Thursday, December 8, 2016

DEP Presents National Mine Land Reclamation Award To Amerikohl For Beaver County Quarry

The Department of Environmental Protection Wednesday announced it has presented a National Association of State Land Reclamationists award for mine land reclamation to Amerikohl Aggregates for their work to remediate and reclaim land at their McMillen Limestone Quarry in Vanport, Beaver County.
“Amerikohl has been a leader in conducting remediation efforts on lands while still continuing mining operations,” said DEP Executive Deputy Secretary John Stefanko, who presented the award. “Their efforts to reclaim and minimize the impacts of mining on the neighboring community are all top-notch.”
DEP nominated Amerikohl for the award, citing the company’s work to reclaim land mined for limestone contemporaneously with mining operations. This work has resulted in land that is back in agricultural production within a year of being mined.
The Vanport Limestone is the principal mineral being mined, but some coal is also encountered and extracted incidental to the limestone recovery. The limestone is about 20’ thick and is mined under cover ranging from 20 to 120 feet.
The mining is accomplished using a block strip method which allows reclamation to be performed on a contemporaneous basis as the mining operation advances through the reserve.
One of the operator’s goals from the initiation of this operation has been to accomplish as contemporaneous reclamation as practicable. This was achieved and exemplified by the fact that hay crops were harvested the last 2 years on areas reclaimed over the previous 3 years.
Reclamation, including planting, began in 2013 and has progressed every year since.
Secondary to the goal of maintaining contemporaneous reclamation is to keep the active footprint of the operation to a minimal configuration that will allow them to mine efficiently, meet production goals, minimize their presence in the neighborhood, and, to the extent possible, make that presence as compatible as possible with the ongoing life of the surrounding community.
This spring the operator built an outbound truck wheel washer to address a recurring problem of trucks tracking fine limestone dust from the site onto local streets where it would be dispersed into the atmosphere and eventually settle out on houses and cars. The wheel washing efforts have proven successful in minimizing off-site impacts.
Click Here for a complete list of 2016 NASLR Reclamation Award winners.

Township Supervisors Respond To Act 13 Drilling Impact Fee Report

David Sanko, Executive Director of the PA State Association of Township Supervisors, issued the following statement commenting on Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s audit of Act 13 drilling impact fee collection and spending by local governments--
“We commend Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on undertaking this review of the state’s municipalities and counties receiving the gas well impact fee and some recommendations for improving spending, reporting, and oversight requirements but must also point out that his findings are based on a review of spending in only 20 of the 1,487 municipalities receiving these funds and some of the conclusions are faulty or misdirected.
“Expenditures that are permissible by law should not be held out as ‘wrong’ because some in Harrisburg may have different personal spending priorities.
“We feel confident that our member townships are indeed following the Act 13 spending and reporting guidelines. PSATS has been diligent in communicating these requirements to its members and has published numerous articles about the act and the 13 categories of eligible expenditures laid out in the law. In addition, we have run several articles in our magazine about the many wonderful ways townships are spending the impact fee money to improve their communities.
“If the auditor general takes issue with the commonwealth’s rules governing the eligible expenditure of the gas well impact fees, he should not take that out on our member townships, who have only been abiding by the rules as laid out in Act 13, the impact fee law. We welcome the opportunity to comment and engage on any improvements to Act 13 just as we support efforts to improve the Open Records Law after a period of time has passed since its initial enactment.
“The auditor general also noted findings of overpayments to some municipalities, but these calculations are based on the current PUC guidance of ‘total budgeted revenues,’ which conflicts with the PUC’s final implementation order of May 26, 2012, which is what municipalities have been complying with.
“The auditor general should consider recalculating the alleged overpayments based on the rules in place when the reports were due to the PUC. This shows confusion on the part of the auditor general’s office with the PUC’s guidelines.
“We also take exception to what appears to be the auditor general’s – and thus the commonwealth’s – poorly veiled attempt here to go on a hunting expedition for money that they think is better spent by the state, not the deserving municipalities that are the most impacted by gas well drilling directly in their communities. This appears to be yet another Harrisburg insiders’ attempt to take money from the local level and put it in state coffers.
“These impact fees have provided approximately $856 million for projects in every corner of the commonwealth since 2012. This funding has been a game-changer for local communities.
“More than 60 percent of the collected funds go directly to communities most impacted by drilling, with those hosting the most wells receiving the largest checks. Municipalities are using the revenues for a range of eligible projects – from road and bridge infrastructure and public safety to environmental programs and planning for the future. All of these investments directly benefit the citizens and businesses impacted by the energy industry.
“If the auditor general would like to see changes to the law to clarify the PUC’s spending and reporting requirements, we are open to offering our input on any legislation introduced to amend the law.
“In the meantime, we believe that the overwhelming majority of our member townships are properly using the impact fee money for current projects and future spending as authorized by Act 13 and the PUC’s guidelines for the expenditure of these fees. Funding spent on ineligible categories should stop immediately.”
Related Story:
Auditor General: 24% Of Act 13 Impact Fees Found To Be Spent In Unauthorized Ways By Local Governments

