Friday, February 28, 2014

March 3 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The March 3 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

Analysis: Time To Stop The Slow Budget Bleeding At DEP, Fund Real Restoration Efforts

This week the Senate and House agency by agency hearings on Gov. Corbett’s FY 2014-15 budget request ended and the real work of putting together a state budget by the June 30 deadline begins.
On the plus side of the ledger, the hearings spotlighted the additional $30 million DEP and DCNR received as a result of the transportation funding package for the Dirt and Gravel Road Program, the $45 million in additional funding for State Park and Forest infrastructure investments in the Enhance Penn’s Woods proposal, the projected $75 million from additional “no additional surface impacts” leasing of natural gas rights on State Park and State Forest land, continued General Fund support for county conservation districts and $10 million in continued funding for the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) farm conservation tax credit program.
Also on the positive side is the additional conservation funding provided by the Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund based on drilling impact fees: $42.8 million for the Growing Greener Program, $9.8 million for the H2O Water Infrastructure Program, $9.8 million for PennVEST, $3.9 million for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund and $15.7 million to the Commonwealth Financing Authority for a variety of other programs.
DCNR made out well in the FY 2014-15 budget proposal which, if adopted, will not result in the loss of any staff.  The transfer of $117.4 million from the Oil and Gas Fund, fed by royalties on natural gas drilling on State Forest land, to pay for day-to-day operations is troubling because it takes away from spending on longer-term investments.  
The Enhance Penn’s Woods proposal and new money proposed to be invested in State Park and Forest infrastructure tends to blunt some of that concern, although not completely.  The proposal to lease additional natural gas rights without additional surface impacts does as well, but the full details of the plan need to be laid out for all to see and evaluate openly.
But once again, DEP has taken a budget hit which requires the agency to lose another 66 positions bringing the total of positions lost since FY 2002-03 to 548 or 17 percent of its staff.  Unlike Gov. Rendell, Gov. Corbett has not proposed to furlough any DEP staff, but clearly no organization can suffer a 17 percent cut in staff and not have that reflect in its overall performance.
The Corbett budget does propose to increase DEP’s line items related to personnel and general operations by $10 million to cover its cost-to-carry, again unlike Gov. Rendell who cut DEP’s budget every year for eight years.
So where does this leave us?
While the last three budget years have brought resources back to DEP and DCNR programs, the fact remains that $2.3 billion in funding has been cut or diverted from environmental programs over the last 12 years, starting with the record budget and staff cuts and staff furloughs by Gov. Rendell.
Gov. Rendell's share of these cuts/diversions is $1.4 billion.  Gov. Corbett's share is now $766.5 million.
At the very least, now is the time to stop the slow bleeding of DEP staff positions that has occurred every year for the last 12 years.
It is also time for additional resources to be invested in environmental restoration programs-- watershed improvement, abandoned mine drainage abatement and other programs that make a real, measurable difference in environmental quality.
A good start would be to use a major portion of revenue from any new leasing of natural gas rights under State Parks and Forests, assuming the details can be worked out, to support restoration efforts, including our commitments to clean up our rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
While addressing the backlog of of infrastructure needs in State Parks and Forests is important, Enhance Penn’s Woods and a portion of the revenue from new leasing with be a good step forward.
The fact is, Pennsylvania has a legal obligation under the federal Clean Water Act to take the necessary steps so our rivers, streams and lakes meet at least minimum water quality standards and we have the experience and the award-winning programs, like the original Growing Greener, to do just that.
Now is the time for a more thorough debate on these issues and to show the kind of leadership Pennsylvania has had in the past to deal with our most pressing need-- clean water.

Philadelphia Water Student Street Art Contest For Clean Water Entries Due March 7

The students in kindergarten through high school now have until March 7 to enter the Philadelphia Water Department Green City, Clean Waters Art Contest.
To enter they must submit a drawing, video or both to the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, the city’s longtime collaborator.  All entries should show others how to keep pollution out of storm drains.  Those who win will see their work transform into street art surrounding a local inlet.

