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[ Fracking Linked to Low Birthweight Babies ]

Pregnant women living near fracked gas wells are more likely to have a low birthweight baby – that’s the finding in a new study from Princeton University.

The researchers compared standard birthweight records collected by Pennsylvania hospitals with the locations of the parents’ homes. Low birth weight has long been considered an important indicator of later health problems.

Princeton economics professor Janet Currie says they found a strong correlation – that the low birth weights were highly localized and much more likely to be found right next to the well sites.

“What is surprising is, we found a fairly large effect for people living very close; but by the time you got to two miles away, we did not detect any effect,” she notes.

The industry argues that air pollution from gas wells and equipment such as compressor stations disperses quickly after it’s released.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is finalizing tighter regulations for emissions from new oil and gas facilities.

But Patrice Tomcik, with Moms Clean Air Force, notes that the new rules don’t cover wells, compressor stations and pipelines already in service.

“We need a solution for reducing the methane pollution from these existing sources that are sickening our families today,” she says.

Emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, also carry other pollutants including volatile organic compounds. Tomcik says about 1.5 million Pennsylvanians live within half a mile of oil and gas facilities.

Beth Weinberger, a public health consultant with the Environmental Health Project, says previous research indicates preterm births and similar issues may be due to volatile organic compounds such as benzene, or small, soot-like particles such as those found in diesel exhaust, pollutants associated with drilling operations.

“We know much of what’s in the emissions, and in each of the studies, the researchers have found associations between exposure to gas drilling and birth outcomes,” Weinberger says.

The Princeton research suggests keeping drilling away from homes, through zoning or well set-back rules.

-Andrea Sears, Keystone State News Connection


[ Solar Power Continues to Grow in PA ]

Solar power is growing in Pennsylvania as individuals, businesses and communities take action to reduce carbon emissions.

Since the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, local and state efforts to combat climate change have become critical.

According to Jason Grottini, director of design for Envinity, a clean energy company, Pennsylvania is creating incentives to encourage both commercial scale solar installations and smaller systems for home and business.

“We have very strong net metering laws, which allows homeowners and businesses to sell their excess power back to the utility,” says Grottini. “We recently passed some legislation that all the renewable energy that our public utilities are required to generate must come from inside Pennsylvania.”

He adds improvements in efficiency and reductions in the cost mean those who install home based solar systems can expect an 8 percent to 10 percent return on their investment.

Critics complain that the growth in renewable energy depends on government subsidies and incentives. But Ed Perry, an aquatic biologist with the National Wildlife Federation, points out that the very profitable fossil fuel industry gets plenty of government help every year.

“They get over $15 billion a year in tax breaks that are built right in to the tax code,” he says, “so that they don’t have to go back to Congress each year, like the wind and solar industry does, to get these tax credits.”

He says tax incentives for renewables are not special treatment – instead, they level the playing field.

Scientists estimate that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change will require reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. Perry notes that even with cancellation of the federal mandate to reduce carbon emissions, progress continues.

“Already, despite the fact that the Clean Power Plan is not in effect, Pennsylvania is on that path,” says Perry.

Forty-two mayors nationwide have adopted the goal of achieving 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2035.

-Andrea Sears, Keystone State News Connection


[ Climate Change Tops Environmental Year-in-Review ]

Catastrophic hurricanes, severe flooding and raging wildfires fueled by drought have been prominent features of an eventful year for the environment.

Rainforest Trust’s first-annual Environmental Year-in-Review put the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on fighting global climate change at the top of the list of major events for 2017. Dr. Paul Salaman, CEO of Rainforest Trust, pointed out that the withdrawal took place despite a scientific consensus that the warming climate is the driving force behind the extreme weather.

“What we’re basically seeing is hurricanes that are much more intense, flooding that is going to be much more catastrophic,” Salaman said. “This year, we’ve already had estimates of upwards of half-a-trillion dollars worth of property damage.”

He said acting locally by planting a bee-friendly garden or volunteering to help clean up a local park in the coming year are easy steps people can take to begin to make a difference.

But Salaman emphasized that global action is required, too.

“Our most important resolution will certainly be towards protecting habitat,” he said; “and really importantly, preserving rainforests that are really the lungs of the planet and the biggest stabilizing factor for the global climate.”

He noted that as little as $2, the price of a cup of coffee, can permanently protect an acre of rainforest.

And while the federal government may have opted not to fight climate change, Salaman said other levels of government are stepping up to the challenge.

