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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

As the wind blows

Good news for clean air: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Transport Rule. The rule requires that 28 states, which contribute significantly to downwind non-attainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), reduce their emissions in accordance with economic feasibility, as determined by the EPA. 

The decision is a strong statement in favor of clean air and human health and against unmitigated air pollution.

For decades, as outlined in the SCOTUSblog, the EPA has struggled to effectively implement the “good neighbor policy” first issued in 1977, and updated in 1990, which seeks to require states to manage their own pollution rather than passing it along to others.  

The crux of the problem is that air pollution doesn't abide by political boundaries. Nor do airborne particles shift uniformly across borders. Instead, prevailing winds flow from west to east in the U.S. For this reason, many eastern states contend with dangerous air pollution blown in from neighboring power plants, along with the particles and ozone generated from their own sources. Particle pollution and ozone are directly linked to increased rates of asthma and other cardiovascular health problems, in addition to climate change.  

Because states can’t regulate sources outside of their boundaries, federal level coordination is necessary in order to ensure that states that rely primarily on coal fired power plants (the dirtiest source of energy available) don't sit back and enjoy artificially cheap power by transferring the health and clean-up costs to citizens and governments downwind.

Curious to know where Pennsylvania stands? The Tribune outlined our state's position back in 2013: Squarely in the middle.

Now that you've made it to here, reward yourself by enjoying this mesmerizing wind map, which may or may not oblige me by illustrating the prevailing wind. 

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

Pennsylvania way behind on methane regulations

It's a big week for air quality in the Keystone state. 

Governor Tom Corbett has declared this week Air Quality Awareness Week. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a regulation requiring some states to limit pollution that contributes to unhealthy air in neighboring states. And the American Lung Association (ALA) released its annual “State of the Air” report on Wednesday. 

The ALA report found that 47 percent of U.S. residents live where the air is often too unhealthy to breathe, an increase from the previous year, and Pittsburgh and Allegheny County still find themselves on a list on which you're not itching to appear -- the Top Ten Bad Air List. 

Think our air quality is bad? Well, it could get worse. In Pennsylvania, methane leakage associated with natural gas drilling is harming air quality and threatens to undo any of the potential climate benefits from using natural gas in place of other fossil fuels. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas that is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it’s released.

So what is Pennsylvania doing to address methane leakage and air pollution from natural gas development?

While Pennsylvania has put in place new requirements that exceed minimum federal standards, a closer look shows that Pennsylvania is not doing nearly enough

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection deserves credit for requiring, as criteria to meet Exemption 38, LDAR (leak detection and repair) programs to address “fugitive emissions” at well sites and, under GP-5, at compressor stations. It’s a step in the right direction. But Pennsylvania's rules fall far short of what other states are doing -- and what is needed. 

Some examples:

  • In February,  Colorado enacted a comprehensive suite of methane regulations for oil and gas operators – including an LDAR program that requires the bulk of operators to perform quarterly inspections and even requires monthly inspections at the largest well sites.
  • Right next door, Ohio recently revised its general permit that requires drillers of unconventional oil and gas wells to conduct quarterly LDAR inspections – in contrast to the once-a-year requirement for Pennsylvania well operators to qualify under Exemption 38.
  • Last fall, Wyoming also implemented a new presumptive BACT requirement that includes quarterly inspections and repairs. 

While Colorado has in place a comprehensive regulatory framework to address methane emissions and Ohio recently revised its general permit for unconventional oil and gas wells to include quarterly leak detection and repair requirements (LDAR), Pennsylvania is lagging in placing mandatory controls on natural gas drilling. 

Pennsylvania should require a mandatory and rigorous permitting process. Instead of being in Ohio's rear view mirror, we should be leading the charge by going one step further and directly regulating methane emissions in the name of cleaner air and public health. 

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On the ballot: Making Philly's sustainability sustainable

Over 130 acres of new park space. 100,000 new trees planted since 2008. Miles of new trails and bike lanes in every corner of city. A city reconnecting to its waterfront. An increase in alternative energy use from 2 percent to almost 14 percent. A recycling rate that has quadrupled. A new, sustainable zoning code. A world class plan to manage storm water with more green, and less gray. A more walkable, bikable, livable Philadelphia. 

All of this progress would have been unimaginable without the Mayor's Office of Sustainability (MOS). MOS has worked tirelessly across departments and citywide to advance the goals outlined in Greenworks, the City's sustainability plan. 

