Environment | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Thursday, September 13, 2018

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 12:27 PM

click to enlarge One person’s trash is a Garbage Olympics team’s treasure: A local competition returns to tackle Pittsburgh’s litter
Photo: Garbage Olympics
Lawrenceville team at the 2017 Garbage Olympics

Teams of volunteers from all over Pittsburgh are ready to clean up the streets for the second annual Garbage Olympics.

Garbage Olympics co-organizer Alicia Carberry, describes it as a “friendly competition to get as much litter out of Pittsburgh as possible” and as a way to raise awareness of the fact that neighborhood groups are able to receive cleanup resources from the Department of Public Works.

“It’s a driven effort to complement what the [City of Pittsburgh] already does and is getting better at,” says Carberry, who co-organizes the event with Lena Andrews.

She points out how the city has tried to eliminate litter with the launch of smart receptacles that use sensors to tell when a block needs more trash cans. But more can be done.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2018 at 12:02 PM

As climate warms, expect more Pittsburgh power outages during the hottest days
Kids cooling off in Downtown Pittsburgh
On July 4, a massive storm rolled over Pittsburgh and brought a deluge of water and booming thunderclaps. Initially, the rain was welcomed as temperatures were spiking above the nineties and the humidity was palpable.

But, the storm led to many power outages across East End neighborhoods, Fox Chapel and Penn Hills. They came at the worst time. The rain passed through and the heat returned. About 20,000 homes were sweltering without any electricity to power air conditioners or fans. The power outages lasted several hours, with some homes without power for more than a day.

Costa Samaras of Carnegie Mellon University says expect this scenario to be replicated with increasing frequency thanks to climate change.

“As temperatures get hotter, we will have more of these events,” says Samaras, who directs CMU’s Center for Engineering and Resilience for Climate Adaptation.

As the climate warms, our summers temperatures are spiking. And with an abundance of fresh water, especially in the Eastern portion of the U.S., warmer summers mean more humidity rising into the atmosphere. With more humidity and heat, comes more strong storms. As those storms continue to pummel places like Pittsburgh, expect more downed power lines, floods, and then power outages.

“You can pull the National Climate Assessment, when the air is hotter it can hold more moisture, and there is more potential for more intense storms,” says Samaras. “The projections say we are going to have more intense storms.”

Sensitive populations, like the elderly, are the most threatened during heat-wave power outages. Samaras says for some residents, heat waves without electricity to cool down can be fatal.

No deaths have been reported in Pittsburgh in relation to the recent heat wave, but Quebec, Canada has lost 33 lives thanks to a recent heat wave. More than 15,000 people lost power in Quebec as the heat wave raged.

In additions to storms, Samaras says intense heat places pressure on the power grid, since so many people are staying inside and running fans or air conditioners. That can lead to brownouts.

“It is hard to design a system that is going to deal with that,” says Samaras.

Samaras says there are ways to combat problems related to heat-wave power outages. Electrical utility companies like Duquesne Light can trim more trees near power lines and invest in local electrical storage, like batteries and solar panels. Upgrading infrastructure could help with storm water management.

Green buildings that power themselves also take pressure off the power grid and aren’t susceptible to power outages. More cooling centers could be built in Pittsburgh so sensitive populations can avoid sweltering inside their homes.

But most off all, Samaras says reducing emissions will help in making sure heat waves and thunderous storms are less frequent.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 6:11 PM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh students call on Bill Peduto to oppose Shell cracker plant
Photo courtesy of Mark Dixon
Banner hanging from the Smithfield Street Bridge
In June 2017, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would be leaving the Paris Climate Accords, and in doing so said he "was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto responded to that statement in a tweet saying, “As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”

Well, some Pittsburgh college students want to hold Peduto to his environmental commitments and are calling on him to oppose the under-construction ethane cracker plant in Beaver County, a facility that processes natural gas in plastics. Environmental groups warn the cracker plant, owned by oil giant Shell, will lead to increased air pollution that will flow directly to Pittsburgh and other towns in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh’s asthma rate is already 13 percent higher than national average and the cracker plant could make that worse.

