Thursday, December 26, 2013

Leave Carbon in the Ground or Humans Won't Be Around

By Richard Whiteford
Sierra Club Member & Environmental Communications Consultant

Congressional legislators who deny climate change typically focus on free market economics and fail to acknowledge the destructive impacts and associated costs that we experience now from climate driven extreme weather events.
climate change art
They grouse about the Obama Administration’s request for a 2014 climate change budget of $11.6 billion and the expansion of government agencies to combat climate change. 
While realizing that the Republican party’s platform rests on smaller government and cutting government expenses to the bone, you can’t help wondering why their budget fetish ignores the fact that, according to  the U.S. Treasury Department, between 2011 and the first quarter of 2013 extreme weather events cost us more than $136 billion and that doesn’t count the endless numbers of flood, sand storm, drought, and wild fire damages that happened since then.
They claim that while the President stated a willingness to work with Congress toward enacting a bipartisan, market-based scheme to reduce GHG emissions, the Administration has also taken steps to move ahead with Executive Branch actions to address climate change concerns without Congressional support. 
They express outrage that President Barack Obama has advanced a series of unilateral regulations without appropriate legislative review – including a proper assessment of the cumulative influence, regional effects, and distributional impact of such actions on states and localities – would do more harm than good. 
The Republican Party, while vehemently denying the existence of global warming, ditched every proposed climate bill leaving the Obama no other choice.
At a time when our economy is struggling to recover, increasing the cost of energy and cutting more American jobs is not the right way to move forward.”
Here again, like so many people, these legislators fail to recognize the real issue because their only measure is money, revenues in particular.
The critical issue is: in the past 150 years humans increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by 117 parts-per-million by burning fossil fuels. For over 800,000 years before that CO2 levels hovered around 280 parts-per-miliion. 
Now because we pump 90 million tons of CO2 up there every 24 hours, CO2 has risen to an average of 397 parts-per-million and actually spiked into the 400 parts-per-million level twice in early 2013. It won’t be long until that will become the average as it continues upward.
Burning fossil fuels has already raised the global temperature from preindustrial levels by 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and we are already experiencing sea level rise, extreme storms, droughts and wildfires around the planet. Even more alarming, 80 percent of the Arctic ice cap melted in the summer of 2012.
Scientist believe that we can’t allow the preindustrial global temperature to rise higher than 2 degrees Celsius or human survival will be very challenging. We are almost half way there now.
The oil, gas and coal industries and their paid henchmen like the Heartland Institute and bought politicians distract the public with red herring issues like claiming that switching to clean energy will hurt the economy, kill jobs, and cause energy shortages while overlooking the job creation that clean energy creates.
What is tragically overlooked by them and the media is that if humans want to survive on this planet we have to stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible. Scientists say that we can’t put much more than another 565 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere without disastrous results. At this time, financial analysts calculate that there is already 2,795 gigatons of CO2 contained in readily available oil, gas and coal reserves. 
That’s five times more CO2 than we can afford to burn and expect to survive yet the plan remains drill baby drill; burn baby burn.
There is enough carbon just in the Canadian Tar Sands oil deposits to send the global temperature above the 2 degree limit. That is the reason environmentalists are protesting the Keystone XL Pipe Line. We just can’t afford to burn that carbon and expect to survive.
Again, the critical issue is carbon output. If we keep pumping CO2 into the atmosphere jobs and the economy will be a moot point. What good will money be if we don’t live to spend it? 
Our first step should be to tax all carbon at its source of extraction and give that money directly to our tax-paying citizens to cover the increase in price that fossil fuels will go through until we are 100% clean energy and stop burning them. This points to another blind spot. Legislators want to cut subsidies to clean energy but they vote in lock-step to support the $90 billion in tax subsidies that the oil companies get from taxpayers each year in the name of “leveling the playing field.”
The bottom line is, leave carbon in the ground or humans won’t be around.
Originally published in the Patriot News Op-Ed on December 16, 2013. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

It's About Time!

By Thomas Y. Au, PA Chapter Conservation Chair

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Finally Rules that Oil and Gas Act is Unconstitutional. 

Municipal governments have a role to play in regulating oil and gas drilling, according to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which declared the state’s pre-emption of that role to be unconstitutional.

In 1971, Pennsylvania voters adopted an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, which simply stated:
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. 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.
This amendment, Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, became known as the Environmental Rights Amendment.  However, for decades, Pennsylvania's legislature and courts have all but ignored the text of this amendment, giving it lip service when enacting legislation, but scarcely balancing the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment with the demands of industrial development.  The Environmental Rights Amendment was almost never used to weigh impending industrial development.

