Environment

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules parts of state fracking law unconstitutional, strikes down environmentally unfriendly rules

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Anti-fracking protesters outside of Mars Area High School in Butler County in July 2015. - CP PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • CP photo by Ashley Murray
  • Anti-fracking protesters outside of Mars Area High School in Butler County in July 2015.
Anti-fracking advocates and environmentalists rejoice, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court just issued you a win.

On Sept. 28, in the state Supreme Court case of Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, judges struck down many provisions of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas law, Act 13. The law passed in 2012, during Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, and established regulations and zoning rules on natural-gas drilling. But some rules drew ire from environmentalists, and the recent state Supreme Court ruling addresses some of them.

Drillers are no longer permitted to use eminent domain to seize private, subsurface land for storage of natural gas; private wells must now disclose hazardous spills; and doctors are now allowed to inform patients of side effects associated with fracking sites, overturning the "doctor gag order."

“The Supreme Court’s ruling will restore to all Pennsylvanians the power to regulate natural gas fracking in their own communities as they see fit,” wrote state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) in a press release. “It lifts the senseless and unconstitutional restriction on physicians that barred them from discussing how proprietary fracking chemicals may be affecting patients’ health.”

Before the court decision, frackers didn’t have to disclose all the chemicals they used in their drilling process (chemicals that could make their way into groundwater). Doctors could gain access to a list of the chemicals only if they signed a confidentiality agreement preventing them from telling their patients. Fracking companies claimed that revealing all the chemicals would tip off competitors to their methods.

This led politicians including Leach to promote bills that would force frackers to publicly disclose all their chemicals. But those efforts were held up in committee, and never saw votes. State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) was among those who attempted to pass such legislation. He praised the court’s ruling in a statement made on Sept. 28.

"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has protected patients and doctors by striking down the gag rule in Act 13,” wrote Frankel. "Patients trust that their doctor is telling them the truth, the whole truth, and that their health is the doctor’s primary concern. We should protect that trust.”

The fracking industry was not as thrilled with the decision.

“We’re disappointed in aspects of the court’s ruling,” wrote David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, in a Sept. 28 statement. “[It] will make investing and growing jobs in the Commonwealth more — not less — difficult without realizing any environmental or public safety benefits.”

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

GTECH's bike tours combine green transportation with greenspaces

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 3:55 PM

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At the cross section of alternative mobility and urban greenspaces comes an event that’s gathering serious and casual cyclists for a trip to one of Pittsburgh’s community-created greenspaces.


GTECH, a nonprofit that focuses on greenspace initiatives, is organizing its fifth annual neighborhood biking event, Two Wheels Lots of Green. This guided biking event takes riders on tours of Pittsburgh neighborhoods, stopping at local greenspaces along the way. This year’s Two Wheels Lots of Green tour will be in Pittsburgh's southern Hill Top neighborhoods.   


“Our greenspaces are really unique,” says GTECH relationship manager Katherine Chamberlain. “They take many different shapes, and they’ve all been designed by neighborhood residents.”


The event gives participants the choice to take a rigorous, hilly seven-mile ride or a leisurely four-mile ride, both through the Hill Top's Allentown and Beltzhoover neighborhoods. While stopped at greenspaces, riders will meet neighborhood residents who have dedicated time to creating a green space. The event is also attempting to raise awareness about the amount of underutilized or vacant land in Pittsburgh.

“We want the ride to be accessible to people who are familiar with biking in the city,” says Chamberlain.


“It’s also a great way for residents of the neighborhood to show ownership of their green space,”

says CEO and co-founder of GTECH, Andrew Butcher. “It can be difficult to find time to be exposed to all the amazing things that are happening in these neighborhoods.”  


The idea for Two Wheels Lots of Green came from the Social Capital Council, GTECH’s social outreach committee. One committee member, who happened to be an avid cyclist, wanted to create more interest in greenspaces.


“We said, ‘Boy, I really wish there was a way that I could experience these spaces and meet the people who made them,’” says Chamberlain.


Two Wheels Lots of Green started at a time when the German Marshall Fund, a grant-making organization, was seeking initiatives that dealt with alternative mobility (like biking) and urban green space. The event received the fund's support in 2012 and has occurred yearly since. The ride aligns with GTECH’s mission to make use of vacant and underutilized land in the city.

