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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wall Street sounds alarm on climate

A bipartisan trio of Wall Street moneymen are sounding the alarm on climate change. Former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, released a report this week detailing how climate change is expected to impact the American economy.

Their analysis: Between $66 billion and $106 billion in coastal property will likely be below sea level by 2050; labor productivity of outdoor workers could be reduced by 3 percent because extremely hot days will be far more frequent; and demand for electricity to power air conditioners will require the construction of more power plants that will cost electricity customers up to $12 billion per year.

The report calls for comprehensive public AND private sector response. But there are rays of hope.

Just this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a historic standard to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants. This rule is likely to have the most impact on the oldest, dirtiest coal plants because they can't compete with relatively newer coal plants and other more economic alternatives. Because coal won't be able to compete, we'll likely see more natural gas production, especially here in Pennylvania.

But with more natural gas production, the threat of fugitive methane emissions rises. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas and, absent adequate controls, methane leaks across the natural gas supply chain could undo many of the potential environmental benefits natural gas can have over other fossil fuels like coal.

So the question is: Are we going to trading one climate killer (carbon dioxide) for another (methane)?

The good news: Methane leakage can be significantly and cost-effectively controlled with proper equipment and robust monitoring and repair. Colorado recently put in place the nation’s most comprehensive regulations to control air emissions from oil and gas operations, including the first direct state regulation of methane.

Next door, Ohio now also requires natural gas drillers to conduct quarterly inspections to find and fix leaks wherever they might occur.

Pennsylvania can, and should, be a national leader on methane. Other states have set the bar, and energy companies are meeting their tough new requirements. There’s no reason why it can’t happen here.

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

Get on the bus! A huge day for climate action coming up

July 31 is shaping up to be a huge day for climate action in Pennsylvania. And not just because it's likely to be hot. Pittsburgh has been chosen as one of only four cities in the nation to host Environmental Protection Agency hearings on the newly-proposed standard to limit industrial carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants.

Pittsburgh EPA Hearing
Thursday, July 31 
9:00 a.m. — 8:00 p.m. 
William S. Moorhead Federal Building 
Room 1310 
1000 Liberty Avenue 

This hearing will give all Pennsylvanians (and even our neighbors in surrounding states) a chance to shine -- and make their voices heard in support of EPA's strong rules on carbon pollution. There will also be noon rally near the Federal building to show support (stay tuned for more details).

What you need to do: Sign up to testify. Everyone is welcome — whether you're an individual, on staff or a volunteer for an environmental community group, a business owner, a teenager concerned about the future, a faith leader — anyone can and should testify. No expertise required — just passion about climate change.

We're providing a FREE bus from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh for folks who want to attend the rally and show their support. More buses are being scheduled from State College and Erie, and we hope to have that info posted soon.

Eager to hear more? Email <quinn at pennfuture dot org.>

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

Truckloads of electronics



In June, PennFuture staff in Wilkes-Barre organized our third electronic waste pickup in our office building and others in the downtown area. PennFuture played a role in supporting Pennsylvania's landmark electronic waste recycling law in 2010.

In conjunction with Luzerne County Department of Solid Waste Management Coordinator Beth DeNardi, and alongside the great work of our building staff, we promoted the collection to tenants in five buildings. Thanks to Cititower, LLC, our landlord, we were able to use building storage space that became packed with the response.

The collection resulted in 15 overflowing pallets of used electronic items that will be recycled instead of going to landfills. Participating organizations included: Cititower, LLC and Humford Equities, which both provided great work by their staff; Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Northeast Regional Office; Bohlin, Cywinski, Jackson; Fairchild Semiconductor; and Rosenn, Jenkins and Greenwald, in addition to individual participants.


Photo above: First row: Cheryl Nudo, administrative support, Fairchild Semiconductor; Pam Fendrock, web and outreach coordinator, PennFuture.

Second row: Berit Case, recycling coordinator, DEP Northeast Regional Office; Kate Gibbons, outreach coordinator, PennFuture; Tim Dougherty, building manager, Cititower, LLC. Not pictured is Ed Tomchak of Humford Equities.

2nd photo: Early in the e-waste collection, these items filled one full room. The pile eventually flowed over into multiple rooms. 

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Make the longest day of the year a good one -- check out Allegheny Solar Fest!