Photo courtesy of

In commenting on the decision, the Patriot-News editorial (Dec. 22) made this wry observation: "But the hope here is that it marks a new day in Pennsylvania, delivering an enduring reminder to legislators and the governor: As you're being schmoozed by lobbyists and lavished with campaign contributions from powerful industries that want special treatment, there's a limit on how far you can go to please them, because the Pennsylvania Constitution has an Environmental Rights Amendment."

When the General Assembly enacted Act 13 in 2012, it was in response to the rapid and intensive development of Marcellus Shale gas drilling.  The law was intended to foster, rather than limit, shale gas development by, among other things, limiting the role of municipal governments in reviewing and regulating shale gas operations in their municipalities.  The law specifically stated that the state government intended to pre-empt all local ordinances regulating oil and gas development. (The Commonwealth, by this section, preempts and supersedes the regulation of oil and gas operations as provided in this chapter."  58 Pa.C.S. Section 3302)

When the Commonwealth Court heard the challenge from Robinson Township and other municipalities after the enactment of the Oil and Gas Act in 2012, the court found: "By requiring municipalities to violate their comprehensive plans for growth and development, 58 Pa.C.S. §3304 violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications — irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise."

This set the stage for an appeal by the state, the PUC, and the oil and gas industry to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  On Dec. 19, 2013, the court issued its decision.

Pennsylvania’s history, Chief Justice Castille wrote, includes massive deforestation, the loss of wildlife, and industrialization and coal mining. “It is not a historical accident that the Pennsylvania Constitution now places citizens’ environmental rights on par with their political rights,” the plurality said.   Constitutional provisions, he pointed out, are to be interpreted based on “the mischief to be remedied and the object to be attained.” 

Chief Justice Castille applied this analysis to Sections 3303, 3304, and 3215(b)(4): 
Section 3303, which pre-empted local regulation of oil and gas operations, violates Article I, Section 27 “because the General Assembly has no authority to remove a political subdivision’s implicitly necessary authority to carry into effect its constitutional duties.”  The Commonwealth is the trustee under the amendment, which means that local governments are among the trustees with constitutional responsibilities.  

Section 3304, which requires “all local ordinances” to “allow for the reasonable development of oil and gas resources” and imposes uniform rules for oil and gas regulation, violates Article I, Section 27 for two reasons.  “First, a new regulatory regime permitting industrial uses as a matter of right in every type of pre-existing zoning district [including residential] is incapable of conserving or maintaining the constitutionally-protected aspects of the public environment and of a certain quality of life.”   Second, under Act 13 “some properties and communities will carry much heavier environmental and habitability burdens than others.”  This result is inconsistent with the obligation that the trustee acts for the benefit of “all the people.” 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Endangered Species Protection is Threatened by the General Assembly

By Thomas Au, Sierra Club PA Conservation Chair

The gas drilling and mining industries have been pushing new legislation to undermine the independence of the PA Fish and Boat Commission and the PA Game Commission to administer Pennsylvania's endangered species laws. 

The so-called Endangered Species Coordination Act (House Bill 1576 and Senate Bill 1047) would place regulations for rare species by the Fish and Boat Commission and Game Commission under the purview of the state's Independent Regulatory Review Commission - a five member body dominated by the legislature.  While this process appears to be innocuous on the surface, it essentially subjects proposed actions by these independent agencies to second-guessing by political appointees.

The current process allows scientists from the PA Game Commission, PA Fish and Boat Commission and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, after public hearing and discussion, to determine when a species in Pennsylvania is rare, threatened or endangered and take steps to protect them. The current process also allows the Pa Fish and Boat Commission to designate wild trout streams. The bills would take this independent authority away from these agencies and their professional staff, and put the ultimate decisions in the hands of political appointees. 

The bills would actually prevent a species from being listed in Pennsylvania, unless it is first listed by the federal government.  This ignores the fact that many species may be threatened in Pennsylvania due to conditions in our state that do not exist in other states.  These include the great egret, the long-eared owl, and numerous species of mussels and fish. And according to testimony from the staff of the Commissions, it would make it more difficult to protect many rare Pennsylvania wildlife and fish species.

