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Protecting Everyone's Right to a Healthy Environment
Updated: 4 days 15 hours ago

Shell’s Beaver County Ethane Cracking Facility Emits Illegal Amount of Pollution, Puts Nearby Communities at Risk

Thu, 12/15/2022 - 12:44

Monaca, PA (December 15, 2022) –  Last night, The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a notice of violation to Shell Chemical Appalachia for exceeding their rolling yearly volatile organic compounds (VOCs) limit by nearly 150 tons at their Beaver County Ethane Cracking facility. This facility emitted a total of 662.9 tons of VOCs, and is the largest VOC emitter in Beaver County. This happened immediately after a fraught startup by the facility including excessive flaring and a sickly sweet maple syrup-like odor from VOCs being released into the community. 

“These pollution limits are based on worst case scenarios by the facility,” said Joseph Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council. “To exceed this kind of limit in such an excessive fashion is unacceptable and unprecedented in Pennsylvania and puts nearby communities in serious danger.”

VOCs are a class of harmful air pollutants that can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches and loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to the liver, kidneys, or central nervous system. In addition to health effects, they contribute to the formation of ground level ozone or smog. It appears that most of the 100 tons of excess emissions were released in one month from September to October during a period that residents have reported heavy flaring from the facility. DEP has confirmed that other emissions of harmful pollutants have increased along with VOC emissions but have not yet been exceeded.

“Clean Air Council entered into a settlement agreement with Shell in order to stop excessive VOC emissions from flares and install a fenceline monitoring system,” said Alex Bomstein, Legal Director at Clean Air Council. “DEP must now take further action and enforce the law.” 

“These limits are meant to protect frontline communities from toxic pollution from the plant,” said Sarah Kula, Attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project. “The state’s notice of violation is an important step, but Pennsylvania needs to follow through to ensure these violations don’t happen again.”

Categories: G2. Local Greens

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Takes a Rare Step by Granting Environmental Coalition’s Petition to Protect Aquatic Life in the Delaware Estuary

Thu, 12/01/2022 - 12:20

PA, NJ, DE, NY – In a rarely taken step, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted a legal petition filed by a coalition of leading environmental organizations regarding the health of the Delaware Estuary and its aquatic life. In a landmark determination, the EPA exercised its Clean Water Act Section 303(c)(4)(B) authority to begin the process of promulgating new water quality standards for the Delaware River estuary, superseding the authority of the regional Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), which has thus far failed to uphold its obligation to protect the health of the Delaware River Estuary and its robust aquatic ecosystem. This decision formally recognizes the need for greater oversight and protection of aquatic life in the Estuary, including the federally endangered and genetically unique Atlantic sturgeon population.

Originally filed in April of 2022 by Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Clean Air Council, Environment New Jersey, PennFuture, and PennEnvironment, the petition urged the federal government to promptly initiate rulemaking necessary to protect aquatic life in the Delaware Estuary. The petition claims that the DRBC and the four watershed states have failed to recognize that the Delaware Estuary, from Trenton to the top of the Delaware Bay, is being used for maintenance and propagation of resident fish and other aquatic life, as well as for spawning and nursery habitat for anadromous fish, including the federally endangered Delaware River Atlantic sturgeon. Similarly, the DRBC has failed to take action to institute water quality criteria essential for protecting existing uses by critical species such as the Atlantic sturgeon. The DRBC and the four watershed states have been repeatedly and formally urged to recognize these aquatic life uses and  upgrade associated water quality protections, particularly dissolved oxygen standards. Until now, these requests have failed to spark the necessary protective actions required under the Clean Water Act to preserve the health of the Estuary. 

In the determination released today, the EPA stated:

“EPA’s evaluation of available information . . . indicates that “propagation of fish” is attainable in the specified zones of the Delaware River Estuary. Additionally, the currently applicable dissolved oxygen criterion for these zones is not sufficient to protect propagation throughout the specified zones.

“Accordingly, EPA is determining, pursuant to [Clean Water Act (CWA)] Section 303(c)(4)(B) and 40 CFR 131.22(b), that: 1) revised aquatic life designated uses that provide for propagation of fish, consistent with CWA Section 101(a)(2) and 40 CFR 131.20(a); and 2) corresponding dissolved oxygen criteria that protect a propagation use, consistent with 40 CFR 131.11, are necessary for zone 3, zone 4, and the upper portion of zone 5 (in total, river miles 108.4 to 70.0) of the Delaware River Estuary, to meet the requirements of the CWA.”

This decision comes on the heels of a rally to save the River’s Atlantic Sturgeon at Philadelphia City Hall, hosted earlier this month by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and partner organizations: Green Amendments For The Generations, Waterspirit, Saddlers Woods Conservation Association, Food & Water Watch, Clean Water Action, and Brandywine River Restoration Trust. The rally, which called upon the DRBC, EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (also known as NOAA Fisheries) to take accountability for their lack of sturgeon oversight and protection, featured a mock funeral procession, a coffin supported by pallbearers representing various regulatory agencies, and 180,000 paper sturgeon piled high into wheelbarrows, illustrating the massive loss of life from the River’s genetically unique population.

“EPA’s decision to grant our petition is powerful and important and may be a last best hope for saving the genetically unique Atlantic Sturgeon of the Delaware River from the lack of oxygen so severely compromising their continued existence,” noted Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and Leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “We have been advocating for decades that our governmental agencies, including the DRBC, have failed to prioritize water quality and river protections essential to save our genetically unique population of Atlantic sturgeon. It is extremely rare that EPA grants a petition of this kind. EPA’s agreement that the DRBC has demonstrated an unwillingness to do the job necessary is both a powerful repudiation of the failed DRBC strategy and an acknowledgement of the perilous status of our Atlantic sturgeon. Many told our coalition not to bother petitioning the federal government, but the sturgeon need champions willing to pursue every path essential to protect them, as do our human communities who depend upon a healthy Delaware River. This victory is a vindication of the power of our dedication.”

