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Environmental Highlights from a Busy 2014

The following calendar of postings on this Web site highlights the major events during 2014. Sincere thanks all who participated.

Throughout the year a significant number of citizen groups throughout our region challenged local zoning boards and elected officials to protect their communities from shale gas drilling, pipeline extensions, and compressor stations. (more…)

UN Climate Talks End in Lima with Some Progress

NASA image

The climate talks convened by the United Nations in Lima, Peru, ended in the early hours of December 14 certainly with some positive steps towards reaching a strong international agreement on climate change at the UN summit in Paris, December 2015. More than 190 countries agreed on a process to resolve issues such as the responsibility of developed countries to assist developing countries. What disappointed environmentalists was that the promised GHG emission reductions do not appear to be sufficient to prevent the global temperature to exceed 2 deg. C.

In a press release the Sierra Club stated in part: (more…)

New York State will Ban Fracking

Since 2008 the Governors of New York state have held a moratorium on fracking the Marcellus shale until the risks are fully understood. After completion of a two-year study on the impact of fracking on the public health Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on December 17 that fracking will be banned in New York state. (See video of Cuomo with jubilant activists.) This announcement follows a vigorous campaign by anti-fracking activists who saw the impacts of fracking in states like Colorado and Pennsylvania, and who achieved fracking restrictions in more than 100 communities across the state. We can only hope that the New York ban will influence our own elected officials although Gov. Elect Wolf called the NY ban “unfortunate”.

At the Dec. 17 presentation the Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said that he could not support high-volume hydraulic fracturing, would not live in a community that allowed fracking, and would not want his children to play in the soil in such a place. Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens said the economic benefits are far lower than originally forecast.

Pennsylvania Ranks Sixth in Renewable Energy Investment

Despite the Pittsburgh region lagging behind in the installation of solar panels, as a whole the state is investing fairly well in renewable energy and industrial energy efficiency. That is the conclusion of a study by the Pew Charities Foundation. As reported by the Post-Gazette, our state was ranked sixth nationally, attracting private investment in clean energy totaling $841 million in 2013. Between 2009 and 2013 clean energy investment amounted to $3.5 billion with an increase in energy capacity of 1.4 gigawatts. To place that capacity in context, in 2011 the total commercial generating capacity in Pennsylvania was 46 gigawatts, with about 40 pct from coal, 22 pct from nuclear, and 22 pct from natural gas.

In an ironic touch for local environmentalists, the Pew report mentioned that the Consol Energy Arena received U.S. Green Building Council’s Gold LEED certificate with energy-efficient lighting and high-efficiency ventilation and air conditioning.

Obama Questions Merits of Keystone XL Pipeline

At his year-end news conference December 19 President Obama cast serious doubt on the merits of the Keystone XL Pipeline project. He emphasized that the main benefactors of the project are the Canadian oil companies, with little benefit to consumers in the U.S. He also pointed out that the jobs created are mostly temporary, and well below those created by investment in the nation’s infrastructure. Lower oil prices have raised questions about the project’s viability, but Republicans may still seek Congressional approval of the pipeline in 2015.

Obama Protects Bristol Bay and Chevron Puts a hold on Arctic Drilling

In yet another step to protect the environment with sound economic justification, on December 17 President placed 30 million acres of the waters of Bristol Bay off-limits to oil and gas leasing. These waters provide 40 pct of the nation’s wild-caught seafood, as well as support a vital tourist industry. In a press release the Sierra Club said: “Putting these waters, and others in the Arctic Ocean, off-limits to new dirty fuel development will help preserve Alaska’s unique natural wonders and the traditions, economies and wildlife they support. There are cleaner, more efficient ways to power and move our country.” Environmentalists also hope that the Bristol Bay protection is a good omen for abandonment of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

On the same day as the President’s announcement, Chevron placed an indefinite hold on oil and gas drilling in the Beaufort Sea off the cost of Alaska and Canada, a decision due primarily to the drop in oil prices. No news yet on the plan of Exxon and Shell to begin drilling in 2020 in the Beaufort area, but in October Shell cited various difficulties as causes for a request to extend its search for oil under the northern waters for an additional five years.

Proponents of Hold on County Park Fracking Rebut P-G Editorial

ACTION: Residents of Allegheny County Council are asked to urge their representatives on County Council (District and At-Large) to vote FOR the hold on fracking in county parks. (Click on Member’s photo after checking map of County districts.)

On December 4 an editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggested that the hold on fracking of Allegheny County Parks made no sense. In an OpEd rebuttal Joni Rabinowitz and John Detwiler of the Protect Our Parks campaign pointed out that the intent of the citizens’ ordinance now before County Council is a prudent and sensible measure to allow evaluation of the possible economic and environmental impacts of the fracking of Deer Lakes Park. While those impacts are being assessed, the ordinance places a two-year hold on any fracking leases for the remaining eight parks.