The bills would also require the agencies to re-propose all the species currently under their protection by enacting regulations on each one of them.  This would require a huge amount of agency resources to be used to re-justify listed endangered species, without providing funding pay for the agency work.  This mandate that will divert scarce resources from other agency critical work. 
The cumulative effect of the changes proposed in the bill blunt the Commissions' programs for threatened and endangered species of fish and wildlife - allowing drilling, mining, and clear-cutting to evade agency review. 

In 2012, the Governor’s Energy Executive, Patrick Henderson, wrote in a report to the General Assembly that the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory environmental review tool should continue to be enhanced so as to assist in the up-front avoidance of conflicts with threatened and endangered species, flora, fauna, habitat and other sensitive natural resources and increase certainty in decision making and long-term planning of pipeline operators.  If this is the Governor's position, his office should be leading the opposition to these bills.

With ever-larger tracts of pristine public and private land being subjected to industrial development, including gas drilling, pipeline construction, and mining,  the likelihood of encroachment on  threatened and endangered species increases.  These industries should not attempt to shield themselves from potential conflict by curbing the ability of the fish and game commissions to list and protect these species. Pennsylvanians cherish their wild resources, and we should not be weakening their protection.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ontario, Canada, Goes Coal Free

Today Ontario, Canada, is showcasing a path for a world working to prevent runaway climate change. Today, Ontario retired their last coal-fired power plant. Part of a bold plan launched by former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in 2003 to cut pollution in the province, this is great news for everyone who loves clean air and is working to provide a safe and liveable planet for future generations. 
What's more, the steps Ontario has taken over the past decade to retire its five coal-fired power plants is a great guide for the U.S. in making a speedy transition to a modern, clean, carbon-free energy system. 

What can we learn from Ontario?
1) Be honest about the costs of coal. In 2003 Ontario looked at the full cost of coal, both the costs of coal-generated electricity, and the health costs the province was paying related directly to the health costs of burning coal. An honest accounting concluded that coal is among the most expensive ways to generate electricity.

2) Be bold. Long before other states and cities were talking about phasing out coal, then Premier McGuinty announced he would lead the effort to replace all the coal plants in a decade. This took a lot of courage, but also a profound belief in our scientists and engineers to imagine and build a coal-free electricity sector.

3) Invest heavily in energy efficiency. The province demonstrated that the cheapest source of power is efficiency, or reduced demand. In fact, according to Scientific American, these savvy actions made Ontario one of the first places in the world where energy demand began to decline, rather than increase.

4) Provide clear and fair rules for clean energy developers. With a clear roadmap and and balanced incentives wind power quintupled over the past 6 years in Ontario. Today wind and energy efficiency will make up much of the replacement for the retiring coal plants. A carbon-free grid is now within reach, as clean energy continues to grow and will back out the remaining natural gas.
This move by Ontario is the latest in a string of great clean energy news across North America. Last week the Tennessee Valley Authority announced the retirement of 3,300 megawatts of coal power in the Southeastern U.S. Earlier in 2013, Los Angeles and Chicago both announced they were going coal-free, with L.A. even announcing a major solar power deal with the Moapa Band of Paiutes in Nevada. The U.S. has been ditching coal (as fast as its investors), because a mix of hard-hitting grassroots advocacy, new EPA protections, and rising coal prices, has brought about the retirement or announced retirement of 155 coal plants.

With the largest grassroot environment movement in the U.S. working together to de-carbonize the electric sector, activists are fighting for clean energy and climate solutions from coast to coast. In the past week activists in Florida and Arizona rallied for solar power; North Dakota approved a new wind farm; Sudbury, Massachusetts just flipped the switch on a solar array that will save the city $100,000 annually.

This is also the latest in a string of great clean energy news across the globe. Sparked by the President's climate action plan which called for an end to public financing of coal overseas, the United Kingdom and multilateral banks like the World Bank and the European Investment Bank have also stopped throwing taxpayer dollars at dirty coal projects. These governments and institutions will instead be investing in clean, renewable energy.
While coal has powered the U.S. economy for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, we now know it is the leading source of climate disruption, it pollutes our air and makes our kids sick, and it has no place in a modern, high-tech economy. We live in the most innovative country on earth -- the first country to put a man on the moon, the nation that brought the Internet to the world. Our neighbors to the north are showcasing leadership. Let's build on their leadership, our incredible progress here in the U.S., and get to 100 percent clean energy in less than two decades. I know we can.
-- Bruce Nilles, Senior Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign

Monday, October 28, 2013

Corbett administration downplays effects of climate change in Pa: As I See It

Last week the Corbett administration quietly released one of its more remarkable documents: the Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update. 