Computers, air conditioners, KitchenAid mixers – all of our favorite gadgets use electricity. Most of our electricity comes from coal or natural gas but not all. Next Saturday, we’ll be celebrating power from the sun at the Allegheny Solar Fest on June 21, noon to 7pmCome on out and join us! The event is FREE but please register

You can celebrate solar panels with live music, food, fun and, hopefully, sun on the summer solstice. There will be solar info and workshops, vendors, food trucks, live music and kid-friendly activities throughout the day.  PennFuture will be there. Stop by our table to see if any of your neighbors run their devices off the sun, and we’ll have a map of solar installations in the area on display.

Did you know? 

There are 9.8 megawatts of solar power generated in Western Pennsylvania, enough to power approximately 1,020 homes.

2.8 megawatts of solar power in Allegheny County generates enough power for 292 homes.

U.S. solar energy capacity grew and astounding 418 percent from 2010 to 2014.


So where is all that solar power coming from? The Solar Unified Network of Western Pennsylvania (SUNWPA) will have a table at the festival where you can meet local solar owners, ask questions and learn about their experiences.

Best of all? The entire event will run on 100 percent solar power generated by ZeroFossil and SolarCast. Food, fun and renewable energy...what’s not to love? See you there. 

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

New EPA clean power standard highlights need for methane regulations

We at PennFuture were thrilled about the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) announcement last week of the proposed standard to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants. As we discussed, this rule is likely to have the most impact on the oldest, dirtiest coal plants because they can't compete with relatively newer coal plants, natural gas plants and other more competitive electric power resources. 

But with more natural gas production on the way -- and the attendant methane leakage -- this Christian Science Monitor article raised an important question: Are we trading one climate killer (carbon dioxide) for another (methane)?
Since natural gas burns much cleaner than coal, producing about half as much carbon dioxide, making the switch from coal to gas can go a long way to achieving the rest of the remaining reductions, the administration seems to be thinking.
The big problem is that we don’t know what’s happening with methane emissions. Natural gas, which is essentially methane (CH4), may burn cleaner than coal, but what happens when it isn’t burned? As a greenhouse gas, methane emitted into the atmosphere is more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
Natural gas production leaks methane along its entire supply chain – from drilling to storing, processing to distributing. 
.... 
Natural gas may still have a climate benefit over coal. And even if it doesn’t right now, methane leakage could turn out to be a very fixable problem, as engineers figure out how to plug the leaks in the supply chain. 
As the author points out, fugitive methane emissions are something we can address. But we must act now. Methane leakage can be significantly and cost-effectively controlled with proper equipment and robust monitoring and repair. Colorado recently put in place the nation’s most comprehensive regulations to control air emissions from oil and gas operations, including the first direct state regulation of methane

Next door, Ohio now also requires natural gas drillers to conduct quarterly inspections to find and fix leaks wherever they might occur. 

Pennsylvania can, and should, be a national leader on methane. Other states have set the bar, and energy companies are meeting their tough new requirements. There’s no reason why it can’t happen here. 

Andrew Sharp is Director of Outreach for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets at @RexBainbridge.

Can you help the Delaware River Watershed?

Seventeen million of us drink its water and it's the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi: It's the Delaware River, and it needs your help. The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW), formed in 2013, is uniting organizations of the entire watershed for the first time. Last fall, the new coalition hosted a two-day conference that brought together more than 200 attendees from 60 organizations in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

PennFuture is a founding member and serves on the Coalition's steering committee. We are working to reach volunteer organizations, watershed and fishing groups, land trusts, and others who can all make a difference for this new coalition. Can you bring your vision and input to help us grow?? If you are part of a non-governmental, non-profit organization committed to improving the Delaware River Watershed, we welcome your group's application for membership in the coalition. CDRW members receive advance notice of events (next conference October 21-22, 2014 in Bethlehem: details TBA) and urgent action items, and can bring more voices to the table for protecting and restoring the Delaware River and watershed. (There is no fee to apply or to be a member.)  

There's another reason this coalition work is urgent right now. Governor Tom Corbett has proposed cutting Pennsylvania's contribution to the Delaware River Basin Commission's annual budget, which is a critical piece of protection for the entire watershed. We'll connect you with efforts to help stop this short-sighted budget cut. You can sign and share the petition right now.

Please contact us or sign up as a new Coalition member online. PennFuture, National Wildlife Federation, New Jersey Audubon Society, and 50 other community organizations look forward to having you join us.