“It was a perfect time for us,” says Butcher. “‘Shine the light and share the love’ has become a sentiment for Two Wheels Lots of Green.”

Butcher said that crowds for Two Wheels Lots of Green have grown over the past several years; composed of a mix of serious bicyclists and people simply serious about greenspace.

“We’re very excited about aligning this event with Bike Fest,” says Butcher. “This is one of my favorite GTECH events.”


“We always enjoy seeing the connection between the riders,” says Chamberlain. "There’s a developed camaraderie in the groups through a shared interest in greenspaces.”


Two Wheels Lots of Green’s rides start and end at Garden on Gearing, running from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The bike tours are followed by a garden party back at Gearing, with live music, food and a pop-up playground provided by City of Play.


Participants can partake in “bike-powered” smoothies from Green Mountain Energy and iced coffee from Black Forge Coffee during the bike tours.


Tickets for Two Wheels Lots of Green are available for purchase on GTECH’s website.


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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Cheswick power-plant employees and local residents testify at Allegheny County hearing

Posted By on Thu, Aug 4, 2016 at 11:13 AM

Springdale resident Marti Blake, who lives across the street from the Cheswick Generating Station, shows photos of coal dust on her patio. - CP PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • CP photo by Ashley Murray
  • Springdale resident Marti Blake, who lives across the street from the Cheswick Generating Station, shows photos of coal dust on her patio.

On Monday night, about 100 people crammed into a small, stuffy room at the Allegheny County Health Department's air-quality offices, in Lawrenceville, to testify on a proposed permit for the Cheswick coal-fired power plant, which sits along the Allegheny River in Springdale.

Plant employees and union members pleaded with the health department to recognize that the permit would hurt the power plant economically, while residents living near or upwind of the facility urged the department to recognize pollution's cost on human health.

"We do not oppose reasonable regulations," said Kenn Bradley, a worker with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 29, in his public testimony. "We all want clean air, but the plant workers are very concerned that the proposed Title V permit from the county would increase operating costs and ... puts the Cheswick power station at an economic disadvantage with respect to taxpayer-subsidized renewables and other power plants outside of the county."

Kenn Bradley, union worker at the Cheswick Generating Station, testified at the Allegheny County Health Department hearing. - CP PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • CP photo by Ashley Murray
  • Kenn Bradley, union worker at the Cheswick Generating Station, testified at the Allegheny County Health Department hearing.

The proposed permit tightens the amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOX), particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) and sulfuric-acid mist that the plant's owner, GenOn, can emit. Comparing the plant’s former permit to the new draft, health-department deputy director Jim Thompson says the amount of allowable SO2 would decrease by 59 percent; allowable NOX by 48 percent; PM2.5 by 25 percent; and sulfuric-acid mist by 80 percent. The permit would also require the plant to run its pollution-reducing equipment most of the time.

The plant has not been running at full capacity, and its emissions levels have been below its current allowable limits. But Thompson says that if the plant ran at the same rate as it did in 2014, NOX emissions should be reduced by about 70 percent.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, SO2, sulfuric-acid mist and NOX released into the atmosphere cause acid rain and form ozone (which forms smog). Exposure to SO2 can also affect the respiratory system, causing asthmatic symptoms. Also, the EPA says, “numerous scientific studies connect particle pollution exposure to a variety of health issues” including reduced lung function, asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death in those with lung or heart disease. These pollutants can travel in the wind for long distances, affecting surrounding areas, even in other states.

That's why several residents testified in support of the new permit. 

"How many of us need clean air to breathe, to live? We have a responsibility. We are showing our responsibility and saying, 'Please do your best for us,'" Dianne Peterson, who lives roughly ten miles from the plant, said to health-department staff present at the hearing. "Because when you get sick, what wouldn’t you do to get your health back? It’s your kid, your body, your spouse, your asthma, your cancer. It’s all of our responsibilities, and we’re handing it to you and saying, ‘Please take it to the most stringent level you can to protect all of us.’”

