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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Natural gas lobbyists want to silence "public interests."

At a hearing of Pennsylvania's Oil & Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB) on March 20 to discuss proposed revisions to the state's oil and gas regulations, natural gas industry lobbyists said that "public interests" should not be among the "considerations" when weighing new drilling standards. We're not kidding -- they really said that, and it was picked up in a story by Laura Legere of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dave Conti at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review also weighed in.

These lobbyists would just as soon dismiss the over 24,000 public comments submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on the proposed rules, which will cover everything from how to handle fracking wastewater -- to keep it from leaching into our drinking water -- to surface activities at well sites including contamination of our air and land as well as noise and light pollution.

Pennsylvania's oil and gas law, Act 13, was passed in 2012. Since then, industry has been dragging out and delaying the process for common sense rules of the road that will help ensure public health and the environment are protected, a standard requested by Gov. Tom Wolf more than once on the campaign trail and since he took office.

Specific proposals include centralized wastewater impoundments; the placement of well pads near public resources that could include schools, parks and playgrounds; and restoring contaminated drinking water supplies to pre-drilling conditions. Similarly, we will need to address methane emissions -- a potent greenhouse gas -- with strong rules as voluntary measures are not working.

It's outrageous that natural gas interests believe the public interest should be dismissed. The impacts of natural gas drilling, an inherently industrial activity, affect our children and families today and may well into the future. We have a right to be heard, and the TAB has the responsibility of recommending standards that will protect the public interest.

Elaine Labalme is director of communications for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh.

Make your voice heard on environmental issues

On March 18, Philadelphia City Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown invited citizens and activists to participate in the “State of the Environment” hearing before Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on the Environment. Speakers participated on a series of four panels – oil train safety, water, air, and litter and trash.

The goal of the hearings was to bring forth solutions to address environmental issues in the City of Philadelphia, particularly solutions that can be initiated by City Council.
In representing PennFuture, I had the pleasure of testifying on the water panel alongside Clean Water Action and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. As a group, we tackled water quality as it relates to stormwater management, litter and trash issues, climate change adaptation, and oil train traffic. The full text of PennFuture’s testimony can be found here.

Opportunities like this serve as a reminder of the critical importance of publicly supporting issues of concern in our region. Elected officials need to hear from organizations, but they particularly need to hear from individuals on issues affecting our communities. You need not be an expert to have your voice heard.

So what environmental issues do you think are important to address?
  • Improving the health of our waterways?
  • Ensuring that every community in the city has access to green space?
  • Monitoring trains carrying crude oil through our neighborhoods?
  • Getting litter out of our streets and waterways?
  • Protecting vulnerable people and places from the effects of climate change?

Let us know! PennFuture supporters are active citizens -- whether it’s by sending online action alerts, attending public events, or testifying before elected bodies. To get involved, sign up to volunteer or become a member today.

Katie Bartolotta is southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Proposed revisions to state oil and gas regulations announced by DEP

We offered our support this week for proposed revisions to Pennsylvania's oil and gas regulations in the following statement: 
PennFuture today signaled its support for comments made by John Quigley, acting secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as he announced revisions to the state's proposed oil and gas drilling regulations as listed in 25 pa. Code Chapter 78 (for conventional oil and gas operations) and Chapter 78a (for unconventional oil and gas operations). 
The revised proposal is an update to regulations that were proposed by DEP in December 2013. Those draft regulations were the subject of more than 24,000 comments from stakeholders on all sides of the issue. PennFuture submitted detailed comments urging DEP to strengthen the regulations to better protect public health and the environment. The organization was gratified to learn that the revised regulations are expected to incorporate many of the ideas included in its 46-page comment letter, including:

  • elimination of the use of well-site waste storage pits by unconventional well operators;
  • permitting of centralized wastewater impoundments only through the Residual Waste Regulations at 25 Pa. Code Chapter 299, which have more stringent engineering requirements and environmental protections than those the DEP originally proposed to include in Chapter 78;
  • extension of the time period for agencies in charge of “public resources” to review and comment on plans for oil and gas drilling operations that may impact public resources; and
  • explicit language making clear that a drinking water supply contaminated by oil and gas operations must be restored to the better of pre-drill conditions or Safe Drinking Water Act standards.
    "We're pleased to hear Acting Secretary Quigley emphasize the importance of 'protecting public health and the environment,' and undertaking a process that is 'thoughtful, deliberate, and transparent,' as DEP moves toward finalizing these vital regulations by spring of 2016," said John Norbeck, acting president and CEO of PennFuture. "It is paramount that we have strong rules of the road for oil and gas operations in the state. Our citizens have been demanding this, as witnessed by the 70 percent of Pennsylvanians who support the direct regulation of methane emissions."
    The environmental advocacy organization will review the draft Chapter 78 regulations in full when they are made available by DEP. It will then offer additional comment during the upcoming 30-day period for public participation.
    Elaine Labalme is director of communications for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @NewGirlInTown.

