News

05/16/2019 - It isn’t easy being green: New research explores potential downside of nudging people to behave differently

Nudges can be attractive mechanisms to achieve public policy outcomes — they’re relatively cheap, often painless ways to get people to change their behavior. But can they backfire?

05/15/2019 - Poll finds most Pennsylvanians think climate change is major public health risk

51 percent of those surveyed in a new Muhlenberg College poll called climate change a major health risk.

05/14/2019 - New Jersey sues companies over PFAS contamination

Mike Groll / AP Photo

In this June 15, 2016 file photo, a girl holds a sign during a news conference at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., calling for hearings on the state’s handling of PFOA contamination in drinking water in Hoosick Falls.

New Jersey filed a lawsuit Tuesday against eight manufacturers and sellers of firefighting foam that included forms of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a class of unregulated toxic chemicals that has polluted soil and water nationwide.

The lawsuit, filed in the state’s Superior Court, alleges consumer and environmental fraud.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal says the eight companies knew for decades that PFOA and PFOS used as a main component of firefighting foam would contaminate the environment.

“The corporations we’re suing today knew full well the health and environmental risks associated with this foam, and yet they sold it to New Jersey’s firefighters anyway,” Grewal said. “Their conduct was unconscionable, and we’re going to hold these companies accountable.”

The complaint says after use in fighting fires or in routine training sessions, foam-laced water runoff polluted streams, rivers, lakes and underground aquifers.

The lawsuit builds on recent actions by the state to have manufacturers such as DuPont and 3M pay for cleanup. In addition to DuPont and 3M, other companies named in the suit are Tyco Fire Products, Chemguard, Buckeye Fire Equipment Company, Kidde-Fenwal, National Foam, and The Chemours Company.

PFAS chemicals were also used in stain-resistant clothing, non-stick cookware, and flame-retardant products. They are known as the “forever chemicals” because they stick around in people and in the environment. Scientists are just beginning to research the impacts to public health. Research has linked exposure to health problems ranging from high cholesterol to certain cancers.

The lawsuit claims product liability, negligence and creating a public nuisance. The claims under the Consumer Fraud Act relate to “deceptive and fraudulent business practices” in advertising and selling their products to local fire departments.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection found that three lakes surrounding Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to have “significant damage” from the chemicals and advised residents not to eat the fish, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit also points to “elevated levels” of PFOS and PFOA in Atlantic City’s water reserves. The state expects to find more contamination as it continues to measure the chemicals.

New Jersey has been at the forefront of working to regulate PFAS, citing a lack of action from the federal government.

Several companies defended their roles in the manufacture of fire-fighting foam.

In a statement, 3M says it is committed to protecting the environment.

“3M acted responsibly in connection with its manufacture and sale of AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship.”

A spokesman for Tyco and Chemguard, divisions of Johnson Controls, also said the company acted responsibly.

“We make our foams to exacting military standards, and the U.S. military and civilian firefighters have depended for decades on these foams to extinguish life-threatening fires,” wrote Johnson Controls spokesman Fraser Engerman in an email.  “They continue to use them safely and reliably for that purpose today. We will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

A spokesperson for The Chemours Company said it was “puzzled” by the suit.

“Chemours does not manufacture, formulate or sell firefighting foam and does not use PFOS or PFOA in the production of any of its products.”

Chemours is a spin-off of Dupont, and currently manufactures another type of PFAS known as GenX.

The other companies named in the lawsuit could not be reached for comment.

05/14/2019 - DEP orders Energy Transfer to restore streams it ‘illegally eliminated’ in Western Pa.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday ordered a pipeline company to restore streams it illegally eliminated or altered while building a pipeline that opened last year.

The Revolution pipeline had only been working for a week when it exploded in Beaver County in September, destroying one home.  

The DEP says it found out about the stream damage while investigating the explosion.

The agency said Energy Transfer, the pipeline’s owner, illegally eliminated at least 23 streams during construction by filling them with soil. That led to a loss of nearly 1,900 feet of stream channel. Another 1,300 feet were lost when the company shortened the lengths of 120 other streams, mostly unnamed tributaries to streams in Beaver and Butler counties. The agency said the company eliminated “at least 17, and altered 70” wetlands during construction. 

“DEP’s investigation of the explosion and the construction of the pipeline has found numerous violations impacting the streams and wetlands located along the length of the pipeline,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said, in a news release. “This order continues our strong commitment to hold all pipeline operators accountable for any actions that illegally impact Pennsylvania’s environment.”

The company didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

It’s the latest in a series of orders the agency has issued to the company after the September explosion, which occurred as a result of a landslide after a period of heavy rainfall.

In October, the agency ordered the company to fix inadequate erosion control measures in several locations along its route, including unreported landslides and erosion into streams.

By February, the agency said it wasn’t pleased with the company’s progress, and told the company it wouldn’t review any more of its permits until it complied with the October order. That halt, which also applies to the company’s Mariner East Pipeline from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, remains in effect, said DEP spokeswoman Elizabeth Rementer.