A resident who lives across the street from the plant, Marti Blake, waved around photographs of black dust that builds up on her patio. "I'm consistently cleaning coal particles."

While several comments took an emotional tone about the economy and health, local air-quality watchdog Group Against Smog and Pollution, which has previously worked on regulations for Cheswick, read a statement — and submitted written comments — regarding whether the health department is consistently following the EPA's SO2-measurement rules.

"The Rule expressly requires that 'the air agency [emphasis in original] shall conduct the modeling analysis' if it chooses to use air dispersion modeling to characterize peak 1-hour concentrations of SO2 in areas effected by emissions from a source that is subject to the Rule," GASP executive director Rachel Filippini read from her written statement. (CP obtained a copy after the hearing.) "Section V.A.1.u [of the permit] would violate the Rule by allowing the Plant’s operator to conduct the air dispersion modeling. To comply ... ACHD, the air agency with jurisdiction over the Plant, must be the one to conduct air dispersion modeling pursuant to the Rule."  

In its written statement, emailed to CP after the hearing, power company NRG — which recently acquired GenOn — contends that its already doing environmentally responsible work because it installed pollution-reducing equipment.

"GenOn, now a subsidiary of NRG, has spent more than $400 million on emissions control equipment at the Cheswick plant since 2003, and has dramatically improved the plant’s environmental footprint," said a written statement emailed by David Gaier, NRG spokesperson. "The plant is, and has been in compliance with all applicable environmental laws and regulations including all statewide standards established by PA DEP. We look forward to continue working with the ACHD to arrive at a permit that is fair, environmentally responsible, and keeps the station on an equal footing with other generators across the state."

According to the health department's press officer, Melissa Wade, the public record of the hearing will be available on the department's website within a few days.


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Friday, June 24, 2016

Advocates ask Port Authority of Allegheny County to move toward all-electric fleet

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 1:42 PM

Rachel Filippini, of Group Against Smog and Pollution, speaks at Port Authority board meeting. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Rachel Filippini, of Group Against Smog and Pollution, speaks at Port Authority board meeting.

According to a 2016 report from the American Lung Association, the Pittsburgh region failed its criteria for healthy levels of ozone and particle pollution. The region improved on its air quality report from last year, but still has a way to go.

"While air quality in Pittsburgh has improved over the last several decades," says Rachel Filippini, of Group Against Smog and Pollution, or GASP. "We continue to have some of the worst air pollution in the country, especially in terms of fine-particulate matter. One source of these emissions is Port Authority buses." 

It is for this reason that a group of environmental and transit advocates spoke at June's Port Authority of Allegheny County board meeting and are calling for the authority to “green their fleet” by 2030, specifically an all-electric fleet. 

There are currently 426 diesel vehicles built after 2007, which some would consider “clean diesel,” and 310 diesel vehicles built before 2006, which are not considered clean. PAT board passed a resolution at the meeting that would replace 70 of the older vehicles with newer “clean diesel” options, making the fleet around 70 percent “clean diesel.”

While advocates applaud this effort, they are asking PAT to go even further. Filippini says she would like to see all pre-2006 buses eventually taken out of service and is asking the authority to transition to a fleet of electric buses that are fueled by renewable energy sources. “We must work to green the fleet.”

Kimmy Dihn, of transit-advocate group Pittsburghers for Public Transportation, says moving toward more environmentally friendly vehicles could help address public-health issues, too. “We are voicing the concern of how buses affect the public health of pedestrians, cyclists and public-transportation riders.”

She too is asking PAT to transition to an all-electric fleet. Warwick Powell, of environmental group 350 Pittsburgh, says greening the bus fleet could make Pittsburgh a climate-change leader. He also says this is a great time to do so, given all the local support, including the arrival of solar-energy giant, SolarCity, to the Pittsburgh market.

“Renewable energy has never had stronger support from the government and the public,” says Powell.