“The good thing is that many states and cities have come together across the U.S. to balance this and really double their efforts towards reducing carbon emissions and becoming much more sustainable,” he said.

The Environmental Year-in-Review is online at rainforesttrust.org.

-Andrea Sears, Keystone State News Connection


[ Do-It-Yourself Projects To Help Save on Energy Bills ]

The typical American family spends nearly $2,000 a year on their home energy bills. But you don’t need to break the bank to keep your home comfortable.

These do-it-yourself projects will help prepare you for the colder days and weeks ahead:

Insulating Hot Water Pipes

Insulating your hot water pipes can reduce heat loss and raise water temperature by up to 4° Fahrenheit.

It takes 3 hours or longer to complete (depending on the house size) but insulating hot water pipes can save you up to 4% on your energy bill—if you’re willing to put the time in!

Sealing Air Leaks with Caulk

If your house is drafty in the winter, then caulking is a quick-and-easy way to save up to 20% on your heating bill.

Here are the step-by-step directions. Completion time is usually 1-2 hours.

Weatherstrip Air Leaks

Weatherstripping is another affordable option to cut down on air leaks.

You can tackle this one in about an hour to get up to 10% in energy savings.

Here are the step-by-step directions.

Find out more from the OFFICE of ENERGY EFFICIENCY & RENEWABLE ENERGY including more projects you can tackle to save money on your energy bills.


[ 2,093 Acres Of Farmland On 29 Farms Permanently Preserved In PA ]

The Department of Agriculture Tuesday announced the PA Agricultural Land Preservation Board approved conservation easement purchases to protect another 29 farms totaling 2,093 acres in the Commonwealth.

The board preserved farms in 20 counties: Adams, Armstrong, Blair, Bucks, Butler, Chester, Columbia, Dauphin, Fayette, Franklin, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Northampton, Susquehanna, Union, Washington, Westmoreland and Wyoming.

With the acreage preserved last Thursday, Pennsylvania will end have preserved 16,237 additional acres on 197 farms in 2017, according to state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.

“Preserving Pennsylvania’s farmland is as important today as it was nearly three decades ago when the program was conceived,” said Redding. “2017 has been another successful year for safeguarding our best acreage – and our food supply – because of the commitment of farmers and other partners. Along the way, we’ve secured federal funding, advocated for succession planning for owners of preserved farms, and remain the national leader in farmland preservation.”

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program identifies properties and slows the loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses. It enables state, county and local governments to purchase conservation easements, or development rights, from owners of quality farmland.

Gov. Tom Wolf allocated $40 million for farmland preservation in this year’s state budget – an increase of $8 million that makes the 2017-18 fiscal year the program’s highest-funded in a decade.


Read the full story from Pa Environment Digest here.


[ EPA Sued for Removing Scientists ]

Doctors, scientists and professional organizations are suing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for replacing publicly-funded scientists with others who advocate for polluting industries.

According to the lawsuit, of Pruitt’s 18 new appointees to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, seven are now employed by industries the EPA regulates, four have a history of taking money from polluters and five have histories of rejecting mainstream science in favor of industry talking points.

Neil Gormley, staff attorney at the environmental law firm Earthjustice, says ironically, Pruitt claims the academic scientists are being removed because they have financial ties to the EPA.

“By barring people just because they’ve received competitive research grants from the agency, they’re pushing out some of the most qualified experts,” he says.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., calls the policy an illegal override of federal ethics rules that will introduce a pro-polluter bias in EPA decisions.

Environmentalists fear that the new appointees also will undermine the integrity of EPA science. Gormley points out that some of the replacements on the advisory board have espoused opinions that fall into the category of junk science.

“Claiming that air pollution is good for you or denying that smog causes asthma – ideas that are way outside the scientific mainstream and that just serve a corporate agenda,” he explains.

He says the scientists being removed from the board are experts in fields such as cancer, children’s health, respiratory diseases and the risks of chemicals in the home.

Gormley says the lawsuit asks the court to rule that the new policy is unlawful and arbitrary, and to halt the discharge of scientists on the basis of having received agency funding for their work.

“We’re also asking for the reinstatement of discharged scientists to these science boards to restore their ability to render objective, high-quality scientific advice to the agency,” he adds.

-Andrea Sears, Keystone State News Connection


[ New Methane Rules Called Just a Start ]

Clean air advocates want the Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to strengthen rules for methane leaks from existing sources.

Environmental groups say last week’s release of the final draft of permits to control emissions from new oil and gas wells, pipelines and compressor stations was an important step in the right direction.