“The ecosystem of the lower Delaware River has been living with standards that pre-date the Clean Water Act for more than 50 years. Endless studies have been committed to analyze and revise the dissolved oxygen standard for the Delaware – the ecological equivalent of the river’s pulse – to avoid death zones for the river’s most vulnerable species like the endangered Atlantic sturgeon. Today’s decision by EPA to grant our petition is an extraordinary step to recognize the lack of action by DRBC on this issue for decades – and to finally ensure the lower Delaware River can be a healthy, vibrant river,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey.

“EPA’s decision to protect the lower Delaware is a long-awaited victory for Philadelphians and neighboring communities. We look forward to cleaner, safer water for the many residents who enjoy this critical waterway and the wildlife the river supports,” added Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel, Clean Air Council.

“The EPA made the right decision by recognizing that improvements to the lower Delaware River’s water quality supports all stages of aquatic life—not only for sensitive wildlife populations like the Atlantic Sturgeon, but also for our communities that enjoy the river,” stated Jessica O’Neill, Senior Attorney, PennFuture. “By granting our petition, EPA is following both the letter and the spirit of the Clean Water Act to protect and maintain our nation’s waters.”

“The Delaware River is undoubtedly one of the region’s greatest outdoor resources and natural places, and Delaware Valley residents from all walks of life want it protected and restored,” noted David Masur, Executive Director, PennEnvironment. “PennEnvironment applauds the EPA because our nation’s environmental cops are doing whatever it takes to protect this beloved waterway and the wildlife that make the Delaware River their home.”

To learn more about our ongoing efforts to protect the Atlantic Sturgeon, please visit: www.dinointhedelaware.org

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Groups Appeal PADEP’s Extension of Illegal Power Plant Air Permit

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 10:44

RENOVO, PA (November 22, 2022) – Today, Clean Air Council, PennFuture, and the Center for Biological Diversity appealed an extension of Renovo Energy Center’s air pollution permit for a large gas-fired power plant — a significant source of new pollution within an environmental justice area. The extension by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) allows the power plant developer an additional 18 months to build the North-Central Pennsylvania power plant. DEP originally permitted the gas-fired plant in April 2021, but Renovo Energy Center has failed to secure financing to move forward. 

This extension comes amid an ongoing appeal by the same groups, challenging the power plant’s air permit, which DEP extended in October. In August, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board ruled in favor of the groups in that appeal, finding that DEP set pollution limits too high for two harmful pollutants. That legal challenge continues toward trial on other claims. Still, rather than allow the illegal permit to lapse, DEP sent Renovo Energy Center a letter granting the requested extension. DEP did nothing to alter or fix the illegal permit. In their Notice of Appeal, the environmental groups object that the extension is illegal because the permit it extends is illegal and the requirements for an extension were not met.

Renovo is an environmental justice area located along the West Branch Susquehanna River. The permit authorizes the plant to emit hundreds of tons of noxious pollutants annually and more greenhouse gases than the City of Pittsburgh. Pollution from the power plant would impose a cost of billions of dollars in impacts to health and communities over the course of its lifetime. The power plant is being developed by Bechtel Corporation, a Virginia-based multinational engineering corporation.

“Extending a permit that judges just found to be illegal is a slap in the face to residents of Clinton County and to the rule of law,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council, on behalf of all three environmental groups filing this appeal. “Why in the world would DEP break the law just to ensure that a giant fossil fuel power plant can dirty the community’s air? Renewable energy is cleaner, cheaper, and more abundant.”

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Clean Air Council is a member-supported, non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting everyone’s right to a healthy environment. The Council has offices in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Wilmington, and works through public education, community advocacy, and government oversight to ensure enforcement of environmental laws. For more information, please visit www.cleanair.org.

PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania and beyond. We are protecting our air, water and land, and empowering citizens to build sustainable communities for future generations. Visit www.pennfuture.org.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Get Involved With The Council’s Volunteer Pedestrian Advocacy Group Feet First Philly

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 06:50

Clean Air Council sponsors Feet First Philly, Philadelphia’s only volunteer advocacy group dedicated to making the city safer for all pedestrians. 

For over 10 years, Feet First Philly has fought to protect pedestrians’ rights and make sure everyone can safely walk or roll to work, essential businesses, and places of recreation. We need your support today to make sure we can keep fighting to protect pedestrians in Philadelphia and continue funding public enhancement projects in communities that need them the most.

Over the last 2 years, Feet First Philly’s Public Space Enhancement Mini-Grant Program has funded 15 projects across Philadelphia in neighborhoods with high rates of traffic violence and road designs that prioritize speed and traffic over pedestrian safety. This year’s mini-grant program will fund at least 11 more. In addition, there is a major opportunity next year to elect leaders who stand for pedestrian safety, and Feet First Philly is already planning to make sure voters know where candidates stand on pedestrians’ rights and safety.

There is still a long way to go to ensure every community has safe and accessible public space. . Below, we share some words from a few of our volunteers and supporters about why pedestrian advocacy and the Feet First Philly Public Space Enhancement Mini-Grant program is important to them, and hope you will consider donating to support Feet First Philly today.

Button: Give A Gift Today and Support Feet First Philly

Denis Devine, Public Space Enhancement Mini-Grant Recipient

My kids, and many other kids, had to navigate around illegally parked cars and parents attempting to park illegally to pick up and drop off their kids. We installed  planters and filled them with native plants. Those planters have kept cars off the sidewalk ever since. 

