Thursday, December 14, 2017

Environmental Advocates Urge Gov. Wolf To Advance Methane Pollution Standards For Natural Gas Sector

The Department of Environmental Protection Thursday presented the draft-final general permits to control methane pollution from new and modified natural gas operations to the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee.
Residents affected by natural gas operations, as well as environmental and public health advocacy groups from across the Commonwealth, spoke at a press conference and at the AQTAC meeting during the public comment period.  
The comments were a continuation of advocacy that has spanned three years urging Gov. Wolf to fulfill his campaign promises on methane controls. Wolf first promised to cut methane pollution from all new and existing gas operations on the campaign trail in 2014. He announced his methane reduction strategy in January 2016.  
Environmental and public health advocacy groups and impacted residents were pleased to finally see progress made on the methane reduction plan at the meeting, but say that the Wolf administration must quickly finalize general permits and require companies to comply with them.
Groups raised concerns about the administration’s proposed concepts for weaker rules covering existing source of methane pollution -- a major departure from what the governor promised to do.
“While the progress being made on methane standards covering new natural gas sources is encouraging, the Wolf administration must move quickly to regulate existing sources in a similar way,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council. “What DEP is proposing to implement on existing sources is the bare minimum required by law. Gov. Wolf must go well beyond the bare minimum in protecting the health of Pennsylvania citizens. We elected this governor based on his promises to be a leader in addressing methane pollution and climate change. Pennsylvanians deserve that leadership.”
Methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, is accompanied by air pollutants harmful to human health when it leaks from natural gas operations. Emissions in Pennsylvania continue to rise year after year.  
The standards for new and modified sources will be implemented through two general permits, which allow for a streamlined approval process if industry operators agree to adhere to the permit conditions.
One permit, GP-5A, covers unconventional gas wells and pigging operations and the other, GP-5, covers processing plants and compressor stations, including those on large transmission pipelines.
"Comprehensive methane rules for existing sources of pollution must be broader in scope and more stringent than the requirements found in EPA guidelines," said Robert Routh, staff attorney for Clean Air Council. "These guidelines represent the national floor.  Gov. Wolf and DEP need to lead here and aim much higher for the sake of all Pennsylvanians."
"The citizens of the Commonwealth are suffering needlessly when we have the tools and technology available to greatly limit methane pollution and help clean our air," said Dr. Robert Little, a family physician and president of the Harrisburg/Hershey chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "It bears emphasizing that we need to clear our air of both toxic hydrocarbons and emissions of methane – reducing one kind of pollution without the other gets us nowhere."
"Until these new source rules are applied to existing sources, people in my community and others dealing with methane pollution right now are still looking at an unfulfilled promise by Gov. Wolf," said Lois Bower-Bjornson, an impacted resident of Washington County, PA. "I am urging Gov. Wolf to be that leader who campaigned on a promise of holding the natural gas industry accountable to the people of Pennsylvania and move forward on rules for existing sources of methane pollution and VOCs immediately."
“Today, my children and 3,200 of their classmates are attending school next to a gas well pad roughly half a mile away exposing them to a known health and safety risk from oil and gas air pollution including emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds,” said Patrice Tomcik, a mother of two sons from Butler County and a Field Consultant with Moms Clean Air Force, a 1 million member strong organization. “Let’s be clear: This problem will not be resolved unless and until DEP addresses these toxic pollutants like benzene, as well as methane emissions.”
For more information, visit DEP’s Methane Reduction Strategy webpage.

EPA: Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Approaches Record High, Conservation Practices Are Working

The EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Thursday announced estimated water quality in the tidal Chesapeake Bay has reached a near-record high.
According to preliminary data, almost 40 percent of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries met clean water standards for clarity, oxygen and algae growth between 2014 and 2016.
This two percent increase from the previous assessment period is due in large part to a rise in dissolved oxygen in the deep channel of the Bay.
While this positive sign of resiliency in the nation’s largest estuary indicates our ecosystem has recovered from the damages sustained during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, water quality must improve in 60 percent of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries if the estuary is to function as a healthy ecosystem.
Local efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution have shown some success under the Chesapeake Bay’s “pollution diet,” but the challenge of putting enough conservation practices on the ground to further reduce agricultural runoff and urban runoff to local waterways remains.
The Chesapeake Bay Program partnership uses several environmental indicators to track pollution and assess aquatic health.
A suite of computer simulations called the Watershed Model is used to estimate the impact that local conservation and best management practices have had on nutrient and sediment loads.
Monitoring data collected from stations on the nine largest rivers in the watershed provide the foundation for experts to estimate the total nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries each year, while data collected from stations in non-tidal waters allow experts to assess the aquatic response to efforts to reduce agricultural and urban runoff.
Monitoring data is also collected from a comprehensive network of hundreds of stations in tidal waters to assess changes in water quality.
Computer simulations show that best management practices are currently in place to achieve 33 percent of the nitrogen reductions, 81 percent of the phosphorus reductions and 57 percent of the sediment reductions necessary to achieve the pollution-reducing commitments of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.
In 2016, Chesapeake Bay Program partners surpassed their phosphorus- and sediment-reducing goals.
Nitrogen reductions, however, fell short of the target for the fourth year in a row, due in large part to a gap in reported and implemented agricultural best management practices in Pennsylvania.
At the 2016 meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced their intent to increase funding, technical assistance and direction for Pennsylvania in order to increase the implementation of nitrogen controls in the Commonwealth.
Findings based primarily on monitoring data collected at nine River Input Monitoring (RIM) stations reveal inconsistent trends in pollution loads.
-- In the District of Columbia, the Potomac RIM station has experienced improving ten-year trends in nitrogen but degrading ten-year trends in phosphorus.
-- In Maryland, one station—in the Patuxent—has experienced improving ten-year trends in nitrogen and phosphorus. The Susquehanna station has experienced degrading ten-year trends in nitrogen and phosphorus; the Patuxent station has experienced degrading ten-year trends in sediment; and the Choptank station has experienced degrading ten-year trends in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.
-- In Virginia, both the James and the Rappahannock stations have experienced improving ten-year trends in nitrogen. The Mattaponi station has experienced degrading ten-year trends in nitrogen and phosphorus; the Pamunkey station has experienced degrading ten-year trends in nitrogen and sediment; and the Appomattox station has experienced degrading ten-year trends in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.
Monitoring data collected from non-tidal stations throughout the watershed show that half of the stations analyzed for nitrogen, 38 percent of the stations analyzed for phosphorus and 20 percent of the stations analyzed for sediment have experienced improving ten-year trends.
Thirty-one percent of the non-tidal stations analyzed for nitrogen, 26 percent of those analyzed for phosphorus and 37 percent of those analyzed for sediment have experienced degrading ten-year trends.
While data also show that pollution loads in 2016 remained below the long-term average, these loads did increase: between 2015 and 2016, nitrogen loads increased 12 percent to 241 million pounds, phosphorus loads increased 35 percent to 13.6 million pounds and sediment loads increased 56 percent to 2.5 million tons.
Experts attribute this rise to an increase in river flow, which itself is affected by rainfall.
Improvements in water quality will take time, and there are often lags between the implementation of best management practices and the visible effects of those practices on a particular waterway.
In January, the Chesapeake Bay Program will release the 2016-17 Bay Barometer: Health and Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which will explore how the entire Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and its watershed are responding to the partnership’s collective protection and restoration efforts.
For a description of activities in Pennsylvania to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup commitments, visit DEP’s Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Plan webpage.
Beth McGee, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Director of Science and Agricultural Policy, issued this statement: "The new findings from the CBP provide both good and bad news. It’s clear the Clean Water Blueprint is working. Our water is getting cleaner, leading to smaller dead zones and more Bay grasses and oysters. This is a testament to the strong monitoring and science that supports the Blueprint.
“But water quality still has to improve in 60 percent of the Bay, meaning that we can’t take our foot off the gas pedal. We need increased efforts from both the states and federal government. The Bay Program must be fully funded and all the Bay jurisdictions must continue to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban and suburban runoff."
For more on Chesapeake Bay-related issues in Pennsylvania, visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA webpage.  Click Here to sign up for Pennsylvania updates (bottom of left column).  Click Here to support their work.

Westmoreland County Transit Opens CNG Fueling Station

Department of Transportation representatives joined officials from Trillium CNG, Westmoreland County Transit Agency to mark the start of fueling at the facility at 1823 Business Route 66 in Greensburg.
“This P3 CNG program continues to move forward and will make use of a Pennsylvania-generated fuel resource,” Gov. Wolf said. “The benefits include more efficiency, cleaner burning fuels and lower fuel costs for our transit agencies.”
Through the $84.5 million statewide P3 project, Trillium is designing, building, financing and will operate and maintain CNG fueling stations at 29 public transit agency sites through a 20-year P3 agreement.
Other stations will be constructed over the next five years, and Trillium is also making CNG-related upgrades to existing transit maintenance facilities.
As part of the conversion in Westmoreland County, the transit agency will convert 25 diesel buses and 16 paratransit buses to CNG. The authority estimates saving more than $400,000 annually based on current diesel costs and their diesel and gas usage of roughly 415,000 gallons per year.
PennDOT’s overall P3 project includes CNG fueling accessible to the public at six transit agency sites, with the option to add to sites in the future. PennDOT will receive a 15 percent royalty, excluding taxes, for each gallon of fuel sold to the public at public sites, which will be used to support the cost of the project.
Using the P3 procurement mechanism allows PennDOT to install the fueling stations faster than if a traditional procurement mechanism were used for each site, resulting in significant estimated capital cost savings of more than $46 million.
Stations have opened at:
-- Cambria County Transportation Authority, Johnstown Facility, includes public fueling;
-- Mid Mon Valley Transportation Authority;
-- Central Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, York Facility, includes public fueling;
-- Cambria County Transportation Authority, Ebensburg Facility;
-- Westmoreland County Transportation Authority;
-- Centre Area Transportation Authority; and
-- Beaver County Transit Agency.
When the project is completed, the fueling stations will supply gas to more than 1,600 CNG buses at transit agencies across the state.
To learn more about this project, visit PennDOT’s CNG Fueling Stations Project webpage.

