out of Philadelphia City Council's Committee on Public Property and Public Works. I represented PennFuture at the hearing last Monday and encouraged the Committee to create a land bank that prioritizes sustainable reuses such as side yards, community gardens, urban agriculture and other green space.

The bad news (well, let's not call it bad news so much as room for improvement): The bill was amended at the last minute to require three elected and appointed public bodies to approve the transfer of every one of the almost 10,000 parcels of the city’s publicly owned vacant property.

PennFuture's Director of Outreach, Andrew Sharp,
testifies at last Monday's land bank hearing.

The amendments to Bill No. 130156 made in Committee would require a resident who seeks to buy the vacant blighted lot next door to be approved by Land Bank staff, the Vacant Property Review Committee, City Council and the Land Bank Board – a process that will involve the approval of more than 41 individuals and be lengthy, redundant and offer significant uncertainty. Requiring three separate public bodies to approve each property transfer will discourage, rather than encourage, rehabilitation of blighted properties.

This is a critical moment for Philadelphia to create an effective new Land Bank and a streamlined process to transfer vacant land to new, sustainable reuse. Philly is growing again for the first time in six decades. We need new policies to capitalize on this growth. This is the opportunity for City Council and the Nutter Administration to create a smart, effective Land Bank.

We call on City Council to pass a Land Bank bill that establishes a disposition system that requires decision making by two entities at most – with all initial vetting, legal and administrative processes, and public outreach conducted by the land bank staff. Anything less is unjust to the Philadelphians who are saddled with vacant, blighted properties and the people who are doing the hard work of revitalizing our neighborhoods and putting properties back to sustainable reuse.