Pennsylvania Currents - Fall 2015

October 26, 2015

Environmental Rights at Stake in Pennsylvania Supreme Court Election November 3

The outcome of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election may be the most important of the election season. The Supreme Court has made decisions in many cases critical to health, communities and the environment in the past decade. It will likely play a role in redistricting after the 2020 census and may hear cases related to local governments’ attempts to restrict fracking. The judges on the court matter.

In 2013 Pennsylvania passed Act 13, which stripped local municipalities of the ability to use zoning to protect communities from the dangers associated with natural gas drilling. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down this provision. The Court ruled Act 13 was unconstitutional because it violated the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Environmental Rights Amendment which states “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.” The three vacancies on the court are judges who ruled with the majority in this landmark case.

Clean Water Action has endorsed the following candidates for Pennsylvania Supreme Court because they have demonstrated a commitment in their personal and judicial philosophy to protecting public health and our environmental rights: David Wecht, Kevin Dougherty, and Christine Donahue.

David Wecht

Judge Wecht serves on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and is “Highly Recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association. As a Superior Court judge, he has considered numerous environmental issues — ranging from regulations dealing with fracking and mineral rights contracts, to land-use issues related to conservation easements. David Wecht also served nine years on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

Kevin Dougherty

Judge Dougherty has served on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for over a decade. He is currently the Administrative Judge of the Trial Division and is “Recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Kevin Dougherty has a strong appreciation for our natural resources and believes these resources truly belong to all citizens.

Christine Donahue

Judge Donahue serves on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and is “Highly Recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association. She has personal experience with environmental issues. Christine Donahue was employed by the SEDA–Council of Governments in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and served as the public participation coordinator for the Pennsylvania Comprehensive Water Quality Management Act. The Act and the Program were designed to plan the remediation required as a result of decades of water quality degradation of the Susquehanna River Basin caused by acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines and the discharge of untreated sewage into the basin.

Paid for and authorized by Clean Water Action for distribution to its members. For more information contact us at www.cleanwateraction.org or 412-765-3053.

The Worst of Both Worlds:
Coal Pollution in Fracking Wastewater?

The water used for fracking is a toxic cocktail laced with chemicals. Despite this, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed legislation to make fracking even more dangerous and less regulated. SB 875 encourages the use of treated acid mine drainage (AMD) for fracking operations.

More than 4,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams are already polluted by AMD, the polluted water that flows out of abandoned coal mines. Even treated mine water, as required by the bill, still contains contaminants and will introduce pollution in watersheds where it doesn’t currently exist, spreading degraded water to wherever a driller wants to use it. In addition, very little research is available on how coal mine water reacts with chemicals used in fracking.

The bill also weakens protections under the Solid Waste Management Act and limits liabilities for mine operators and natural gas drillers. This exposes the public to environmental and public health risks when there are spills or releases.  

SB875 is riddled with problems and contains dangerous provisions that must be addressed to protect the public and the environment. It will increase the likelihood of pollution and lessen the ability of agencies to protect water. Clean Water Action will hold the legislature and Governor Wolf accountable for approving SB 875.

Clean Water Action in Harrisburg: Let’s Make Our State Budget Greener!

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Steve Hvozdovich, Pennsylvania Campaigns Director speaking at a rally on “Lobby Day.”

In June, residents from across Pennsylvania joined Clean Water Action in Harrisburg for a rally and lobby day to send a message to legislators that investing in a clean environment and public health is one of the most important things they can do.

For the past decade, politicians in Harrisburg have slashed funding for environmental programs. In contrast, Governor Tom Wolf recognizes the important role a clean environment and public health play in Pennsylvania’s future.

Governor Wolf’s proposed budget calls for funding clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives, increased inspectors to oversee natural gas operations, new investments in parks, forests, trails, and streams, and the creation of a Marcellus Shale Health registry to track people suffering from medical problems caused by natural gas drilling.
 