PAT spokesperson Jim Ritchie says including electric vehicles is “something we are interested in.” He says the authority is currently working on specifications that will consider including electric buses in the next contract of bus replacements, which could be presented this fall. Ritchie adds that PAT has already tested electric vehicles from companies like California-based Proterra and Canadian-based New Flyer, and plans to test electric buses from one more company. He also notes that the PAT fleet does include 32 hybrid vehicles

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Author of new book 'Frackopoly' speaks in Pittsburgh tonight

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 10:35 AM

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Wenonah Hauter has been entrenched in policy for a long time. As the founder and current director of  the advocacy group Food & Water Watch, she helped organize to ban fracking in New York. Since 1989, she served in the upper echelons of three environmental-advocacy organizations, and now she's debuting her second book on regulations that create industry monopolies. In Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment, Hauter walks readers through the history of policies governing the industry and introduces various players that created fracking's ubiquity today. (Her first book was titled Foodopoly and looked at big industry and food policy.)

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the practice of injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure to release oil or gas trapped in rock formations there.

City Paper caught up with Hauter by phone before she speaks in Pittsburgh tonight in a free event at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Why did you decide to write this book?
I've worked on energy issues for a long time and have been interested in how we ended up with the energy system that we have today, so I decided to write a book that both looks at the history of the oil and gas industry and the politics that have led us here today. I especially highlighted the grassroots movement that’s emerged to ban fracking.

In Western Pennsylvania, people often talk about fracking in the Marcellus Shale because we live right on top of it. But you went around the world and the country and looked at fracking in other places. Can you talk about that?
Fracking was developed in the U.S. and was transported to other places in the world, even through our State Department, which promoted fracking. First [fracking] was for energy independence here in the U.S., and then when the price of oil and gas fell, it was about working with allies around the world to stabilize prices.

But one of the things I learned when writing Frackopoly was that from the very earliest days of the oil and gas industry to the monopoly that John D. Rockefeller had, the oil and gas industry has had constant booms and busts. Overproduction is just the story. ... In our view, this was just irresponsible to frack at such a rapid rate. It’s a number of technologies that come together that make it possible to go deep underground or deep under the ocean to loosen up oil or gas. One of the misconceptions is [that] fracking is mostly for natural gas, but over the last several years fracking has been used 80 percent [of the time] for oil.

You mentioned that fracking was developed here and then exported all over the world. This has actually come up in the presidential campaign. Did you get into how presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was involved in advocating for fracking in other countries as Secretary of State?
Yes, I do mention it in the global section, [but the book] was finalized earlier this year, so I haven’t talked a lot about the presidential election. But I did talk about the secretary’s term as Secretary of State, and she definitely sent representatives and, in some cases visited herself, to places like Bulgaria and Romania. Bulgaria’s congress banned fracking, and the State Department was very anxious to see that policy undone. We often see this with a number of industries where the State Department is actually used as an instrument to benefit U.S. corporations. 

What are the examples of public policies across the nation that paved the way for fracking's popularity?
There are a lot of ways that environmental regulations have been manipulated to help the oil and gas industry over the last several decades. But I also wanted to talk about some of the other policies that aren’t on those people’s radars. The price of natural gas was deregulated beginning in 1978. For decades before that, the price of gas was determined by the Federal Power Commission, [which] also determined if a new pipeline needed to be built, and [producers] were regulated on cost of production and transporting the gas. [Former President] Jimmy Carter create[d] the Department of Energy and then as an agency inside of [it], the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. So you can see this is really technical stuff. This was followed up by the deregulation of electricity markets. …

And then there were other major things, the Energy Policy Act of 2005. We often hear about the Halliburton Loophole, which exempted fracking chemicals from disclosure or regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. What we don’t often hear about is FERC’s power being expanded so they could condemn land and force people to allow pipelines or transmission lines to be built. And then one very important other thing that happened [in 2005], the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 was repealed. That was legislation directed at making electric and gas utilities behave responsibly because a big reason for the 1929 crash was terrible irresponsible speculation, the kind of speculation that we’ve recently seen in 2008 and 2009 that crashed our economy. When that was repealed, it allowed electric utilities to become giant.

It sounds like you walk readers through a trail of legislation that led us to today.
What I do in Frackopoly, I go through the personalities because this is wonky stuff. I talk about who they were, who made this happen. I talk about some of the recent personalities, people like the late [Chesapeake Energy executive] Aubrey McClendon, who just died very mysteriously, and a number of other people. And I was journalistic in doing it. Obviously I have a political agenda. I don’t pretend that I don’t.

