Thursday, April 30, 2015

Update on Energy-Conserving Pittsburgh 2030 District

Posted By on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 at 3:04 PM

Participants in a challenge to reduce energy and water use are on track to meet their ambitious goals, says the Green Building Alliance. Perhaps more importantly, voluntary participation in the scheme by occupants of Pittsburgh’s two busiest business districts is expanding.

Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald at yesterday's 2030 District event - PHOTO BY BILL O'DRISCOLL
  • Photo by Bill O'Driscoll
  • Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald at yesterday's 2030 District event
That was the message at yesterday’s Pittsburgh 2030 District Progress Report announcement. Pittsburgh is one of 10 North American cities with such a district. Participating property owners — including some of the city’s largest — have pledged to cut usage of both energy and water by 50 percent by the year 2030.

The GBA launched its district in 2012, with initial participation from property owners Downtown (including North Side stadium-and-parking district). Late last year, the district expanded to include Oakland.

On the path to 2030, the target for the end of 2015 is to reduce both energy and water use by 10 percent from baseline numbers. The report covered through 2014, by which time participants had cut total energy use by 6.3 percent, 2030 District Director Anna Siefken told a crowd of 200 yesterday at Downtown’s PPG Place Wintergarden. The water-use target, by contrast, met its 10 percent reduction goal a year early.

The bigger news, though, might have been how many more property-owners have joined the challenge: There are now 85, more than double the number in 2013, and the count of affected properties has quadrupled, to 436, representing about 65 million square feet of real estate.

The District’s “Property Partners” now include property-owners ranging from the governments of Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh to corporations (Alcoa, Highmark, BNY Mellon, PNC, UPMC and more), real-estate companies, universities, churches, small businesses, and institutions like the Carnegie Museums.

The District convenes meetings of participants and provides tools to help them figure out how to use less water and energy. Attendees at yesterday’s announcement included both County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who took the stage together to discuss how participating city- and county-owned buildings have fared. “This is something that we’re both very, very passionate about,” said Fitzgerald.

The rise gives Pittsburgh both the highest number of commited buildings and the most square footage of any of the 10 North American cities with 2030 Districts, Siefken said. And that affords the District more opportunities to save resources and improve indoor conditions for the people who live in, work in or otherwise utilize those buildings.

The GBA calculated the total energy saved by participants at 503 million kBTUs, or enough to power 5,562 homes. About 53 million gallons of water were conserved, or enough for 262 homes (or 1.3 million loads of laundry).

Certain individual buildings did much better than average: The massive, century-old City-County Building, for instance, cut its energy use by 47 percent against the baseline. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, touted as a green building from its inception, cut energy use by 27 percent. Other structures didn't so do well: The county’s STD Clinic, in Oakland, actually used 46 percent more energy than when it joined the District. Though Fitzgerald acknowledge such “backsliding,” nobody at yesterday’s event explained why it happened.

Looking ahead, while it took participating property-owners two-and-a-half years to cut energy use 6.3 percent, Siefken says that the goal of 10 percent by this year’s end is in reach. “We’re feeling confident we’re going to make it,” she told City Paper.

One reason for that confidence is all the new participants. In fact, many Downtown participants have actually already met their energy-reduction goals for 2020. But while Siefken noted that Oakland’s preponderance of university and hospital buildings presents a set of challenges distinct from Downtown (half of which is office space), she said the newcomers have plenty of low-hanging fruit to pick.

Meanwhile, Siefken said, GBA will continue trying to recruit participants in the districts, where participation currently includes 68 percent of the total square footage in Downtown and Oakland.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cardiologist to Present on Connections between Air Pollution and Heart Health

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 3:35 PM

Cardiologist Wayne Cascio - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE EPA
  • Photo courtesy of the EPA
  • Cardiologist Wayne Cascio
Pittsburgh is ranked one of the worst cities for pollution by fine particles in the air. Tomorrow night, one of the largest health systems in the region will join local air-quality watchdogs to discuss the connection between air quality and heart health.

"Our region continues to have some of the worst air pollution in the nation, especially from fine particulate matter," says Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution. Fine particles, those up to 30 times smaller around than a human hair, penetrate deeply into the lungs. "We know fine particles are associated with many health problems, and are often associated with asthma and respiratory issues, but heart health is also a concern," she says. 

The event is free and open to the public but is also targeted at medical professionals, who by attending can earn continuing medical-education credits through Allegheny Health Network, one of the sponsors of the event.

"They’re [medical professionals] often seen as a credible source of information, so having those professionals speak at public events and to decision-makers carries a lot of weight in pushing the message that clean air is critical," Filippini says.

Speakers will include Wayne Cascio, physician and director of the U.S. EPA's Environmental Public Health Division, and James Fabisiak, of the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, who is one of the authors of the Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threats Analysis.

