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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

It's not in the bag yet: Tell City Council you'll support a cleaner Philly with a single-use bag fee

Just last week, the city of Philadelphia held primary elections for both Mayor and City Council. Thanks to all of the hard work of our many member organizations, the Next Great City Coalition played an important role in the election, attracting media coverage and helping to shape the debate with its extraordinary 2015 agenda. No matter who wins after the general election, we know we’ll be working with plenty of new partners in city government – and it’s of critical importance that we keep sustainability issues at the forefront of public debate.

Even better, Next Great City is gaining momentum on its Clean Public Spaces recommendation, with Council introducing legislation that would place a 5-cent fee on all single-use bags to reduce the number of bags used by Philadelphians.

What we know about bags and litter:
  • The average Philadelphian uses between 300 and 1,200 plastic bags annually.
  • Both paper and plastic single-use bags are a persistent source of litter that cost the city money, harm neighborhoods, and impact water quality.
  • Litter reduces neighborhood property values by 7 percent, on average, while encouraging more litter and crime. 
  • Plastic bags are not recyclable in the city’s single-stream curbside recycling program. In fact, plastic bags damage machinery at recycling facilities. 
  • According to the Philadelphia Water Department, plastic bags comprise 17 percent of the total waste recovered by skimming Philadelphia’s waterways.

How a 5-cent bag fee can help:
  • Household bag usage was cut by 60 percent in Washington D.C. after its law was enacted, and four out of five residents reported using fewer bags.
  • This legislation not only benefits communities and the environment but also helps businesses. Businesses will save money by distributing fewer bags to consumers, and they will keep 3 cents every time a customer purchases a 5-cent bag.
  • To address affordability concerns, Philadelphia’s proposed 5-cent fee would rank among the lowest of municipalities that have adopted single-use bag fees. Washington D.C.’s experience proves that cities can achieve significant reductions in bag usage and drive behavior change with a 5-cent fee.
Want to get involved? Tell City Council to support legislation that would be a first step in tackling Philadelphia's litter problem. Many Philadelphians have made their voice heard by signing this action alert – it’s a quick and easy way to let Council know that you support a cleaner Philadelphia.

What’s another option for participation? Give supportive testimony on behalf of Bill 150373 at the Finance Committee hearing at 10 a.m. on June 10, City Hall Room 400. Contact Katie Bartolotta if you’d like to sign up to speak.

Evidence from peer cities demonstrates that single-use bag fees reduce household consumption of plastic bags and thus the amount of litter that plagues our neighborhoods. Philadelphia has the opportunity to follow the lead of other cities in making our neighborhoods cleaner, safer, and more prosperous. It’s time to take this critical step in cleaning up Philadelphia.

Image via Flickr user Eflon.

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

Drexel University researchers: Methane emissions rising in PA's Marcellus Shale region

On May 19, a team of researchers from Drexel University in Philadelphia released findings of a two-month mobile air quality monitoring campaign in the southwest and northeast parts of Pennsylvania where shale gas drilling is taking place. Among the study's more significant findings is that methane emissions were higher than reported in previous studies.

The Drexel team employed a mobile laboratory with sampling instrumentation affixed to the outside and computers inside. They obtained measurements downwind of each drilling region as they did not have direct access to the sites. Measurements were obtained around well pads and compressor stations.

Photo credit: WCN 24/7 via Flickr Creative Commons

This study adds to the growing body of evidence that methane, a potent greenhouse gas with warming potential 84 times greater than carbon in the first 20 years after its release, is leaking into the atmosphere at alarming rates. As temperatures rise, we experience the accelerated formation of ground-level ozone, or smog, that leads to increased asthma attacks and lung and heart disease. Absent action, the specter of increased methane emissions could quickly undo any perceived benefits of a coal-to-gas switch.

Pennsylvania must move quickly to directly regulate methane emissions from natural gas operations. The Drexel study once again makes clear that voluntary efforts aren't working. The time to act is now.

