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."
On Monday, the North Side received a new resident: a baby Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth. The National Aviary’s newest, distinctly flightless tenant is expected to be a boon for the Aviary. While the slow and steady bundle of cuteness doesn’t have a name yet, he is set for a public reveal on Friday.
He will live in a habitat that can be seen through a glass pane near the western entrance to the Aviary. The three-month-old sloth will be a short ways down the hall from Wookie, the Aviary’s senior sloth. Wookie is doing “very well,” according to Dr. Pilar Fish, the Aviary’s director of veterinary medicine. The new sloth will serve a different purpose from the Aviary’s 15-year-old resident.
After a 30-day quarantine period has ended, the sloth will become an educational exhibit. If you’re able to stifle your strong emotional response a la Kristen Bell, you can come get some face time with the sloth. A note: The quarantine is not because the sloth is a biochemical hazard, it’s merely to make sure that the little guy is healthy. There are no known diseases that can be communicated between sloths and humans.
Video by Aaron Warnick
“They’re not really susceptible to infections in general,” says Fish. “They’re one of the hardiest animals out there.”
The quarantine serves a dual purpose. While it is important to be sure that the sloth is healthy, it also gives the sloth’s trainers an opportunity to condition him for visitors.
“He’s going to get lots of treats, lots of food, lots of positive interaction,” Cathy Schlott, the Aviary’s curator of behavioral management, says. “We never make our animals do things here, we always ask them … we’re letting him know that if he wants to come out, that he’ll get lots of treats.”
Though the sloth is adorable to photograph regardless, the meal during City Paper’s visit provided some crucial conditioning that will ensure that he will be in a good mood when visitors with cameras visit. (You’re welcome, Pittsburgh.)
“Having this baby sloth is different … He’s in a pediatric program for his health and his training ,” Fish says. “You’ll be able to get very close to him and have one-of-a-kind one-on-one interactions with him.”
The Aviary is taking reservations for interactive encounters with the sloth when his quarantine period ends on March 25.
Along with the anticipated traffic that the new sloth will bring, the Aviary has found another way for the young sloth to pay his rent. His lack of a name is not from indecisiveness or waiting to see what fits. The Aviary will auction off the rights to name the sloth. Details on this process will be announced in the coming weeks, but a spokesperson confirmed that proceeds will directly benefit the Aviary.
The exhibit boasts original fossils, casts and models of the prehistoric Pterosaur — the first animal with a backbone to fly under its own power. Often mislabeled "Pterodactyls," which are just one subcategory of the winged beasts, Pterosaurs have been extinct for over 66 million years.
"Pterosaur science predates Dinosaur history," says Paleontologist Mike Habib, co-creator of the exhibit and research associate at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
The highlights of the display include a skull cast of Tropegnathus — the largest open-ocean dwelling Pterosaur — and "Dark Wing," a world-famous Pterosaur fossil with wing membranes that are intact.
Dark Wing is a specimen that was discovered in Germany in 2001. The fossil contains the best preserved Pterosaur wing membrane in the world, complete with detailed blood vessels and muscles. This is the first time Dark Wing has been on display outside of Germany.
In addition, there are interactive displays on Pterosaur flight and an overhead life-size model of Quetzalcoatlus northropi, the largest flying animal known to man.
Quetzalcoatlus has a beak large enough to swallow a small human and a wingspan equivalent to an airplane's wings.
"In its ecology, it's like a stork from hell," explains Habib. "It definitely had the ability to eat small dinosaurs."
That being said, don't confuse Pterosaurs for birds or dinosaurs — they have no close relatives, though they're most comparable to birds or crocodiles.
"Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs" continues through May 22.
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is located at 4400 Forbes Ave. in Oakland.
By Ryan Deto
on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 at 2:20 PM
Photo by Ryan Deto
Don't clog up beautiful streams like this one in Settler's Cabin park with your old Christmas trees. Recycle them!
So Christmas is not quite here yet, but try to think past it for just a second and imagine what you will do with your dying Christmas tree (or whatever you call the pagan-originated detached winter pine).
You'll probably chuck it in the dumpster or throw it in the woods. Well, instead of contributing to the pile at the dump, or squishing the young, delicate plants of the forests Allegheny County Parks and the city of Pittsburgh have a more useful solution for your former holiday tree: Recycle it.