"It’s possible that these small particles actually leave the lungs and travel in the bloodstream, but that’s probably the least likely scenario," says Cascio. "It's more likely that particles settle in the lungs where they initiate or cause inflammation and activate white blood cells, [which] release chemicals that travel and cause effects elsewhere in the body. The effects they provoke maybe actually be in the blood cells, liver [or] abdominal fat."

Cascio says those connections will be the main focus of the talk tomorrow night. 

"The other possibility that is kind of intriguing is that the particles irritate receptors in the lungs, and the receptors then signal back to the brain. The brain then sends electrical signals back to the body, which influences blood and heart function," Cascio says. "Those effects are quite rapid, measured probably within minutes of being exposed to air pollution, whereas the others [scenarios] take longer."

He says his research at the EPA includes looking at population-level data and associations with air pollutants as well as animal and cellular studies to investigate the potential biological mechanisms to explain those associations. He says the EPA also does limited studies with volunteers who periodically have blood work and other biological evaluations to determine the effects of air-pollutant exposure in their daily activities.

"We thought it would be important to bring someone with expertise from the regulatory side as well as being a physician himself," Filippini says.

5-8 p.m. Allegheny General Hospital, Magovern Conference Center, 320 E. North Ave., North Side. More info at http://gasp-pgh.org/heart-health/ 

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Friday, April 24, 2015

FutureFest 2015, Half-Price Phipps Admission Tomorrow

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 9:06 AM

This free new day-long family-friendly festival on the Phipps Conservatory front lawn is dedicated to envisioning a fun and sustainable future.

And the displays and activities – electric-bike test rides, anyone? – are complemented by half-price admission to Phipps, where current attractions include the Butterfly Forest and Tropical Forest Congo.

The festival itself includes live music by the likes of Black Little Birds, Gene Stovall, Devin Moses & The Saved, Proper People and Misaligned Mind. Plus: an aquaponics demo; demos by Food Revolution Pittsburgh cooking club and Phipps Café; and tours of Phipps’ new modular classroom.

Along with the e-bike rides and a scavenger hunt, try your hand at making a seed bomb or printing with reclaimed materials. There are also vendors of upcycled or sustainability-minded products.

Also look out for food trucks, from Las Chicas and Mac & Gold.

FutureFest is a project of Communitopia, a group trying to reclaim environmentalism from images of gloom and disaster (though it acknowledges that environmental disasters are quite real). Here’s a recent CP profile of Communitopia president Joylette Portlock, known for her humorous video series "Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something!"

The festival runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Phipps’ front lawn, rain or shine. (Many activities are tented.)

Organizers encourage attendees to bike or take transit to Phipps, located at 1 Schenley Plaza, in Oakland.

More info is here.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Pittsburgh's p4 Summit Touts Sustainability, Leaves Issues Unexplored

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2015 at 5:13 PM

Yesterday’s kickoff of the big p4 Pittsburgh summit got a lot of mileage out of this familiar Einstein quote: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”

Andre Heinz speaks at the p4 Pittsburgh summit - PHOTO BY BILL O'DRISCOLL
  • Photo by Bill O'Driscoll
  • Andre Heinz speaks at the p4 Pittsburgh summit
This international symposium organized by the City of Pittsburgh and the Heinz Endowments was meant to herald “a major effort to forge a new model of urban growth and development that is innovative, inclusive and sustainable,” according to press materials. It drew about 200 civic leaders, designers and architects, construction types and more to the Energy Innovation Center to hear speakers from around the country and the world.

The p’s in the title referred to “planet, people, place and performance.” The Einstein quote showed up on the summit website and in at least a couple of yesterday’s talks. (The symposium continued today.) But just how different was the thinking there?

A bit — but only to a point.

I saw three of yesterday’s four sessions, including the first 20 of the day’s 28 speakers. The tone was upbeat, including boosterish welcomes from the Endowments’ Andre Heinz — a clean-tech investor as well as a philanthropist — and Mayor Bill Peduto. “Welcome to the next chapter of Pittsburgh,” said Peduto. “This is a stage for Pittsburgh to get back on the global scene.”

Speakers explored how cities — now home to most of the world’s population globally, and the source of almost all its greenhouse-gas production — can strive to become more livable and less energy-intensive. That’s a transition to which Pittsburgh is “incredibly suited,” said Hal Harvey, of San Francisco-based consultancy Energy Innovation. In the context of redesigning cities, his argument included the interesting thought that “society demands access, not mobility” — meaning, basically, that you can avoid road infrastructure and cars if you build stuff close enough together.

Christer Larsson, planning director for Malmo, Sweden, discussed that city’s newly built climate-neutral district, which claims to have no net effect on the greenhouse-gas emissions that drive climate change. The whole city plans to go climate-neutral by 2030, Larsson said. (Sweden was heavily repped at the summit thanks to Andre Heinz’ ties there.)