Analysis: 2017 PA Environmental Policy Initiatives In 140 Characters Or Less

Since major public policy decisions are now made in 140 characters-- or less, here are three Tweet-worthy environmental initiatives to suggest to Pennsylvania policymakers in 2017 under one 6-word theme-- Green Infrastructure, Multiple Benefits, One Investment--
-- Tweet #1: #GreenInfrastructure: Cheaper, More Effective, Jobs @realDonaldTrump Fund It #Multiple Benefits, One Investment
-- Tweet #2:  #EnergyEfficiency: Least Costly, Jobs, Reduces Business/Home Costs, Clean #Multiple Benefits, One Investment
-- Tweet #3: #RealEnviroRegReform: #Cut Public/Private Costs-Not Effectiveness, #State Not Federal Control, #Public’s Right-To-Know
Oh, you need more?  Here you go--
1. #GreenInfrastructure: Cheaper, More Effective, Jobs @realDonaldTrump Fund It #Multiple Benefits, One Investment
Fact: After more than 30 years of experience, it is clear green infrastructure offers a cheaper, more effective way to deal with the pollution problems we face today and offer multiple benefits from a single investment.  Green infrastructure includes forest buffers, stormwater infiltration areas, porous pavement, parks and recreation areas, passive mine drainage treatment, stream restoration, preserved land and more. The multiple benefits include reductions in water pollution, providing recreation, wildlife habitat and they make economic contributions to the community.  There are no magic bullet, single purpose, cheap black box technology solutions to our water quality issues. [Sources: Western PA Conversancy, LandStudies and Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA]
Fact: Philadelphia, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Lycoming, Monroe and York counties and many other communities are turning to green infrastructure with multiple benefits to meet water quality goals, improve recreation and achieve other objectives with a single investment.
Fact: Clearly Pennsylvania’s need for green infrastructure is there: 19,000 miles of polluted streams, 184,000+ acres of abandoned mine lands, 2,000 family farms on the waiting list for preservation, thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells, communities in need of help to reduce stormwater pollution and nutrient loadings across the Commonwealth.
Fact: Several proposals were introduced in the Senate and House at the end of 2016 to fund up to 26 different environmental programs financed by a new water use fee or unnamed sources of revenue.  But none are focused on really providing the most cost-effective solutions-- green infrastructure.  How can funding 26 different single-purpose programs possibly be effective?
-- Target. Target. Target: Refocus funding efforts at the state level with more local control to emphasize green infrastructure investments and demand projects achieve multiple benefits from a single investment to get the biggest bang for the taxpayer’s buck.  Green infrastructure investments aimed at reducing water pollution also need to be targeted to areas on the landscape where they will do the most good, further increasing their effectiveness.  Continuing to disperse scarce state resources on dozens of different, single purpose programs that will collectively have little real impact just doesn’t seem smart with today’s fiscal realities.
-- Trump Infrastructure Program: President-Elect Trump has promised a major infrastructure program.  Cost-effective green infrastructure should be included as a major part of that initiative.
-- RECLAIM PA:  Develop a state-funded program with the same multiple benefits of reclaiming abandoned mine lands, improving water quality, recreation resources and habitat as well as creating local economic opportunity as the federal RECLAIM Program.
-- Federal AML Fee Reauthorization: Pennsylvania should aggressively start NOW to lobby Congress and the Trump Administration to reauthorize the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation fee to support multiple benefit, single investment mine reclamation projects.
2. #EnergyEfficiency: Least Costly, Jobs, Reduces Business/Home Costs, Clean #Multiple Benefits, One Investment
Fact: Energy efficiency employs over 66,000 workers at 5,900 clean energy companies in Pennsylvania.
Fact: The Commonwealth’s existing Energy Efficiency Resource Standard has resulted in the state’s utilities achieving a 2TWh/year energy savings cumulatively through May 2015 with a reported benefit-cost ratio of 1 to 1.64.
Fact: The PUC’s 2015 Energy Efficiency Potential Study for Pennsylvania shows the maximum achievable potential cumulative energy savings is 13.2 percent (relative to the June 2009-May 2010 baseline) by 2025.
Fact: Groups as diverse as the Philadelphia Energy Coordinating Agency and the Office of Consumer Advocate have been recommending energy efficiency as the most cost effective way to solve the state’s energy problems for years.  Some take-aways: “The Cheapest Kilowatt hour or cubic foot of natural gas is always the one that is not used….” “Pennsylvania is allocating almost 90 percent of all current funding to treat the symptoms of this problem: high bills, and only 11 percent in ways that can actually reduce the size of the problem.”
-- Target. Target. Target: Let’s find creative ways to direct existing resources, like the Utility Gross Receipts Tax, business technical assistance programs (PennTAP, EMAP) and other state resources now treating the symptoms of energy use to investments in energy efficiency that result in multiple benefits of saving energy, permanently reducing energy use (and bills) for businesses and residents and producing jobs.
