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Supreme Court Delays EPA Ruling on Mercury Emissions

Artwork: Mike LaMark

In what is hoped will be only a temporary set-back, with a 5-4 vote on June 29, the US Supreme Court struck down the EPA’s rules limiting the emission of mercury and other toxins from coal-fired power plants, of which there are 33 in Pennsylvania. At issue was the EPA’s judged failure to adequately account for the cost of compliance by the industry. The case, brought by Earthjustice on behalf of groups including the Sierra Club, will now go back to the Washington DC circuit court of appeals, which will ask the EPA to reconsider its rule-making.

As Earthjustice points out, the Court did not reject the following key conclusions by EPA:

  • Power plants are far and away the worst industrial polluters.
  • Controlling toxic emissions is both technologically and economically feasible.
  • The resulting pollution reductions will yield between $37 billion and $90 billion in health benefits every year.
  • The public will receive $3–$9 in health benefits for every $1 that the protections cost the power industry.

Gov. Wolf Properly Rejects the GOP State Budget

Earlier this week, Governor Wolf vetoed HB 1192, the 2015-2016 state budget passed by the General Assembly. As the Sierra Club said in applauding this veto, the budget passed by House and Senate leaders was bad for human health and the environment for the following reasons:

  • It would not have adequately funded enforcement staff at the Department of Environmental Protection;
  • it would not have enabled the creation of a much-needed health registry for fracking-related complaints;
  • it would not have ensured our communities protection from the harm of under-regulated fracking; and
  • it would not have honored the Commonwealth’s obligation to fully fund our share to the Delaware River Basin Commission and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Oklahoma Court Faults Earthquakes on Frack Water Disposal Wells

Photo: Phil Coleman

A ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court may have consequences in nearby Ohio, a state that takes waste frack-water from Pennsylvania and injects it into deep wells. The court determined that the injuries sustained by a woman in her home were due to an earthquake caused by disposal of frack-water in deep injection wells. With a rise in frequency of earthquakes in Oklahoma, this ruling makes fracking companies vulnerable to more lawsuits in that state, and Ohio may follow.

For Power Generation Coal is Down, but Gas and Solar are Up

The recent Supreme Court decision on limiting the mercury emissions from coal-fired plants is unlikely to stop the decline in the use of coal as a fuel. In a July 27 report from the US Energy Information Administration the data showed that the use of coal to generate electricity dropped from 109,591 thousand megawatt hours in April 2014 to 88,835 in April 2015. A GAO report showed that the downward trend was also true from 2001 to 2013, with a drop coal to 40 pct of the total for coal while gas increased to 26 pct of the total. Encouraging environmentalists in the EIA data was the April-to-April increase in solar energy of 57 pct. Less encouraging was the increase in natural gas of 21 pct over the twelve-month period

Link to ALG web site

Record-Breaking Heat Wave in Europe

Image: UK Met Office

With pleasantly cool weather during the past few week here in Pittsburgh, it is hard to imagine that last week people on the other side of the Atlantic experienced a record breaking heat wave. In London, the hottest-July-day record was broken by 98 F at Heathrow airport. In Paris on the same July 1 the high was 102 F and in Madrid it reached 99 F. Conditions on the Continent were reminders of the 2003 heat wave with a death toll in the thousands. Scientists noted that multi-day periods of excessive heat, moving in from North Africa, are becoming more frequent as the climate warms. Meanwhile, the drought and hot weather continues in the US west, but in South Asia, the Monsoon is bringing relief after temperatures reached 120 F and the death toll in Pakistan alone reached 1,200.

Rally Calls for Action on the Climate Crisis

Climate Action Day events end at the Point. Photo: M. Dixon

Despite the earlier forecast for rain and the fact it was Father’s Day, on June 21 close to two-hundred people gathered at the First Pittsburgh Climate Action rally on the Northside (see the video).  Opening the event was a Proclamation of the Climate Action day by Pittsburgh Councilman Dan Gilman, followed by a powerful speech by Mayor Bill Peduto who stressed the importance of the messages in Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical.  Speakers from a diverse group of organizations then outlined the risks associated with the coming climate crisis, and some steps that we can take, including institutional divestment, a carbon fee, and an effective state-wide green energy program.  See photo gallery produced by Mark Dixon.

In the morning a pilgrimage above the Ohio River connected the air pollution from the Neville Island coke plant to climate change, and to conclude the day’s events there was a procession from the rally to the fountain at the Point.  The day’s events were organized by ‘Pittsburgh350’, with thirty co-sponsoring organizations.

PA Senate Gives Frackers a Water Break

For years the coal industry polluted our streams with acid mine drainage (AMD), and now that toxic waste is stored in lagoons. After it has been treated, the fracking industry would like to use that water instead of using fresh water. Fearing that under the Clean Streams Act they may become responsible for cleaning up the AMD sites the industry supports SB 875, which removes such liability. Environmentalists oppose the use of AMD water because it would not be treated to the ‘drinking water standard’ before being used by the industry. To the disappointment of the environmental community, on June 25 SB875 passed the Senate 34-15. The only Senator from Western Pennsylvania who voted against SB875 was Jay Costa. The three other Dems from our region voted for the bill: Brewster (Monroeville), Fontana (Pittsburgh) and Wozniak (Johnstown). The bill now goes to the House.