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Allegheny County Health Department hears concerns, support on Lawrenceville steel foundry

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 12:23 PM

Rachel Filippini of Group Against Smog and Pollution speaks at the April 14 ACHD hearing on a proposed permit for the Lawrenceville steel foundry facility. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Rachel Filippini of Group Against Smog and Pollution speaks at the April 14 ACHD hearing on a proposed permit for the Lawrenceville steel foundry facility.

A large crowd poured into a small, stuffy room at the Allegheny County Health Department building last night to testify about a draft permit for the McConway & Torley steel foundry, in Lawrenceville.

Speakers included a mix of steel-association representatives, M&T employees, vendors, environmental groups, concerned residents and community organizations.

"'Made in the U.S.A.' still means a lot. Better yet, 'Made in Allegheny County' means a lot more," said Robert Cephas, a ladle-crane operator at M&T for 13 years, who spoke at the hearing.

The draft permit proposes to reduce the amount of steel the foundry could melt — to 21,250 tons per year from around 90,000 — and the amount of sand it uses during the steel-casting process — to 167,700 tons per year from 700,030. M&T creates steel castings for the railroad industry, which are mainly composed of chromium, manganese, nickel and silicon.

"If they have to go to 21,000 tons, they're not going to need 400 employees," said Daryl Lumpkins, a Lawrenceville resident and M&T employee, during his testimony.

In 2014, when M&T applied for the permit, the health department re-evaluated emissions calculations and took issue with M&T's claim that 50 percent of emissions remain within the facility. Therefore, the health department wrote the new production levels into the permit up for debate.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Key Obama Campaign Consultant Speaks at Hill House Tomorrow

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 1:40 PM

Michael Slaby, who guided online and social-media strategies in both of Barack Obama’s presidential runs, speaks tomorrow night as part of the Green Building Alliance’s Inspire Speakers Series.

Michael Slaby
  • Michael Slaby
Joining him are Debra Lam, chief innovation & performance officer for the City of Pittsburgh, and emcee Andrew Butcher, co-founder and CEO of Pittsburgh’s G-TECH strategies.

Slaby is a consultant who uses technology and social media to address social challenges. In addition to Obama for America, Slaby has worked for organizations including F*ck Cancer, LiveStrong, and Bright Pink, and for the United Nations and the U.S. State Department. Currently, he is a managing partner of Timshel, a new company.

The GBA, which promotes more sustainable architecture and construction practices, says Slaby’s talk will address how to “inspire a diverse and inclusive movement to transform our region into a thriving place from the ground up.”

Also speaking is Lam, a Pittsburgh native with an international resume that 
Debra Lam
  • Debra Lam
includes stints in New York, China and the U.K. She has worked as a project manager and policy consultant at Arup, a global consulting and design firm, and has done strategy work with clients including the World Bank. In her current position, she works to make city government more efficient, open, transparent and responsive.

The event takes place from 5-8 p.m. tomorrow at the Hillman Auditorium. The Hill House is located at 1825 Centre Ave., in the Hill District.

Tickets are $20 and are available here. The evening includes beer, wine and food as well as networking opportunities.

Other Inspire Speakers Series co-sponsors include Chatham University and Sustainable Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Pitt professor hosts panel today on business and conservation coexistence

Posted By on Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 10:04 AM

University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business professor Brett Crawford will host a public discussion today on how business and conservationists can coexist.

"I’m trying to set aside the very strong pro-business and pro-environment arguments to have a conversation about how corporations and environmental associations can collaborate with one another to create real value," Crawford says.

The panel is in conjunction with his M.B.A. course on business ethics and corporate social responsibility but is open to anyone interested in the topic.

"The reason I chose this topic is because our graduates are going to go out and work for corporations that have the opportunity to actually create value, and I see the management of water, rivers and groundwater, as a huge opportunity for them. Just last week we had the state of California calling for water conservation. Two years ago we had a chemical spill into a  West Virginia waterway, and there's also the water issues in Toledo."

The panel discussion, titled the Business of River Conservation Symposium, begins at 11:30 a.m. at the University Club and will include national and state-level water conservationists. 

"I think the main push I’m really trying to emphasize is this is a discussion of coexistence. There are a number of examples out there and that’s what they’re [panelists] are here to share, about how companies have collaborated with environmental systems, and I think that’s a really important takeaway."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Author and Anti-Fracking Activist Sandra Steingraber Speaks Tonight at Pitt

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2015 at 1:32 PM

New York-based anti-fracking activist Sandra Steingraber gives a free talk titled "Fracking is a Feminist Issue: Women Confronting Fossil Fuels and Petrochemicals in an Age of Climate Emergency."

