Your Environment Update for September 10, 2015

  • Pope Francis during a visit to Brazil in 2013. The Pope is set to visit Philadelphia on September 26. Photo: Tânia Rêgo/ABr

September 10, 2015

Pennsylvania Preps for New Rules on Carbon Emissions

While some states like West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan are fighting new climate rules set by the Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania is already looking ahead at how to comply with the new regulations. The federal Clean Power Plan, which mandates state reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, would require Pennsylvania to cut its footprint from coal-burning power plants by a third by 2030.

Neil Shader, a spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Protection, says the state is now looking at a variety of ways for meeting the new targets—including promoting the use of renewables, replacing coal with natural gas and facilitating energy efficiency measures in low-income communities.

The DEP will hold public hearings around the state in the coming months, including one at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on September 21. The state will also accept written comments about the plan until mid-November.

Is the Pope Behind Philly's Flurry of Gas Leak Fixes?

All across Pennsylvania, leaking natural gas pipes are a big problem. According to a 2014 analysis of federal data by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the hidden, aging pipeline network sprang more than 31,000 leaks in 2013. That’s an average of one every 17 minutes.

But in Philadelphia right now, crews with the city’s gas utility are hard at work, ripping up the streets to replace its old, leaking pipes. And some are wondering if the flurry of activity has anything to do with the fact that Pope Francis is set to visit in just three weeks. Philadelphia Gas Works spokesman Barry O’Sullivan says that while the utility has stepped up replacement of its old gas mains, it has nothing to do with the Pope.

“Right now, we have a little under 1,500 miles of pipe that we want to decommission,” he says.

But it turns out, the utility is taking some papal precautions.

During the Pope’s visit, the utility is sending a team of workers into the streets with special SUVs and hand-held devices that can detect or “sniff” methane leaks— the kind that can lead to dangerous explosions.

O’Sullivan says most of the pipes that run below the Ben Franklin Parkway, where two of the major papal events will take place, have already been replaced within the last couple of years.

“That work has been done. Now it’s a question of just going back to make sure that after all the cold winters or other events on the parkway, that nothing has happened to our infrastructure.”

And if it has, O’Sullivan says crews will fix the leaks right away.

Study Links Roundup to Health Problems

A new study finds that the chemical in the herbicide Roundup might be tied to liver and kidney damage.

The study was conducted at King’s College London, and published in the journal Environmental Health. The researchers continuously exposed rats to very low doses of Roundup, amounts well below what is allowed in U.S. drinking water today. They found distinct and consistent changes in the liver and kidney genes of the exposed rats.

The key ingredient in Roundup is used widely in agriculture. The researchers say their findings suggest regulators should reconsider the safety of these herbicides.

California is considering listing the chemical in Roundup as one that is “known to the state to cause cancer.”