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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.

  • 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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City of Pittsburgh, development groups protest ALCOSAN's possible riverfront construction

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2015 at 12:05 PM

Rev. Rodney Lyde, of Homewood's Baptist Temple Church, speaking at a demonstration against ALCOSAN's planned construction along riverfronts - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • 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 
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. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • 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."

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Pittsburgh's African-American community leaders ask EPA for environmental justice during Clean Power Plan hearings

Posted By on Fri, Nov 13, 2015 at 3:42 PM

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.

Carmen Alexander of New Voices Pittsburgh spoke at a rally outside of the federal building in Downtown Pittsburgh, where EPA hearings were taking place. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • 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 
1Hood Media performed at a rally outside of the EPA Clean Power Plan hearings in Pittsburgh - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • 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 Air report 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.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

New website lets residents check how close they live to Allegheny County's top ten polluters

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 4:04 PM

The Toxic Ten website allows users to type in their address to see how near or far they live from one of the ten largest polluters in Allegheny County. - WWW.TOXICTEN.ORG
  • www.toxicten.org
  • The Toxic Ten website allows users to type in their address to see how near or far they live from one of the ten largest polluters in Allegheny County.
A new interactive website shows Allegheny County residents the top ten air polluters in the county.

After typing in an address, the website user can see how many miles away his or her house is from each of the ten industrial sites.

"This website will allow residents to learn more about the potential impacts on their health and how they can help ensure these facilities are cleaned up," said Stephen Riccardi of the environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment.

The organization rolled out the website in conjunction with the release of its "Toxic Ten" report written with the policy organization Frontier Group and funded by the Heinz Endowments and the Colcom Foundation. 

According to the report, "more than one in three Allegheny County residents lives within three miles of those 10 facilities."

The authors used the Environmental Protection Agency's scoring system called the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators model, which takes industry-reported data (basically, which substances and how much were released over a period of time) and analyzes it against the risk factors posed by those substances — as defined by EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report listed four categories of potential health effects: cancer and issues with the cardiovascular, nervous and respiratory systems.

"This report offers a clear picture of where the responsibility lies," said Riccardi at the press conference releasing the report and rolling out the new website.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

PennEnvironment releases report on fracking near schools, nursing homes and hospitals

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 4:19 PM

From left to right: Raina Rippel of the SW PA Environmental Health Project, Amanda Lapina of SEIU Healthcare PA, Stephen Riccardi of PennEnvironment, and Patrice Tomcik of Moms' Clean Air Force, yesterday in the Allegheny County Courthouse courtyard. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • From left to right: Raina Rippel of the SW PA Environmental Health Project, Amanda Lapina of SEIU Healthcare PA, Stephen Riccardi of PennEnvironment, and Patrice Tomcik of Moms' Clean Air Force, yesterday in the Allegheny County Courthouse courtyard.
A new report released this week warns that fracking is creeping closer to "vulnerable populations," including school-aged children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

The PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center announced its report "Dangerous and Close," which draws attention to the proximity of hydraulic-fracturing operations, or fracking, to certain types of facilities in Pennsylvania, including schools, day cares and nursing homes. The report has prompted five health and environmental groups to form a coalition and demand better policies from elected officials.

"We must take basic steps to protect our kids and other vulnerable populations from the negative health effects of fracking, and advocate on their behalf in a political process that favors frackers," said Stephen Riccardi, of PennEnvironment. 

According to the report, there are 166 schools, 165 child-care facilities, 21 nursing homes and six hospitals within one mile of a permitted fracking well site — that's 53,000 children under age 10 and 41,000 seniors 75 and older living within that distance, the report says. It cites Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection numbers indicating that more than 9,000 unconventional wells — where fracking is the means of extraction — have been drilled and thousands more permits have been issued. The report also says that industry predicts that approximately 60,000 wells total will be drilled in Pennsylvania by 2030.

The report cites as cause for concern studies that associate proximity to fracking with health impacts. The report's authors also elaborate on pollution and safety risks to drinking water and air quality, as well as the risk of well blowouts and explosions.