Keep PA Beautiful Congratulates Westmoreland Cleanways On Opening Recycling Center

Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful congratulates their local affiliate, Westmoreland Cleanways, on the opening of a permanent drive-through Recycling Center on February 3.  
The center is open for residents and businesses to recycle material such as electronics, tires, and Freon appliances. The new facility is located at 113 Innovative Lane (Building F), Latrobe, near Beatty Crossroads, just off of Route 30 East.
“This facility fills a huge void for local residents and businesses in Westmoreland County. The opportunity to dispose of recyclables when the need arises as opposed to having to store the items until a collection day increases the likelihood that people will actually use the service because it’s convenient and affordable,” states Shannon Reiter, President of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.
“It has been a long-time goal of Westmoreland Cleanways to expand services to our residents,” states Ellen Keefe, Executive Director of Westmoreland Cleanways.
For more information on hours of operations and pricing, visit the Westmoreland Cleanways website.

PA Lake Management Society Conference Set For March 19-20

The PA Lake Management Society will hold its annual conference on March 19-20 at the Ramada Inn & Conference Center in State College.
This year’s keynote speaker will be Dr. Ann Rhoads, the former Director of Botany at the Morris Arboretum near Philadelphia.  Her presentation is entitled, Pennsylvania Lake Plants, What, Where and Why?
Click Here for more information and to register.

DEP Publishes Final Policy On Public Participation In Permit Application Reviews

The Department of Environmental Protection published notice in the March 1 PA Bulletin of the final technical guidance and a comment/response document for the Policy on Public Participation in the Permit Application Review Process. (formal notice)
DEP received 1,803 comments during the public comment period on the guidance.  In response to the comments, DEP made a number of changes in the final version, among them--
-- Clarified that DEP will consider extending the comment period where permit applications have changed after the comment period closed;
-- In response to a recommendation to allow at least 10 days after the last public hearing on a permit to allow the public the opportunity to submit additional comments, DEP said it “strives to allow” at least two weeks after a hearing to allow ample opportunity for feedback;
-- DEP said it is upgrading both its eNotice system and PA Bulletin notices to provide more relevant information to the public in permit and technical guidance notices; and
-- A number of commenters suggested changes related to DEP’s Environmental Justice Policy which were not within the scope of this guidance.  DEP pointed out that policy is now undergoing changes.
DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council provided DEP early comments on the draft Policy last year.
Click Here for a copy of the guidance and the comment/response document.

DEP Requires Coal Bed Methane Processing Projects To Report Methane Emissions

The Department of Environmental Protection published notice in the March 1 PA Bulletin requiring all owners and operators of companies involved in coal bed methane gas processing to for the first time report their methane emissions for 2013 by April 30 and each year thereafter.  (formal notice)
The facilities include: include compressor stations; dehydration units; fugitives, such as connectors, flanges, pump lines, pump seals and valves; heaters; pneumatic controllers and pumps; stationary engines; tanks, pressurized vessels and impoundments; venting and blow down systems. The source reports are due for activities at all processing facilities that support the coal bed methane wells.

Friday NewsClips

Price Of Farmland Preservation In Pennsylvania
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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Perkiomen Watershed Cleanup Set For April 12, Volunteers Wanted

Registration is now open for volunteers and sponsors to take part in the Schuylkill Watershed’s largest Stream Clean-up event, hosted by the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy on April 12.  
Trash is a detriment to the environment, endangering wildlife and releasing damaging chemicals into our drinking water resources.  
Make an impact by signing up to volunteer or sponsor the Stream Clean-Up to remove tons of this harmful trash from our natural areas.  Sponsorships start at just $125, and sponsors gain exposure throughout the event.  
Clean-up volunteers work from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and are welcome to bring their boats to designated sites.  Volunteers with trucks can sign up as Pick-up Crews, who work from 1pm-4pm to transport trash from the sites to the dumpsters.  
The Perkiomen Creek flows through Berks, Bucks, Lehigh and Montgomery counties.
To register as a sponsor or volunteer, or for more information, visit the Perkiomen Watershed Cleanup webpage.

Penn State Extension: Illustrated Guide To Shale Gas Development In PA

Penn State Extension has put together a video presentation on shale gas development, drilling equipment and practices in Pennsylvania well worth a look.  Click Here to visit their Illustrated Guide to Shale Gas Development.