Through PennFuture's Next Great City coalition, we are proud to have helped chart the path toward a more vibrant, healthy, sustainable city. Our coalition members -- which include faith, labor, civic and environmental groups -- have worked closely with the Mayor's Office of Sustainability and have experienced first hand the value in having a partner and advocate in city government. 

Mayor Michael Nutter created the office in 2008 -- but it is not a permanent office and could be eliminated by a future mayorPhiladelphia has made tremendous progress over the past six years but there is clearly so much more to do. 

That's why several City Council members are trying to make MOS a permanent fixture of city government. They are sponsoring charter change legislation that would incorporate a question onto November's general election ballot that would ask voters if the office should be made permanent. 

(The answer is a resounding YES.)

A committee hearing on the charter change legislation will take place this coming Monday, April 28 in Council chambers (located on the 4th floor, Room 400 of City Hall)

Please come out and show your support for this vital step in making Philly's sustainability truly sustainable. 

4/28/14 Update: The bill was voted out of committee during the hearing, and is expected to be considered by the full Council within two weeks. 

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

Victory for our health: Mercury emissions rule upheld

This month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule to require coal and oil-fired utility power plants to reduce hazardous mercury and other toxic emissions. Industry and others opposed the rule on the grounds that the agency didn't consider the cost of the rule.

However, we in Pennsylvania know well the "cost" of mercury emissions: In 2009, EPA's Toxics Release Inventory placed Pennsylvania second nationally for mercury and mercury compound emissions from power plants. The cost to our health includes accumulations in humans and other organisms (fish we consume), risks to pregnant women, and risks to developing fetuses' brains. As many as one in six women of childbearing age have mercury in their blood above safe levels.

For more thoughts on the true cost: According to EPA, the proposed rule will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks each year. That's a major health cost we've been shouldering nationally, and this rule makes a difference in addressing that number.

The EPA rule has survived various ill-intended attempts to weaken or eliminate it. In 2012, Senator Bob Casey voted down a Congressional attempt to derail the rule, standing with the major health, faith, and environmental organizations all working to protect the health of those most at risk: Babies and mothers. PennFuture has been working on this health issue on state and federal levels for more than a decade, including organizing testimony at EPA hearings and postcard campaigns (thank you, PennFuture supporters for your work on this!). This ruling is a victory for human health and against polluters but, unfortunately, it won't be the last word on the topic.

For more info and background, here's a brief round-up on the subject:

Kate Gibbons is northeast Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture, based in Wilkes-Barre.

Here we go again: Stop the new (old) industry bill that imperils state wildlife

In early March, strong citizen action from across our state stopped Pennsylvania House Bill 1576, which was driven by natural gas, coal, and oil interests.

HB1576 would have undermined the ability of Pennsylvania's wildlife management agencies to protect threatened and endangered species, and our best native trout streams.

PennFuture helped lead a diverse coalition of environmental, conservation, hunting, angling and recreation organizations opposed to HB 1576. This broad coalition generated thousands of e-mails, phone calls, letters, office visits and letters to the editor across the Commonwealth. 

Support for this bad bill greatly eroded in both the House Republican and House Democratic Caucuses as members heard from their constituents and grasped the fact that HB 1576 was an attack on science-driven wildlife management and essentially a solution in search of a problem.  

Now these industries are launching another attack -- essentially re-packaging the same bad ideas in a different bill. 

The same industries who couldn't take no for an answer have launched the 'Son of House Bill 1576' proposal that would similarly give political appointees the ability to second guess and veto decisions to list wildlife species as threatened or endangered, or to designate wild trout streams.

This proposal has yet to be formally introduced -- but it could be voted on by the House as early as the week of April 28

Please TAKE ACTION and urge your House member to oppose the 'Son of  House Bill 1576' that would give the oil, gas, and coal industries even wider latitude to destroy habitats and wildlife. 

We stopped this bill once, and we can stop it again -- with your help. 

We need to tell Harrisburg and the fossil fuel industry that enough is enough.

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's Director of Outreach and is based in our Philadelphia office. He tweets @RexBainbridge.

Coking? Make that choking.

On April 30, 2014 the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) will present its Consent Agreement with Shenango Coke Works at a public meeting from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Avalon Borough Building. 