PennEnvironment, in conjunction with another environmentally focused policy organization, the Frontier Group, recommends that lawmakers require a minimum one-mile setback for drilling operations from schools, day-care centers, nursing homes and hospitals. The report also recommends increased enforcement and penalties for companies in violation near those facilities, among other recommendations.

As regulations stand now in Pennsylvania, the 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.

"We feel that a mile away will help reduce the health effects that drilling can have on children and all vulnerable populations who are impacted," said Patrice Tomcik, of the group Moms' Clean Air Force, who attended the press conference to share her concerns about her two children in the Mars Area School District. Currently, there is a disputed well pad, containing five wells, a little over a half-mile from her children's school campus.

Also in attendance were representatives from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project and SEIU Healthcare. Those two groups will join PennEnvironment, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments to form the new coalition, Pennsylvania Health Professionals for a Livable Future.

The new coalition is also advocating for the one-mile setback minimum, as well as calling on elected officials to work toward banning open-air frack waste pits, to remove the doctor's gag order from Act 13, to create a public-health registry for public-health professionals to report fracking impacts, and to require training for health professionals about the health impacts of fracking.

"As health-care workers, we're deeply concerned about the future of health care, especially given that the long-term health impacts of unconventional drilling are largely unknown," said Amanda Lapina, of SEIU Healthcare.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pittsburgh Climate Movement protesters carry "dirty money" to Congressman Keith Rothfus' office

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2015 at 3:53 PM

Pittsburgh Climate Movement protesters delivered a bag of "dirty" money to U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' local office. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Pittsburgh Climate Movement protesters delivered a bag of "dirty" money to U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' local office.
Carrying a huge bag of dirty money above their heads and marching to the beat of a band and their own chants, more than 100 protesters arrived at Republican U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' local office to demand that he stop accepting "dirty money" and step up on climate-change issues ahead of the Paris talks.

“A year ago, half-a-million people took over New York City [for the People’s Climate March]. Today we’re showing that those people are everywhere," said Tom Hoffman of the Sierra Club, one of the more than 10 groups represented at the march. "There’s action in over 175 cities today [for national day of action] .The message is that the debate about climate change is over. Climate change is real, and we have to act now.”

The People's Climate Movement, a campaign that formed after last year's People's Climate March in New York City, declared today a "National Day of Action on Climate." (The national movement acts as a clearinghouse for local action, like the Pittsburgh Climate Movement, listing events on its website and providing media tool kits.)

Cameron Heydar, of Chatham University's  Sustainable Impact Team, marched in the Oct. 14 Pittsburgh Climate Movement protest at Keith Rothfus' office. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Cameron Heydar, of Chatham University's Sustainable Impact Team, marched in the Oct. 14 Pittsburgh Climate Movement protest at Keith Rothfus' office.
The Pittsburgh marchers carried the bag of fake money — covered with the logos of energy and natural-resources companies  — into Rothfus' office, and formed a crowd outside.

"Those are all the companies that donate to Keith Rothfus. He’s doing their bidding," Hoffman said. “He has perfect opportunity. We need our elected leaders to do their part, and for the United States to lead.”

According to Federal Election Commission contribution disclosure documents for Rothfus' 2014 campaign, Koch Industries, Consol Energy and Alpha Natural Resources donated tens of thousands of dollars.

Speakers addressed their desire for clean jobs and concern for future generations' health.

"Because they know we need jobs in our community, they want us to believe that the only jobs are in fracking," Derek Fuller,
Anita Weingarten, of Penn Hills, marched to U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' office carrying  a sign of smokestacks, reading "Explain to our children it was good for the economy." - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Anita Weingarten, of Penn Hills, marched to U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' office carrying a sign of smokestacks, reading "Explain to our children it was good for the economy."
 who attended the rally with Action United,  said to the crowd.

After leading the crowd in a chant, Erin Kramer of One Pittsburgh said “We are choking on their money, and it is not OK."  After the march, she told CP that her organization looks at climate change as an economic-justice issue.