3. #RealEnviroRegReform: #Cut Public/Private Costs-Not Effectiveness, #State Not Federal Control, #Public’s Right-To-Know
Fact: Asking whether Pennsylvania’s environmental laws are more stringent than federal laws-- Yes or No-- like Senate Resolution 385 did is the wrong question.  It’s wrong because it implies the feds-- Congress and the President-- always have Pennsylvania’s best interests at heart.  They don’t. That’s why states show leadership and act in their own interests, and with respect to protecting the environment, far ahead of the federal government. That’s called states controlling their own futures.
Fact: On the other hand, if you believe the feds have all the answers, then you need to accept what the feds are saying about Pennsylvania’s environmental programs.  DEP’s Drinking Water Protection, PennVEST, Chesapeake Bay, Stormwater Pollution Control, Air Quality and Surface Mining programs have ALL been criticized as inadequate by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Office of Surface Mining in the last year.  The criticism is based primarily on DEP not having adequate staff and funding to fulfill minimum federal requirements.
Fact: DEP’s General Fund monies have been cut by 40 percent and staff by 22 percent over the last 13 years without a commensurate reduction, but in fact an increase in, its responsibilities.  General Fund support in FY 2016-17-- $148.3 million-- is below 1994-95 levels-- $165.5 million.  DEP has been forced to raise permit review and administration fees on the industries and local governments they regulate to make up for a portion of funding they lost.
Fact: Even with these cuts, DEP makes its permit review deadlines on the 37,000 or so applications it reviews each year about 89 percent of the time, even when 80 percent of the time applications are not complete and 30 percent have technical deficiencies.
-- Target Unneeded, Unnecessary, Costly Regs/Policies: The RIGHT question to ask is what is REALLY driving private compliance costs and the public costs of administering environmental programs?
To address part of both costs we already have a model: Gov. Ridge’s Executive Order 1996-1 that’s dormant, but still in effect and requires state agencies like DEP to evaluate existing regulations and policies related to costs and effectiveness and whether they go beyond federal requirements without justification.
At DEP in 1996, the Order resulted in a systematic review of regulations carried out over several years through the Regulatory Basics Initiative.
It worked through a transparent process with DEP’s advisory committees and the public on section by section reviews of regulations and technical guidance.  It also solicited suggestions from business and industry on which specific provisions were burdensome without protecting the environment.
The result of that effort was saving individuals, businesses and local governments $138 million in compliance costs, the elimination of nearly 5,000 pages of outdated regulations and more than 1,700 pages of unneeded technical guidance and 29 packages of regulatory changes.
We need to go through a similar, transparent process today because we’ve added new regulations and policies since it was last done the last time and DEP has far fewer resources.
-- Why Do We Do It That Way?: In 2012, in response to Gov. Corbett’s Executive Order 2012-11 re-establishing the Permit Decision Guarantee Program, DEP did a review of permitting processes and policies to cope with the dramatic cut in state funding for its programs.  Do this process again with an eye toward automating the permit process and because DEP faces new resource challenges and with the creative involvement of advisory committees, the public and applicants.
-- Invest In Information Technology:  DEP is investing in electronic permitting systems to reduce both public and private costs and the administrative “friction” of processing applications, in spite of having 30 percent less technology funding than it did a decade ago.  Investing in information technology, after the permit review processes themselves are straighten out, must be a priority if policymakers want to see real improvements in the permit processing times given the staff cuts DEP suffered.
-- Consultant Scorecard:  Of course if 80 percent of the applications still come in the door incomplete and 30 percent have deficiencies, then an electronic process will not speed up the process.  Why not create a scorecard for each consultant submitting application to DEP just on the completeness issue and release it to the public?  DEP already has the information and its staff knows, but the public doesn’t.  Why not use it?  The alternative is creating a list of “approved” consultants, but that would create its own problems.
140 Characters+
In contrast to these kinds of real answers, Senate Resolution 385 asks for a Yes or No.  It isn’t that simple, although people want it to be.  It takes hard work in a transparent process to bring about real change; after all legislators and DEP work for the public that expects results AND a clean environment.
It also takes policymakers who look at real facts, like how many of the 37,000 or so permits DEP reviews every year really get stuck in the process and for what specific reasons (remember the 30 percent deficiencies and 80 percent incomplete numbers).
Most times, 140 characters are not enough to solve problems, let alone identify them, but there are solutions that don’t involve simply throwing away Pennsylvania’s decades of leadership on environmental protection.