Sandra Steingraber (at left) at a September 2014 protest against fracking - PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH'S GENDER, SEXUALITY, & WOMEN'S STUDIES PROGRAM
  • Photo courtesy of University of Pittsburgh's Gender, Sexuality, & Women's Studies Program
  • Sandra Steingraber (at left) at a September 2014 protest against fracking
The lecture is premised on the idea that the U.S. environmental movement "is really two parallel movements: the fight against chemical pollution and the fight against climate change," with the former led largely by women and the latter most notably by men. 

According to the event's web page, "Steingraber will explore the role of women in the construction of knowledge about the risks of extreme fossil fuel extraction, gender disparities in the distribution of economic costs and benefits, the disproportionate burden of harm that women experience when their communities become targeted for oil and gas extraction, and the rise of women leaders in the anti-fracking movement."

Steingraber, a biologist, is the author of Living Downstream, a great 1997 book about environmental toxins that was later made into a feature-length documentary. In 2011, she published the book Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis.

The talk runs 7-8:30 p.m. tonight in the William Pitt Union's Assembly Room. The Union is located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard in Oakland.

The event is hosted by Pitt's Gender, Sexuallity, & Women's Studies Program. Other sponsors include the Provost’s Sustainability Fund and the University Honors College.

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

FOLLOW-UP: Activists to meet with Springdale residents tonight regarding Cheswick power plant

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 11:12 AM

Cheswick Generating Station - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • Cheswick Generating Station

Activists, air-quality watchdogs and scientists will lead a public  meeting tonight  with Springdale residents regarding the upcoming permit renewal for the Cheswick Generating Station.

The coal-fired power plant's upcoming permit expiration was the subject a City Paper article last month. 

According to the most recent Allegheny County Health Department data provided, Cheswick is in compliance, even below, its current  permit  limits. But activists maintain that the position that Cheswick's emissions allowances - of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) —  are too high. They'll be presenting a petition for residents to sign.

"There’s a couple of purposes [of the meeting]. One is to share with the local residents our findings with respect to the weaknesses in the permit and the fact that it’s not as protective as it should be of public health," says Tom Schuster, of the Sierra Club, the organizer of tonight's meeting. "We’ll be sharing our findings, that [power-plant operators] aren't required to run their controls for smog-forming pollution and they haven’t been running them."

Video by Ashley Murray

The generating station's scrubber technology — built to reduce SO2 emissions — became fully operational in 2011 and must  run at all times, according to the plant's owner NRG's installation permit .  NRG says the scrubber is running all of the time, and in fact, the way it's built, cannot be bypassed.

However, activists are concerned with another piece of emissions-reducing equipment installed at the plant — a selective catalytic reduction system, which can reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions. The plant is able to buy allowances through a cap-and-trade system regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state's Department of Environmental Protection. Therefore, the SCR is not required to always run, and activists are taking that issue up with the Allegheny County Health Department.

Both SO2 and NOx are regulated by the EPA.

One of the speakers tonight will be Albert Presto of Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies. His recent maps of air pollution in Allegheny County show air pollution over the Cheswick/Springdale area.

Schuster says he will also talk to residents about the county's current plan to address particulate-matter pollution, or soot, for which the county is currently out of compliance.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Pittsburghers launch local chapter of national climate change organization

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 1:30 PM

Tonight, activists will officially launch the local chapter of the climate-change organization 350.org, with the goal of building a network of concerned citizens and "elevating the question of climate disruption within the consciousness of the decision-makers."

"It started with a small number of people who were actually on the buses that went to the climate march in NYC in September of 2014," says Peter Wray, a Pittsburgh350 steering-committee member "We decided we should form a small climate-action network in Pittsburgh." 

Wray helped organize buses for Sierra Club and Thomas Merton Center members to attend the People's Climate March last September. Students from Carnegie Mellon University and the Service Employees International Union also joined the trip. Other organizations from Pittsburgh also organized their own buses, and Wray says there ended up being more than 100 people from Pittsburgh at the march.

Wray says Pittsburgh350 will be an informal network — no official office or staff —  of environmental organizations, labor unions and faith-based groups to share events that address the impacts of climate change.

"What we hope to do now is to, through various means, educate people about climate change through simple things like letters to the editors, a speakers' series, but also directly address climate change by supporting campaigns for divestment of endowments or pension funds away from fossil fuels," Wray says. "Another approach is a carbon tax, and that of course is through congress and our local congressmen."

Wray also cited a fuel switch for Port Authority buses to compressed natural gas and the speed-limit increase on the Pennsylvania turnpike as issues the local chapter would take up.

"We feel that our officials are just not yet attuned to doing a check on whether decisions they’re making meet the requirements for reducing the impact of climate change," Wray says.

The kick-off at 7 p.m. at the Kingsley Association, in East Liberty, is expected to draw nearly 100 people.

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