Author, Naturalist Scott Weidensaul To Speak At Hawk Mountain March 29

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary will host a free talk, Gone for Another Day, by the Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Scott Weidensaul at 4 p.m. on March 29 in the Visitor Center gallery.
During his talk, Weidensaul will share highlights from his most recent book, Gone for Another Day, a sequel to Gone for the Day by the late Pennsylvania naturalist Ned Smith, and featuring nearly 50 years of unpublished field sketches, drawings, and hand-drawn maps by Smith.
Weidensaul, who is a long-time board member at Hawk Mountain, says it’s a pleasure to talk about Ned Smith at the Sanctuary, and that it 'feels appropriate.'
“Hawk Mountain was a favorite place of Ned Smith's," explains Weidensaul. "His connections to the Sanctuary were deep, and he made annual hawk-watching pilgrimages for many years,” he adds.
“In 1984, he marked the Sanctuary's 50th anniversary with 'Hawk Mountain Gold,' a painting of two golden eagles passing the North Lookout. It was one of his finest works, and among the last before his death,” Weidensaul says.
Smith was among the premier nature artists of the 20th Century, and over his 45-year career, created thousands of paintings and drawings for publications like Pennsylvania Game News, National Wildlife, Field and Stream, and Sports Afield, along with dozens of originals, artwork for books, and fine art prints.
Gone for Another Day includes previously unpublished entries from the personal nature journals of the artist, many from Pennsylvania, but also from his trips across North America.
Weidensaul spent two years scouring entries from Smith's journals. The final selection offers a variety, stretching from the summer of 1936 when Smith was 17 years old, through his very last entry on April 22, 1985, the day before he died of a heart attack at age 65. It also features dozens of illustrations and photos of the artist with his late wife Marie in the outdoors.
A Schuylkill County author, naturalist, lecturer, and field researcher specializing in birds of prey, Weidensaul has written more than two dozen books, including his most recent, The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery and Endurance in Early America.
For more information, visit the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary website.

Attorney General Concerned About Spikes In Consumer Electricity Bills

Over the past few weeks, the Office of Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection and the independent Office of Consumer Advocate each have received hundreds of calls and complaints from consumers regarding unexpected and dramatic spikes in the cost of their electricity.
Complaints suggest that in some circumstances consumer electricity costs increased as much as 300 percent in recent months. Many of the consumers affected appear to have recently switched to variable-rate pricing for their electricity.
Attorney General Kane is asking consumers to be proactive and quickly submit complaints about abnormal and extreme increases in electricity rates on recent utility bills.  Complaints should be sent with documentation on contracts, billing, and marketing from energy generation suppliers.
"These spikes in the price of electricity are alarming and have put many consumers, especially the poor and elderly, in a dire situation," Attorney General Kane said. "It is my duty to protect consumers and act on their behalf. We are looking at these price increases and will be prepared to take action to protect affected consumers."
The Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection is working collaboratively with the independent Office of Consumer Advocate to learn whether consumers have been improperly overcharged for their electricity.
Many factors may contribute to increased electric prices, including increased usage during a particularly cold winter season and rate fluctuations.  Attorney General Kane noted, however, that price gouging - increasing prices above any increased costs - during a state of emergency is prohibited in Pennsylvania. Gov. Corbett declared a state of emergency on Feb. 5, 2014.
In order to be most effective in helping consumers, Attorney General Kane said consumers should file complaints with the Bureau of Consumer Protection and submit any of the following documentation: marketing materials, bills, contracts, terms and conditions, and sign-up/welcome letters. Documentation is required to fully understand whether consumers' rights have been violated and what action may be appropriate to address the spike in prices.
Click Here to file a complaint online or download a complaint form and email to:
Attorney General Kane also encouraged consumers to call her Consumer Protection Helpline at 1-800-441-2555 or the Office of Consumer Advocate at 1-800-684-6560 with any additional questions or concerns.

Hawk Mountain To Hold Annual Spring Equinox Celebration March 22

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary will host its annual Spring Equinox Celebration March 22 with a variety of programs to celebrate nature’s renewal.
Programs will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will focus on Pennsylvania’s natural landscape, plants, and wildlife. Bird-friendly, shade-grown coffee and cocoa will be served throughout the day.
“As the weather warms and the days lengthen, lots of changes start to take place,” says Hawk Mountain President Jerry Regan. “Buds appear, the birds call, early flowers bloom, and it’s a great time to learn more about these seasonal changes,” he adds.
A live raptor demonstration will be held at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and a volunteer naturalist will identify birds at the feeder windows from 11 a.m. through 3 p.m. The first 20 visitors who sign up that day can take part in a guided “Signs of Spring” walk through the Native Plant and beyond at 12:30 p.m. or 1:15 p.m., and children from noon to 2 pm can create a clothespin butterfly or decorate paper cup sunflower seed planters.
Trail admission for those who wish to hike and visit scenic overlooks will cost $6 adults, $5 seniors and $3 children ages six to 12. As always, members are admitted free.
For more information, visit the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary website.