Are you a journalist by training?
No I’m an anthropologist, but I’ve been writing for years. I like the facts to speak for themselves. Especially on this issue, you don’t need a lot of rhetoric. Just look at the facts. I really meticulously footnoted this book because I expect it will be controversial.

Hauter speaks at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 616 N. Highland Ave., in East Liberty. Admission is free. Find more info here.

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Monday, May 9, 2016

Experts to speak on connection between air pollution and brain health at Pittsburgh event

Posted By on Mon, May 9, 2016 at 12:34 PM

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Can air pollution affect the brain? That is the topic of the Group Against Smog and Pollution's (GASP) latest installment of its "Making the Connection" lecture series. (Prior iterations have focused on heart health, autism and outdoor physical activity.) On Wednesday night, GASP will host biology and public-health experts to discuss "Air Pollution and Brain Health."

"When people think about air pollution and health, naturally they think of asthma and respiratory health, but air pollution can affect just about every part of the body," says Rachel Filippini, executive director at GASP. "[Air pollution] is associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, autism and diabetes, and there have been studies that have connected air pollution to neurological illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease."

Experts Michelle L. Block, Ph.D., of University of Indiana's School of Medicine, and Jane E. Clougherty, Ph.D., of University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, will speak. 

Block's research focuses on the effects of urban pollution on the brain's immune cells.

"These are the coolest cells in the world," Block told City Paper over the phone. "Their normal function is if any pathogens come near the brain, they’re going to send them off. But they’re also basically resident electricians or gardeners in the brain, and they take out the trash when cells die. You would not be normal without this cell."

However, when air pollution is breathed into the lungs, these cells can receive signals and become affected in a bad way, "like the Incredible Hulk" and "can become dangerous to surrounding cells," says Block.

"For example, if you were to breath in just ozone, no other particulate matter, you’re basically giving the equivalent of a sunburn in your lungs. It’s minor. Your lungs are not going to be permanently damaged. But there’s an immune response. Even though that’s in your lung, your brain [immune] cells can detect it, so now they’re hypersensitive. ... My job is to find out why and how do we stop it," Block says.

Clougherty was not available for an interview, but she will present her findings about diesel pollution in Downtown Pittsburgh.

"I think it’s just really important that the public is aware. It’s not just climate change. Air pollution is involved in a lot of health issues. It can kill you. If you survive it, it’s going to affect you," Block says. "We’re still at a stage where we’re figuring out how much is bad. You don’t necessarily need high levels to be affected. The take-home message is we need a lot of research in this area, and it’s important." 
 
5-8 p.m. Wed., May 11. Phipps Conservatory, Oakland. $5 suggested donation. Register here.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

In Pittsburgh talk, Flint water-crisis reporter Curt Guyette lauds residents for breaking the story

Posted By on Wed, Mar 16, 2016 at 3:04 PM

When City Paper interviewed ACLU of Michigan investigative journalist Curt Guyette, we credited him with "breaking the story" on Flint's water crisis. Nothing unusual there; most media outlets have done the same, because Guyette was in fact the guy who first publicized the key info on how the state-appointed emergency managers of that financially distressed city effectively poisoned many of its 100,000 residents with lead-laced water for months on end, all while trying to cover it up.

Curt Guyette
  • Curt Guyette
But at last night's "From Flint ... To Your Faucet" event, at Point Park University, Guyette himself gave primary credit for the story to others.

"The driving force throughout the whole thing were the residents who refused to believe their water was safe," he said. He repeatedly credited LeeAnne Walters, the Flint woman who played perhaps the biggest role in pushing authorities to admit that the smelly brown water coming out of the town's faucets was, in fact, toxic.

And while Guyette didn't let the feds off the hook in the crisis ("The EPA did a horrible job on this," he said), he gave credit to "unsung hero" Miguel Del Toral, an EPA water expert who raised early alarms about Flint's water. Part of Del Toral's achievement, Guyette noted, was simply taking residents' complaints seriously — something he says was the key to his own role in making Flint one of the year's biggest stories.