Erika Morgan, Feet First Philly Vice-Chair

Philadelphia has over 230 miles of sidewalks in poor condition, which decreases quality of life and makes walking and rolling difficult. With the mini-grant, community groups can implement high-impact projects that quickly create meaningful change. Help us to support public space enhancements and safe walking in more communities with a donation today!

Jen Dougherty, Feet First Philly Chair

Walking shouldn’t be stressful, but often it is because of how our streets are designed, our sidewalks are maintained, driver behavior, and parking. I’m proud to advocate for pedestrian safety as Chair of Feet First Philly AND to create real, tangible physical improvements to the pedestrian realm through our public space mini-grants. Please consider a donation today and become a Feet First Philly volunteer. 

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Clean Air Council Responds to EPA’s Supplemental Proposal of Methane Pollution Standards for Fracking Wells and Compressor Stations

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 06:43

A 90-day comment period will now begin on the first-ever air pollution standards for existing oil and gas facilities from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The oil and gas industry releases significant amounts of climate-changing methane pollution, smog-causing volatile organic compounds (VOC), including the known carcinogens like benzene. After releasing an initial proposal in November 2021, the EPA is now officially proposing standards to limit air pollution from gas drilling wells, compressor stations, and associated oil and gas infrastructure. 

Methane is responsible for 30% of the climate chaos the earth is currently experiencing and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gas and petroleum systems create 32% of the country’s methane emissions, the single largest source. Methane has 87 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period. The World Meteorological Organization recently concluded that the last eight years will be recorded as the hottest ever globally.

“Pennsylvania desperately needs this federal rule to better protect public health and help curb the climate crisis,” said Joseph Otis Minott Esq, Executive Director and Chief Counsel with Clean Air Council. “The state’s proposed rule for similar pollution sources has remained stalled for many years and Pennsylvania’s recent giveaway to the gas industry – $1.75 billion in state subsidies to use fracked methane gas in manufacturing and petrochemical facilities through 2050 – will only encourage continued gas drilling and the pollution that comes with it. Pennsylvania residents need the EPA to require regular leak detection and air monitoring at all gas wells and compressor stations, including smaller ‘low-producing’ wells that emit half the gas industry’s methane pollution.”

“I guide tours of the gas drilling regions of Pennsylvania’s most heavily fracked county, my community, Washington County,” said Lois Bower-Bjornson, Southwestern Pennsylvania Field Organizer for Clean Air Council. “My family and neighbors need this federal rule to combat the negative health impacts, including cancer risks that have increased during the rapid, unregulated expansion of gas drilling in the last decade. A new study by the Clean Air Task Force concluded that 3.3 million Pennsylvanians will be exposed to more than a 1-in-1,000,000 cancer risk in 2023, caused by hazardous air pollutant emissions from the oil and gas industry, mostly in Southwest PA. Pennsylvania will have more residents than any other state in the country exposed to increased cancer risks caused by the gas industry.”

“Philadelphia needs the EPA to reduce methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) pollution from the oil and gas industry now!,” said Ivana Gonzalez, Community Outreach Coordinator at Esperanza, a faith-based community-focused nonprofit organization in Philadelphia. “Philadelphians just went through what could be recorded as the city’s hottest summer ever. For the Hunting Park community, which studies have shown to be one of the four most severe urban heat islands in the city, the consequences of excessive heat and poor air quality are very real. 

Lengthy heatwaves increase heat-related illnesses and deaths while significantly raising costs for those with access to home cooling. Poor air quality increases upper respiratory illnesses like asthma, which affects the children in our community two to three times as much as the children from other parts of the city. Excessive heat coupled with poor air quality means that our community members cannot take a breath of fresh air while sitting with a neighbor outside on a summer day without putting their health and wellbeing at serious risk. 

Simply put, excessive heat and poor air quality breaks up communities by forcing people to stay inside where they have more control over temperature and air quality. The gas industry can quickly make simple technology upgrades that will reduce air pollution across the country, protecting public health while wasting less gas. The choice should be simple.”

CONTACT: Russell Zerbo, advocate, rzerbo@cleanair.org, 215-567-4004 ext. 130

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Episode 8: Breathing a Little Easier in Your Apartment

Thu, 11/10/2022 - 07:55

In the eighth installment of “On Air with Clean Air Council,” we follow the story of an apartment building creating a healthier environment for its residents. Thomas Wynne Apartments President Cathy Lockyer Moulton and Leasing Manager Kathryn Willcox give us insights into their journey transitioning to a smoke free apartment building. Find out what challenges and benefits they faced in this process and learn some tips if you want your apartment building to be smoke free.

Learn more about Clean Air Council at Cleanair.org and about the Smokefree program here.

Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts or listen to all past episodes at cleanair.org/on-air

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Advanced Recycling Is Not The Answer To The Plastics Crisis

Thu, 11/10/2022 - 07:44

In April 2022, a Texas-based chemical company named Encina announced plans to build a $1.1 billion petrochemical facility in Point Township, Pennsylvania. The proposed facility would process 450,000 tons of plastic waste—or approximately the amount that would fit into a domed football stadium—each year to extract petrochemicals. It calls the process “advanced recycling” and says  the facility would use first-of-its-kind technology to help “build a circular economy” and fight climate change. 

Despite those lofty claims, Encina has provided remarkably few details about its actual plans. There are important, unanswered questions about the proposed plant’s impacts on public health, the environment, its safety, and its economic viability. Given the poor track record of the “advanced recycling” industry, residents are rightly skeptical. With Encina hoping to move forward to build the plant quickly, Pennsylvanians need answers now. 