The report, which was required by law and 18 months late, points out, to the apparent discomfort of  Gov. Tom Corbett and his staff, that temperatures in the state are indeed rising and this rise is caused by our and our fellow citizens’ activities, such as burning coal, oil, and natural gas, which release greenhouse gases. 

It concludes that “while significant economic impacts could occur within certain climate sensitive sectors, Pennsylvania’s overall economy would be little affected by projected climate change.”

In light of events such as Superstorm Sandy–the massive 2012 hurricane off the Atlantic Coast which killed 159 people, flooded New York City, and caused $66 billion in damages–one wonders how the group which produced Pennsylvania Climate Impacts could make such a claim?

For one, the report’s authors completely ignore Pennsylvania’s saltwater-impacted east coast. As the climate has warmed and glaciers have melted, sea levels are rising. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points out in its recently released report that between 1971 and 2010 the sea level has risen 2.54 inches. 

For the years 1993-2010, however, the rate of rise per year has nearly doubled, increasing from 0.067 inches for 1971-2010 to 0.126 in the last 17 years.

Climatologist Qin Dahe observes: “As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise, but at a faster rate than we have experienced over the past 40 years.” Depending on the rate of temperature increase and glacier melting, we could see the sea level rise as much as a foot in the next 50 years.

As the world heats up, Pennsylvania can expect to receive its share of drought as well as floods.

A warmer ocean, the international report points out, also stores more energy. This means that storms generated over the Atlantic will have more power and thus be more severe. With higher sea levels and more power, storms that sweep in from the Delaware Bay will be devastating to the cities, towns, and developed properties on the lower Delaware River. Chester and Philadelphia will be subject to more frequent floods which will inundate much more property. 

The cost in direct damage and lost economic activity of such climate change-generated weather disasters will run in the billions of dollars.

A warmer atmosphere for coastal regions typically means a wetter climate because warmer air holds more moisture.

It also means more severe storms and flooding. Over the past 225 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) list of historical floods on the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg has suffered from 49 floods. Thirteen of those floods, 26 percent, occurred in the past 25 years. 

Eight of those floods, 16 percent occurred in the last decade. 2011 was a record-setting year with three floods hitting Harrisburg, the first time ever in its history the city has experienced that number of floods in one year. 

The worst was the September 2011 flood caused by Tropical Storm Lee. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission reports that it forced the evacuation of over 100,000 people and caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.

Unfortunately, extreme weather caused by global warming does not just include hurricanes, tropical storms, and subsequent deluges. 

One of the other major effects is drought. NOAA reports that one of the most damaging severe weather events of the last decade was the 2012 drought. It effected half the country and caused $30 billion in damages due to widespread crop failures. It was also responsible for 123 heat-related fatalities.

As the world heats up, Pennsylvania can expect to receive its share of drought as well as floods.

It is clear from the facts above that global warming and the extreme weather it produces, is going to impose significant costs on Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians. More property will be destroyed, more peoples’ lives will be disrupted, and more people will die than would have if the world’s temperature was not increasing.

The great challenge of our time is: do we ignore the basic realities and impacts of global warming as the Governor and the authors of Pennsylvania Climate Impacts appear to want to do, or do we take action–personal and political–to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions and change the course of global warming?

John Rossi is the co-chair of the Climate Disruption Committee of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

“And the People Shall Lead: Centralizing Frontline Community Leadership in the Movement Towards a Sustainable Planet”

A movement support paper about barriers and opportunities for improving collaboration between big environmental organizations and grassroots/frontline communities.

The paper is based on notes from “Engaging Non-Traditional Groups in Coal Plant Retirement” a session the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, the American Lung Association, the Sierra Club and the NAACP co-facilitated at the  February 2011 Coal Plant Retirement conference.  It also includes illustrative scenarios from the experiences of people/organizations in the movement. The observations and recommendations are applicable beyond the environmental and climate justice arena,
as the dynamics described can be found in other movements worldwide.

We hope this paper will provide thought-provoking illumination of the challenges faced as groups have tried to collaborate, as well as pathways to building a more cohesive movement, led by frontline communitieswith principles of democratic organizing modeled by the Jemez Principles.

Jacqui Patterson
Director, Environmental and Climate Justice Program
4805 Mt. Hope Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nothing could be better

By Phil Coleman
Co-editor, The Sylvanian

We sat outside a backwoods cabin. Having just finished a day of whitewater boating, we were putting together some supper plans. Jerry was going to make a pizza run.
Jerry offered a joint, which I declined.  Somehow we got on the topic of peak oil.  We itemized all the difficulties the world faces if we are to sustain our extravagant life.  Climate Change, rising oil costs, starvation, growing population, growing gulf between rich and poor, gun violence, etc., etc. 