On April 8, 2014, the Allegheny County Health Department reached a consent agreement with Shenango Coke Works. The agreement aims to curb the facility's persistent, illegal, toxic emissions. Over more than three decades, the Neville Island plant has consistently violated air quality regulations despite numerous similar agreements established in the past. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette outlines the litany of agreements and fines levied over the years. 

Despite past corrective actions, Shenango violated air quality standards on 330 out of 432 days between July 26, 2012 and September 30, 2013. The health consequences of the company's pollution are severe. In March 2014, a group of 36 environmental organizations (including PennFuture), local businesses, and residents delivered a letter to the Allegheny County Health Department asking for specific actions to protect the health of residents living in Shenango's shadow. The letter cited a Pennsylvania Department of Health finding that "children in the Northgate School District, downwind of Shenango, have the highest incidence of asthma in the state - more than double the state average." The health problems are not limited to asthma. The EPA points out that coke oven emissions can lead to digestive problems and, yes, cancer.  

Will the 2014 agreement bring the air quality improvements promised? Doubtful. PennFuture has been reviewing the agreement and we have serious concerns about the lack of objective standards included, which would ensure that the end result is healthy air. Additionally, without more transparency regarding how the penalty was calculated, it is also possible that this agreement will fall short, simply enabling the company to pay-to-pollute rather than clean up its act. 

Clear your throat, then speak up, on April 30. Community members are encouraged to attend and to ask questions. Please join us and let the County know that an agreement is only the beginning. Shenango must stop polluting the air we breathe.

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

Help Pennsylvania celebrate Earth Day (Part 2 of 2)

Let the celebrations continue! Last week, we brought you Earth Day Events, Part 1 for fun and exciting activities across Pennsylvania that honor Mother Earth. This week, we bring you even MORE!


Go ahead -- join the fun. 

Mechanicsburg Earth Day Festival -- Saturday, April 26 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Main & Market Streets in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Admission is free and open to the public.  There will be music, workshops, vendors, kids’ activities, and even a rain barrel silent auction!

Earth Day Project at South Side Park -- Saturday, April 26 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at South Side Park in Pittsburgh, Pa. Wear clothes that you can get dirty in (long pants and closed-toe shoes) and bring your own water bottle since you will be improving trails and removing litter and invasive species. Register online.

Earth Day in Mt. Lebanon -- Saturday, April 26 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Mt. Lebanon Main Park near Pittsburgh, Pa. There will be food, entertainment, non-profits, and artists. Mt. Lebanon School District will be collecting items for donation, recycling, and upcycling. PennFuture’s Pittsburgh office will be participating in this event -- come out and meet our outreach coordinator, Valessa Souter-Kline

Erie Reading Council Promotes Literacy -- Saturday, April 26 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Tom Ridge Environmental Center, 301 Peninsula Drive, Erie, PA 16505. Admission is free and open to the public. There will be hands-on activities such as papermaking, science experiments, and crafts as well as guest readers and a free book giveaway. Contact Sue Wolf at 814-881-9948 for more information. 

Earth Celebration Day & Festival of Art -- Saturday, April 26 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Renfrew Institute for Cultural & Environmental Studies, 1010 East Main Street, Waynesboro, PA 17268. Admission is free. There will be environmental exhibits, music, food, a drum circle, and area artists. Rain location is Waynesboro Area Middle School.  For more information, call (717) 762-0373 or email

Earth Day Festival -- Saturday, April 26 from 12 noon to 3 p.m. at Wildlands Conservancy, 3701 Orchid Place, Emmaus, PA 18049. There will be activities such as geocaching, animal yoga, birding, building bird boxes, newspaper pots and recycled art projects, education stations, live entertainment, and more. The event is free but registration is encouraged:

Earth Day Spring Scavenger Hunt -- Sunday, April 27 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Millbrook Marsh Nature Center, 548 Puddintown Road, State College, PA 16801.  Families will work together to explore the marsh for signs of spring. Admission is free but donations are appreciated.

Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event -- A 2-day event at Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority, 253 Transfer Road, Bellefonte, PA 16823. Friday, May 2 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 3 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Contact Amy Schirf at 814-238-7005 for more information.

(This is not an all-encompassing list so be sure to check out what's going on in your own community!)

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

Governor's plan for leasing on state lands brings questions but no answers.

Last week, I attended the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' (DCNR) Natural Gas Advisory Committee meeting to get a first glimpse of the highly anticipated Marcellus Monitoring Report. The meeting was divided into two parts, with the second half devoted to the monitoring report and the first focusing on Governor Tom Corbett's proposal to allow further leasing of Pennsylvania’s state parks and state forests so long as there is no additional “surface disturbance.”