"Our members, for example, and their children are often afflicted with asthma. So we can do things like pass paid sick days, but we need to address the root cause," she says. (Pittsburgh City Council passed paid-sick-day legislation in August, for which supporters often cited air quality and child-asthma issues as a reason parents may need  to miss work.) "We do see it as a false choice between a job that pollutes the planet and no job at all. We’re interested in the development of the next economy.”

Rep. Rothfus' office did not respond to phone calls for comment.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

GASP to hold event on pollution and autism tomorrow night

Posted By on Fri, Aug 21, 2015 at 1:09 PM

In the second installment of its "Making the Connection" series, the local air quality watchdog organization Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) will host a discussion on air quality and childhood autism.

"The point of this event is to help people understand the connection between various health issues and air pollution," says Rachel Filippini of GASP. (Their first installment included Environmental Protection Agency cardiologist Dr. Wayne Cascio for a discussion of the effects of air pollution on heart health.)

Tomorrow night, GASP will host University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health's Dr. Evelyn Talbott for a discussion of her team's findings on the connection between fine particulate matter pollution and childhood autism.

Talbott's 2014 findings show an increased risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) for children who were exposed to certain air toxins during early stages of life, including in the womb and during the first couple years of life.

The event will be held in conjunction with the monthly "Putting Down Roots Sustainability Salon," a monthly conversation group that his held at a Squirrel Hill residence. This will be its 43rd iteration.

Aviva Diamond of the Mom's Clean Air Force will also speak, and GASP will present on its current campaigns.

It will be held from 4-7 p.m., and the address will be given upon registration, which can be done here.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Update: Citizen group taking action against world’s largest steel company’s Monessen plant

Posted By on Tue, Aug 4, 2015 at 3:50 PM

Donora resident Viktoryia Maroz is part of an effort to bring a lawsuit against  a Monessen plant owned by ArcelorMittal USA. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Donora resident Viktoryia Maroz is part of an effort to bring a lawsuit against a Monessen plant owned by ArcelorMittal USA.
Viktoryia Maroz, of Donora, a small town on the banks of the Monongahela River in Washington County, awoke at 1:30 a.m. last Saturday to a powerful stench — a smell she describes as a mix of rotten eggs and burning rubber. The culprit, she says, are fumes emanating from a coal-processing plant in neighboring Monessen.

“Even if I have the windows and doors closed, I still smell it,” says Maroz. "It is worse starting at 5 p.m. and on the weekends."

Maroz has filed dozens of complaints with the plant’s owner, ArcelorMittal USA, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency since the plant reopened in April 2014. Maroz says she has not noticed any improvement since filing her complaints, even though tests near her home have shown that contaminants, such as arsenic, have been found in the air.

“”I felt so lost, I felt like I had done it all, but there wasn’t anything being done to resolve the situation,” says Maroz.

Now, she has joined forces with other community members and the citizen-based nonprofit PennEnvironment to take the steps to form a lawsuit against AcelorMittal USA. The Chicago-based steel company is owned by the multinational Luxembourg-based AcelorMittal S.A. and is the world’s largest producer of steel.

As part of a press conference in front of the U.S. Federal Courthouse on Grant Street, PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur announced today that the “citizen suit” allows for private individuals and organizations to sue violators in federal court, after providing 60 days notice of their intent. The notice was filed yesterday.

“I’ve met with residents who live in towns all around the this plant, Donora, Monongahela, etc.,” says Masur. “Their stories about air pollution from this facility are gut-wrenching.”

PennEnvironment has compiled a list of about 80 citizen complaints to the DEP since the plant re-opened in 2014. According to a November 2014 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, the DEP cited the plant six times for illegal emissions over an eight-month period in 2014.

Masur adds that the plant has violated the Clean Air Act hundreds of times since it restarted.

“It is outrageous that the world’s largest steel company cannot comply with our clean-air laws,” says Masur.