What Is “Advanced Recycling”?

In recent years, it has become increasingly clear how little of the plastic we use is actually recycled (only five percent in the United States) and how dangerous plastic pollution has become. There is so much plastic in our environment that the average person eats about five grams—or one credit card’s worth—of microplastics each week. In response to this onslaught of bad PR, the plastics industry proposed a new strategy for addressing public concern about the plastics crisis: “advanced recycling.”

Traditionally, when plastics are recycled, they are collected, sorted, cleaned, melted down, and turned into new plastic products. “Advanced recycling,” which can more accurately be called “plastics processing,” covers a range of chemical processes that decompose waste plastics to extract fuels or chemicals, and leave behind hazardous waste. In theory, these plastics processing plants can handle contaminated, impure, and low-quality plastics by breaking parts of them down into their original building blocks. 

Plastics along the Delaware River Banks (Photo by Kelly O’Day)

While that sounds appealing, the reality of plastics processing is much more complicated. Depending on the specific process in question, plastics processing can cause a range of very significant environmental problems. The recycling process  generally involves burning chemicals, which has enormous consequences for air pollution, public health, and climate change. It can also create massive amounts of hazardous waste—in 2019, a single plant created over 500,000 pounds of hazardous waste, which included benzene, lead, cadmium, and chromium. On top of everything else, plastics processing plants have not proven to be economically viable. Notably, a recent investigation by Reuters showed that most plastics processing plants that opened in recent years have already shut down. 

Encina’s Proposal Creates More Questions than Answers

With Encina suggesting  a construction schedule that would begin this fall, the public knows remarkably little about Encina’s proposed plant. We know that the facility would be Encina’s first plant, as well as the first plastics processing plant in the region. We also know that the plant would utilize untested technology with no track record at any other plastics processing facility, and Encina refuses to share the details of how its technology would actually work, in the name of protecting its proprietary technology.

Unfortunately, this leaves the public with a lot of important and very basic questions that have gone unanswered:

  • What is this technology that Encina is proposing? Is it safe for workers, residents, and the environment of Point Township?
  • If the process is safe, then why is Encina seeking exemptions from existing environmental regulations and protections?
  • How does Encina plan to collect 450,000 tons of plastic waste each year and what does it plan to do with the new products it creates?
  • On its website the company claims to have raised $75 million, but where does it plan to get the $1.1 billion it will need to build the plant? Is Encina relying on taxpayer subsidies?

Based on the few details that have been made publicly available, some experts are already saying that Encina’s plans do not seem plausible

The plastics industry has used a lot of lofty rhetoric about the potential of “advanced recycling” to solve the plastics crisis and fight climate change. So far, the results have been disappointing. Now Encina is making the same grand pronouncements about the proposed Point Township plant. In order for Pennsylvanians to believe them, or even believe that the plant is economically viable, Encina has a lot of questions to answer. 

In the meantime, Clean Air Council is working hard to hold Encina accountable. On October 25, 2022, Clean Air Council brought a legal challenge to a permit waiver for the proposed Encina plant, which would have exempted Encina from the requirement to apply for a processing facility permit under the Solid Waste Management Act. Clean Air Council will continue to push for answers from Encina and make sure that the proposed facility complies with environmental laws. 
For more information contact Alex Bomstein at abomstein@cleanair.org and at 215-567-4004.

Categories: G2. Local Greens

A Gas Power Plant Would be Disastrous for Chester, PA

Thu, 11/10/2022 - 07:43

Right under our noses, plans for a new liquified natural gas plant and export terminal are taking shape in Chester. The $6.4 billion project that would expose Chester residents to deadly air pollutants and make it the latest victim of the powerful and profit-driven natural gas industry. Chester residents must tell their elected officials – this polluting project is wrong for our city and our future.

New York-based firm Penn American Energy LLC has decided that Chester’s waterfront is a preferred site for its terminal, targeting a warehouse complex situated on the Delaware River just a few miles north of Subaru Park. The site will produce LNG from natural gas mined in Pennsylvania and serve as an export terminal to ship the gas to other countries. All the while polluting the city of Chester without even returning the product back into the community to fuel homes or businesses.

The proposed facility is nearly identical to another whose construction was successfully shut down by concerned community members and environmental groups, including the Clean Air Council, in Wyalusing, Pa., just northwest of Scranton. The Wyalusing LNG production plant would have been allowed to emit more than a million tons of climate-polluting greenhouse gases every year, as well as hundreds of tons of noxious air pollutants that would have impacted the local community. If an LNG plant and terminal comes to fruition in Chester, it would bring the same damaging impact on the residents’ quality of life.

In its publicity campaign to garner local support, Penn America claims that the facility will bring more than 4,000 construction jobs to Chester while increasing city and state tax revenues. Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland has stated that LNG would be a “financial boon” for the city. But Penn America and Mayor Kirkland fail to consider the adverse impacts of the project on a community that’s already facing environmental and socioeconomic burdens.

Chester is identified as a disadvantaged community by the Biden administration’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. The city meets six out of eight categories of criteria – only one has to be met for the designation. One of the categories Chester meets is legacy pollution due to its proximity to sites with known or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants, and to facilities using extremely hazardous substances. The city’s low median income and high unemployment and poverty rates contribute to the designation as well.

Adding another source of pollution would be a death sentence for Chester residents. What’s worse is the outputs of the Penn American plant wouldn’t even be used in the surrounding areas to power PA homes and lower the cost of electricity for Chester residents. It will be shipped to foreign countries continuing to fuel the world’s reliance on dirty energy. Additionally, the construction of the plant doesn’t even guarantee sustained job growth. The LNG market could all but dissipate by the time the terminal is up and running, leaving residents without jobs in a city that’s overcome with pollution.

