Enjoy, Explore, and Protect the Planet Sierra Club Allegheny Group, Pennsylvania Chapter

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Two European Climate Conferences Set Tone for Paris in December

NASA image

Two important conferences on the climate crisis were held in Europe last week. On July 21 at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate meeting in Paris the “Why do I care?” campaign was launched. The French government had invited Nobel prizewinners, philosophers, and spiritual leaders to make the moral case for the world to act urgently. Amid a broad range of speakers, Arnold Schwarzenegger stated “I’ve starred in a lot of science fiction movies and, let me tell you something, climate change is not science fiction, this is a battle in the real world, it is impacting us right now.”

According to the Guardian, Muslim theologians, Christians and Hindus said they saw climate change both as an existential threat and as an opportunity for renewal. David Rosen, of the American Jewish Committee said: “Climate change takes place where there is unbridled avarice. It is a symptom of the disease and cry for us to respond. It is the opportunity for humans to rediscover the higher values than materialism and indulgence.(more…)

Last Barrier Removed for Shell to Explore Oil Drilling in the Arctic

On July 22 the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Protection removed the last hurdle for Royal Dutch Shell to conduct exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea off the northeast coast of Alaska. But the agency did impose the condition that the two wells would be drilled one at a time and not go down into the oil-bearing regions. Referring to the 75 pct risk associated wiht drilling in this area, a statement from the Sierra Clubs Exec. Dir. Michael Brune reads: (more…)

New Rules for Stream Protection in Appalachia Viewed as Inadequate

Photo: Mountain Justice

A delayed effort by the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) to improve the rules governing the protection of streams and ground water from coal mining has met with resistance from mining companies and environmentalists.  The OSM issued its proposed rules on July 16 and a public comment period will close September 16, with a public hearing in Pittsburgh scheduled during that time.   Included in the proposal is improved monitoring and data collection of water quality, but of concern to issue to environmentalist groups dealing with mountain top removal in Appalachia is the maintenance of the buffer zones between mining operations and streams.  In 2008 the Bush administration modified the Buffer Zone Rule to provide a ‘minimum’ distance. After a court case in February 2014 the 100 feet wide buffer was restored.  Now the OSM proposes to weaken the Buffer Zone Rule.

Peoples’ Tribunals to Place Fracking on Trial.

Photo: Phil Coleman

At hearings in Britain and the United States a coalition of human rights lawyers and academics will put fracking on trial. Based in Rome, the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) identifies and publicizes cases of systematic violation of fundamental rights, especially cases in which national and international legislation fails to defend the right of the people. For example, in the past PPT tribunals have heard cases involving victims of the Chernobyl disaster, gold mining in west Papua, and Union Carbide’s gas leaks in Bhopal.

Grassroots-based mini-tribunals will address the question “Does sufficient evidence exist to indict your State on charges of failing to protect the human rights of persons impacted by fracking?” and will precede the plenary tribunals in March 2017.

End of a Dream – Ryerson Station SP Dam will Not be Re-built

Photo of dry Duke Lake, Ryerson SP. Steven Sunshine, The Center for Public Integrity.

It was a goal of the former head of the state park system, Dr. Maurice Goddard, to make sure that every state park possessed opportunities for water-related recreation. When Ryerson Station State Park was opened in Greene County in 1967 a dam formed Duke Lake. Underground long-wall mining by Consol Energy caused the dam to fail and in 2005 the lake was drained.

After a legal battle lead by the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) the company agreed in 2011 to pay $36M towards restoring the dam. On July 24 2015 DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn announced that the ground beneath the old dam was still unstable and Lake Duke would not be restored. Instead, the DCNR is now accepting proposals for the best use of the $36M settlement funds to improve the state park and the Duke Lake Task Force will meet in August to prepare such a proposal. For more information contact Veronica Coptis at veronica@coalfieldjustice.org.