Beginning Dec. 26, nine county parks will be accepting trees from dawn to dusk. All lights, ornaments, tinsel and stands must be removed before dropping off the trees. Collections will continue through Jan. 16 and the specific drop-off points are listed below.
Pittsburgh also has a tree-recycling program, with trees accepted from 8 a.m. to 2.p.m at the four locations listed below. Trees are accepted year-round, except at the Strip District location. Lights, decorations, tinsel, stands, netting and plastic wrap must be removed from trees before dropping off.
For county drop-off zones, all trees will be wood-chipped and the resulting mulch will be used across the county’s regional parks. At Pittsburgh drop-off zones, trees will be mulched by a private contractor, with a percentage of that mulched being reused on city property.
Give a holiday gift to Mother Earth and recycle your tree this winter.
Allegheny County drop-offs:
Boyce Park: Parking lot by the wave pool
Deer Lakes: Parking lot by Veterans Shelter
Harrison Hills: Parking lot at the intersection of Chipmunk and Cottontail drives
Hartwood Acres: Parking lot at the mansion
North Park: Parking lot at the swimming pool
Round Hill: Parking lot between Meadow and Alfalfa Shelters
Settler’s Cabin: Parking lot by the wave pool
South Park: Parking lot at the swimming pool
White Oak: Parking lot by Poplar Shelter Pittsburgh drop-offs:
East End, 2nd Division of Public Works: North Dallas Avenue at Hamilton Avenue
Hazelwood, 3rd Division of Public Works: Melanchton Avenue off 5200 block of Second Avenue
West End, 5th Division of Public Works: 1330 Hassler St., off Hershel and Steuben (near Herschel Park)
Strip District (January only), Environmental Services Lot: 3001 Railroad St. (next to recycling drop-off)
"It's the perfect time for the school district to say, 'We only want to utilize buses with emissions controls,'" says Rachel Fillipini of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), an environmental-policy and watchdog organization.
That's because the school district is negotiating a new contract with its bus-fleet providers. GASP seized on the timing to deliver more than 200 signed postcards to the meeting as well as testimony.
Buses that are a 2007 model or newer are generally equipped with diesel-emissions controls; older models can be retrofitted.
"As we approach 2016, it is perfectly reasonable to expect all school buses being used by the district to have pollution controls. These controls can reduce toxic diesel emissions by up to 90 percent. By using this technology, your students and staff, the community, and the drivers would be exposed to significantly less pollution," Jamin Bogi, GASP's policy and outreach coordinator, said in his written testimony.
GASP also asked the school board to include in its contract language that would mandate bus companies to train drivers in Pennsylvania's diesel idling law, which prohibits commercial vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds from idling for more than five minutes. (There's an exception for vehicles with passengers still on board, to account for their heating/cooling needs.)
GASP has provided educational signs about the law for the outside of more than a dozen school districts in the area.
Ebony Pugh, Pittsburgh Public Schools public-information officer, says a new service agreement with bus companies wouldn’t begin until the 2016-17 school year. The new agreement has not been finalized and would require board approval, she says.
"Ensuring that our entire fleet is running clean is a priority for the district. While a majority of our vehicles are 2007 or newer or retrofitted, we anticipate that by the second year of our new service agreement all vehicles will meet the standard," Pugh wrote in an email to City Paper.
But GASP says the sooner the better.
"We feel that the school board should prioritize student health, and so they should negotiate a contract with school-bus companies that allows them to get the cleanest buses possible as soon as possible," Fillipini tells City Paper.
GASP is especially concerned because of a 2013 report out of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health that identified diesel particulate matter as the "greatest single cancer risk among individual pollutants in this area." The report looked at the 10-county Western Pennsylvania region, and examined air pollutants including benzene and formaldehyde, among others.
Bogi told the board of education: "Children are especially vulnerable, as they breathe at a faster rate than adults and are physically closer to diesel-pollution sources. And since their bodies are still developing, damage now could impact their bodies and minds for years to come."
City Paper will be following any developments in the school board's decision.