In an attempt to distort arguments against the project, Penn America has promised to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from the site and to power it with electricity and renewable energy. It’s a promise that will be difficult to keep as the liquefication process to produce LNG requires a substantial amount of energy and is commonly powered by the natural gas itself – most facilities use 8-10 percent of the supply to power the operations. While disguised as an economic necessity for Chester, the LNG terminal would be yet another example of a community being exploited by the natural gas industry to line the pockets of a corporation that’s not even based in Pennsylvania. To keep their air clean and community safe, the people of Chester must come together and show Mayor Kirkland that an LNG terminal is misguided and a threat to the future of our community.

Joseph Otis Minott is the Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Skepticism Remains About Hydrogen And Carbon Capture Systems Benefiting Our Climate Goals

Thu, 11/10/2022 - 06:50

Over the last 12-18 months in climate and energy circles, there’s been an enormous amount of attention and hype surrounding the potential use of hydrogen (H2) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The Council has written explainer blogs on each (hydrogen and CCS). Congress made significant tax credits available over the next decade for hydrogen production and for installation of CCS technology in the Inflation Reduction Act; and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with $8 billion over the next five years to invest in 6-10 “regional clean hydrogen hubs” (or H2Hubs) across the country. The fossil fuel industry, in particular, has hyped hydrogen as a potential silver bullet, a supposedly low-carbon replacement for all sorts of fossil fuel uses that is itself derived from fossil fuels.

A simple framework for understanding how to address the climate crisis and achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century is “decarbonize the electric sector and electrify everything.” That’s a useful bumper sticker, but there are more difficult-to-abate sectors that will not as easily be able to embrace direct electrification. These include certain industrial sector activities (e.g., steelmaking, cement and chemical manufacturing, ammonia production) and heavy transportation sources (e.g., long-haul heavy duty trucking, aviation, and maritime shipping). Hydrogen and CCS could potentially serve as technology pathways to decarbonize these sources. That’s the hope anyway.

With DOE having officially released a funding opportunity announcement for H2Hubs last month (concept papers from applicants are due in early November), we must seriously consider whether Pennsylvania stands to benefit from a potential H2Hub. Can hydrogen and CCS serve as viable options for decarbonization, or are they just another distraction, another way to lock us into continued fossil fuel use and further investments in fossil fuel infrastructure? At Clean Air Council, we remain deeply skeptical that hydrogen and CCS deployment will benefit our climate goals, and we view the rush to build out “blue” hydrogen in Pennsylvania with significant concern.

Credit: TANJA GEIS FOR EARTHJUSTICE

Given Pennsylvania’s massive reserves of methane gas, and given the entities most aggressively pushing for federal H2Hub funds in Southwest PA (including EQT, Shell, and US Steel), we are certain that PA-produced hydrogen would be derived from methane. That’s how most hydrogen is made today around the world, referred to as “gray” hydrogen. When paired with CCS technology at the site of production, it can then be referred to as “blue” hydrogen; that term is used very sloppily, though, because proponents don’t seem to care much about just how effective CCS technology is at actually mitigating carbon emissions. And CCS, even if it did capture 95+% of carbon dioxide emissions, would not solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions from blue hydrogen. Methane is a very leaky gas, and Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry already emits over 1.1 million tons of methane annually. Methane has up to 87 times the heat trapping effect of carbon dioxide, and it leaks at every stage of the gas production and transportation process. These upstream methane leaks can be mitigated by robust, comprehensive regulations at the state and federal level, but no control requirements will ever achieve zero methane leakage. And blue hydrogen production will require even more methane than gray because methane is utilized to power the CCS process. Hydrogen itself is the smallest molecule in the universe and is far more leaky than methane. While hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas, if it leaks into the atmosphere it will interact with greenhouse gases and exacerbate warming effects.

Meanwhile, CCS is a 50-year old technology with truly variable results in actually capturing and storing carbon dioxide. The majority of projects historically have used CCS for enhanced oil recovery, which is a way to produce more oil and, consequently, more emissions. Only about 10-20% of CCS projects have actually stored carbon in dedicated geological structures without using it for enhanced oil recovery. CCS is currently in use worldwide at certain gas processing plants, industrial facilities, and a very small number of electric power plants. Close to 90% of proposed CCS capacity in the power sector has failed at the implementation stage or was mothballed early. CCS, like hydrogen production, is a very energy-intensive process given the need to capture, transport, and compress carbon dioxide in order to inject it underground. The number of failed or underperforming CCS projects worldwide significantly outnumbers any successful experiences thus far.

These are all major concerns on the production side of a potential blue hydrogen hub, but we are also concerned about potential end-uses of hydrogen in Pennsylvania. There is talk in Harrisburg about using hydrogen not just in niche applications like steelmaking or for heavy-duty vehicles but also to blend it with methane at gas-fired power plants or pipe it as a heating fuel into residential homes. These are inefficient, unsafe, and wildly expensive options that must not be pursued. Hydrogen makes gas pipelines more brittle, which poses catastrophic risk of explosions. Existing gas appliances like stoves, furnaces, and water heaters are not designed for hydrogen-methane blends. And hydrogen is significantly more expensive than methane, so blending any hydrogen into city distribution systems will inherently increase ratepayer costs. Again, hydrogen is an energy-intensive resource. Its production and use incur a chain of energy conversions and losses. These losses make hydrogen a costly option for most  applications, particularly where those can easily be served by more efficient solutions (renewable generation in the power sector and electric heat pumps for residential heating and cooling). Hydrogen must be deployed only when it serves the most efficient pathway to a decarbonized economy, complementing proven and readily available alternatives.