Study Relates Drilling to Increased Hospitalization

Riding the shale gas treadmill. Photo from the PA DEP

With the use of toxic materials and waste in shale gas drilling, it is not surprising that there have been reports of illness by residents of the Marcellus play. But direct confirmation of the impact of drilling on health has been difficult. Now an important step has been taken by a team from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. The team gathered hospitalization data in Bradford, Susquehanna and Wayne counties in NE Pennsylvania between 2007 to 2011. They sorted the 198,000 records into types of treatment, and discovered a 27 percent increase in hospitalizations for cardiovascular diseases in areas with a high density of shale gas wells. They also found a correlation of well density with increased rates for categories of dermatology, neurology, oncology, and urology. The next required step is to go beyond correlation and to explore direct causes.

Global Warming, Mini Ice Age, and Alaska’s Permafrost

Source: NASA

ACTION: Ask your Congressman what he is doing to stem climate disruption.

According to NASA, measurement of the global land and ocean temperature shows that last month was the hottest June on record, promising that 2015 will be the hottest year on record. The heat wave in Europe prompted a discussion of the impact of climate change, as was the case in drought-suffering California. Meanwhile, a suggestion that a shift in solar activity may produce a mini ice age to begin in 2030 was quickly squashed, even by a Forbes writer. In Alaska the unprecedented number of wildfires is renewing concerns about the warming of the permafrost and the release of methane that will feed into a self-sustaining global warming loop.

Obama Continues to Build a Legacy of Protecting Our Public Wild Lands

Source: BLM

ACTION: Thank President Obama for including these National Monuments in the 260 million acres of public lands and waters that he has set aside for the American people.

After long and hard fought campaigns by local activists, on July 10 President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate three new National Monuments. In Nevada is the 703,000-acre Basin and Range NM, in California is the 330,780-acre Berryessa Snow Mountain NM, and in Texas the nation’s largest collection of mammoth fossils at the Waco Mammoth NM will be operated by the National Park Service.

As Sierra Club Exec. Director Michael Brune wrote in part in a recent blog: (more…)

Gas Drillers’ Money Goes Deep into Our State Legislature

A recent study finds that the gas drillers are putting even more money into lobbying our legislators and funding their political campaigns. In their detailed analysis Common Cause and the Conservation Voters of PA found that lobbying expenses for the gas industry increased from $1.7M in 2007 to $9.0M in 2014 for a grand total of $46.8M. Campaign contributions over the same period amounted to $8.2M. In the Conclusions section the authors wrote:

The impact of the gas industry’s political spending is far reaching. It spreads throughout the Commonwealth, deep into government, affecting Pennsylvania’s infrastructure, tax policies, allocation of resources, environment, citizens’ health, and citizens’ civil rights. This demonstrates the true power of political money – and what can occur when that money is not fully disclosed or appropriately regulated.

Of note is the behavior of the company invited by the Allegheny County Executive to drill beneath Deer Lakes Park. Between 2011 and 2014 Range Resources was first in lobbying expenses with $3.8M, third in violations with 174, and fourth in campaign gifts with $243,000.

Drilling Waste Dumping Plan Threatens PA’s Grand Canyon

Photo: PA DCNR

The disposal of the wastewater from shale gas drilling is a familiar problem, but less familiar is the problem of disposing of the bits of rock produced during the actual drilling operation. The ‘drill cuttings’ from the shale rock can be radioactive and are usually transported to special landfills. In a January 2015 study the DEP concluded that there was “little potential for radiation exposure to workers and the public from landfills receiving waste from the O&G industry” but some cautions were necessary. Now a company called ‘Clean Earth’ is seeking DEP’s permission to dump 400,000 tons of drill cuttings at the end of the runway at Wellsboro Johnston airport. That doesn’t sit well with conservationists because the runway is on the edge of a major tourist and recreational destination – Pennsylvania’s ‘Grand Canyon’.