DEP Energy Exhibit Visits Erie Home & Garden Expo March 13-16

The Department of Environmental Protection will display its interactive “DEP at Home” exhibit during the Erie Home and Garden Expo at the Bayfront Convention Center from March 13 to 16.
DEP at Home is an interactive, educational exhibit fashioned into a home structure that features practices and products promoting energy efficiency and sustainable building materials as well as environmentally friendly and Pennsylvania-produced products for the home.
The three-room exhibit has a bathroom/laundry area, kitchen and garage that showcase d├ęcor, appliances and building materials that help improve energy efficiency, water conservation, radon awareness, air quality and other staples of environmental awareness.
There is also an outdoor space that includes a dog house with green roofing and Honda Civic powered by compressed natural gas.
The Erie Home and Garden Expo features hundreds of national and local exhibitors and will include do-it -yourself clinics and a fully furnished and landscaped home built inside the Bayfront Convention Center. Admission is $7 and free for children under 10.
DEP created the DEP at Home exhibit through a grant provided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s State Energy Program. Since its debut in January 2013, the exhibit has been exposed to more than 1 million Pennsylvanians and has won numerous awards for excellence.
For more information, visit the Erie Home and Garden Expo website and the DEP at Home webpage.

EPA Awards Environmental Justice Grants In Philadelphia

In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday highlighted three environmental justice grants in Philadelphia totaling $90,000 to assist overburdened low-income communities in developing solutions to local health and environmental issues.
“EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment for all people, no matter who you are or where you come from,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “Our Environmental Justice Small Grants are helping to protect vulnerable communities in Philadelphia by equipping them with the know-how and tools to reduce air pollution, water pollution, and children’s exposure to lead.”
EPA is celebrating the 20th anniversary of President Clinton signing the Environmental Justice Executive Order on February 11, 1994. This order focuses federal attention on the environmental and human health effects of federal actions on minority and low-income populations with the goal to achieve environmental protection for all communities.
The grants announced include $30,000 each to:
-- JASTECH Development Services, Inc. to develop a community-based campaign to address toxic substances in local waterways in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia. Through public outreach and community cleanup projects, the organization is working to minimize residents’ exposure to poor water quality. A series of workshops will teach residents how to properly dispose of household chemicals and other toxic substances, recycling techniques and how to engage community leaders to participate in policy and decision making processes.
-- The Clean Air Council to address public health concerns in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood where residents are disproportionately impacted by high levels of air pollution caused by a high volume of truck traffic, which can worsen asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Residents will participate in workshops and coalition building to develop policy solutions that will reduce harmful exposure to pollution from area factories, chemical processing facilities, ocean-going vessels, and heavy traffic from nearby Interstate 95.
-- Concilio (Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of Philadelphia) to help reduce children’s exposure to lead poisoning in old, deteriorating homes. Through the use of culturally appropriate education materials, residents will receive education about preventing lead and carbon monoxide poisoning and fire safety planning.
Since 1994, EPA’s environmental justice small grants program has supported projects to address environmental justice issues in more than 1,400 communities. The grant awards represent EPA’s commitment to promoting community-based actions to address environmental justice issues.
For more information, visit EPA’s Lead Poisoning and Environmental Justice Small Grants Program webpages.

Wednesday NewsClips

PA Buck Harvest Up 5 Percent
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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Groups Rally Against More Gas Leasing On State Lands