To be clear, green hydrogen is no panacea either. “Green” hydrogen is made from water via electrolysis, which is powered by renewable energy sources. Each form of hydrogen production involves different challenges and tradeoffs given its energy-intensiveness. As of 2020, Pennsylvania produces only about 4% of its electricity from renewable sources. We simply do not have excess capacity of renewable generation lying around that can be utilized for green hydrogen production. We need to massively scale up renewable energy to decarbonize our electric sector as quickly as possible. There is likely room in a decarbonized economy for green hydrogen to serve as a precious, expensive resource that has niche applications in more difficult-to-abate sectors. But that’s not what’s being talked about here in Pennsylvania.

Groups across Pennsylvania have a diversity of perspectives on whether, and to what extent, hydrogen and CCS should play a role in economy-wide decarbonization. At minimum, any production, transport and utilization of hydrogen must be: (1) subject to stringent and well-enforced community protection standards; and (2) must meet strong lifecycle emissions standards and be consistent with a pathway to net-zero GHG emissions by no later than 2050. There are so many other questions that remain unanswered. How large a footprint would an H2Hub have? How many hundreds of miles of pipelines would need to be built? How much state taxpayer money would be needed for cost-matching purposes? Clean Air Council will remain fully engaged on these issues moving forward, but we are deeply concerned that the conversations happening now – the push for blue hydrogen now – will ultimately fail to make sense from either a climate or financial perspective.

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Staff Profile: Staff Attorney Annie Fox

Thu, 11/10/2022 - 06:49

Staff Attorney Annie Fox started at the Council as a legal intern, before being hired as a staff attorney. Fox brings a unique perspective to the Council from her time living in Florida and working to protect the Florida Everglades.

Where are you from and what’s your background? 

I’m from Miami, Florida, so I grew up enjoying the sun, afternoon lightning storms, being surrounded by ducks, and with little lizards darting across my path. Even close to a big city, I spent time in large trees and in the water, so I always felt connected to nature. As a child, I felt a sense of wrongness as wildlife was replaced by urban sprawl, and I suppose that is where my environmentalism took root. My first major environmental actions were working to protect and restore the Florida Everglades, and I think the idea of becoming an environmental lawyer first arose when, after college, I served on the Executive Board of Friends of the Everglades. 

You waited to go to law school, though. Why?

I always loved science, particularly biology. So, I majored in biology at Swarthmore College, then traveled out west studying population ecology. I wanted to help figure out how to best restore ecosystems, but I soon realized that as much as doing so requires more scientific knowledge, there was a more immediate need for laws and policies to protect them. I was also surprised to learn how many of the beneficial laws we have simply aren’t enforced without the efforts of groups like the Council. So, I returned to law school as an older student with a family, and whenever that felt daunting, I thought about how Marjorie Stoneman Douglas began a new career as an environmental champion in her 70s when she founded Friends of the Everglades.

How long have you been with the Council?

I was an intern in the summer of 2018, and have been back for about 11 months.

What’s your expertise you bring to the Council? How do you use it to fight for a cleaner environment?

I think my science background is very helpful. One of the exciting features of environmental law is the need to continually become conversant in various technical matters, like understanding the engineering involved in power plant construction to evaluate permit conditions, or the biology of an area being impacted by a project. I am comfortable picking up scientific literature and diving into numbers, which is an asset in environmental advocacy.

Also, I grew up at the intersections of various cultures, which helps me understand the needs and motivations of various individuals and groups involved in environmental issues. I was raised below the poverty line, yet had the privilege of attending an elite private school. I was by far in the religious and ethnic minority in school, yet in many ways still benefited from white privilege in other areas of life. That background helps me appreciate where people are coming from when approaching environmental issues, has taught me both how easy it is to erroneously attribute motives to people, and the importance of active listening. I think it also makes me more sensitive to the environmental justice challenges that permeate environmental issues.

I also developed useful skills during the years I served on the Environmental Advisory Council for the Borough of Swarthmore, including time as Chair. That experience gives me valuable insight into the nuances of local politics, the sometimes unexpected ways in which communities are impacted by environmental issues, and the value of open space and a healthy environment to people’s daily lives.

Why did you want to return to working for the Council after being a legal intern? What’s your favorite aspect of working here?

I love that I get to do work that matters by helping both the environment and people. I also enjoy the variety of the work, getting to be involved in both regulatory matters and litigation. Most of all, though, I love the people at the Council. Everyone I have worked with is not only deeply committed to the issues, but is genuine, kind, and passionate, often with fascinating outside interests and hobbies. I am honored to be part of a community that cares deeply about the world.

What are you working on? 

Right now I am primarily working on challenges to permits for potential new power plants. In granting the permits, the agencies skipped important steps like evaluating the true costs of the proposed projects to Pennsylvanians, and in some cases would allow illegally high levels of harmful air emissions.

What legal battles or challenges are you following closely in Pennsylvania?

The legal challenges to Pennsylvania joining RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, may have far-reaching consequences to our ability to fight climate change. Also, I am watching the courts’ evolving stance on the environmental rights of Pennsylvania’s residents which are protected by the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Those rights were ignored for a long time, and I am proud of the Council’s advocacy to ensure that the people, including future generations of Pennsylvanians, receive the full protections guaranteed by our Constitution.

Categories: G2. Local Greens

The Council Joins New Program To Educate People on Pay Per Mile Car Insurance

Thu, 11/10/2022 - 06:47

Simply put, the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation is to drive less. The Council recognizes that it is not possible for most of us to completely give up driving cars, but pay-per-mile (PPM) insurance provides an effective incentive to drive as little as possible.