The National Environmental Law Center (NELC) is partnering with PennEnvironment to assist in legal action against the steel giant. Josh Kratka, attorney for NELC, says the suit is not seeking individual damages, and they are merely “trying to get [AcelorMittal] to comply with the law.”

Kratka adds that the plant’s key air-pollution control system has been offline for a while, but the company is continuing to process coal anyway. Kratka says this is a direct violation of the Clean Air Act.

Masur hopes that a full-blown lawsuit does not have to be filed. He is confident that the 60-day waiting period will produce some sit-down meetings with the AcelorMittal, and solutions will be sought.

However, if negotiations fail, PennEnvironment is ready to force litigation to ensure the steel producer’s compliance. Masur adds that they could possibly seek on-going “mandatory minimum penalties” to be enforced when the company falls out of compliance.

Further, Masur thinks those penalties should help to fund the DEP, so that the state agency can keep a better watch on companies that are breaking the rules.

“Thousands of companies in Pennsylvania are not violating anything,” says Masur. “The DEP should not let loose the ones who are breaking the law. They should not let them slide by.”

UPDATE, 4:45 p.m.: An ArcelorMittal spokesperson sent the following statement to City Paper this afternoon:

“ArcelorMittal just learned of this potential lawsuit from PennEnvironment today. ArcelorMittal takes our environmental performance seriously. We are disappointed by the performance record of the Monessen coke plant since the facility’s May 2014 restart as we have been challenged by issues such as opacity exceedances at the No. 1 battery combustion stack. We have been working closely with regulatory authorities to address the cause of those exceedances as well as other concerns. In June 2015, we expedited a desulfurization system outage to improve the performance of the operation. In mid-July, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection performed an inspection and conducted visible emissions readings of the No.1 battery combustion stack, which demonstrated compliance with the opacity standards.

"We are committed to ensuring that the recent improvements prevent future occurrences and maintain compliance levels. We know that being a trusted and responsible user of our natural resources is the price of admission in today’s metals and mining business, and we are committed to achieving and maintaining full compliance with all environmental permits at all of our locations.”

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pittsburgh City Council passes urban agriculture bill

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 2:15 PM

Jody Noble-Choder, of Highland Park, holds one of her Indian Runner ducks. Before today's urban agriculture amendments, Noble-Choder's animals were illegally kept in her yard. - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • Jody Noble-Choder, of Highland Park, holds one of her Indian Runner ducks. Before today's urban agriculture amendments, Noble-Choder's animals were illegally kept in her yard.
In a unanimous vote this morning, Pittsburgh City Council passed amendments to the urban-agriculture zoning code, making it a right, rather than an exception to the law, for residents to have bees, chickens, ducks and even goats.

"We’re really grateful for the city’s leadership on this," says Marisa Manheim of Grow Pittsburgh, one of four organizations that collaborated with the Department of City Planning on the amendments. Other organizations included Pittsburgh Pro-Poultry People, Burgh Bees and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council of Penn State Center-Pittsburgh.

Council voted 8-0 (Councilor Daniel Lavelle was absent) to change the 2011 urban-agriculture zoning code, making the process easier and cheaper for residents, and expanding the zoning areas for where urban-agriculture activities can take place.

"I'm in support because I think it removes barriers for those participating in urban agriculture," Councilor Natalia Rudiak told City Paper last week before the vote.

Under the 2011 zoning rules, residents had to apply for a variance, costing them more than $300 and taking up to four months. The new rules require a one-time fee of $70 and reduces the paperwork to just a few forms.

"It might be a couple papers and site plan that needs to be drawn, and we'll have instructions for that," says Shelly Danko-Day, the city planning open-spaces specialist.

Danko-Day says that the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections will likely visit a resident's home to assure that any animal enclosures are properly installed.

Another big change for the city is the fact that privately owned land in some zoning districts, including highway commercial, neighborhood commercial and industrial areas, will now be allowed to have agriculture as the primary activity on the land.

"I'm excited about that," she says. "We have a lot of vacant land that's not being utilized."