Elaine Labalme is Strategic Campaigns Director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @NewGirlInTown.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission denies Right to Know Law request

[This post, and more information about this issue, can be found at]

Despite a brand new website with a section labeled "transparency," the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) denied PennFuture's Right to Know Law request, which sought information about the agency's proposal to rip through the Allegheny ridge in order to eliminate the Allegheny tunnels.

PennFuture attempted to access the documents on behalf of its client, the Mountain Field and Stream Club, which owns and conserves the land along the ridge that will be destroyed if the tunnels are turned into an open cut. Rather than release any documents, the PTC made a number of legal arguments about why it did not need to release any information that would provide public insight into its decision making process and, instead, directed us to its project page. However, the project page appears to have been last updated in 2013. The PTC even sought to hide documents relating to its last decision to not proceed with this project, back in 1996.

Among the highlights in the agency's response denying our request: 
  • Despite the fact that the PTC has its own website about the project, the Commission claims to not know what documents we are seeking in its response. 
  • Even though our request sought the hard data that supposedly supports its need for the project, the PTC denied access to the documents under a claim that it concerns "pre-decisional" discussions. Ironically, this includes a study that the PTC claims will "evaluate public involvement.
  • The Commission says it hasn't made a decision on its "preferred alternative" and can keep the public in the dark until it makes that decision. That sure seems to us to defeat the point of transparent government that claims to include public involvement. 
PennFuture has appealed the Commission's decision to the Office of Open Records. 

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

C'mon, hop to it! Come to PennFuture On Tap!

Photo of a Pilsner glass filled with beer, etched with the PennFuture logo, and hops flowers around its base
Please join us for a great night of good beer and tasty food at our premiere PennFuture on Tap* event.

We'll host this fundraiser at Yards Brewery Company, the first brewery in Pennsylvania to be  completely powered by wind, from 7:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. on Friday, June 19. 

Support local sustainable businesses and PennFuture when you purchase your tickets on our secure website and then watch our tagline -- Every environmental victory grows the economy -- come to life at this unique event venue. 

Pennsylvania's growing craft brewery industry -- ranked fourth in the U.S. by the Brewers Association -- contributes $2 billion annually to our economy and provides over 20,000 Pennsylvania jobs.

To make all that beer, the brewing industry needs lots of clean air and clean water. That's where we come in: PennFuture works hard every day to protect these resources for all of us. And that's where you come in: To help PennFuture continue this work, we need YOU and your support!

Our special guest will be Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug, a national leader in urban sustainability and the creator of Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program. Alongside Commissioner Neukrug's leadership, the Philadelphia Water Department provides clean drinking water and integrated wastewater and stormwater services for more than 2.3 million people.

Please join us. Learn something new. Enjoy an open bar with Yards' Revolution and Signature Ales. Sample food from Guerilla Ultima Food Truck. Take a brewery tour and bid on something wonderful in the silent auction.

Sponsorships are available. For more information on that, email Susanne Whitehead at

Don't miss this hopportunity (last pun, promise) to support PennFuture -- and have a great time while you do it! Buy your tickets today!

*Must be 21 years old to participate.

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

Methane emissions: A short, easy to understand video on a climate killer

The conversation around how to deal with methane emissions is quickly heating up in Pennsylvania. As the fastest growing gas producing state in the nation, the rate of methane emissions and leaks being generated by our natural gas industry could quickly put us into climate disaster territory.

Natural gas itself is largely methane -- a potent greenhouse gas that accelerates the warming of our atmosphere and leads to more ground level ozone, or smog, which contributes to asthma attacks and lung and heart disease. Affordable technologies exist today that will allow natural gas drillers to capture and sell a great deal of the methane that's currently leaking -- and the cost is mere pennies per thousand cubic feet of gas. This is a problem that already has a solution, yet drillers refuse to act in a meaningful way. It's why we're calling for the direct regulation of methane emissions in Pennsylvania.

Methane Matters: PA Needs to Know from PennFuture on Vimeo.

The above video explains clearly what methane emissions are and why Pennsylvania must address them. Now. The health of our families, and planet, cannot afford to wait. Please share this video far and wide!

Elaine Labalme is strategic campaigns director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @NewGirlInTown.