Green Workplace top scorers, left to right: Sara Thompson, Pashek Associates; Jamin Bogi, GASP; Phyllis Barber, Highmark; Marc Mondor, evolveEA; Beth Edwards, The Mall at Robinson; Kathy Hrabovsky, Allegheny County; Kristen Matthews, GTECH; Indigo Raffel, Conservation Consultants, Inc.; and Mario Leone, Monaca Borough. (Not pictured: University of Pittsburgh & Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh)
Competitors – including businesses, nonprofits, universities and government entities ranging from tiny to huge – earned points for everything from switching to more energy-efficient lightbulbs to installing solar panels.
Winners were announced Dec. 2. Perhaps most impressive was the Top Legacy Performer award-winner — Conservation Consultants Inc. The South Side-based nonprofit is using 66 percent less energy than it did during the Challenge’s baseline year of 2010-11. (Even back then, this outfit, whose job is telling people how to save energy, was already using much less than the average for a building its size.)
Competitors also accumulated points for cutting water use, reducing landfilled waste and getting employees to use less environmentally harmful means of transportation.
Winning the category of Micro Business was Pashek Associates. The Small Business winner was evolveEA; the Medium Business winner was The Mall at Robinson; and the Large Business winner was Highmark.
Nonprofit winners included the Group Against Smog and Pollution (micro), GTECH (small) and Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh (medium). The Carnegie also won the Top Energy Saver award by reducing energy usage in its facilities by 22 percent over the course of the year, and the Top Water Saver, with a reduction of 17 percent.
Pitt won the University category. And among municipalities, the winners Allegheny County (large) and Monaca Borough (small). Allegheny County was also the top waste reducer, cutting the waste it landfilled by a remakable 62 percent (via producing less waste to begin with, and recycling or composting more of what was left).
But here’s an editorial word of caution: The Green Workplace Challenge is swell, and to whatever extent it saves resources and increases awareness it’s all to the good. If everyone could be like CCI, and cut their already miserly energy use by two-thirds, we’d be in much better shape.
However, the Challenge is a voluntary program whose goal is engagement, rather than achieving a level of resource use that might actually make a particular business (let alone our society) anything close to environmentally sustainable.
Consider this figure from the Sustainable Pittsburgh press release on the Challenge: “[P]articipants saved over 2,865 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which translates to roughly 73 airline flights of 500 miles: roughly 2/3 of day worth of all flights leaving Pittsburgh International Airport on a typical day.”
That means that 50 local employers – including such massive entities as Pitt, Highmark and Allegheny County government – labored in earnest for an entire year and didn’t even offset one full day of flights at single medium-sized airport.
In the week after the much-discussed Paris climate talks, it makes you realize how far a society that practices fossil-fueled jet travel has to go to address environmental crises like climate change.
So while we celebrate these results, keep in mind that the Challenge is no substitute for what we really need: Systemic change (like, say, a federal carbon tax) that will move everybody (not just volunteers) as far as possible and as quickly as possible toward living within our environmental means.
Protesters visited PPG Industries to deliver "lump of coal" from the "ghost of climate future" to executives.
On Tuesday, the "Ghost of Climate Future" could be seen marching through downtown Pittsburgh as part of A Christmas Carol-themed protest against climate change. Organized by Three Rivers Rising Tide, The demonstration called out ties between local corporations and the Allegheny County government, calling them "climate Scrooges."
"Our purpose is to bring to light the corrupt nature of the Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee," says Three Rivers Rising tide member Eva Westheimer. "Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are known for having poor air quality. There is a conflict of interest on the board, and we are here to highlight the corruption."
In a statement, PPG spokesperson Mark Silvy said: "The Advisory Committee represents a mix of professionals from the public and private sector, including representatives of citizen environmental groups, industry, and academia, who share insights with the Allegheny County Department of Health on matters related to air quality in the County."
EQT spokesperson Linda Robertson said: "EQT is committed to conducting operations in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner at all times, striving to preserve and safeguard land, air and water. Company officials often work closely with various environmental agencies to collaborate on best practices – such as greenhouse gas management – as EQT has had a formal program in place for the past several years. Additionally, EQT utilizes “green completions” nearly 100% during well development by capturing gas rather than flaring (or burning) during the initial days of a well’s productive life, and EQT provides voluntary reporting of emissions in our Corporate Social Responsibility report, which can be found on the home page of our website."