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Posted By on Thu, May 3, 2018 at 3:08 PM

click to enlarge State Rep. Ed Gainey and advocates call for fleet of electric buses in Pittsburgh area
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Ed Gainey
In September 2017, the Port Authority of Allegheny County was awarded a federal-government grant to purchase the agency’s first electric bus. The electric bus will likely serve the 88 route that runs along Penn Avenue from Point Breeze to Downtown, and Port Authority officials say it will serve as a test bus for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit, which hopes to include 25 electric buses.

But Pennsylvania state Rep. Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty) and environmental and transit advocates want a larger commitment to electric buses. Eventually, they want to see the majority of Port Authority's fleet become electric, and are also hoping area school districts build up a fleet of electric school buses.

“We have to save Mother Earth,” said Gainey at a May 3 press conference at the East Liberty transit station. “The more we can invest in cleaner air, the more we are looking to the future. And we know electric buses are the way of the future.”

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 1:14 PM

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy breaks ground on Allegheny Commons fountain project in North Side
Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Rendering of Allegheny Commons fountain project
Allegheny Commons in the North Side is the oldest park in Pittsburgh, and understandably, it’s a bit worse for wear.

But things are looking up for the park. On April 19, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy broke ground on a new fountain project in the northeast corner of the park. According to a press release, “the new fountain will mirror its original 19th century design and will include a 50-foot circular stone basin, a one-foot rim of heavy cut stone, a large Grecian vase in the center, a tall principal [water] jet and 16 smaller [water] jets.”

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 5:15 PM

click to enlarge Environmentalists say Allegheny County’s air quality is a repellent to companies like Amazon
CP photo by Ryan Deto
An attendee a March 20 environmental rally outside the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh region has the 8th worst air quality of any region in the U.S., according to the American Lung Association. Of regions that are outside of California, with its fast population growth and geography that encourages the buildup of ozone, the Pittsburgh region has the worst air quality in the U.S.

On March 20, a group of environmental advocates and grassroots groups gathered in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh to point out the region’s poor air-quality. About 50 people braved the snow and called on local elected officials to do more to ensure that Allegheny County has cleaner air. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Allegheny County, in 2016, recorded a weighted annual average of particular matter at a rate of 12.8. This is the 10th highest for any county in the U.S. and the highest east of the Mississippi.

Zachary Barber of statewide environmental group, PennEnvironment, says that the region has made significant progress since the heyday of steel production, but he believes the county needs to do better.

“Despite all of the progress we have made, people in the region still can’t breath clean air,” said Barber to the crowd. “No reason in America’s most livable city should people have to put themselves at risk when going outside.”

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Posted By on Tue, Feb 20, 2018 at 10:19 AM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh City Council candidate Erika Strassburger endorsed by statewide environmental group PennEnvironment
Photo courtesy of the candidate
Erika Strassburger
Before Erika Strassburger worked as chief of staff for former Pittsburgh City Councilor Dan Gilman (D-Squirrel Hill), she worked as an environmental advocate in Pittsburgh and in New Hampshire. She told City Paper back in January that her environmental chops would be valuable on city council, especially considering the ongoing problems at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA). Strassburger is running to replace Gilman’s former 8th City Council District seat in a special election that will take place March 6.

“I spent a decade fighting for clean water, and right now the PWSA has $4 billion in capital needs and a federal mandate to lower lead levels,” said Strassburger in January. “We have to keep water publicly owned, but make sure important changes are implemented. Green infrastructure needs to be a priority first, and I believe there are ways to raise money for that.”

And now one of the state’s biggest environmental-advocacy organizations, PennEnvironoment, has thrown its weight behind Strassburger.

“When it comes to protecting our environment, there’s no one better than Erika,” said PennEnvironment director David Masur in a press release. “For nearly a decade, Erika put her money where her mouth is when it comes to protecting our environment and health — now, and for our kids and future generations.”

Masur notes in the press release Strassburger’s focus on improving Pittsburgh water quality was a key factor in PennEnvironment providing its endorsement. According to samples taken in December 2017, more than 100 sites in Pittsburgh had lead levels in drinking water above the federal standards. The PWSA is looking to replace 2,100 lead service lines this year.

PennEnvironment deputy director Adam Garber said in a press release that he believes Strassburger will fight for clean water, as well as other environmental causes in the city.

“Erika has walked the walk in so many ways, and her priorities are clear. We know she will be an excellent ally and advocate for Pittsburghers who want clean air, clean water, and great open spaces when she is elected to City Council,” said Garber in a press release.