DCNR Acting Secretary Cindy Dunn honored by National Wildlife Federation

Cindy Adams Dunn, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), was honored on March 12 by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) for her contributions and achievements in the environmental field. Her work to reduce carbon pollution, promote clean energy, and protect wildlife and their habitats from the risks of climate change has made her a recipient of the Women in Conservation Award, given to those deserving women that have shown exceptional leadership and dedication to conservation and climate action.

Dunn follows in the footsteps of other strong women who have had significant roles in the conservation movement, including fellow Pennsylvania native, Rachel Carson. Carson, most famously known for her book, Silent Spring, brought the environmental movement to mainstream America during the 1960s. Present-day environmental leader Gina McCarthy, the current Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has taken the necessary steps forward to protect people and wildlife from the effects of climate change by proposing the agency’s Clean Power Plan, a standard to reduce industrial carbon pollution.

“Cindy is a true asset to the conservation community,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We at NWF believe that highlighting and bringing women into the environmental story is important to reach the common goal of protecting all people, communities, landscapes and our precious wildlife from the impacts of climate change.”

PennFuture is proud to be the Pennsylvania affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.

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

ICYMI: Snow and rain couldn’t keep Philadelphians from engaging with mayoral hopefuls

A little bit of freezing rain didn’t stop Philadelphians from joining the Next Great City for its Philadelphia Mayoral Candidates’ Forum on Tuesday, March 3.     

Despite the weather, the room was packed with nearly 500 folks who were eager to hear the insights of six candidates – Senator Anthony Hardy Williams, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, Judge Nelson Diaz, former Councilmember Jim Kenney, Reverend Keith Goodman, and Doug Oliver – on the six recommendations put forth in the Coalition’s 2015 agenda to help make Philadelphia the Next Great City. The conversation was robust and we thank our moderator, Dave Davies of WHYY FM, who did a masterful job in guiding the discussion.

From left to right: Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, Doug Oliver, Reverend Keith Goodman, Dave Davies, Senator Anthony Hardy Williams, Judge Nelson Diaz, Former Councilmember Jim Kenney.

For those who couldn't be there, we pulled a snippet from each candidate that participated in the event:

“The issue of asthma is something that is not a theory for me but is an actuality. As a young child, I lived in a tenement, where there was mold, rats, cockroaches and, as a result, I was a very sickly kid until the age of ten when I was first able to sleep in a room by myself in public housing. I then became healthy. It’s important to provide housing that is clean and affordable.”
Judge Nelson Diaz on Healthy Houses

“I think one of the things that can be done is creating businesses locally to provide that fresh food. Right now it may be that we are getting the food from some other part of Pennsylvania but why can’t we use vacant property and create urban farms, partner with organizations like Manna, partner with the Food Policy Advisory [Council] to find ways to grow that food, get it there, and find a way to invest in small business to make sure that if they don’t have capacity, that they can develop capacity? Perhaps breaking the school district [requests for proposal] into smaller sections…to allow small businesses to participate.”
Doug Oliver on Nourished Students

“…we ought to create…new ways of helping fund some of these small businesses. Their credit is not built up so it’s very difficult for them to get a loan when they go to a Wells Fargo or to a Citizens Bank so we need to create something like a micro-lending system where they can, based upon their performance, be able to access capital and, when they do well, access more capital.”
- Reverend Keith Goodman on Strong, Local Businesses 
(Reverend Goodman has since dropped out of the race.)

“So there are people who ride bikes because they can and there’s some people who ride bikes because they have to… Bike share is expanding – it’s not just in certain neighborhoods – it’s across Philadelphia…I think it’s wonderful…There has to be a broader base of all types of Philadelphians providing experience and involved in that process. So that means when you come to communities where they have to ride, a $100 deposit is not necessarily the smartest thing to do…For those who can ride, we need to figure out a structure for them to supplement those who can’t ride. I think that this is a marvelous opportunity where we can intersect the quality of life, the dignity of human experience, and most importantly enjoy all of Philadelphia at the same time.”
Senator Anthony Hardy Williams on Trail and Bike Lane Access

“My answer is yes [to a single-use bag fee.] My sister lives in Canada; they charge a fee for bags and guess what? Everybody brings a bag with them from home...I bring [a bag] with me every place I go. Plastic bags are an environmental nightmare – they pollute our streams and our rivers and they clog up everything and they’re an eyesore and they never biodegrade.”  
Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham on Clean Public Spaces

“Frank DiCicco and I introduced a bill a number of years ago to do just that [implement a single-use bag fee] and we were defeated and I’ll take another run at it as mayor. Using the fee to supplement street cleaning and other types of sanitation issues I think is a smart way to find money to do additional things. Also I think that recycling needs to be really a business in the city where we’re taking those tires that are being short dumped and turning them into products that can be marketed and also turning the operation into job creation.”
Former Councilmember Jim Kenney on Clean Public Spaces

Ideally, this conversation is far from finished. As a Coalition, we are invested in improving neighborhood quality of life across the city and look forward to continuing our productive relationship with our partners in city government in the coming years. This will require everyone's help. Keep the conversation going on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages, and check our website periodically for news and events related to the Coalition.  

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture's Philadelphia Outreach Coordinator. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.