The governor’s proposal would require drilling of the newly leased lands to occur from adjacent private lands or from already leased state lands. Given these restrictions, representatives from the gas industry expressed serious concerns regarding the practicality and feasibility of the proposal. Essentially, the big question was: Is it really possible to not have additional surface disturbance?

Here’s why. Well pads are designed for a certain number of wells, and wells can’t be drilled like spokes in a wheel; rather, the direction of their laterals is often determined by geology. These constraints only raised more questions, e.g. can drillers request additional well pads if they’re allowed under the existing lease? Can drillers expand existing pads if that’s needed to make drilling feasible?

Industry representatives also said that some temporary disturbance will be needed, and this prompted multiple questions from committee members, including: What is temporary? How long is temporary? Does the disturbance have to be low impact? What is low impact? Would seismic testing be permitted?

All of these questions raised concerns over the value of these leases. Specifically, given the restrictions in the governor’s proposal and the limited access drillers would have, would this lack of competition devalue the leases?  

Unfortunately, none of these questions were answered, and you have to wonder: Just how well thought out was the governor’s proposal?

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Help Pennsylvania celebrate Earth Day (Part 1 of 2)

You’ve heard the phrase from environmentalists before: “Every day should be Earth Day!" Although we couldn’t agree more, we get especially excited about the time of year when Earth Day is celebrated around the globe by communities and organizations joining together in appreciation of our wonderful planet. The official Earth Day occurs every year on April 22 but events are not limited to just one day.

In this post, we’ve gathered a list of Earth Day events happening throughout Pennsylvania over the next week. (Check back next Thursday for Earth Day Events, Part 2—even MORE fun happenings across Pa.) This is by no means an exhaustive list; be sure to check with your local community to see if there are even more events happening close to home.

Where will YOU be joining in?

Brownie points to whoever attends the most events …traveling via your environmentally friendly method of transportation, of course.

Earth Day Dash Saturday, April 19 beginning at 9:00 a.m. Hosted by the Roaring Run Watershed Association in Apollo, Pa.  5K/15K Run/Walk. See their website for event details and registration.

Earth Day Work Day Saturday, April 19 from 10:00 a.m. to 12 noon at Peace Valley Nature Center, 170 N. Chapman Road, Doylestown, Pa. Help them improve their outdoor classroom! Let them know if you plan to attend the event by calling 215-345-7860 or emailing

Asylum Run Cleanup Tuesday, April 22 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon at Pennsylvania State Hospital Grounds in Harrisburg.  Join the DEP South-Central office staff in cleaning up Asylum Run. For more information contact Lisa Kasianowitz at 717-787-1323.

Environmental education activities will be held on Friday, April 25 from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Riverfront Parks along the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre (and PennFuture’s northeastern Pa. office staff will be there!).

Earth Fest Friday, April 25 from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Temple University Ambler Campus, 580 Meetinghouse Road, Ambler, Pa.  Hosted by Temple University Center for Sustainable Communities. Admission is free and event will be held outdoors, rain or shine. Join the celebration with fun activities from over 75 exhibitors from the community including non-profits, for-profits, and schools. For more information contact Jim Duffy at 267-468-8108.

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

PennFuture responds to DCNR drilling report

The following is a statement from PennFuture's CEO Cindy Dunn on the just-released Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Marcellus monitoring report. The 265-page report is the first in an ongoing effort to track the impact of gas development on public forests. 


“We are pleased to finally see the Marcellus monitoring report and applaud the effort of agency staffers tasked with its release. At a glance, the report raises more questions than it answers. When will DCNR release the raw data analyzed in the report? Was the report peer-reviewed by outside experts? How will the general public and scientific professionals be able to provide input on an ongoing basis? What changes has DCNR made, or will it make, based on the analysis and conclusions in the report? How many forest acres have been indirectly and cumulatively impacted by the 1,486 acres converted to gas infrastructure?

“We remain unequivocally opposed to additional leasing of our state parks and forests for natural gas drilling. It's time we put the brakes on runaway drilling – the gas is under our land and it's not going anywhere. We owe it to the citizens of the Commonwealth to more fully understand the impacts of natural gas drilling before we turn special places into industrial zones. The suggestion that this industrial activity can be 'carefully managed' provides scant comfort to Pennsylvanians who frequent Penn's Woods. Carefully-managed industrialization is still industrialization, so the need for a moratorium on leasing of state forests and parks to drillers remains.

