Environment

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

oil_train_minority_population_map.jpeg

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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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pittsburgh's National Aviary gets baby sloth

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 11:44 AM

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.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

New Pterosaur exhibit brings world-class fossils, casts to Pittsburgh

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 6:17 PM

The world-famous Pterosaur fossil "Dark Wing" contains one of the best-preserved wing membranes in the world. - PHOTO BY COURTNEY LINDER
  • Photo by Courtney Linder
  • The world-famous Pterosaur fossil "Dark Wing" contains one of the best-preserved wing membranes in the world.


The Carnegie Museum of Natural History
will unveil its newest exhibit "Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs" tomorrow at noon.

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.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Recycle your holiday tree after the festivities are over

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 at 2:20 PM

Don't clog up beautiful streams like this one in Settler's Cabin park with your old Christmas trees. Recycle them! - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • 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)

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Advocates ask Pittsburgh Public Schools to use school buses with cleaner diesel emissions

Posted By on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 at 1:45 PM

schoolbus.jpg

This week, advocates testified at the Pittsburgh Public Schools board meeting, asking that the district use only buses with updated diesel-emissions controls

"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.





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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sustainable Pittsburgh's Green Workplace Challenge winners reduced landfill waste, cut water usage and more

Posted By on Thu, Dec 17, 2015 at 12:49 PM

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)
  • 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)


About 50 area employers participated in Sustainable Pittsburgh’s third “friendly competition” to see who could most reduce their use of energy and other resources over the past year.

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.

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

'Ghost of Climate Future' haunts Pittsburgh corporations, Allegheny County Executive

Posted By on Thu, Dec 3, 2015 at 3:19 PM

Protesters visited PPG Industries to deliver "lump of coal" from the "ghost of climate future" to executives. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • 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."

Along the march, the activists visited EQT, PPG, U.S. Steel, and the law firm Babst Calland, all of whom have representatives on the Allegheny County Health Department Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee. While the committee is tasked with overseeing local air quality, Three Rivers Rising Tide says the corporate members appointed by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald are some of the top polluters in the region.

"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.

Activist Mel Packer directs the crowd of protesters to the U.S. Steel building. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • 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.”

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Elizabeth Kolbert at the Monday Night Lectures

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2015 at 4:31 PM

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.

Elizabeth Kolbert - PHOTO COURTESY OF NICHOLAS WHITMAN
  • Photo courtesy of Nicholas Whitman
  • Elizabeth Kolbert
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.

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