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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Nov 4: Make Philly's Mayor’s Office of Sustainability Permanent

This Election Day – Tuesday, November 4 – the fate of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability is in the hands of Philadelphia voters. Earlier this year, the Philadelphia City Council passed charter change legislation to bring to the question of the department’s permanent status to a general election ballot vote.  A “yes” vote on ballot question 1 this Tuesday will make the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability a permanent fixture in city government. 

Need a little help making your decision? Consider this – since its inception in 2008, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability has achieved the following under the umbrella of its ambitious Greenworks agenda:
  • Brought in $41 million in outside grants 
  • Increased the amount of alternative energy as a percentage of our electricity use from 2.5 percent to 14.8 percent
  • Diverted 73 percent of waste from landfills, up from 53 percent
  • Greened 323 acres of land to help manage stormwater
  • Added 142 new acres of park and open space and more than 16 new miles of trails 
  • Increased the number of markets, gardens, and farms from 230 to 340
  • Planted 100,000 new trees
The continuation of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability is just the first step in bringing the many, many great initiatives that are under way across the finish line. 

The Next Great City coalition is proud of the tremendous progress we've made toward creating cleaner, safer, and healthier Philadelphia neighborhoods over the past seven years. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability has played a critical role in implementing and shaping our vision for what Philadelphia can and will be. The importance of a strong ally in city government cannot be underestimated.

It’s up to all of us to decide what Philadelphia's future will look like. Voting “yes” on ballot question 1 is a critical step in the right direction.   

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture’s Philadelphia outreach coordinator and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Our take: PA Lags on Methane Control

After the Scranton Times-Tribune's forceful editorial calling on the next governor to regulate methane emissions, Governor Tom Corbett's energy executive penned a letter to the Scranton Times-Tribune in which he claimed that Pennsylvania is "leading the way" on addressing methane. In a follow up letter, PennFuture strongly disagreed with this assertion: 
Editor: It was encouraging that Gov. Tom Corbett’s energy executive, Patrick Henderson (Your Opinion, “Emissions Managed,” Oct. 18) recognizes the importance of reducing methane pollution from the natural gas industry. 
Unfortunately, his claim that Pennsylvania is “leading the way” on methane regulations is not true. Under Mr. Corbett, Pennsylvania has taken a Swiss cheese approach to addressing methane and the commonwealth lags behind other states. Pennsylvania has no regulations directly regulating methane emissions. Instead, Pennsylvania has a patchwork of policies and federal rules that result in some reductions, but fall far short of the comprehensive regulations citizens deserve.
Instead of directly regulating methane, Pennsylvania has a voluntary permitting option — one that only applies to drillers who elect to follow it. For new Marcellus wells, an exemption says wells that meet some basic standards don’t need to be permitted by the Department of Environmental Protection’s air program. The exemption calls sources of methane emissions “trivial activities” that don’t require pre-construction approval.
While the current exemption is an improvement over a prior blanket exemption, many loopholes remain. For example, it applies only to new wells, not thousands of existing wells. 
Other states show leadership on this issue. Ohio adopted rules that require oil and gas operators to conduct quarterly leak and repair inspections — in contrast to Pennsylvania’s once-a-year requirement. Industry and environmental groups came together in Colorado to enact a comprehensive set of methane regulations for oil and gas operators. The bulk of operators have to perform quarterly methane leak inspections, with monthly inspections at the largest well sites.
The Times-Tribune’s recent editorial was spot on: Methane pollution from our natural gas industry is a serious threat and the time to take action is now. Our next governor must take necessary steps on methane pollution to truly claim a leadership role.
Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets at @RexBainbridge.

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 another 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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In Pittsburgh, it’s all about AIR

NEXT Pittsburgh recently published an article entitled “5 Challenges Facing Pittsburgh and what we’re doing about them,” and air pollution was number one on the list. Air pollution is a complex problem, to say the least (Dr. Neil Donahue at CMU explains just how complex on Essential Pittsburgh). Car exhaust as well as diesel from trucks, buses and industrial facilities all contribute to unhealthy levels of particle pollution and toxics – emissions that are known or suspected of causing cancer, birth defects, neurological problems and other serious health risks – in the air we breathe.

If you’ve been paying attention in Pittsburgh, the fact that air pollution remains a problem, even as we move away from the city’s industrial past, will come as no surprise. Both the Post-Gazette and Trib have published stories on air pollution this fall and the local National Public Radio station, WESA, spent another hour last Wednesday addressing the harmful impact of pollution from DTE’s Shenango Coke plant on the surrounding community. During the WESA radio show, the Deputy Director of Environmental Health at the Allegheny County Health Department articulated the problem well when he pointed out that, inevitably, an industrial  coke plant, located in a densely populated area, is going to put a “significant burden” on the surrounding community. The question, then, is does the community have a say in reducing that burden? 