The event, at which Point Park also touted its new B.A. program in environmental journalism, was held at the campus' GRW Theater. It was sponsored by the Point Park News Service, The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation, the Women's Press Club of Pittsburgh, and the Heinz Endowments.


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Friday, March 4, 2016

Health researchers say fracking too close to schools, residences

Posted By on Fri, Mar 4, 2016 at 4:57 PM

Patrice Tomcik of Moms Clean Air Force addresses the media about a new report that questions the proximity of fracking sites to schools and residences. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Patrice Tomcik of Moms Clean Air Force addresses the media about a new report that questions the proximity of fracking sites to schools and residences.

A study released late last month found that fracking well sites are too close to schools, residents and other hubs of human activity. Nearly 20 people, including the report's authors and members of the organization Moms Clean Air Force, addressed the media this week in front of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Pittsburgh office on Washington's Landing.

“Today’s publication supports what moms living in shale fields have known for a long time: Our children, who are a vulnerable population, are not adequately protected from the hazards of unconventional wells with the current setbacks,” said Patrice Tomcik, of Moms Clean Air Force. Last year, City Paper wrote about an hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, well pad being developed approximately a half-mile from her children's school — Mars Area School District, where about 3,700 children are enrolled. 

The independent study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, reviewed geography, current setback regulations, air-pollution studies and other factors in the Marcellus (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York), Barnett (in Texas) and Niobrara (in parts of Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and Kansas) shale formations. Its authors included five public-health and medical professionals from the University of Pittsburgh, West Virginia University and Texas Tech University.

The study found that "presently utilized setbacks may leave the public vulnerable to explosions, radiant heat, toxic gas clouds and air pollution" and suggested that "a combination of reasonable setbacks with controls for other sources of pollution associated with the process will be required."

In Pennsylvania, the current setback, or buffer zone, for drilling near any building — a school or not — is 500 feet from the actual wellbore, or hole, not from the perimeter of activities.

The study did not suggest a specific setback distance, but said that more research is needed on human exposure to air pollution associated with fracking sites.

From left to right, Patrice Tomcik of Moms Clean Air Force, and report co-authors Marsha Haley of the University of Pittsburgh, and Michael McCawley of West Virginia University - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • From left to right, Patrice Tomcik of Moms Clean Air Force, and report co-authors Marsha Haley of the University of Pittsburgh, and Michael McCawley of West Virginia University

“Setbacks are not a one size-fits-all protection for communities near unconventional well pad development. Both the features of the land and the weather patterns have to be considered because they may cause accumulation of air pollution,” said Michael McCawley, of West Virginia University and co-author of the study, in a press release. “Current setbacks may assume air pollutants are all produced only on the well pad, however, transportation of hazardous materials and diesel pollutants from vehicles related to well pad operations can occur at distances far away from the well pad.”

DEP spokesperson John Poister, who attended the press conference, said, "I'm going to forward this on to Harrisburg where our policies are made, and they'll review the report. And I'm sure they'll be very interested in what it has to say. There's a lot here. It's a rather intense document, so they'll take a look at it."

In October, a coalition of environmental activists and health-care groups called for a one-mile setback. The coalition issued its suggestion in conjunction with the release of a PennEnvironment report called "Dangerous and Close," which drew attention to hundreds of schools and child-care facilities within one mile of permitted fracking sites.

In response to the October PennEnvironment report, a spokesperson for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the group representing the state’s oil and gas industry, called it the “latest attempt ... to spread fear and misinformation about safe and tightly-regulated shale development.”

Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesperson Erica Clayton Wright responded to the most recent study in a written statement. "Compared with other energy-producing states, Pennsylvania’s setback requirements are among the nation’s most stringent,” Wright wrote in an email to City Paper

Editor's Note: This post was updated to include comments from the Marcellus Shale Coalition.




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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lawrenceville residents ask Allegheny County Health Department to strengthen McConway & Torley permit

Posted By on Thu, Mar 3, 2016 at 3:12 PM

Lawrenceville resident JoAnne Buchanan testified to the Allegheny County Board of Health about the steel foundry in her neighborhood. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Lawrenceville resident JoAnne Buchanan testified to the Allegheny County Board of Health about the steel foundry in her neighborhood.