 Resident still must adhere to measurement standards. For instance, people who have a 2,000-square-foot lot, including their house or other structures, can have up to two beehives with five chickens or ducks, or two beehives with two miniature goats. The rules change depending on the size of one's property, and Grow Pittsburgh has published an easy-to-understand version on its website.

"Beyond the actual produce itself, it gives people a chance to engage with their food and understand the food system," Manheim says. "We hear about avian flu in the central U.S., and it resonates so much more when people understand the needs these animals have."

Also, the legislation now opens the door for people to sell produce from on-site farmstands from their backyards.

"We’re excited about the possibilities this will open for individuals, communities and organizations here in the city," says Heather Mikulas, of Penn State Center-Pittsburgh. "It can really have a positive impact on the quality of life. It has implications of more beautiful greens spaces, potential economic activities, healthier and more active lifestyles, and could change how the face of Pittsburgh looks."

Check out this week's City Paper on the impact of the new legislation in Wednesday's print and online editions. 

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pittsburgh 350 climate activists march ahead of Paris talks

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2015 at 12:43 PM

Pittsburgh 350, a climate activist group, marched along the Allegheny River this weekend. - PHOTO BY AARON WARNICK
  • Photo by Aaron Warnick
  • Pittsburgh 350, a climate activist group, marched along the Allegheny River this weekend.

On Sunday, Pittsburgh 350, a local chapter of the climate-activist group 350.org and which is supported by numerous other groups, led a Climate Action Rally at Allegheny Commons East Park.

Concerned Western Pennsylvanians gathered to air grievances over dirty air, to preach against oil over the sound of a bomb train — the name given to trains carrying crude oil at risk of derailing — on the nearby track, and to caution about climate change as the crowd baked under a hot Pittsburgh summer sun.

“This is the most important issue of this century” said Thom Crown of Lawrenceville. “Well, actually, it’s the most important issue of the last century … but now the conversation is beginning to change and things may actually happen.”

Crown came to the event with his wife JoAnne Buchanan and 15-year-old granddaughter Hope. Crown and Buchanan are members of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy organization.

“I just wish I had seen more younger people,” Buchanan said. “That generation is the one that is going to be stuck with this. We’re really at a critical point."

Attendees ranged from the neighbors of industrial sites in Pittsburgh to homeowners from Greensburg who fear they’re brewing their morning coffee with frack water.

The event was attended by “around 200 throughout the day” estimated Peter Wray, a member of Pittsburgh 350’s steering committee.

“Our next goal is to get the word out to a much broader populace,” Wray said by phone on Monday.

The day started with about 30 people taking a very hot 6-mile hike from the Shenango Coke Plant to the park on the “Walk for Paris,” named for the upcoming United Nations climate summit to take place in France later this year. Afterwards, the group rallied and gained numbers at Allegheny Commons East Park to hear some speakers before a small cohort marched along Allegheny River Walk.

Mayor Bill Peduto opened the event with remarks, calling for his electorate to push Pittsburgh into being a model for environmental change.

"We have to decide locally whether we take up [clean energy initiatives] and become a model for other cities to follow and show that it can work or if we decide to be left behind in the 21st century and simply become irrelevant," Peduto said.

Video by Aaron Warnick

City Councilor Dan Gilman followed Peduto’s speech to read a proclamation that made June 21 “Climate Action Day” in Pittsburgh.

“These challenges start with very local efforts,” Councilor Dan Gilman said before reading the proclamation. “This is a truly global effort.”

Several other leaders of other local environmental groups took the stage to advocate different approaches to climate action afterwards. Many speakers referred back to Pope Francis’s newly released encyclical on climate change which was cited as a the precursor to the actions on Sunday

After the event, Wray said he was impressed with the “exceptional speakers” and the climate action solutions they presented.

“From here, we need to keep the pressure on state legislation for support of green energy” Wray says.

Pittsburgh 350 says their goal is to influence U.S. diplomats in pushing for climate action at the summit in December. 

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