Strassburger, previously registered as a Democrat, is running as an independent against Democrat Sonja Finn, Republican Rennick Remley and Marty Healey, of the newly created Inclusion Party.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Posted By on Thu, Feb 1, 2018 at 12:14 PM

After nearly 21 years here, tomorrow's my last day at City Paper.

I'm heading to 90.5 WESA, where I'll be arts and culture reporter.

I'd like to thank all my colleagues over the years, our readers, and all the people and institutions I've written about, for making it such a memorable ride. It all started back in 1997, when nobody at CP had email yet and the whole office shared one dial-up internet connection.

If you'll indulge me, to cap things off, here are some of my own favorite articles from over the years, culled from some of the nearly 1,100 issues I've been part of here.

Many are long-form pieces, from the days when we had the time and newsprint to run such articles weekly; they were a challenge to report and write, but looking back, they're some of the most worthwhile things I did.

All but one of these 18 articles are from 2003 or later, because that's as far back as CP's online archive goes. (Too bad; I have some faves from the early years, too.)

In chronological order:

This 2002 piece on motorcycle road-racer Keith Reed is not in our archive, but was cut-and-pasted by an enterprising message-boarder. (I think a few drop-caps are missing, but like some text magically salvaged from the library of Alexandria, it's mostly there.)

An April 2004 profile of falconer and bird-of-prey expert Earl Schriver, whose life's mission is to disabuse the public of what he called "the Bambi complex."

Big ideas are fun. Here's "Muse You Can Use," a May 2005 piece on what art's good for or whether it needs to be good for anything at all.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Posted By on Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 2:21 PM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh’s frozen rivers will stick around despite warming temperatures
CP photo by Jake Mysliwczyk
The frozen Allegheny River near PNC Park in Pittsburgh
It takes a lot of cold to freeze one river, let alone three. But the frigid temperatures that have hung over Pittsburgh for the last couple weeks have accomplished just that. Many sections of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers have accumulated inches of ice. (Check out this week's City Paper out Jan. 10 for more spectacular images of our iced-over rivers.)

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Posted By on Wed, Nov 8, 2017 at 10:20 AM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh becomes first U.S. city with year-round UPS bike-delivery route
CP photo by Ryan Deto
UPS's electric-assist bike-cart
Bikes are a very contentious issue in Pittsburgh. So much so that Pittsburgh’s 2017 mayoral primary  had candidates run on anti bike-lane messaging. But bike proponents are moving ahead anyway. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a champion of bike lanes, dominated his anti-bike challengers in the May primary elections and won re-election on Nov. 7. U.S. Census figures show the city’s bike commuters increased by more than 50 percent from 2015 to 2016.

And now delivery giant United Parcel Service (UPS), is getting in on the bike action. Starting Nov. 9, Downtown Pittsburgh will be home to UPS’s only year-round delivery route that utilizes an electric-assist bike-cart in the U.S.

The pedal-powered cart can hold up to 15-20 packages and up to 400 pounds of cargo. It comes equipped with all the lights and turn signals that cars have, but is pedal-powered  Drivers are given a boost from an electric motor, that recharges as the driver pedals. (The cart is only partially powered with electricity; drivers must pedal to keep it going.)

UPS spokesperson Deanna Cain says the bike-delivery carts have had success in the crowded cities of Europe, and UPS uses the carts on special occasions in Portland, Ore. UPS first started using the “eBike” in Hamburg, Germany, in 2012. Now, UPS utilize bike delivery in 12 European cities. Cain says Pittsburgh is the perfect place to start the company's first U.S. year-round route.

“It’s good for downtown areas with narrow streets like Pittsburgh,” says Cain of the electric-assist bike-cart. “It has zero emissions and no fuel consumption. As more cities move towards sustainability, we want to follow that model.”

Karina Ricks, Pittsburgh’s director of mobility and infrastructure, is “thrilled,” that UPS will be utilizing bike-powered delivery in Downtown.

“This aligns with our climate-change goals, we like progressive solutions like these,” says Ricks. “This will help with traffic congestion, given our narrow streets Downtown.”

UPS’s Three Rivers division manager Nick Passaro says the new bike cart will reduce carbon emissions, noise and congestion Downtown. “We want the world to view Pittsburgh as a progressive place, that cares about the environment.”

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