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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Speak up: Two public meetings on fracking Allegheny County park

Last week, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced a preliminary deal with Range Resources to allow natural gas drilling under Deer Lakes Park. No well pads would go in the park itself; Range would use neighboring well pads to drill horizontally beneath the park.

According to published reports of the proposed deal, the county will receive $7.7 million in addition to annual royalty payments. Range also agreed to wider and more frequent testing of surface water near the well sites and will donate $3 million to the Park Improvement Fund. 

However, no copies of the lease have been made available to the public or to County Council, which must approve any agreement -- and many questions remain. 

Allegheny County manages the county parks in trust for all citizens, including generations yet to come. We have a responsibility to preserve and protect public lands, not sell them out for quick cash. 

Even horizontal drilling without surface disturbances within Deer Lakes Park itself creates more air pollution, more truck traffic, more water withdrawals, and more toxic waste water. And drilling just outside park boundaries creates real risks should spills or other accidents occur. 

With some of the worst air pollution in the nation, Allegheny County should think twice about promoting more of this intensely industrial activity under its public lands. The air pollution does not go away when the drilling ends -- it exists for the life of the well and will continue to affect public health for years to come. 

Since the 1920's, the county parks have served as places to recreate, relax and get away from noise, traffic and air pollution. Deer Lakes is perhaps best known for its three spring-fed lakes which makes it a popular fishing destination. 

Do the citizens of Allegheny County wish to have their parks become a magnet for industrial development or an oasis from it?

There are two upcoming public meetings -- and it's critical that your voice is heard. Show up and speak up!

Meeting details:

Wednesday, April 2 at 7:00 pm
County Executive Fitzgerald's Public Meeting on Drilling Under Deer Lake Park
Deer Lakes High School Auditorium
163 East Union Road
West Deer Township, PA 15024

Tuesday, April 8 at 5:00 pm
Allegheny County Council Meeting (Legislation to drill will be introduced)
Allegheny County Courthouse, 4th Floor
436 Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's Director of Outreach and is based in Philadelphia. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Guacapocalypse (gulp)

Homeless polar bears and penguins with hypothermia have nothing on avocados.

Included in Chipotle's 2013 Annual Report is a statement outlining how the risks associated with "increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients."

A comment that may have gone completely unnoticed save for the fact that the report goes on to say that if avocado supplies dwindle, and prices rise, it may be necessary to pull guacamole from the restaurant menu.

Queue the outrage: Guacapocalypse. (For the record, I stopped looking after four pages of Google results but the list continues).

Absurdity aside, why did this report become front page news? For at least two reasons:
  1. The risk is real. ThinkProgress outlines the situation, explaining that the recent drought in California has strained agriculture in the state and "with water scarce, farmers are unable to plant as many seeds, so prices of produce are projected to rise."
  2. Avocados. 
Kids care about polar bears when they are at the zoo. Students worry about melting ice caps in science class. Perhaps we'll even spare a moment's concern while selecting a favorite flavor of Endangered Species chocolate bar, but when it comes to polar bears and penguins, our society's attention span has its limits. Tugging on heart strings has nothing on tugging on taste buds and hunger pangs.

Even hinting at taking away our guacamole (gasp!) appears to be a game changer. It turns out that Americans eat a lot of avocados (it was estimated that we would eat 158 million avocados on Super Bowl Sunday alone) and we don't want them taken away. So, as the news stories roll out assuring as that there is no impending avocado doom, let's realize that if we don't act, the impacts of climate change (both trivial and dire) will reach us.

Let's #savetheguac. For starters, take this simple action.

Valessa Souter-Kline is western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture, based in Pittsburgh.