Tuesday, citizens from across Pennsylvania joined by members of thirty-five of the state’s conservation, outdoor, environmental protection, and civic engagement organizations rallied in the Capitol rotunda against Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal to lift an existing moratorium on natural gas leasing in Pennsylvania’s state forests.
They called on Gov. Corbett to rescind his proposal and on legislators to oppose the inclusion of revenue from leasing in state forests in the next state budget.
DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti outlined the proposal at recent Senate and House budget hearings saying the additional leasing would include deep, horizontal drilling from adjacent private land without additional surface impacts under State Parks or from existing or planning well pads on State Forest land already leased by the state.  
She noted the state does not own the gas or mineral rights for 80 percent of State Park land and 20 percent of State Forest land.  There is no drilling on State Park lands now.
The Governor will also issue a new Executive Order specifically guaranteeing additional leasing will have no impact on surface impacts on state lands.  
Secretary Ferretti said it is an opportunity to generate at estimated $75 million in more funding without increasing taxes and damaging surface impacts. The revenues, she said, will be prioritized for use within DCNR specifically under the Executive Order, adding the current budget request and the Enhance Penn’s Woods initiative do not depend on these revenues.
Gov. Rendell issued an Executive Order in 2010 prohibiting further leasing on State Forest and Park land after his Administration leased 137,000 acres of State Forest for Marcellus Shale drilling.  The moratorium was issued on October 26 just days before the November gubernatorial election.
Click Here for more information on how DCNR regulates natural gas development in State Forests.
“All Pennsylvanians are the property owners and stewards of our public lands,” said Chuck Hunnell of the Center for Coalfield Justice and the Izaak Walton League. “Gov. Corbett is trying to take that away from us and give it to his friends in the gas industry. Those lands are not his to give.”
After the rally, the organizations delivered 15,726 petition signatures from Pennsylvanians opposed to further drilling on state forest and park land.
“In the days since the Governor announced his plan to lease more of our state forests, and for the first time, potentially our state parks as well for drilling, over 15,000 Pennsylvanian’s have spoken out and called upon the Governor and our state legislature to keep the current moratorium in place,” said Kristen Cevoli of PennEnvironment.  “Pennsylvanians love their state parks and forests, and don’t want to risk the most pristine places in our state to toxic fracking waste, explosions, and more damage.”
As recent polling demonstrates, the petition signatures represent broad public opposition to drilling in state parks and forests.
“Public sentiment has been clear on state forest drilling. The Franklin & Marshall poll results released only three weeks ago show that 68 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose state forest drilling,” said Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth.  “Exposing more of our sensitive forest land to fracking is bad policy and bad politics.”
[Note: The actual question asked by the Franklin & Marshall Poll includes the statement “...the state agency (DCNR) that manages the state’s forests believes additional drilling is likely to harm the forests.”  This statement is clearly out-of-date based on the testimony of DCNR officials at the Senate and House budget hearings.  The poll was also taken on January 14 before the details of the Corbett proposal were available.]
The groups argue that the long-term risks to the health of these forests significantly outweighs the short-term benefit of plugging holes in the state budget and outline the environmental and economic risks of the proposal, specifically focusing on the threat that increased gas activity poses to the tourism economy centered on Pennsylvania’s forests and parks.
"No matter how they get outside to play, hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians and all other recreation seekers do so to experience the beauty of the natural world,” said Frank Maguire of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. “The threats to state forests and state parks from gas extraction is something that concerns all who value the outdoors and we do not want to see the moratorium lifted.”
The rally organizers dispute the idea of “non-impact drilling,” noting that areas adjacent to drilling activity face include noise disturbance, heavy truck traffic, air pollution, and, as the recent tragic gas well fire in Greene County demonstrated, threat of genuine emergency.
“Increased drilling will impact thousands of Pennsylvanians as well as the natural lands we hold in trust for future generations,” said Rev. Sandy Strauss of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches.  “We, and our elected representatives, have a moral obligation to stand firm in protection of the people and places put at risk by Governor Corbett’s proposal.”
The constitution of Pennsylvania states that ‘Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”  
The organizations pledged to fight increased drilling in parks and forests, first in the legislature, but in the courts as well, should the legislature fail to block Gov. Corbett’s proposal.
"Leasing state land for gas extraction is causing harm,” said John Childe of the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation.  “Taking the money from a lease and using it for the general fund, rather than to protect and conserve the land that's being impacted, is unconstitutional."
Organizations supporting the rally and its message included: Aquashicola/ Pohopoco Watershed Conservancy, Berks Gas Truth, Center for Coalfield Justice, Citizens for Water, Clean Water Action, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthworks, Food and Water Watch, Greenpeace, Independence Conservancy, Keystone Trails Association, League of Women Voters Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley Gas Truth, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Mountain Watershed Association, PA Forest Coalition, Peach Bottom Concerned Citizens Group, PennEnvironment, Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Pine Creek Valley Watershed Association, Inc., Pipeline Safety Coalition , Pro-Pike-PA, Protecting Our Waters, Quittapahilla Audubon Society, Raymond Proffitt Foundation, Responsible Drilling Alliance, Sierra Club PA Chapter, Sierra Club Southeastern PA Group, Sierra Club, Allegheny Group, South Branch Tunkhannock Creek Watershed Coalition, South Hills Activists Against Dangerous Drilling, Upper Burrell Citizens Against Marcellus Pollution (CAMP), and the Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens' Group.

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