Lawrenceville residents and environmental activists delivered a petition with nearly 1,000 signatures to Wednesday's meeting of the Allegheny County Board of Health, demanding the Health Department tighten regulations on a steel foundry in the neighborhood.

The McConway & Torley steel foundry, which manufactures a significant portion of the U.S. railway industry's rail-car couplers, sits at the end of 48th Street, near the Allegheny River. A health-department monitor along the facility's perimeter collects data for its Lawrenceville Toxic Metals Study, which measures levels of chromium, manganese and lead coming from the foundry. Last year, air-quality watchdog Group Against Smog and Pollution received complaints about odor from residents who lived near M&T.

"I don’t want to have to move but I have COPD, asthma, and I am a survivor of lung cancer," JoAnne Buchanan, a Lawrenceville resident, said at yesterday's meeting. Buchanan said she didn't know the foundry was there when she moved to Hatfield Street seven years ago. "This is the worst place I could possibly live."

Last year, the health department reviewed operations at the McConway & Torley — which is owned by Dallas -based Trinity Industries — and drafted a permit that would cut the foundry's production limit by more than half. The company responded last year at a public hearing last spring by expressing concern for the loss of jobs at the foundry, which employs about 400 workers.

The health department says it has been working with the company to find out whether a permit that stringent is needed. In short, the health department doesn't know exactly what quantity of emissions are leaving the foundry and ending up in the neighborhood. The first round of testing was completed this summer, and the results satisfied the health department. However, the agency can't finalize the permit until another round of tests is complete.

In the interim, environmental-advocacy groups and residents have been canvassing Lawrenceville.

Maggie Brooks, a Lawrenceville resident and canvasser for Clean Water Action, said she "talked to longtime residents who were exasperated and new residents who didn't even know [McConway &Torley] was there." She presented the board with the petition.

"M&T places the health burden on all residents," Brooks said. "We need a permit that protects our health."

Last year, PennEnvironment named McConway & Torley to its "Toxic Ten" list of Allegheny County polluters

According to the report, which says that nearly 150,000 people live within three miles of the foundry, "At least six times between April 2011 and June 2015, the fenceline monitor showed manganese levels exceeding the U.S. EPA’s safe amounts for long-term community exposure."

“Considering McConway & Torley’s location in such a densely populated neighborhood of Pittsburgh, we support these efforts to reduce toxic emissions,” said Stephen Riccardi, of PennEnvironment, in a press release issued after the meeting. “We’re counting on the Health Department to issue these rigorous standards and protect public health.”  
Yesterday, the health department's Air Quality Program Chief Jamie Graham said the second round of testing should begin "hopefully late spring."

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Report says oil-train routes contribute to 'environmental racism' in Pennsylvania

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 10:58 AM

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Activist groups released a report this week, finding that a disproportionate number of low-income minority communities live within one-mile evacuation zones, or "blast zones," of oil-train routes.

The environmental groups ForestEthics and PennEnvironment, along with economic-justice group Action United, studied major urban areas in Pennsylvania through which oil-train routes cross — Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Reading.

“We used U.S. EPA’s methodology and US Census data to look at the threat to people living along oil-train routes, [and] our maps show that crude-oil trains add to environmental discrimination,” said Matt Krogh, ForestEthics extreme-oil campaign director, in a press release. “The danger of an explosion and lung disease from mile-long oil trains falls heaviest on families in environmental-justice communities — families who already live with more air pollution and the highest risk from industrial accidents.”

In the case of Pittsburgh, the report found that 31 percent of those living within blast zones are non-white. Eleven percent of the non-white population lives outside the blast zone, the report says.  When looking at the Environmental Protection Agency's "environmental justice" communities — as defined by both race and income level — the report found that 70 percent of Pittsburgh's "vulnerable" low-income minority communities live within a blast zone. According to the report, blast zones in Pittsburgh make up 18 percent of the land mass.

The report's recommendations include: a moratorium on oil imports into Pennsylvania by train; that the U.S. EPA enforce statues prohibiting racial discrimination; that Gov. Wolf's administration assess risks from oil trains to environmental-justice communities; and that the Office of Emergency management discuss evacuation plans with communities inside of the "blast zones."

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