In August, the Allegheny County Health Department signed a consent order and agreement with U.S. Steel's Clairton plant, fining the facility for daily violations and outlining a timeline for compliance with no public involvement. There was no notification and there were no public meetings. U.S. Steel was given the opportunity to negotiate just how long they can continue to dump unhealthy levels of pollution into the air but the people who live, work and play in the shadow of the plant, battling higher than average rates of asthma, cancer and respiratory illnesses, had no say.

As the steel city continues to become a tech city, we need to re-examine the cost of our ongoing industrial legacy. Right now, residents and clean businesses, which struggle to attract employees to a region with some of the worst air in the country, are paying the price. It’s high time we shifted that burden onto the polluters themselves.

Want to get involved and speak out against unhealthy air in our region? Email me at souter-kline [at]

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

Philly's Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk: The new Instagram hotspot

Philadelphia scored a huge victory for innovative public space this month with the extension of the Schuylkill River Trail to include a boardwalk that gives pedestrians and bicyclists the ability to walk, run, and bike on water - literally. 

The Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk extends the trail from Locust Street to South Street, an area that has long been without pedestrian waterfront access because of the close proximity of existing train tracks to the water’s edge. Through a combination of federal, state, and nonprofit funding, $18 million was spent to circumvent the lack of riverfront access by creating a new portion of the path that juts out into the river itself. 

The boardwalk is 15 feet wide, offering plenty of room for pedestrians and bicyclists to share the space. Four lookout points give folks and opportunity to take in the view without disrupting the flow of traffic. The boardwalk also has solar powered overhead lights to illuminate the path after sundown. 

I had the opportunity to go for a run on the boardwalk this weekend and I highly recommend it. The views are dynamic and interesting enough to divert attention away from the act of running (always a plus in my mind) and I found it hard to resist snapping a photo or two. I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride in my community to see people taking advantage of another one of Philadelphia's great new public spaces. I'm also hopeful that this project demonstrates the need to extend trail networks throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding region -- and build on all of the great work that has been done over the past several years.  

(Seriously, try not to Instagram this.)

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture's Philadelphia outreach coordinator. She tweets @KatieBartolotta. 

The chorus grows: Methane rules needed in PA

The threat of methane emissions from natural gas drilling has been coming into clearer focus this year, and there is real momentum for action in Pennsylvania. This past Sunday, the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal's editorial board called on the state's next chief executive to implement new methane rules:
"Pound for pound, methane’s impact on the climate is more than 20 times greater than that of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent atmosphere-warming gas.

At the federal level, the Obama administration has made methane reduction a key element of its climate change strategy, and new federal regulations will likely take hold within a couple of years. But Pennsylvania shouldn't wait.
States like Colorado, Wyoming and Ohio are now taking the initiative to work with natural gas producers to curb methane emissions, and it’s time for Pennsylvania to follow suit.
A Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report last week found the state’s aging natural gas distribution network, including some 10,000 miles of dangerously leaky pipes, sprang more than 31,000 leaks in 2013. Those leaks can pollute our air and leach into the water table.
The natural gas industry understandably wants to maximize profit, and it’s hard to focus on the long-term financial benefit associated with preventing methane loss when you’re staring at a substantial short-term outlay of capital to implement mitigation systems.
The best way for the gas industry to reduce the amount of natural gas it leaks and vents into the atmosphere is to upgrade the infrastructure that produces, transports and stores the gas, and that’s not going to happen without it being a requirement of doing business in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania needs the economic push of natural gas. But that push can't come at the expense of the environment in general and the release of increased amounts of methane gas into the air we breathe.
Balancing the two concerns should be a critical focus of both the Corbett and Wolf campaigns."
And the chorus continues to grow. Just this week, the New York Times weighed in with a call to address methane pollution, calling this a "moment  of truth" for the gas industry. 

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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fifteen senators press Obama for methane standards

"WASHINGTON -- Fifteen senators are pressing the Obama administration to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas production, arguing that addressing methane is a "key component" of curbing planet-warming emissions. 
"Ton for ton, methane causes at least 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period," wrote the 13 Democratic senators and two Independents, led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), in a letter addressed to President Barack Obama on Friday. "Voluntary standards are not enough. Too many in the oil and gas sector have failed to adopt sound practices voluntarily, and the absence of uniform enforceable standards has allowed methane pollution to continue, wasting energy and threatening public health." 
The Environmental Protection Agency released five white papers in April looking at emissions from oil and gas operations. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Friday in a meeting with reporters that the agency is now in the process of developing a strategy for addressing those emissions. That strategy, which the EPA plans to release some time this fall, "will look at what tools we have and what we think are most appropriate" for addressing the matter, McCarthy said. She did not specify whether the agency would recommend voluntary measures or new regulations."
The potential for federal methane rules could be a big step in the right direction. This strategy has the potential to deliver the federal regulatory oversight that is needed to complement much-needed state efforts and make sure that all of the oil and gas industry meets basic, common-sense standards to deploy readily available technologies. 

But federal rules don't replace the need for Pennsylvania to get its methane problem under control. As the fastest growing natural gas producer in the country -- and a state that emits nearly a full percent of the world's greenhouses gases -- Pennsylvania can't afford to wait. 

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