More Legal Maneuvers In Shale Industry’s Challenge To DEP Drilling Regulations

The Marcellus Shale Coalition late Wednesday file an action in Commonwealth Court to put on hold an automatic stay the Department of Environmental Protection received Tuesday when it filed an appeal involving the MSC’s challenge to certain sections of DEP’s Chapter 78a drilling regulations.
Tuesday DEP filed an appeal of a Commonwealth Court’s temporary stay of DEP’s implementation of the section of the regulations being challenged by the MSC.
On November 8, Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson put a temporary stay on sections of the new rules  until the court can consider the merits of an industry group’s challenge to the month-old regulations.
The judge sided with the Marcellus Shale Coalition and stopped implementation of narrow sections of the rules related to public resource protections, large fluid holding ponds, well site restoration standards and monitoring for underground hazards around fracking operations.
He found that some aspects of the rules might exceed regulators’ authority to impose them and that the costs of complying with those provisions now would cause the industry irreparable harm if the sections are later found to be invalid.
“Today DEP has filed an appeal of the Commonwealth Court decision to enjoin sections of the Chapter 78A unconventional drilling regulations to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” said Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.  “By the decision issued on November 8, the Commonwealth Court temporarily stayed limited provisions contained in the new regulations. These regulations establish basic protections for areas that could be impacted by unconventional drilling – places like schools, playgrounds, and other public resources. That ruling resulted in a narrow temporary stay, which DEP is now appealing.
“These commonsense regulations were the result of five years of public participation, including dozens of meetings with natural gas industry leaders and trade groups, as well as nearly 25,000 Pennsylvanians who made their voices heard by providing public comments,” said McDonnell.
DEP’s appeal alleges an error of law on the part of the Court in issuing the temporary stay because, among other things, the Marcellus Shale Coalition presented no evidence to the Court about specific harm it would suffer if the disputed regulations would be implemented.
As a matter of routine procedure, DEP was granted an automatic stay of Brobson’s November 8 action until DEP’s appeal could be heard.
The Court has not set a hearing date on the merits of the case.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition filed a lawsuit against DEP’s implementation of its Chapter 78a regulations that apply to Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling operations on October. 13.
Among the allegations by the MSC were--
-- Expanding the responsibility of drillers to avoid and protect threatened and endangered species, which the industry says goes beyond current state or federal law;
-- Requiring operators to identify and plug any nearby abandoned well, which drillers say would require them to obtain access to property they do not control, and would impose plugging liability for wells the operators do not own;
-- New rules governing centralized freshwater storage ponds, which the industry says are not authorized by Act 13; and
-- Other rules governing site restoration, spill-reporting, and waste-disposal permitting.