“PennFuture is collaborating with environmental and conservation organizations in the state to review this report in the interest of a larger, public conversation on drilling of public lands.”

Spring PennFuture forward with Pittsburgh Day of Giving 2014

"The world's favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May." 
~ Edwin Way Teale
The Day of Giving website will open in a new browser window.
YOU make our work possible. Your generous donations energize us to move forward with the sometimes difficult work of protecting your clean air and water.

On Tuesday, May 6, from 6 a.m. until midnight, we have the opportunity to take part in the Pittsburgh Day of Giving 2014, hosted by the the Pittsburgh Foundation.

As the state's premier environmental watchdog, PennFuture works hard to make a difference daily in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.  

Your Day of Giving contribution will allow us to do even more.

This day of charity giving, previously held in October, is part of Give Local America, the national day for community foundations across the country.

Your donation on May 6 made via the Day of Giving portal will be matched by the generosity of The Pittsburgh Foundation — an amazing opportunity for your gift on behalf of PennFuture to go that extra mile. You can learn more about how it all works on the Pittsburgh Gives website.

Please support your favorite enviro 'dog' on Pittsburgh Day of Giving (affectionately called Pittsburgh DOG).

If you don't live in Allegheny County but have friends and relatives who do, throw us a bone by telling them about this great opportunity to support PennFuture.

Thanks in advance for your support. It will allow us to remain first, and forceful, on issues of great environmental importance to the Pittsburgh region.

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A bad idea: Drilling under Allegheny County public parks

On Wednesday, April 2, Allegheny County held a public meeting on its proposed plan to allow natural gas drilling under Deer Lakes Park. The following is excerpted testimony of PennFuture's western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator, Valessa Souter-Kline. You can register here to speak at the Tuesday, April 8, County Council meeting. 


Drilling under county parks is, unequivocally, a bad idea. Allowing oil and gas drilling below public parks draws industrial activity directly to our natural resources -- resources held in the public trust, which the county has a duty to conserve and protect for future generations. Even horizontal drilling, without surface disturbances, creates more air pollution, more truck traffic and more toxic wastewater, along with real safety risks, should spills or accidents occur. 

PennFuture opposes drilling on or under public parks altogether. In this case, we also have specific concerns about the lease that has been presented to the public, which not only would open the door to drilling under county parks, but would do so in a way that fails to protect our water or prevent air pollution. For example:

  • The lease provides for the protection of surface waters in section 8.1.1 but there is no mention of groundwater, potentially leaving some drinking water supplies at risk. 
  • Other requirements also put surface and downstream drinking water at risk. Baseline water testing is required but the lease does not state what must be tested for and only requires testing six months in advance of actual drilling, which may be well after activities with potential to impact water quality are under way at the well site.
  • The lease includes no provisions for monitoring or mitigating air pollution impacts. With some of the worst air quality in the country, Allegheny County cannot afford to allow polluters to spew toxins into our air without controls. 

There is also a fatal problem with the draft ordinance: It does not ensure that lease revenue would be spent in a manner consistent with the County’s legal obligations as the trustee of Deer Lakes Park for the citizens of Allegheny County. Any and all monetary benefit derived from transferring public natural resources to private development should be directly reinvested into our parks, not diverted to general operations. 

Furthermore, despite a requirement for detailed documentation of bonus payments and royalties, the lease offers no means of verifying the accuracy of actual royalty payments and deductions. Even Governor Corbett has recognized that deduction provisions in leases can be abused. Do we really trust Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to ensure that we receive the full value of this shared community resource?

For almost a century, Allegheny County has managed its parks in the public trust. Parks are community assets that offer essential ecosystem services while serving as a destination for recreation and relaxation and thereby providing real community, health and economic value for our region. To those who would say that Deer Lakes Park is in an isolated corner of the county and, therefore, ripe for natural gas development, we would argue that the Park is a haven for fishermen, home to three spring-fed lakes that are stocked by the state. It also houses the Wagman Observatory, an ideal location for viewing the night sky. Is this really the kind of place we want to subject to water and air pollution?

In the end it comes down to this question -- do we want to turn our parks into magnets for industrial activity or preserve them as sanctuaries from noise, traffic, and pollution?