Guaranteed Energy Savings Projects Cutting Energy Use, Cost At State, Other Buildings

Lower energy costs in state buildings will generate $4.2 million in annual savings Department of General Services Secretary Curt Topper announced Thursday.
Using the Guaranteed Energy Savings Act, the department will invest $47 million in energy efficiency measures at state facilities now and pay for them over time with the annual savings from reduced utility consumption, rather than using commonwealth funds for upfront capital investments.
“This is a win-win for the state and taxpayers,” said Topper. “It allows the state to reduce our carbon footprint, lower our energy bills to fund new construction projects, and ultimately generate savings for the Commonwealth.”
The Commonwealth currently has eight GESA projects underway. Once complete, they will reduce energy consumption by an average of 22 percent.
Electricity use will be reduced as roughly 60,000 lighting fixtures are converted to LED lighting and 40 million gallons of water will be saved through water conservation measures.
Carbon dioxide emissions will be cut by approximately 17,100 tons, the equivalent of planting 40,200 trees or removing more than 3,320 cars from the road for a year.
One of the projects is at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, which hosted the announcement.
“Thaddeus Stevens’ success as a teaching institution that provides world-class hands-on technical instruction speaks for itself,” Topper said. “We are immensely proud to have found a way to incorporate that instruction directly into a cost-effective project that will benefit the students and campus for years to come.”
Thaddeus Stevens’ $2.6 million project will cover replacing and retrofitting interior and exterior fixtures for LED lighting campus-wide, the upgrade of the electrical distribution system and the installation of a sub-metering system that will aid in energy conservation and allocation of expenses.
A unique feature of the project is that Thaddeus Stevens students will get hands-on experience through their role in the project of installing the upgraded HVAC system in the campus’s Kreider Building.
The project will save approximately $122,000.00 annually.
In addition to the cost savings and new construction, DGS has made improvements to the GESA program, include modernizing the bidding and awarding process to be totally electronic from bid submission to document sharing to the signature process; prequalifying Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) to make the bid process more efficient; and using a consultant and in-house DGS engineer to ensure that the project scopes and measures are effective and achievable.
Visit the Commonwealth’s GESA Program webpage for more information on the program.

Budget Secretary: No Tax Increases Or Revenue Enhancements Needed To Balance FY 2018-19 Budget

During his mid-year budget briefing Thursday, Budget Secretary Randy Albright said they do not believe there will be a need for increasing taxes or for any major revenue enhancements to balance next year’s budget, other than the adoption of a natural gas severance tax.
Putting recent budget actions in context, Albright said the Wolf Administration inherited a state budget that was balanced with one-time gimmicks and in the worst shape since the 2008 recession.
Albright said he was pleased to report today the state’s fiscal condition has significantly improved over the last year.
As a result, Albright said they believe, because of $2 billion in cuts and savings by the Administration and new recurring revenue, the structural deficit built into the state budget is all but gone.
He also pointed out complement reductions have resulted in the lowest number of employees-- about 73,000-- he had seen in his lifetime.
At the same time, Albright noted there has been significant investment increases in education, to address the opioid epidemic and other priorities. He also pointed out complement reductions have resulted in the lowest number of employees-- about 73,000-- he had seen in his lifetime.
With respect to the current year, Albright said they feel the FY 2017-18 budget year will end with a “modest” $32 million budget surplus and without the need for any supplemental appropriations.
The surplus, however, includes the lease-back of the Farm Show Complex Gov. Wolf proposed, but no proceeds from his proposed securitization of Liquor Control Board revenues.
Click Here for a copy of the slides used in the briefing.
$1 Billion Difference
Secretary Albright’s outlook on the FY 2018-19 state budget is in stark contrast to the projections made by the Independent Fiscal Office in mid-November.
The IFO said Pennsylvania’s General Fund budget will run a deficit starting at nearly $1 billion in FY 2018-19 rising to over $2.1 billion in FY 2022-23.
Specifically, the IFO projects deficits of $988 million in FY 2018-19; $1.865 billion in FY 2019-20; $1.774 billion in FY 2020-21; $1.784 billion in FY 2021-22; and $2.189 billion in FY 2022-23.
In response to a question about the differences, Albright said, he believes the IFO is missing the mark on estimating expenditures and underestimated revenues. reported IFO Executive Director Matt Knittel defended his agency’s forecast when asked his take on Albright’s claims.
“Based on the trends from the past month, I do not think our revenue outlook would change much,” explained Knittel. “We do have concerns about the JUA (the Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association) transfer, but we will not change our assumption that we will receive those monies unless new information is made available.”
“Since we released our report in November, we have not received any new information that would cause us to adjust our projections,” Knittel said. “For FY 2018-19, we projected a deficit of $1.0 billion, but on a cost-to-carry basis, it was closer to $600 million. We are still comfortable with those projections and our revenue estimate continues to hold up well.”
Knittel admitted it’s possible the Budget Office is privy to some more up-to-date spending information, but the IFO gets most of what Albright’s shop has.
“Regarding access to information: we largely have access to the same information for revenues, but for expenditures, the administration will be in close contact with the agencies on a weekly and even daily basis, and so could anticipate some savings or expenditures that we would learn about only after a delay,” Knittel said.