“Yes!” said Jerry. “We’re living at the very best of times. Things were worse. Things will get worse. But right now, nothing could be better. I plan to enjoy it while I can.”

Jerry has no children, doesn’t plan to have any. He is living for now. He is a nice, compassionate, generous guy. It’s easy to ignore his selfishness. And why shouldn’t we? His style fits the American style better than mine does.

Often, we bemoan our wastefulness – the fact that we drive our cars with no regard for how much gas we use, the fact that we air condition to refrigerator levels in summer and heat our homes hotter than Hell in winter, the fact that we eat for pleasure without concern for how far our avocados, bananas, and grapefruit have been shipped or how much energy went into producing the meat we eat, the fact that we waste water prodigiously just because we won’t run out today.

But even though we bemoan, we continue to waste. We conserve only when conserving is no great inconvenience. Jerry is more blatant and cheerful in his excess than I am. But shortly, I will be drinking beer out of aluminum cans.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Man and His Wood Stove

A Short Story by Wendi Taylor
Chair - Sierra Club PA Chapter

There was man who lived with his wife in the North Country.  They lived comfortably in their home, which was heated with wood.  Every morning he would rise, go out to the shed and fill the rack next to the old stove with wood. And every morning his wife would complain that he had tracked mud into the house, along with wood dust and debris. 

The man would shovel out the ash and dump it into an ash can – wood ash and soot flying everywhere -- build the fire and, before he left for work, remind his wife to feed the fire throughout the day.  Every morning after the man left, his wife would scrub the kitchen floor, sweep up the wood droppings and wipe away the wood ash and soot.

As the years passed, the woman began to resent these tasks. If he would be more careful, she would not have to clean up after him, she thought.  So she began to go behind him and demand that he take off his boots. She purchased several rugs, one to lay the wood on as he removed his boots and runner rugs, which made a pathway to the old wood stove.  She also supervised the disposal of the wood ash. After he left, she would pick up the rugs and shake them outside. Those always made her sneeze three times.

One day, a traveling salesman came to the door selling a new device that would heat their home without wood. “Hmmm,” she thought, “this is a better idea!” Her husband would not have to build a fire in the old stove and there would be no more mess to clean up. She bought the device and placed it in the room. It worked!  

When her husband came home, the house was toasty warm and the rack by the wood stove was still nearly full. When she showed him the device and the way it worked, instead of being pleased, the man was furious!  

The woman was perplexed!  “I thought you would be happy,” she told him. 

The man said that wood was good enough. “Hadn’t it always kept them warm?” he asked. “But it is dirty,” the woman complained. He did not agree because he never had to clean up the mess.

He forbade her to use the device.

Then change came to the North Country. The forests began to die and instead of snow, they got rain, and wood became harder to get. The man told his wife that they needed to conserve the wood they had. They could no longer keep the house warm. “Use just enough to keep it from being cold inside,” he said.

And as they both shivered with cold, the woman thought of the device that would heat their home without wood.

Sound familiar? We have always relied on fossil fuels but it is dirty. While regulations have reduced some of the problems with burning fossil fuels, it doesn't solve the problem. Fossil fuels are finite resources, which will only get scarcer.  Conservation helps but it merely forestalls the eventual outcome. The time will come when there will be no more.

Why not use the device?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sierra Club Statement on Conditional Authorization of LNG Exports from Cove Point, MD

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This afternoon, the Department of Energy announced conditional approval for Dominion's Cove Point, Maryland facility to export liquefied natural gas.

In response Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign, released the following statement:

"With the Department of Energy (DOE) today conditionally authorizing Dominion Resources to export gas from a liquefied natural gas terminal in Cove Point, Maryland, it is deeply disappointing to see that Secretary Moniz persists in leading the nation and the world into a dirty energy future. It's a bad deal all around: for public health, the environment, and America's working people.  The economic study the DOE itself commissioned clearly states that LNG export will transfer wealth from wage earners to fossil fuel executives.  LNG export is nothing but a giveaway to the dirty fossil fuel industry, at the expense of everyday Americans.
"Exporting LNG to foreign buyers will lock us into decades-long contracts, which in turn will lead to more drilling -- and that means more fracking, more air and water pollution, and more climate-fueled weather disasters like record fires, droughts, and superstorms like last year's Sandy.  And all this when we know that the dangers of natural gas will only become more clear as we learn more about its effects on health and the climate. 
"As we have shown, once environmental impacts are evaluated, it becomes clear that the additional fracking and gas production exports would induce is unacceptable. DOE did not consider these impacts or any other impacts in today's conditional authorization. Instead, DOE is basing its decision on environmental reviews that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has yet to conduct. When these environmental impacts are considered, it is clear that natural gas needs to stay in the ground, and the administration needs to double down on clean energy like wind and solar that would protect us from the worst effects of climate disruption while putting Americans to work.
"The Sierra Club has been granted party status in this docket, and will hold DOE to its commitment to fully review environmental issues before deciding whether to issue final authorization. We will also monitor all other permits and approvals that the Cove Point Facility will require, and will take action as necessary.  Additionally, Sierra Club continues to seek enforcement of a decades-old agreement between the Sierra Club and Dominion Cove Point LNG which clearly prohibits expansion of this facility to allow for exports.  The Sierra Club intends to hold Dominion accountable for complying with the commitments it made to protect the Cove Point environment." 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Time to Update Water Quality Standards

Opinion by Karen Melton
Published in Roxborough Review, Sept. 4. 

Standards governing water pollution from coal-fired power plants have not been updated in 30 years.  Pennsylvania has 28 active coal power plants and only 8 have permits that limit dumping of any toxic metal, while only 4 plants have permits that limit selenium, mercury, and lead.

According to the EPA, more than half of all toxic water pollution in the country comes from coal-fired power plants, making coal plants the number one source of toxic water pollution in the U.S. More than 23,000 miles of U.S. rivers and streams are being damaged by steam electric plant discharges, which include arsenic, mercury, lead, boron, cadmium, selenium, bromides and more.  Each year nearly 65,000 pounds of lead, 3,000 pounds of mercury, and 80,000 pounds of arsenic are discharged into surface waters.

The health effects of many of these pollutants are well known, ranging from increasing risk of certain cancers as a result of exposure to arsenic, and neurological and developmental damage in children exposed to lead.  Once in the environment, these toxics can remain for many years.

In June the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published new proposed national standards on discharging toxic metals into waterways. The updated standards would also require coal power plants to monitor and report the amount of pollution being dumped.

The period for public comment on the new standard ends September 20th.  A number of local organizations such as the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network have been working to inform the public about the proposed standards and the opportunity for citizens to provide comments to the EPA.

You can read more by logging onto and you can submit comments in support of clean water standards by sending an email to, Attention Docket ID EPA–HQ–OW–2009–0819 or by logging onto and referencing the docket ID.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pennsylvania Ranks 4th for Global Warming Pollution from Power Plants

For Immediate Release: September 10th, 2013
Contact: Erika Staaf, (412) 491-4801,

Pennsylvania Ranks 4th for Global Warming Pollution from Power Plants

[Johnstown, PA] –A new report from PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center finds that Pennsylvania ranks 4th in the country for most carbon pollution from its power plants, the state’s largest single source of global warming pollution. Scientists predict that extreme weather events will become more frequent and severe for future generations, unless we cut the dangerous carbon pollution fueling the problem.

“America's dirtiest power plants are the elephant in the room when it comes to global warming," said Erika Staaf, Advocate for PennEnvironment. "If we want a cleaner, safer future for our kids, we can't afford to ignore power plants' overwhelming contribution to global warming. into our atmosphere would be to build more power plants like Blah Blah that would dump even more carbon into the air."ng carbon For Pennsylvania, tackling the problem means cleaning up the dirtiest power plants.”

The report, titled, ‘America’s Dirtiest Power Plants,’ comes as the Obama administration readies a new set of rules to tackle global warming. It illustrates the scale of carbon pollution from Pennsylvania power sector and ranks Pennsylvania biggest carbon polluters.

Key findings from the report include:
  •         Pennsylvania’s power plants are the 4th most polluting in the country.
  •         In Pennsylvania, the top five most polluting power plants are, in order, FirstEnergy’s Bruce Mansfield; Allegheny Energy Supply’s Hatfield Ferry Power Station; GenOn’s Keystone Station; GenOn’s Conemaugh Station; and Midwest Generation’s Homer City Station.
  •         Pennsylvania’s power plants are its single largest source of carbon pollution - responsible for 47% percent of statewide emissions.
  •         First Energy’s Bruce Mansfield’s plant is the 8th most carbon-polluting power plant in the nation.
  •         Pennsylvania’s power plants produce as much carbon each year as nearly 25 million cars.