In addition to claims that corporations represented on the advisory board are the region's top contributors to pollution, Three Rivers Rising Tide also argues that having representatives from Babst Calland serve on the board while members of their law firm represent Shanango Coke Works for Clean Air Act violations is a conflict of interest.
The final stop on the march was at the Allegheny County Courthouse where Fitzgerald's office is located. With a Christmas tree looming behind them, the protesters delivered their speeches and a cardboard replica of a lump of coal, while county workers looked on from the building above.
Photo by Ashley Murray
Activist Mel Packer directs the crowd of protesters to the U.S. Steel building.
"Rich Fitzgerald, your crimes are possibly the worst," alleged activist Mel Packer. "Each of the others we have haunted today bought positions with the Allegheny County Health Department through contributions to you. Industries that participate in poisoning the air and water have all contributed to your campaigns and have, in return, received positions on the very committee that is charged with regulating those companies."
EQT's PAC and Babst Calland have each contributed $10,000 to Fitzgerald. He also received $2,500 each from PPG's PAC and US Steel's.
In addition to Three Rivers Rising Tide's criticism of the advisory board, they were also critical of the county's treatment of environmental concerns. Local environmental activists have been critical of some of the county's decisions related to Marcellus Shale fracking and other environmental issues.
Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs sent the following statement in response to Packer's comments:
“Where the county has the authority, or can provide input, it has been extremely proactive. In the past four years alone, we have seen each air monitoring site for fine particulate pollution in the county meet federal standards for the first time in history. The annual averages of PM2.5 have decreased steadily. Funding has been provided to organizations to reduce greenhouse gases. We require Best Available Control Technology for greenhouse gases on any project requiring an air quality permit. For the first time, the county passed air toxic guidelines, over the objections of industry.
We have also looked at our own house and invested in upgrades to our facilities that have resulted in the conservation of energy and water, reductio n of GHG emissions and improved heath and productivity. We have invested in natural gas and hybrid vehicles and worked to upgrade and retrofit diesel vehicles. We are an active participant in the Green Workplace Challenge and have been the best performing organization in our category for the past two years. There are many, many more accomplishments and efforts that we can point to – these are just a few readily available examples.”
If you were looking for rays of hope about the planet in Monday’s talk by the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe and The Sixth Extinction, they were few and far between.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas Whitman
But I’ll point to one glimmer: Last time Kolbert visited Pittsburgh, in 2008, I interviewed her, and I recall the conversation taking place in a context of widespread climate denialism. After all, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth movie was only two years old, and lots of people didn’t really understand how climate change worked, or care to know.
This past Monday, the hopefulness resided in the fact that Kolbert assumed that what looked like a full house at Oakland's Carnegie Music Hall all agreed that climate change was real, and a real threat. She explained the science briefly, but didn’t seem to feel she had to address any possible deniers in the audience. That’s a start, I guess.
Trouble is, things would be a lot better today if we’d been at that point, say 25 years ago, when there was already overwhelming evidence that human activities were causing the planet’s climate to change in drastic and sometimes unpredictable ways.
Which brings us to the rest of Kolbert’s talk. She focused on The Sixth Extinction, her 2014 Pulitzer-winner that explores how human activity is likely driving a mass extinction of historical proportions among plant and animal species.
Climate change is just one reason, and on this front Kolbert offered little hope. Despite the stated intentions of everyone from the president down, global emissions of greenhouse gases keep rising.
Many scientists have said a safe concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide is 350 parts per million. This year, we passed 400 ppm, a figure not seen on earth in literally hundreds of thousands of years. Some activists hold out hope that the upcoming global climate talks will result in agreements that bring emissions down. But Kolbert presented projections that even in a low-emission scenario, we’re likely to reach 550 ppm by 2100.
That’s a level sure to spell increased disaster in the form of rising seas and extreme weather, not to mention a level of ocean acidification (from ocean absorption of carbon) that would leave us with effectively dead oceans.
And that’s the optimistic scenario. Wish I could leave you with something happier, but that's the way it is sometimes.
Rev. Rodney Lyde, of Homewood's Baptist Temple Church, speaking at a demonstration against ALCOSAN's planned construction along riverfronts
Standing in front of an 8,000-square-foot black tarp on the banks of the Allegheny River to signify a large work area, several organizations and a Pittsburgh city official said they couldn't stand behind ALCOSAN's proposed plan for river-front construction.