EPA Awards $3.7 Million To Pennsylvania For Chesapeake Bay Restoration

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Thursday announced it is providing $3.7 million to the Department of Environmental Protection to implement best management practices (BMPs) on agricultural lands in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
These practices will reduce the loads of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution going to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
“The Chesapeake Bay Program is an excellent example of cooperative federalism at work,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “This funding will help Pennsylvania accelerate its progress in improving local water quality and restoring the Chesapeake Bay.”   
“Clean water is a top priority for EPA,” said EPA Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio.  “This funding will help Pennsylvania continue putting the necessary pollution control measures in place to restore local waters and the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, it helps to demonstrate our commitment in working with the agricultural community where we see first-hand the successes and challenges of growing food and having local streams, as well as ensuring available water supplies, to support our farming communities.”
“The most practical way to balance farmers’ economic viability and the health of local waters is to enlist farmers in using environmentally conscious and economically sustainable best management practices,” said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We’re grateful for funding support from EPA that enables DEP to partner with farmers to plan and implement these practices. Achieving clean local waters takes boots on the ground farm by farm, stream by stream. With over 33,000 farms in Pennsylvania’s part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, we simply couldn’t do it without EPA’s support.”
This funding, which is being provided through EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Implementation Grant Program will support activities to help achieve and maintain the water quality necessary to fully restore the aquatic resources of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, including:
-- Developing multi-year management plans;
-- Chesapeake Bay education;
-- Implementing local BMPs to control stormwater runoff;
-- Developing agricultural nutrient and manure management plans;
-- Installing agricultural BMPs;
-- Funding cost share programs to reduce the cost to farmers of implementing BMPs; and
-- Providing funding opportunities to Pennsylvania conservation districts for implementing local stormwater BMPs.
For more information about this program, visit EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Implementation Grant Program webpage. PA’s Private Forestlands Are Imperiled As Their Aging Owners Divide And Sell

By Jason Nark,

Many trees in Gary Hague's Wyoming County forest sprouted before he was born. Others were planted with his own rough hands. A memory seeded in the summer twilight a half-century ago grows there, too.
The deed says 99 acres "more or less," but it felt even bigger when Hague was 14 and his Uncle George said they needed to walk it. They left the clapboard farmhouse at dusk, mostly silent aside from waking insects, and followed the boundary lines in the long shadows.
When George Hague died in 1973, an attorney told his nephew the land was his.
"I think he drew up his will that night after our walk," Gary Hague, 65, said from his kitchen table in the rancher that replaced the farmhouse. "I think he was trying to show me what stewardship was, that this is family, part of who we are."
He looked out the window at his inheritance.
"Sorry if I get a little emotional about it," he said. "When I was younger, I didn't get emotional, but the older I get, the more I feel."
With about 58 percent of its 28.6 million acres covered in forest, Pennsylvania still honors its namesake, "Penn's Woods," as one of the more heavily-wooded states in the country. The largest forests are several hours' drive from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in north-central Pennsylvania, in counties like Elk, Cameron and Clinton, but unbroken canopies roll across the horizon from all of the state's big highways.
It's often assumed that most Pennsylvania forestland is owned and protected by the state, the federal government, or nonprofit conservancies. But clues on country roads, the thousands of "No Hunting" signs tacked to trees and gated gravel roads, reveal what makes Penn's Woods unique: Nearly three-quarters of it is privately owned. And in a myriad of ways, endangered.
Click Here to read the entire article.

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