Penn State: Big Data Approach To Water Quality Applied At Shale Gas Drilling Sites

A computer program is diving deep into water quality data from Pennsylvania, helping scientists detect potential environmental impacts of Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
The work, supported by a new $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, pairs a cross-disciplinary team of Penn State computer scientists and geoscientists studying methane concentrations in the state's streams, rivers and private water wells.
"We want to take a data-driven approach to assess the impact of shale gas development," said Zhenhui "Jessie" Li, assistant professor of information sciences and technology, Penn State, and co-principal investigator on the project. "We are using data-mining techniques and learning computer models to look at how methane concentration correlates with other factors, like distance from unconventional shale gas wells and geological features such as faults."
Methane occurs naturally in waterways, but may also be released by unconventional drilling, or fracking, associated with natural gas development.
While environmental impacts from shale drilling appear to be rare compared to the number of drilled wells, the testing will give scientists a better idea of how and why they do occur.
Penn State geoscientists have studied methane concentrations around shale gas drilling for years and have collected large datasets from samples taken by researchers, environmental groups and government agencies.
However, sifting through big data is labor intensive, and complex patterns that might reveal potential problems can be difficult for humans to spot.
"It's always been frustrating to me because we get these water datasets that are sort of here, there and everywhere, and you can't put them together into a scientific explanation," said Susan Brantley, distinguished professor of geosciences and director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, Penn State, and principal investigator on the project. "It's like a jigsaw puzzle with a lot of pieces missing. The story is still there, but you can't see it as a human being. I think it's possible the computer techniques that Jessie has can help us pull that story out and fill in some of the missing pieces."
Li uses computer models and data mining techniques to analyze the data for hot spots, areas where methane concentrations are higher than expected and may not be readily explained by natural causes. Geoscientists can then focus on those narrow areas for further study.
Using the techniques, Li and her team found methane levels tend to be higher around fault lines. But the models can go further, analyzing the impacts of different shale gas wells and older conventional gas and oil wells around the faults.
"The combination of these two features may cause the methane to be slightly higher in some areas," Li said. "It could be a very complicated rule involving multiple factors together. So the way the machine-learning model works is from this massive data, we can learn these kinds of complicated rules."
The work could lead to a better understanding of how fracking, orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells, and other factors occasionally impact the environment. As part of the project, researchers will train citizen scientists to collect additional water samples and will host workshops aimed to share the data with the public and foster dialogue among diverse stakeholders.
"I think it's going to be helpful for people in Pennsylvania," Brantley said. "I think what we've found is if there are problems, they are relatively infrequent. But we are also starting to look at other issues like lead or arsenic in drinking water. We can see the impact of coal mine- and acid mine-drainage. We can look at all different kinds of water resources, and we can work with people in Pennsylvania to teach them about it."
The researchers said the project also provides important, cross-disciplinary opportunities for students from the Colleges of Earth and Mineral Sciences and IST. Computer science students have had the rare chance to go into the field, while geosciences students have had the opportunity to look at their data in way that was previously unavailable to them.
"I'm just a person who really likes interdisciplinary work, because I want to make real-world impacts," Li said. "I feel like data-mining researchers should go in this direction. There are a lot of interesting real-world problems we can help solve."
Funding for the project comes from the NSF Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE) program, which seeks to support bold, interdisciplinary projects in science, engineering and education.
The U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Environmental Protection provided data used in this project.
For more information, contact Dr. Brantley by calling 814-865-1619 or or send email to: sxb7@psu.edu.   Dr. Li can be contacted by calling 814-863-6517 or sending email to: jessieli@ist.psu.edu.