Obama Administration Launches Climate Education Initiative

Photo: Sierra Club

In support of actions underway to curtail climate change, the Obama administration has embarked upon a program to educate and train students and the citizenry in general about the global challenge and what can be done. Among the commitments are regional climate-science workshops for educators, digital games for climate education, the 2015 Earth Week with a “It’s Our Turn to Lead’ theme, etc. This initiative fits nicely with the inclusion of climate education in the Next Generation Science Standards developed by the National Research Council. So far twelve states have adopted these standards, but Pennsylvania is not one of them

Warning to Political Leaders – Reliance on Shale Gas is a Risky Business

Riding the shale gas treadmill. Photo from the PA DEP

At the national level there is grandiose talk of a shale revolution that will restore our ‘energy independence’. At the state and county levels income from fracking is seen as a partial solution to budget woes. And Gov. Corbett declared ” let’s make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural gas boom.” Problem is, this may all be a short-term ‘bubble’ and not a ‘boom’. A new analysis from the Post-Carbon Institute challenges the basic data the the ‘boom’ talk is based on – the forecasts of the D.O.E.’s Energy Information Administration.

Based on a an exhaustive, county-by-county analysis of the 12 major oil and gas shale plays in the U.S. (more…)

Pittsburgh Chosen as One of “100 Resilient Cities” Worldwide

Green City from ClipartLogo.com

On December 2 Pittsburgh was designated as one of 35 cities newly included among world’s 100 Resilient Cities, along with Boston, Chicago, Dallas, St Louis, and Tulsa. Ten American cities were named in the first round of 33 cities in December 2013. Pioneered and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the 100 Resilient Cities program is “dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.” In addition to facing the challenge of its industrial legacy, Pittsburgh will address climate change mitigation, with funding needed to support current efforts to develop a flood management system and expand green infrastructure. The city is expected to hire a “chief resilience officer” for two years

Sierra Club Releases Video ‘Fracking 101’

Shale gas flaring.

Here is a simple explanation of ‘fracking’ that you can share with your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, et al. The Sierra Club’s Fracking 101 is an animated video that explains the basics of “fracking” and the dangers this natural gas collection method poses to our environment and our public health. Narrated by the well-known Oscar-nominated actor Edward James Olmos the video illustrates the dangers of methane gas as a dangerous climate disruptor, the toxic contents of fracking fluid, and the health hazards faced when those fluids contaminate our water and air supply.

Allegheny Group Exec. Comm. Election Results

Thanks are due all 197 Sierra CLub members who returned ballots for the election of members of the local Allegheny Group’s nine-person Executive Committee. The winners of the election are Gwen Chute, Veronica Coptis, Matt Peters, and Chris Shepherd. Their two-year term of office will end January 2017.

Council Hears Citizens Call for Hold on Fracking County Parks

Some of sixty citizens at Allegheny County Council meeting, Dec. 2. Photo: P. Wray

ACTION: Residents of Allegheny County Council are asked to urge their representatives on County Council (District and At-Large) to vote FOR the hold on fracking in county parks. (Click on Member’s photo after checking map of County districts.)

On December 2 forty citizens testified before the members of Allegheny County in support of an ordinance requiring a 2-year hold on fracking beneath the county’s regional parks, other than Deer Lakes Park. The ordinance is the result of a citizens’ petition signed by over 1,800 eligible county voters. With a well-presented and broadly varied set of reasons the Council members heard unanimous support for the ‘fracking hold’ ordinance placed before the Council. For two hours the Council members heard from the citizens, without making any response. The ordinance now goes to the Government Reform Committee chaired by Council President John DeFazio.

Reprieve in Sight for Proposed Fracking of State Lands

Lackawanna State Forest. Photo: DCNR

It appears that the proposed leasing of state lands for fracking may die in January. One of Gov. Tom Corbett’s efforts to fill the budget gap was to raise $95 million by leasing the rights beneath state lands for fracking. Two cases in the Commonwealth Court are unlikely to be decided before Tom Wolf moves onto the Governor seat. (See Wolf’s own petition re. state lands.) In the first case the Delaware Riverkeeper Network challenges the lifting of Gov. Rendell’s moratorium on fracking of state lands, citing the state’s environmental rights amendment and the recent decision on Act 13. In the second case the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation challenges the Governor’s authority to use the leasing proceeds for the general fund.

NOTE. A recent article in the P-G describes the threat of fracking at the 35 National Parks within or near the multi-state Marcellus Shale formation

‘Breathe Cam’ – Innovative Tool for Monitoring Poor Air in Allegheny County

Artwork: Mike LaMark

Given that the air in Allegheny County is among the country’s worst, detailed measurement and identification of the source of that bad air is necessary. So far the public has had to rely on the county health department’s stationary monitors currently at 14 locations. Now the Breathe Project has worked with folk at CMU to provide panoramic views of air pollution via Breathe Cam. As explained in a radio interview with CMU Robotics Professor Illah Nourbakhsh, the Breathe Cam “is designed to give area residents direct access to the world’s most sophisticated technology for documenting visual pollution in the air they breathe.” As Nourbakhsh explains the solid need for such public tool, he mentions the grassroots action to control pollution from the Shenango coke plant on Neville island.

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