"We have come so far as a city and community in revitalizing our river fronts from places where people didn’t want to go to these cultural and recreational destinations," said Stephan Bontrager, spokesperson for Riverlife, an organization that guides the development of the city's river fronts. "So to undo that investment would be a tragedy, especially when there are such simple solutions that can be done with landscapes that enhance the investment we already have."
Several other organizations, including the Clean Rivers Campaign, Bike PGH, the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and the City of Pittsburgh, spoke out against the proposed construction of 18 drop shafts. The shafts would allow access to the tunnel construction ALCOSAN has agreed to as part of a federal consent decree. The mandate is in place to bring the sewer infrastructure into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Right now, during heavy rain or after snow melts, stressed pipes overflow with stormwater and sewage into the region's waterways.
However, the groups say that extensive construction could hurt the economy, and that they want more investment in green
Photo by Ashley Murray
Groups laid an 8,000-square-foot tarp on Allegheny Landing on the North Side to protest ALCOSAN's proposed construction along the region's river fronts.
infrastructure that would reduce the flow of storm water into sewer pipes.
According to a Riverlife economic impact study, in the last 15 years about $129 million has been invested in the city's river-front parks system, with a return on investment being nearly $4.1 billion in adjacent river-front development.
"Basically, these parks and trails were built, and everyone wanted to be next to them — new hotels, new office buildings, new restaurants, new residences," Bontrager said.
The group of speakers, including Mayor Bill Peduto's Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin, said they would like to see an "adaptive management approach," much like the one that elected officials just saw in Kansas City. That approach would include green infrastructure to keep storm run-off out of the sewer system and to beautify communities, as well as updating current gray infrastructure, like sewer pipes.
"What we’re really up against is a bureaucratic group of lawyers who have really been trying to get this done. They’ve been at it for a decade," Acklin told City Paper after the press conference. "We want to get it done, but we want to do it the right way. This is our city. We’re going to bear the risk of everything they’re planning for."
Acklin is referring to the decades-long back-and-forth negotiations between the federal and local governments on improving aging sewer infrastructure in order to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.
"All we’re asking for is what other cities have gotten ... a regionalized approach to invest in green infrastructure and existing infrastructure, because we think that’s not only ecologically sound, but that helps with economic development," Acklin said. "It helps us put those dollars, instead of just in the tunnels, but into our neighborhoods as well."
ALCOSAN says that it is negotiating with federal, state and county regulators for a plan that includes more green infrastructure and one that less expensive. Right now, the plan will cost billions. (Those costs are something that low-income ratepayers are concerned about.)
"Planning and design have not yet started and will not be completed for several years," Jeanne Clark, public information officer of ALCOSAN, wrote in an email. "They will also not necessarily be along the river. It may be possible to move some inland. ... We will work with the communities and the municipalities to make sure we create the least disruption during construction, and for green leave-behinds when we finish."
She wrote that those "green leave-behinds" could include a building, where a drop shaft would be housed, that would blend in with a trail or redevelopment, and that ALCOSAN has handled such a situation similarly along a bike trail in the South Side.
"Again, we will work with the community to decide what is the best green leave-behind. And we will avoid too much construction interference, taking measures like having workers park off site and shuttle them in so they don’t add to the footprint," she wrote.
Municipalities that feed into ALCOSAN's pipes and waste-water treatment system — currently 83 municipalities in Allegheny County do so — have been ordered to do a green-infrastructure pilot project for the next 18 months.
"We are committed to creating the best, most cost-effective plan to fix our water-quality issues," Clark wrote. "But ALCOSAN cannot do it alone. We currently own under 100 miles of pipe and the plant, where everything from all 83 communities winds up."
The Environmental Protection Agency is in Pittsburgh for two days to hear testimony on the federal Clean Power Plan, and minorities are asking that environmental-justice measures be included.
Photo by Ashley Murray
Carmen Alexander of New Voices Pittsburgh spoke at a rally outside of the federal building in Downtown Pittsburgh, where EPA hearings were taking place.