Pay-per-mile auto insurance is a win-win for car owners and the environment. You’ll save money as you keep CO2 out of the atmosphere. It’s a simple consumer choice that changes how we think about the way we use our cars. If widely adopted, PPM could contribute to a significant reduction in the region’s carbon output.

Studies from the US Department of Transportation and a range of experts have shown that car owners with insurance that’s linked to mileage drive about 5-15% less. This means this one simple change can be an effective strategy for reducing transportation emissions, even at an individual level.

Unlike fuel, conventional auto insurance costs the same amount each month, no matter how much you drive. PPM turns insurance, a major fixed cost of auto operation, into a variable cost that you control. You’re rewarded for reducing the miles that you drive each month.

Clean Air Council is excited to announce to its members a new program to educate people about Pay-Per-Mile and non-owner insurance as an emissions reduction strategy.

Pay-Per-Mile insurance benefits Clean Air Council in two ways:

  • It advances our mission because with PPM insurance you are likely to drive less, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the region’s air.
  • It provides financial support to the Council. Binding coverage through the link below, provided as a courtesy to our constituents, helps to fund programs that enable us to continue to protect everyone’s right to a healthy environment.

If you are a low-mileage driver (or are currently driving less due to the pandemic), now is a great time to consider the environmental benefits and monetary rewards that can be achieved by switching to pay-per-mile. Clean Air Council is pleased to connect you to a licensed insurance entity to learn how much you can save. The process is easy, simple and quick.

To learn more about Pay Per Mile insurance, email transportation@cleanair.org

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Clean Air Council Criticizes Signing of Massive Methane Giveaway, HB1059

Thu, 11/03/2022 - 12:19

Harrisburg, PA (November 3, 2022) This afternoon, Governor Wolf signed 66 bills into law, including House Bill 1059, a roughly $2 billion tax credit package, over 90% of which goes toward supporting additional fracked gas (aka methane) extraction and combustion. A gut-and-replace amendment to HB1059 – a previously unrelated tax code bill – was introduced in the Senate Appropriations Committee on October 26th. The completely revamped legislation passed the PA Senate that afternoon and the PA House that evening. The bill provides up to $50 million annually in tax credits for manufacturing facilities located within a future Regional Hydrogen Hub that purchase and burn either methane or hydrogen (2024-2044). The bill also provides an additional $30 million annually in tax credits for petrochemical or fertilizer facilities that purchase and burn Pennsylvania methane as a feedstock (2024-2050).

Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council, issued the following statement:

“We knew HB1059 would become law once it was presented to Governor Wolf. His administration directly negotiated this package and aggressively pushed for it to be rushed through during the last week of legislative session in Harrisburg. Even so, Clean Air Council remains deeply disappointed and alarmed. The text of this bill was publicly available for less than 12 hours before passing through both chambers in the General Assembly. There’s a reason this was negotiated in the dark.”

“Investing an additional $30 million on methane subsidies every single year through 2050 to support a petrochemical refinery boondoggle in Luzerne County is awful policy for state taxpayers and our climate. And the $1 billion investment in manufacturing facilities that burn methane inside a potential Hydrogen Hub has the potential to drive more methane and carbon pollution. The bill doesn’t even define “clean hydrogen” in a manner consistent with the U.S. Department of Energy’s proposed Clean Hydrogen Production Standard, but rather as any hydrogen that “demonstrably aids achievement” of that standard, a massive loophole. Pennsylvania must join the rest of the country in an all-out mobilization to confront the climate crisis, and billions in additional fossil fuel subsidies are simply unacceptable. The next administration needs to internalize this message and embrace a different path.”

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Changes are Coming to Philly’s Bus System and SEPTA is Looking for Bus Riders’ Input

Tue, 11/01/2022 - 08:44

SEPTA recently released their draft bus network redesign, which overhauls the entire bus system with the aim of making bus lines more convenient, reliable, and easier to understand for riders. This redesign includes big changes to the network as well as individual bus lines. 

From now through December, SEPTA is hosting a series of in-person and virtual community meetings to hear what bus riders think about these changes. If you are a SEPTA bus rider, make sure to take a look at the network redesign and show up to your local meeting to give your feedback to SEPTA.

Here are the upcoming in-person community meetings:

  • 11/3 Thu, 4–6 pm: Chester City Hall Community Room, 1 E 4th St, Chester, PA 19013
  • 11/5 Sat, 1–3:30 pm: East Passyunk Community Center, 1025 Mifflin St, Philadelphia, PA 19148 
  • 11/9 Wed, 3–5 pm: Lucien Blackwell Community Center, 761 N 47th St, Philadelphia, PA, 19139
  • 11/10 Thu, 5–7:30 pm: Kingsessing Recreation Center, 4901 Kingsessing Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19143 
  • 11/12 Sat, 2:30–4:30 pm: Upper Darby Free Library Municipal Branch, 501 Bywood Ave, Upper Darby, PA 19082 
  • 11/15 Tue, 5:30 – 7:30 pm: Lower Merion Administration Building, 75 E Lancaster Ave, Ardmore, PA 19003 
  • 11/16 Wed, 6–8 pm: The Liacouras Center, Fox-Gittis Room, 1776 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19121 
  • 12/8 Thu, 5:30–7:30 pm: SEPTA, 1234 Market St, 3rd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19107

In addition to these in person meetings, SEPTA is also hosting virtual conversations on Monday nights where community members can share their thoughts about the draft network. These, like the in-person meetings, will each focus on a specific neighborhood.

