city, downtown, buildings

State House Votes for “Green Buildings”

New state construction projects would have to meet high-performance energy standards under legislation that’s just passed the House with a 163 – 32-vote.  Supporters call it a win for both the environment and the taxpayer.

PennFuture policy director Steve Stroman says “green buildings” typically use 20 – 40% less energy.  “A green building may cost 2% more up-front, but over the life of the building cost the taxpayer 20 – 30% less money, so they’re great investments.”   

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery), says the payback for a “green building” typically appears after four to seven years.  But if the state is building long-term, she says it needs to be thinking long-term.  

“We never build a building that we don’t intend to have around for 30, 50 or even 150-years,” Rep. Harper tells Radio PA.  “So to bake these energy efficiency standards into the building in the beginning makes sense economically.” 

HB 34 would require the Department of General Services to develop energy-efficient standards, which will be used when building or renovating a state-owned or leased facility.  Both the House and Senate passed similar bills last session, but the differences were never reconciled.  HB 34 now awaits consideration by the state Senate.

Environmental Groups Unveil Guidelines for Lawmakers

A coalition of five, statewide environmental groups has created a series of guidelines they want lawmakers to follow this session.  “We’ve outlined five issues we think are likely to appear before the legislature in some fashion during the year, and wanted to give them an early opportunity to understand what it means to be in favor of the environment,” says Conservation Voters of PA Executive Director Josh McNeil.  “Almost every public official will claim to be in support of protecting our environment.  Now they know what that actually means when it comes to voting.” 

The document is called the 2013 Environmental Guidelines for Pennsylvania Legislators

For instance, with action likely on the state’s transportation funding crisis, McNeil stresses the need to include mass transit.  “Public transportation provides incredible economic benefits and reduces significantly the pollution we put out as we move back-and-forth in life,” he says.  “A single busload of passengers saves on carbon and global warming pollution from dozens of cars.” 

Other issues addressed in the guidelines include: funding restorations for state environmental agencies and “green” standards for the state’s capital construction projects, among other things.   

The other four groups to help craft the guidelines are Clean Water Action, PennEnvironment, PennFuture and the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter

They’ll all be watching this session’s legislative activity, and keeping constituents apprised of their lawmakers’ environmental voting record.

Hiking, River, Trees, Overlook, Nature

Appalachian Trail Turns 75 on Tuesday

There was no precedent for the Appalachian Trail in 1921, when Benton MacKaye dreamed it up as a wilderness refuge for people in the big cities of the eastern United States.  The first section was constructed in 1922, and the entire trail was completed on August 14th, 1937.

Spanning 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail is in Cumberland County, PA.  That’s where you’ll find the Appalachian Trail Museum tucked away inside the Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  The museum is dedicated to preserving the trail’s history and sharing its stories.

A tribute to the trail’s founders is currently on display, including the typewriter Benton MacKaye used to write the initial article about the trail, and the bicycle wheel that Myron Avery used to measure the distance between the trail’s landmarks.

Back in 1937 it was hard to imagine somebody hiking the entire trail.  “It was seen as being practically endless,” says Appalachian Trail Museum president Larry Luxenberg.  “But you build it and they’ll come.”

It was more than a decade later that Pennsylvanian Earl Shaffer became the trail’s first thru-hiker.  “In 1948 he took to the trail and in four months completed the whole trail, and blazed a path for thousands of people to follow ever since,” explains Luxenberg.  Shaffer lived his entire life in York and Adams counties.

About 1,800 to 2,000 people attempt a “thru-hike” every year, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  About one in four completes the journey, which takes an average of six months.

Luxenberg was among the special guest speakers at the Appalachian Trail 75th Anniversary Weekend Celebration, which took place in Harper’s Ferry, WV.

Final Marcellus Shale Legislation Headed to Gov’s Desk

Even after years of debate, opinions are mixed on the so-called compromise bill that emerged from a conference committee this week.  The Senate voted 31 – 19 on Tuesday, and the House followed suit with a 101 – 90 vote on Wednesday. 

The legislation will allow counties to authorize a per-well impact fee (between $40,000 – $60,000 in year one) that will generate needed revenue, according to County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania government relations manager Lisa Schaefer.  “We’ve been talking for quite some time about the broad nature of the impacts that are facing our local communities from Marcellus Shale Drilling,” Schaefer tells us.  “Without a direct revenue stream coming back to help offset that, the impact’s been falling back on our local taxpayers.” 

The most obvious local impact from Marcellus Shale is the wear and tear on roads and bridges, but the behind-the-scenes effects include greater demand for county services.  60% of an imposed impact fee would stay local; the other 40% would be used for a variety of statewide environmental programs, like hazardous site cleanup or flood control. 

Should a county decide not to impose a fee, its municipalities would still have the chance to band together and force their hand under the law. 

The bill would also impose stricter new drilling standards and environmental safeguards, but PennFuture President & CEO Jan Jarrett says there are too many waivers and exceptions.  “What we need in Pennsylvania are world class drilling standards, and these regulations that are contained in HB 1950 are woefully short of that goal,” Jarrett explained in a telephone interview. 

The issue of local zoning was hotly debated on the House floor, as critics balked at standardized rules that would require local governments to allow drilling in all zones – including residential.  But State Rep. Garth Everett argued that you’re not going to see a well pad in the middle of a neighborhood.  “All that we’re requiring in this legislation is that this industry be regulating just like any other industry with respect to zoning.”    He says it’s an industrial use that will be zoned like an industrial use. 

Governor Tom Corbett released a statement Wednesday afternoon that said he looks forward to signing the measure into law.  “This legislation reaffirms our strong commitment to safe and responsible natural has development here in Pennsylvania.”  He says it contains 24 of the legislative recommendations made by his Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.

Coal Ash Spill In Wisconsin Raises Concerns for Pennsylvania, Other States

Earlier this week, coal ash spilled into Lake Michigan when a cliff gave way near a power plant in Wisconsin. The Sierra Club says it’s a reminder these risks to the environment exist in Pennsylvania and other states

In 2008, two large coal ash impoundments collapsed in Tennessee, but since then little has changed to reduce the risk of environmental contamination according to Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. She says the EPA vowed to put safeguards in place but Congress has blocked the way.  

Hitt wants to see changes such as putting liners under the landfills to keep the coal ash out of contact with water and some monitoring wells to tell whether heavy metals such as mercury or lead are getting into drinking water.  She’d like to see a move away from storing the ash in big ponds.

Hitt says Pennsylvania has a couple dozen coal ash sites and some have been designated as potentially hazardous.   After the Tennessee incident, DEP ordered the re-inspection of more than three dozen impoundments in Pennsylvania.    Although it’s not officially classified as hazardous, coal ash can contain low concentrations of arsenic, lead and mercury. 

Hitt says people can go to and they can get a list of sites in their area.