"We need to be able to breathe clean air," said Carmen Alexander, of New Voices Pittsburgh, a reproductive-justice organization that also focuses on environmental issues. She spoke to City Paper at a rally outside of Pittsburgh's William S. Moorhead Federal Building where the hearings are taking place. "We want everyone to know that we support a stronger clean power plan, and that we know that our communities are dying due to respiratory issues."
The hearings in Pittsburgh kick off a series of four EPA hearings, including sessions in Atlanta, Denver and Washington, D.C. The plan sets standards for greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants. The plan aims to reduce levels of carbon dioxide by 32 percent nationally under 2005 levels by 2030. States can implement their own plans — and Pennsylvania is on its way to doing so — but if a state does not comply, the EPA will enforce its own paln.
"What’s important here is states around us like West Virginia or Ohio, if they decide they don’t want to comply, we need a strong plan to get them to comply as well as other states across the nation," says Randy Francisco of the Sierra Club, which joined the coalition of groups rallying outside of the EPA hearing. "So this is big-time, as far as what it means to the country. We think we have an opportunity in PA to do better than whatever this might be, but that’s why we’re here."
Alexander and others asking the EPA for environmental justice say they want to make sure the agency knows that minorities and low-income communities are suffering disproportionately because of pollution.
"Structural discrimination ensures that they also have the hardest time bouncing back from these disasters," testified Ben Ishibashi, who traveled from Chicago with the group National People's Action.
"I'm a person of color. We're often shut out of these decisions," he told CP after his testimony. "But we're often the first to get hit by injustices. While I think the clean-power plan is a good start, it's not doing enough. I want to see a plan that's ten times as just."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans were 20 percent more likely than non-Hispanic whites to have asthma in 2012. However, a direct cause is not listed.
"People who have lower incomes face greater risks of air pollution because we live closer to the sources of pollution," said Alexander during her testimony. "Less than 15
Photo by Ashley Murray
1Hood Media performed at a rally outside of the EPA Clean Power Plan hearings in Pittsburgh
miles from where I grew up, and where I raised my children, is the Cheswick power plant . I’m a mother of five children, and a grandmother of two, and I have one on the way. I raised three boys with asthma, and I have a grandson who has severe respiratory problems."
"I can’t imagine how I was able to afford having three boys with asthma. I was making minimum wage, and at that time, we had to get medication for three boys. We had to navigate doctors' appointments to make sure they got the care they needed. We also had to make sure we had the co-payment available for them."
The American Lung Association's 2015 State of the Airreport cites studies that link harmful air-pollution impacts to socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, and says that scientists speculate that one reason may be "housing dynamics and land cost" in proximity to pollution sources, among other possibilities.
"It’s important to include communities of color because they are some of the most effected communities particularly in Pittsburgh," Francisco said. "If you look at air quality in Pittsburgh, it’s affecting areas where these folks live, and that is having a harmful effect on their families, their livelihoods. So it’s so important to bring them into this conversation and to be part of their conversations on how we can lift every voice up in this movement."
According to the latest U.S. Census data available, the communities around the coal-fired power plant in Cheswick are a mixed bag of races and income levels. About three miles upriver, in New Kensington, the average household income is $47,000, and 10 percent of the population is African American. Approximately five miles down the river is Penn Hills, where households make on average $57,000, and 34 percent of the population is black. Meanwhile, across the river from the plant is Oakmont, where the average income is $82,000 and the black population is less than 1 percent.
"The thing to remember, of course, is that air pollution travels, and there’s certain pollution affecting local community, and there’s pollution affecting communities downwind, so it does affect more than immediate communities," Liz Perera, climate policy director for the Sierra Club, told CP by phone from Washington, D.C.
Just last month, the environmental group PennEnvironment named Cheswick the second largest polluter in Allegheny County.
Third on the report's list, and though not a coal-fired power plant, is another one of Pittsburgh's biggest polluters - U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works. The Clairton community is about 38 percent African American, and the per capita income for African Americans averages around $15,000. The monitor nearest that plant has put Allegheny County in non-attainment for fine particle pollution.
"We want them to know that we want strong regulations on the big power plants and that we want a clean environment," Alexander said. "Environmental justice is about just making sure that our communities are going to be green, that we’re taking care of our communities in a clean way. Pittsburgh is known for having our steel mills and our pollution."
Hearings last until 5 p.m. today, but according to the EPA's website, all speaking times have been assigned.