Kate Gibbons is northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture. She is based in Wilkes-Barre.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

State parks under fire -- again

We're not surprised, but Pennsylvania’s precious public lands are under serious threat once again. For the first time, state park lands could be leased for gas drilling, breaking a long-standing policy of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Governor Tom Corbett's bad-news dump on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend was likely intended to attract as little attention as possible. But Pennsylvanians care deeply about our parks and aren't distracted that easily.

The Governor's lifting of a 2010 executive order to prohibit further leasing of public lands puts our state parks -- a jewel of the Commonwealth -- at dire risk, and opens our state forests to additional gas drilling. Until now, state parks have been spared since drilling companies know the value and attachment Pennsylvanians have for our state parks.

Our 120 state parks attract over 38 million visitors per year and generate over $1.1 billion in economic activity. Whether you're hiking along one of the 24 named waterfalls at Ricketts Glen State Park, camping at Ohiopyle State Park, or picknicking at Laurel Ridge, our state park system is one of the highlights of Pennsylvania's outdoors and a huge contributor to our state's economy.


DCNR’s own report acknowledges that there are already impacts to forests, wildlife, and the public’s right to enjoyment of public lands.
These will only increase. Forest fragmentation, which is destructive to biodiversity, will increase; threats to water and native plants and animals will increase; and air pollution from well infrastructure and truck traffic will rise. 

This is an urgent threat, as the General Assembly works to pass a budget by June 30. Please tell your state legislators to block further leasing and to oppose any budget or Fiscal Code bill that contains revenue from new leasing of state parks and state forests. If you subscribe to our e-alerts, you'll be receiving details this week on how to contact your legislator.

Kate Gibbons is PennFuture's northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Wilkes-Barre. 

Guest blogger: Why the next governor must update Pennsylvania’s building codes

We are thrilled to have Shari Shapiro guest blogging for us this week! Shari is a government relations professional with Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies. She represents a coalition of groups advocating for up-to-date building codes for Pennsylvania. She can be reached at sashapiro@cozen.com. 

When I tell you that I am going to spend the next five hundred words explaining why the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC), PennFuture and the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance all included reforming Pennsylvania’s building code process as a central issue in the gubernatorial race, cleaning the crumbs out of your keyboard will probably take on a sudden urgency. But for the benefit of Pennsylvania’s economy and environment, hear me out.

Issued last week, the National Climate Assessment described the dramatic effects of climate change in the United States. The increase in severity and frequency of storms and flooding reflected in the report comes as no surprise to Pennsylvanians. Not including the most recent terrible winter storms, there have been five federally declared national disasters in Pennsylvania during the last four years.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency reported that Pennsylvania spent approximately $82 million in taxpayer money in recovery costs, and the Federal government has spent many times that. Up-to-date building codes represent one of the most cost effective ways of reducing disaster recovery costs -- for every $1.00 spent in disaster mitigation techniques like constructing to the most up-to-date building codes, the country saves $4.00 in rebuilding costs. (FEMA)

The most up-to-date building codes are also more than 15 percent more energy efficient than Pennsylvania’s current codes. Updating Pennsylvania’s codes would save new homeowners between $200-$700 per year, and between $5,460 - $19,832 in net profits over the over the course of a thirty-year mortgage. (Department of Energy; Building Codes Assistance Project estimates). Of course, the increased energy efficiency also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. 

Finally, up-to-date codes include the most current building safety standards and allow for the use of new building technologies. 

But Pennsylvania will not realize these benefits for the foreseeable future. Governor Tom Corbett signed a law in 2011 (“Act 1”) that proved so restrictive and unworkable that it effectively guarantees that future editions of the codes will not be adopted unless the law is changed. In 2012, the 19 governor appointees charged with reviewing the 2012 code changes could not comply with the Act 1 requirements, and simply rejected the 2012 code updates in their entirety instead. The review committee will begin to be review the 2015 codes this summer and, without legislative change, there is no reason that the outcome will be any different. As a result, Pennsylvania’s codes will be almost a decade old when they next come up for review.

When communities fail to update their building codes, the burden falls on the citizens. Buildings are less safe and less energy efficient than they should be. Residents pay higher insurance premiums, and, when disaster strikes, taxpayers are left with the rebuilding check. While interest and campaign promises are encouraging, pressure from you is critical to keeping building codes in the campaign spotlight and ensuring the governor, when elected, follows through on UCC reform. For more background information on the Pennsylvania code situation and actions you can take, please go to www.builditsafe.org.    

This post was excerpted from a blog posted by the Delaware Valley Green Building Council.