US Senate Passes Ominous “Fast-Track” Bill

ACTION: Send a message to your Congressman now.

Ahead of an eventual vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) this week the U.S. Senate passed a “fast-track” bill to the keen disappointment of progressive community. Fast-Track will restrict Congress to a straight up-or-down vote with no amendments and a maximum of 20 hours debate, removing the opportunity for our representatives to ensure that a trade pact such as the TPP protects communities, workers, and the environment. (more…)

Dutch Court Decides Stronger Climate Change Action is Necessary

It makes sense that as the scientific understanding of cause and impacts of our changing climate accumulates, someone, somewhere, is going to appeal for the judiciary action. That is what happened recently when the Dutch foundation Urgenda and 900 co-plaintiffs sued the Dutch government to adopt more stringent climate policies. On June 24 the Dutch Hague Court decided in favor of Urgenda (Urgent-Agenda) and ordered the government to reduce the country’s GHG emissions by at least 25 percent over the next five years.

This legal action is in line with the jurists’ Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations launched in London in March. Where the next legal action might be is uncertain, but according to Climate Progress a suit similar to the Dutch suit may be introduced in Belgium and in the Phillipines.

Obama Administration Justifies Action on Climate Change

NASA image

Just a few day after the EPA entered the second phase of a program to increase fuel efficiency and reduce of GHG emissions for trucks and heavy-duty engines, and two years since producing a Climate Action Plan, on June 22 the Obama Administration issued a report laying out the health and economic benefits of global action on climate change. In an interview with CNN, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy talked about the report and the fact that “Climate change is the biggest threat of our time.” She could have also mentioned the EPA’s proposal to reduce GHG emissions from airplanes.

Key points from the Health and Economic Benefits report are that:

  • Global action on climate change reduces the frequency of extreme weather events and associated impacts.
  • Global action now leads to greater benefits over time.
  • Global action on climate change avoids costly damages in the United States.
  • Climate change impacts are not equally distributed.
  • Adaptation can reduce damages and costs.

Pope’s Encyclical Expected to Bolster Moral Basis for Climate Action

NASA image

ACTION. Send your comments on the Pope’s Climate Encyclical to your Congressman.

On Thursday, June 18, Pope Francis is expected to call for changes in lifestyles and energy consumption to avert the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem before the end of this century”. Not only will his papal encyclical on climate set a moral standard for our treatment of the earth, but it will provide a strong impetus for real action at the UN Climate Conference in Paris in December. (See the mock movie trailer of Pope Francis in an epic fight against the evils of coal, oil, gas and global apathy. ) (more…)

Range Resources Offers $500 for Liability Release

Riding the shale gas treadmill. Photo from the PA DEP

With more than a billion in assets, Range Resources has offered $500 to residents near the Deer Lakes Park fracking site if they agree to release the company from liability for a number issues related to fracking. The irony of this appeal for trust is that Range Resources has just been fined $8,9 million by DEP for failing to repair a leaking gas well in Lycoming County and follows a $4.15 million DEP settlement for six leaky wastewater impoundments in Washington County last year. To be a Deer Lakes Park Watchdog click HERE

AMA Calls for Full Disclosure of Chemicals Used in Fracking

The general public and physicians have been worried for some time about the fact that we do not know what chemicals are present in the fluids used by the fracking industry. At their annual meeting the American Medical Association adopted a policy in support of full disclosure of chemicals used in fracking. As pointed out by the Post-Gazette, in Pennsylvania companies are required to only report to the DEP the chemicals used in fracking. As might be expected, the industry claimed that the AMA’s concerns were misguided.

EPA’s Water Study Challenged

A four-year study by the EPA recently concluded that there was no major risk of widespread water contamination from fracking. That conclusion has been challenged by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club. In a June 12 article the Club’s Exec. Dir. Michael Brune concluded: “We didn’t need 1,000 pages to figure out the obvious. We don’t even need 1,000 words. Here’s what we know: Fracking is a nationwide game of Russian roulette that puts an essential resource — drinking water — at risk every single day. The sooner it stops, the better.

EPA Concludes Fracking Has No Widespread Effect on Drinking Water, but May Have Isolated Impact

ACTION. Draft Assessment Report is now open for public comment.

A just completed four-year study by the EPA has concluded that there is no “wide-spread, systemic” contamination of drinking water, although isolated pollution of ground water does occur. Just how hard the EPA looked for evidence has been questioned, especially in light of the refusal of industry to fully cooperate. For numerous local comments on the study see the end of the Post-Gazette article.

Comments on the draft Assessment Report on the Potential Effects of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources may be submitted to the Scientific Advisory Board by clicking here and referring to Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OA-2015-0245. Deadline for comments on the Report is August 28.

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