Here is the schedule for virtual community meetings:

  • 11/7 Mon, 6:30-7:30 pm: Northwest PhillyRegister
  • 11/14 Mon, 6:30-7:30 pm: South PhillyRegister
  • 11/21 Mon, 6:30-7:30 pm: Bucks & Montgomery CountiesRegister
  • 11/28 Mon, 6:30-7:30 pm: West PhillyRegister
  • 12/5 Mon, 6:30-7:30 pm: North PhillyRegister
  • 12/12 Mon, 6:30-7:30 pm: Center CityRegister

Attendees at both the in-person and virtual meetings will be entered into a prize raffle, but more importantly this is an opportunity for bus riders to let SEPTA know their thoughts before these changes are finalized. 

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Clean Air Council Appeals Permit Exemption for Proposed Petrochemical Facility in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania

Tue, 10/25/2022 - 11:18

NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY, PA (October 25, 2022) Today, Clean Air Council brought a legal challenge to a permit waiver for the Encina plastics processing facility proposed for Point Township, Northumberland County. The facility, planned to be sited next to the Susquehanna River, would be a significant source of harmful pollution for surrounding communities. As it stands, Encina would be exempt from the requirement to apply for a processing facility permit under the Solid Waste Management Act.

Encina’s plastics processing technology is relatively new and misleadingly called “advanced recycling” by the company. It is closer to incineration. While Encina is not disclosing the details of its process, emissions from plastics processing facilities like the one proposed for Northumberland County may be even more hazardous than those from conventional solid waste incinerators. In addition to the dangerous emissions, the facilities typically generate hazardous ash, which is then shipped offsite for disposal.

Encina is proposing to shoehorn two phases of its Point Township project into a state permit exemption that is only allowed for the second phase: the “advanced recycling” phase. This exemption could allow Encina to avoid the requirement for a solid waste permit that is intended to protect the community. Therefore, it is premature for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to grant any exemption for the facility as a whole. An exemption for Phase 1, which only mechanically processes solid waste, would never be appropriate.. 

“Encina is trying to fool the public into believing that its unproven plastics processing technology is clean ‘recycling’,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Clean Air Council Executive Director and Chief Counsel. “DEP shouldn’t be compounding the problem by letting the proposed waste processing plant avoid a waste processing permit. Bottom line, Encina is proposing a dirty petrochemical facility that is greenwashing itself as a sustainable business and skirting the permitting process.”

“I am normally in favor of recycling as an environmentally sustainable practice but there are just too many unknowns about this unproven technology and the air and water pollution that will be associated with the project for me to support it,” said Sandy Field, Lewisburg, PA resident. “Producing these toxic chemicals right next to the river that provides our drinking water just seems like a bad idea.”

Categories: G2. Local Greens

Conservation Organizations Urge DEP to Deny Transco Water Permits for Transco’s Proposed Gas Pipeline Expansion in Exceptional Value Waters

Thu, 10/13/2022 - 15:04

Local, regional, and state environmental groups submitted 28 pages of comments to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Wednesday, calling on DEP to deny the water crossing and earthmoving permit applications for the Transcontinental Gas and Pipeline Company’s (Transco) Regional Energy Access Expansion (REAE)  gas pipeline expansion. The comments highlight multiple deficiencies and errors included in Transco’s Chapter 102 and Chapter 105 permit applications, such as not accounting for the needs of water quality and miscounting wetland acreage, among other issues. DEP recently held a public hearing and open comment period on Transco’s permits, with the public comment period ending on October 12th at 5 PM. 

Transco is proposing to construct the REAE methane gas pipeline, which would include 22.3 miles of 30-inch-diameter pipeline in Luzerne County, PA, 13.8 miles of 42-inch-diameter pipeline in Monroe County, PA, a gas-fired, turbine-driven compressor station in Gloucester County, NJ, and several other modifications to existing pipeline and compressor stations. The pipeline would damage 114 Exceptional Value wetlands, 77 bodies of water supporting cold water fisheries, 39 High Quality streams, 2 Exceptional Value streams, 17 Class A Wild Trout Streams, 57 waterbodies with naturally reproducing trout, and 297 acres of forests. As a recent report from Our Pocono Waters states, our rivers and streams provide enormous value — environmental, social, and economic benefits to our communities. 

“If Transco’s applications are approved, it would allow harmful open cuts across sensitive high quality and exceptional value streams and wetlands, destroying riparian buffers and floodplain habitats across the watershed,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and Leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, “We have documented damage from past pipelines using similar crossing and cutting techniques, so we urge the PADEP to deny the application based upon evidence of past harms.”

“The Brodhead Watershed Association raises concerns about water quality and quantity impacts to Chestnuthill Township’s Lake Mineola & Lake Mineola Marsh.  The proposed pipeline will open a trench and cut directly through hydrologically connected Exceptional value (EV) wetlands. Transco indicates that part of this complex will suffer permanent impacts.  Dividing up connected wetland complexes undercuts the intent of wetlands protection and the spirit of the Chapter 105 regulations,” said Alexander Jackson, PhD., Executive Director of the Brodhead Watershed Association.

“REAE is yet another destructive pipeline project designed to line the fracking industry’s pockets at the expense of the integrity of our lands and the quality of our air and water,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director & Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council. “DEP should reject the application for its failure to meet the basic requirements for a safe and well designed project.”

“The waterways that this pipeline will cut across are among the highest quality streams in the Commonwealth and are entitled under the law to the highest protections, notes Jessica O’Neill, senior attorney at Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, “The Department must not allow repeated cuts to these special protection waters, particularly in the service of the fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.” 

To view the joint comments submitted to PADEP, please visit:  https://bit.ly/OrgTREAEComments

 To view Transco’s application, please visit the PADEP’s Pennsylvania Pipeline Portal: https://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/ProgramIntegration/Pennsylvania-Pipeline-Portal/pages/default.aspx

Categories: G2. Local Greens

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