‘Ban the Oil Bomb Trains’ Campaign Launched Nationwide

Photo: Robert Donnan

ACTION: On Ju;y28 and 29 help count the oil bomb trains traveling through Pittsburgh, and sign the petitions to Congress and President Obama.

Beginning with the two-year anniversary of the oil train disaster in Quebec that killed 47 people, this past week saw the launch of a national campaign to end the dangerous shipment of crude oil by rail. Of primary concern are the shipments through cities, often through low-income communities down near the tracks.

To measure the risk of ‘oil bomb train’ accidents in Pennsylvania the FracTracker Alliance has organized a count of oil trains passing through Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia. Concerned citizens are encouraged to help with the counts on July 28 and 29 by signing up HERE for a three-hour shift between 8 am and 8 pm. For more information about the count, contact Sam Malone at malone@fractracker.org. You may also sign Sen. Bob Casey’s petition to Congress and the MoveOn petition to President Obama.

As Sierra Club Exec. Dir. Michael Brune pointed out in a recent article: ‘Two factors are responsible (for the oil train explosions). One is the extreme volatility of fracked oil and tar sands oil. Both are extremely combustible, making them challenging to refine and dangerous to transport.

‘The other factor is the aging and inadequate infrastructure of a rail system that was never designed to carry such hazardous cargo. As a result, the U.S. had a total of 144 oil train incidents last year. In 2009, there was only one.

Obama Moves to Make Solar More Accessible

Recognizing that the rapid growth in solar power is missing renters and moderate-income home owners, on July 6 the Obama administration launched a new initiative to increase access to solar energy for all Americans

The major components of the initiative are:

  • Provide access to solar for the nearly 50 percent of households and business that are renters or do not have adequate roof space for solar systems.
  • Install 300 MW of renewable energy in federally subsidized housing. (The average number of households powered by one megawatt of solar energy is 164.)
  • Housing authorities, rural electric co-ops, power companies, and organizations in more than 20 states across the country are committing to put in place more than 260 solar energy projects, including projects to help low- and moderate- income communities save on their energy bills and further community solar; and
  • Commitment of $520 million from philanthropies, investors, states, and cities to advance community solar and scale up solar and energy efficiency for low- and moderate- income households.

This initiative follows one in April to train 75,000 new solar workers by 2020.

The Johnstown Flood – A Morality Story for Our Times

Source: Missouri Watershed Information Network

In 1889 income inequality was as robust as it is today.  In Pittsburgh the one-percenters included families with names as familiar as Carnegie, Chalfant, Clay, Frick, Mellon, Pitcairn, and Scaife.  To escape the smoke and grime of Pittsburgh, these one-percenters created the exclusive South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club on the shores of Lake Conemaugh fourteen miles upstream from Johnstown. The lake was originally created to provide a reservoir of water for the former canal system over the Alleghenies.  Once the railroads took hold, the lake served no purpose other than to provide a habitat for fish and a boating spot for the South Fork club members. (more…)

Grants Available for Local Groups Working on Gas Pipeline Issues

A number of grants from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club are available for local groups and organizations that are working on shale gas pipeline issues. The grants of $1,000 or less may be used to conduct research, organize meetings, provide information to members and the public, advocate their concerns, and engage the media. For an application form click HERE.

Will Catholic Colleges Heed the Pope’s Climate Warning?

For those concerned about the climate crisis the hope is that Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical will drive action at all levels. One important action is divestment away from fossil fuels, and activists have gone to the top of the Catholic community and called for the Vatican Bank to divest whatever portion of its multi-billion dollar holdings it has in fossil fuels. On July 1 a spokesman stated that the Vatican ‘may consider but is not committed’ to divesting from fossil fuels.

As part of a national campaign for universities to divest from fossil fuels Georgetown ($1.46B endowment) is the only major Catholic University to divest. In Pittsburgh, while activists are campaigning for Pitt ($3.49B billion) to divest from fossil fuels the position of Duquesne ($206 million) is unlikely to be ignored.

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