This is a change in direction that will put Pennsylvania on track to reduce dependence on fossil fuel and improve protections from natural gas drilling. As the Governor and Legislature negotiate a final budget, Clean Water Action will ensure industry and their supporters don’t derail this reinvestment and that protections are put in place for Pennsylvania families, clean water and a healthy environment.

Helping Communities Clean Up the Susquehanna River

The Susquehanna River watershed is seriously impaired. In fact, the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed is threatened to such a degree that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instructed communities to limit the sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus that run off into the Susquehanna and threaten aquatic life in the bay.

Following the January release of its Low Impact Development Report, which reviewed the ordinances of 9 municipalities on their compliance with best management practices for addressing stormwater problems, Clean Water Action has partnered with local municipal and county officials in York County to educate communities about what they can do to limit polluted stormwater runoff.

Through the York County Coalition for Clean Waters, Clean Water Action is presenting a series of educational programs for local elected and appointed officials. The first program, in August, featured a presentation by Gary Peacock with the York County Conservation District on the progress of York County’s Water Implementation Plan. Stay tuned for more educational water programs in 2016!

Protecting Pittsburgh’s Air Quality

Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood has been rejuvenated in recent years and has quickly become one of the city’s premier neighborhoods. But there is something lurking in this neighborhood that is affecting the health of area residents.

Tucked away by the Allegheny River, the McConway and Torley Steel Foundry has been making railroad couplers and emitting toxic pollution into the air for 120 years. It’s hard to see, but it’s not hard to smell.  

The plant is the third largest stationary emitter in Allegheny County of benzene and manganese, chemicals linked to cancer and neurological disorders.

Clean Water Action has pressured the Allegheny County Health Department to draft an operating permit for the plant that takes much needed steps to ensure a reduction in the release of harmful chemicals to protect air quality and public health. After public comment and additional testing, an updated version of the permit will soon be released. As the process moves forward, Clean Water Action will continue urging issuance of a strong operating permit that protects the community and ensures the air residents breathe is as safe as possible.

Is Philadelphia Prepared for an Oil Train Disaster?

Pennsylvanians remain concerned with dangerous oil trains, especially in Philadelphia, the largest recipient of Bakken crude oil in the nation. Two derailments have occurred in the city, including one that threatened the drinking water for 1.5 million people. Clean Water Action remains engaged in efforts to improve emergency management, educate residents, and implement stronger policies to protect health, communities and the environment.

In July, Clean Water Action helped organize an event in Philadelphia as part of a national day of action to remember the two-year anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic Quebec oil train disaster that claimed 47 lives. Over 150 residents rallied along the railroad tracks. Speakers called for an immediate ban of unsafe tank cars, demanded that Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) conduct emergency response workshops in impacted communities, and highlighted impacts and threats to railroad employees’ health. The event was capped by a New Orleans-style funeral procession led by the West Philadelphia Orchestra.

A lack of resources and training, along with Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management’s (OEM) unwillingness to conduct emergency response workshops or share its derailment response plan, prompted Clean Water Action to call on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to stage a worst-case scenario oil train drill in Philadelphia. Other cities have taken similar action to ensure communities are protected and ready for the worst consequences. FEMA held a drill in Jersey City, New Jersey — at the city’s request — and found that 87 people could die, while residents up to three quarters of a mile away could be injured.

Oil train safety is quickly becoming a concern at the state level. In the spring, Governor Tom Wolf hired Dr. Allan Zarembski, an internationally recognized University of Delaware professor, to assess crude by rail risks. In August, Zarembski released his Assessment of Crude by Rail Safety Issues in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The report offers 27 safety recommendations, many of which focus on minimizing railroad defects and failures. Some key recommendations call for increased rail inspections, the hiring of additional inspectors, reduced speeds in highly populated areas, improved brake performance and improved emergency response plans.

In May, the federal Department of Transportation released updates to national tank car standards. The regulations are inadequate — the oldest and most puncture-prone tank car models will continue to transport Bakken crude oil for up to five years. Clean Water Action continues to pressure state and federal elected officials to call for an immediate ban of dangerous tank cars and support federal legislation to make crude by rail safer.

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