But according to Andrew Williams with the Environmental Defense Fund, Gov. Tom Wolf appears to be backing off his pledge to apply methane controls on the thousands of oil and gas facilities already in operation in Pennsylvania.

He says, “Gov. Wolf and the Department chose to tie their strategy to controls that exist at the federal level already – the very same controls that President Trump’s EPA is now in the process of walking back.”

Williams says as the second biggest natural gas producer in the country, Pennsylvania needs to do more than meet the bare minimum of emission control standards.

Methane alone is a major contributor to climate change. But emissions also contain smog forming volatile organic compounds that trigger asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Williams notes that those being affected already have been waiting for years for relief.

“Communities are experiencing the impacts of oil and gas pollution right now,” he says, “and the vast majority of Pennsylvanians support controlling methane emissions across the state.”

He says Wolf first promised to cut emissions from existing oil and gas facilities three years ago.

Williams points out that other gas producing states such as Colorado have instituted controls that exceed the federal standards.

He says now the governor has an opportunity to show real leadership.

“Leadership that will make sense on both sides of the political aisle,” says Williams, “leadership that will provide much-needed protections to those millions of families living near oil and gas operations here in Pennsylvania.”

Wolf and the DEP have pledged to finalize the permits for new oil and gas facilities in the first quarter of next year.

-Andrea Sears, Keystone State News Connection


[ Wildlands Conservancy Adds 72 Acres To 1,300 Acre Thomas Darling Preserve ]

The Wildlands Conservancy Tuesday announced it has permanently protected 72 acres of woodlands and wetlands situated in Tobyhanna Township, Monroe County.

The acquired acreage expands Wildlands’ 1,300-acre Thomas Darling Preserve at Two Mile Run along Route 940 in Blakeslee.

This acquisition permanently preserves the forests and streams that are critical to the sustained health of the Lehigh River watershed, and, ultimately, the irreplaceable, natural resource that is the Lehigh River.

It also protects critical wildlife habitat, provides essential connectivity between adjacent existing natural areas and it forwards the land trust’s plans for public access along Route 940.

“With precious wetlands, abundant wildlife habitat and waterways that lead to the Lehigh River, this special, natural area is a critical landscape that begs to be kept whole,” says Christopher Kocher, president of Wildlands. “And thanks to the support of our giving community and visionary partners, Wildlands is meaningfully connecting more people with nature in Poconos, altogether inspiring a future for local conservation.”

Read the full story from PA Environment Digest here.



[ Take A Hike on January 1st ]

Since its introduction a few years ago, the First Day Hike concept has really taken off. Who doesn’t want their new year to get off on the right (or left) foot? More than 20 Pennsylvania state parks or PPFF Chapters are planning a First Day Hike.

Click here to see a list of state parks planning an event.

Check the DCNR Calendar of Events for up to date details on each hike.


[ Final Tax Bill Called a Blow to Environment ]

Environmental groups say the final tax bill agreed to last week by the House and Senate Reconciliation Committee will be a disaster for the environment.

There is some good news, as tax incentives for electric cars and wind power that had been eliminated in the House bill, are back in. But the Senate’s provision opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling is in, too.

Kirin Kennedy, associate legislative director for lands and wildlife at the Sierra Club, said eliminating $1 trillion or more of revenue over ten years will have a huge impact on government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department.

“They’re going to be basically facing massive cuts in their budgets to help pay for the tax cuts that will go toward the richest 1 percent and the top 1 percent corporations in the country,” Kennedy said.

Republicans contend that environmental regulations have hindered economic development, and that selling oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could raise about $1 billion in revenue to offset some of the tax cuts.

Kennedy is convinced that oil lease sales aren’t going to meet that goal, while the environmental and financial risks are significant.

“The way the rules are written, it doesn’t quite raise that much money,” she said. “And there’s issues with the technology to be able to actually get into the refuge and drill, and they’d have to use very expensive technology that hasn’t been tested.”

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to the indigenous Gwich’in people as well as endangered polar bears, herds of caribou and migratory birds.

There is widespread opposition to the tax bill and the final version still needs to pass in both the House and Senate. Kennedy said she hopes lawmakers get the message that they need to realign their priorities.

“Pass a tax bill that will actually create jobs and not hurt jobs,” she said; “that will help protect our air and health and water, and access to services, not get rid of them.”

The Republican leadership in Congress hopes to hold a final vote on the bill this week.

-Andrea Sears, Keystone State News Connection