Feature: Rx For Better Health: Get Outdoors! Special New Year’s Day Hikes On Tap

It’s that time of the year again when our waistlines get a little tighter from the food and festivities of the holiday season. For some, stress levels increase which also can lead to weight gain and other health issues.
A new year is upon us and we make New Year’s resolutions to live healthier lives. Many purchase gym memberships and exercise equipment that goes on sale. But, what if we told you that you getting healthier and happier doesn’t require gym memberships and tons of exercise equipment?
What if we said that you can get healthier and reduce stress by just getting out and enjoying the outdoors?
In addition to getting fresh air and discovering the wonders of nature, outdoor recreation can help obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and mental health issues.
During the past few years, numerous studies and articles have been published connecting health and happiness to outdoor recreation. But did you need a study to tell you that? Haven’t you ever noticed that you felt better after engaging in outdoor activities?
Studies have shown that spending time in a natural setting with trees, plants, or water can: Boost your immune system; Lower your blood pressure; Improve your mood; Reduce stress; Increase your ability to focus; Increase your energy; and Improve your sleep.
In addition, engaging in regular outdoor activity provides a number of physical health benefits as well, including lower blood pressure, reduced arthritis pain, weight loss, and lowered risk of diabetes, certain cancers, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that adults perform at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as biking or walking; or 75 minutes of intense activity, such as hiking or cross country skiing every week.
Instead of the same scenery in a gym, try taking your workout outdoors with some of these popular year-round outdoor activities:
-- Walking: A brisk 30 minute walk a day is all it takes to burn calories, tone your muscles, and improve your health. Someone who weighs 150 pounds and walks a normal pace for 60 minutes can burn as much as 250 calories, and more with brisk walking or walking uphill.
-- Biking: Biking burns more calories than walking, is gentle on your joints, and is great for strengthening your leg muscles. The amount of calories you burn biking depends on how much you weigh and how fast you cycle. A 150-lb. person biking at less than 10 mph will burn 270 calories in 60 minutes.
-- Trail Hiking: Hiking is a powerful cardio workout that exercises almost every part of your body. A 160-lb person can burn between 430 and 440 calories per hour of hiking. The more you weigh, the more calories you burn in an hour of hiking. In addition, when you hike at a high intensity for 45 minutes, you’ll burn an additional 190 calories after you are done with hiking later in the day.
Don’t let the winter season prevent you from enjoying the outdoors. For those times when snow is on the ground, try either snowshoeing or cross-country skiing:
-- Snowshoeing: This low-impact activity provides a cardio workout that burns more calories than walking, running, hiking, or biking. Depending on the terrain, speed you are walking, and depth of snow, a 150-pound adult can easily burn 450 calories in an hour.
-- Cross Country Skiing: This low-impact, full-body cardio workout burns more calories than most activities while also building muscle. The average person burns 400 to 500 calories per hour cross country skiing at slow pace. Moderate cross country skiing burns 500-550 calories in an hour.
New Year’s First Day Hikes
Start the New Year with a resolution to improve your health by spending more time outdoors.
Let DCNR help by joining us for one of our free, guided First Day Hike events on January 1 at state parks and forests.
Check out DCNR’s Calendar of Events for a First Day Hike near you. Check back often as first day hikes still are being added.
Don’t get discouraged if there are no First Day Hikes near you, Gather some family and friends and take a first day hike on your own at a local park near you.
With more than 5,800 local parks across the state, you can find a place to recreate outdoors on January 1st and the rest of the year!
For more information, visit DCNR’s website, Click Here to sign up for the Resource newsletter, Click Here to be part of DCNR’s Online Community,  Click Here to hook up with DCNR on other social media-- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
(Reprinted from the December 7 DCNR Resource newsletter.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy.)

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