“We in this nation and throughout world have some big choices to make, and we have to make them soon, before it’s too late,” said Rev. William Thwing, Pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. “It’s time we woke up and stopped this out of control freight train that is climate change.”

This summer, President Obama directed his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to propose limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, the largest single source of carbon pollution. In a major step, the EPA is expected to propose an updated rule for cutting carbon pollution from new power plants on September 20. 243,000 Pennsylvanians have already submitted public comments in support of limiting carbon pollution from power plants.

"We cannot afford any further delays in limiting the carbon pollution that increases the risk of floods, powerful storms, and dangerous heat waves.  But we can lead the transition to clean energy and efficiency and create many family-supporting jobs in the process,” said Tom Schuster, Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club.

PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center called on state leaders like Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey to join them in supporting limits on power plants’ carbon pollution. PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center also advocated state-level strategies to avert the worst impacts of climate change, including increasing the share of renewable energy in our energy portfolio and making Pennsylvania a leader again in terms of our energy efficient building standards.

“Pennsylvania is the 4th biggest emitter of carbon pollution from the biggest sources. Pennsylvania cannot wait to act on climate, so it’s critical that our elected leaders step up and support action,” said Staaf.


PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is a statewide, environmental organization dedicated to protecting our air water and open spaces. For more information, visit  

Monday, September 9, 2013

US District Court Allow PPL to Proceed to Destroy Delaware Water Gap

For more information, contact
Don Miles, Chair, Sierra Club PA Chapter Transmission Committee 


Last week the US District Court issued a decision allowing PPL Electric Utilities Corporation to begin construction of the  Susquehanna to Roseland Transmission Line (“S-R Line”)through three national park areas -- the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The Pennsylvania Sierra Club is extremely disappointed that the court did not halt the PPL’s construction of the high-voltage Susquehanna Roseland power line through these natural areas.

“This is a crushing blow for one of the nation’s most treasured natural places”, Transmission Committee Chair Don Miles said. “This construction will forever change the landscape of this spectacular vista that welcomes five million visitors annually, including those traveling along the Appalachian Trail. It is a loss for nature, for Pennsylvanians and for all who treasure this special place.”

The Sierra Club and nine other environmental groups was seeking an injunction to halt PPL’s construction of the 500kv, 200-ft towers, which was to begin the first week of September. The US District Court of D.C. not only ruled against the injunction but also against the basis for the appeal, clearing the way for PPL to begin construction.

The 145-mile, high-voltage power line will cut through the heart of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Delaware "Wild & Scenic" River, and the Appalachian Trail.  Although the power line will use parts of  existing rights of way, the construction will expand these corridors, impacting wildlife, tourism and recreation.

The environmental groups filed the appeal, arguing that the power line would cause significant harm to the natural integrity of the park and disfigure the region.  The groups asserted that the "no-build" option was not properly considered by the National Parks Service.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dams Aren't Spigots

By Phil Coleman, Sylvanian Co-Editor

I remember only one public hearing when I was booed by the audience. Back 40 years ago, the Soil Conservation Service wanted to dam three small streams in southwestern Pennsylvania in order, as they said, to provide flood protection for people who lived in the flood plain downstream. I stood up at the hearing and made two points: 

1) people who live in the flood plain do so at some risk; 

2) dams aren’t spigots: they can’t turn off the water, they just hold it back for a while. 

People didn’t want to hear point number one. And very few of them understood point number two. So they booed. One young father said I would be to blame when his children drowned.

Let’s fast forward. After Hurricane Sandy wrecked coastal communities in New Jersey and New York and FEMA needed massive funds to aid flood victims, many in Congress (and elsewhere) objected to the deficit spending required to supply aid: this at a time when Congress was blaming the President and the President was blaming Congress over their inability to construct a deficit-free budget.

In response, Congress developed and passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. It is a massive and detailed act that tries to deal with several different aspects of flooding and flood protection. I can’t summarize it in detail; I don’t understand all the details. But it tries to deal both with the areas of repeated flooding and areas that haven’t flooded yet.
If you live in the flood plain of a big river, you may be flooded every few years. [In fact, one problem people have to deal with is that the so-called hundred year flood may occur several times in a hundred years.]

If you live on the coast (as I do, by the way), you may not have experienced a flood ever, but the flood when it comes in the form of a hurricane may totally demolish your home and all the infrastructure that goes with it.

The Biggert-Waters Bill tries to deal with the home that has been repeatedly flooded and the home that has never been flooded. And that’s a challenge. Creating a fund that is large enough to handle all possible damages without relying on deficit spending has meant phasing in massive increases to flood insurance premiums – even when it is phased in over five years – threatens to upset local economies.

We are faced with problems we don’t want to admit. A huge and growing population crowds more people into flood prone areas. Deforestation, expanding highways and parking lots contribute to rapid rain runoff and floods. A less than healthy economy puts a pinch on everyone and makes taxation a burden. The tremendous and growing inequality in wealth has added to poverty – even in our prosperous country.

We can’t seem to come close to agreeing on priorities. [For instance, which is more important: public education or military strength?]

In this era of economic stagnation, the Biggert – Waters Bill, which will bring hardship and even bankruptcy to a few million who have thought of themselves as secure, may be the best Congress can manage.

By the way, do you know how a dam differs from a spigot?

Why Do We Care About the Voter ID Law?

By Wendi Taylor, PA Chapter Chair

Why should the Sierra Club care about Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law?

The Sierra Club relies on a fair political system in order to protect the environment. Suppressing the votes of young people, Latinos and African Americans directly affects our ability to protect the environment because these are the same people who are most likely to vote for candidates who support efforts to combat pollution and climate disruption… and candidates that support clean, renewable energy sources and the good jobs they create.

Further, the rash of Voter ID laws can be traced directly to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the many business interests that supports them, including some of the most polluting industries in the world. They know that shrinking the vote will expand their ability to run our state legislature. Our elections should not be based on who can give the most money

Some people ask: Why is the voter ID law a big deal?” After all, we have to show our ID all the time --to apply for a library card, to cash a check or to get a driver’s license. However, those aren’t rights, they’re privileges. Voting is a right – a constitutionally guaranteed right. 

When our state legislature deliberately -- and without cause -- throws obstacles in the way of a person’s right to vote, that’s wrong.  And any law that is enacted which discriminates against certain people, that’s wrong.

The Sierra Club should always protect access to the ballot box.

The labor movement and the civil rights movement has taught us that if all stand together, we can win! Together, we must make sure that every citizen has the ability to vote. One person, one vote; That’s the American way! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Loyalsock petition to Governor Corbett: "Keep the 'Public' in Public Lands"

Planning for followup action is underway in response to last week's petition delivery to the Governor. Just in case you didn't see this:

12,000 Want Hearings, Public Comment On Potential For Loyalsock State Forest Drilling

Coalition web site:

Rep. Greg Vitali at the podium

Petitions being handed to Gov. Corbett's proxy

Sierra Club Chapter Director, Jeff Schmidt at the podium

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Motion Filed to Halt Construction on Susquehanna-Roseland Transmission Line

In the federal lawsuit now pending before Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (National Parks Conservation Association et al. v. S.M.R. Jewell et al., No. 1:12-cv-01690-RWR), the ten plaintiff environmental organizations today filed a motion with the Court for a preliminary injunction to halt the initial construction, planned for September 3, 2013, of utilities PPL/PSEG's "Susquehanna-Roseland" 500kv electric transmission line (with two lines of 190 ft. towers) through the heart of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. 

Plaintiffs' motion argues that "the start of tree clearing and road building in the [DWGNRA] in two week's time will inflict irreparable harm on the parks" and  that "if that construction is allowed to begin and continue, [the] Court's review and Plaintiffs' efforts to protect the parks from the consequences of unlawful agency action would be fruitless." The irreparable harm that would be caused by the construction includes damage that the National Park Service has already admitted will occur: irreversible harm to multiple resources in the park -- clear-cutting of acres of trees, roads crossing fragile wetlands, damage to stormwater flows, and fragmenting of wildlife habitats -- degradation of the scenic landscape, and appreciable diminishment of key aspects of the park that visitors come to enjoy.

Defendants (U.S. Dept. of the Interior and National Parks Service and intervenors PPL and PSEG) have 7 days to file a response. 

A court hearing on the motion has been requested but not yet scheduled. 

The plaintiff environmental organizations seeking to halt the construction include: Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, National Parks Conservation Association, New Jersey Highlands Coalition, New York–New Jersey Trail Conference, Rock the Earth, Sierra Club, and Stop the Lines.

For more info. contact:

Hannah Chang, Esquire
co-counsel for plaintiffs
Earth Justice
156 William Street - Suite 800
New York, NY 10038