As part of the October order, the agency told the company to update its erosion permits for the pipeline. In a Feb. 21 letter to DEP, the company reported the illegal damage to streams. The company said it would “replace streams that are no longer present” and fix other damage it has caused by “spring of 2019.”

The order issued Tuesday “establishes a timeline with specific orders for addressing the impacted waterways and wetlands that ETC identified in the Feb. 21 letter as well as for performing a full assessment of the pipeline to identify waterways and wetlands that were impacted by construction,” Rementer said in an email.

The order mandates the company identify and repair all stream damage along the 40-mile route of the Revolution line by July 30. 

Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger said the company has had “productive discussions” with the DEP, and is “already moving forward with a number of restoration activities.” It will “continue to work with DEP until the issues are resolved, she said.

05/13/2019 - U.S. Steel hit with another six-figure fine over excessive emissions

The Allegheny County Health Department announced Monday that it’s fined US Steel more than $300,000 for air pollution violations at the Clairton coke works during the first quarter of 2019.

The fine is unrelated to the agency’s court case against the company over a Christmas Eve fire that knocked pollution controls offline at the plant. For more than three months after the fire, the company emitted excessive levels of sulfur dioxide at its three plants in the Mon Valley.

The fine issued Monday is for “excessive visible emissions” at the plant’s batteries, which make coke by baking coal at high temperatures.

Including Monday’s fine, the county has levied a total of $2.6 million in penalties against the company for air violations over the last year.

Earlier this month, the agency asked to join a lawsuit by environmental groups over violations at the plant as the result of the fire.

The company is appealing three other fines issued since June 2018. A health department hearing officer is expected to issue a decision soon on the appeal over a June 2018 order, which fined the company over $1 million and threatened to idle some of the plant’s worst-performing batteries.

It’s appealing a $600,000 fine issued in October 2018 and a $700,000 fine issued in March 2019.

It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest fine.

The company recently announced $1 billion in upgrades to its Pittsburgh-area plants that it says will, in part, help with air quality concerns.

A look at Clairton’s emissions problems (data as of mid-April 2019):

 

05/11/2019 - Confronting climate change: WITF Smart Talk

Hear from people in different walks of life dealing with climate change.

05/10/2019 - Providing PFAS-free water to customers in Warminster, Horsham comes at a price

Toxic chemicals in the PFAS family don't break down in the environment and can contaminate drinking water. For one municipality, the cost of cleaning up that water has run into the millions of dollars.

05/10/2019 - With new lookout towers, Pennsylvania goes old-school to detect wildfires

Many states have ended lookout programs. But in Pennsylvania, the state agency that oversees forest districts thinks spotters in towers are the best way to catch fires early and prevent them from spreading. So the state just spent more than $4 million on 16 new towers.

05/08/2019 - Three Mile Island will close Sept. 30, as nuclear rescue legislation stalls in Harrisburg

The political, historical, and energy landscape of Pennsylvania made nuclear subsidies a tougher sell here, compared to other states.

05/07/2019 - Range Resources turned down in request to see reporters’ documents, communications with sources

A Washington County judge has denied a request by natural gas driller Range Resources to subpoena testimony and documents from employees of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The ruling was filed Friday in the Court of Common Pleas.

The material was related to the settlement of a contamination lawsuit filed by a Washington County family against the company.

In February, the Post-Gazette asked a judge to unseal the September 2018 settlement, between Range Resources and Stacey Haney, an Amwell Township woman who claimed Range polluted the air and water at her family’s home.

The company then subpoaneaed two reporters, David Templeton and Don Hopey, and Sally Stapleton, the newspaper’s former managing editor, asking to depose them while also requesting documents and communications between sources for an investigative story the newspaper ran in January about an attorney general investigation into oil and gas activities.

The Post-Gazette argued those records were protected by the state’s Shield Law, which prevents reporters from having to reveal confidential sources. Attorneys for the paper called the request “a bad faith effort to harass and intimidate a free press.”

On Friday, Judge Katherine Emery ruled the newspaper employees don’t have to turn over their documents or testify. Emery wrote the Shield Law must be “liberally construed in favor of the news media.”

But the judge turned down the newspaper’s request that Range pay its legal fees. The judge denied that request.

Melissa Melewsky, an attorney for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, called the ruling a victory for the Post-Gazette and for the continued strength of the state’s Shield Law.

It’s encouraging that the Court agreed that the Shield Law applies in this case and prohibits compelled disclosure,” Melewsky said. “It’s disappointing that she didn’t award the attorney’s fees but ultimately that falls to the discretion of the Court based on the facts of each individual case.”

Melewsky said the Shield Law is very clear–to protect journalists’ use of confidential sources in reporting stories.

“Once a reporter promises confidentiality to a source, the government cannot make them disclose the identity of their confidential sources,” said Melewsky. “And that’s so that there can be a free flow of information without government interference between the news media and the public they serve.”

Attorneys for Range had argued that the documents and information it sought were necessary to “test the veracity” of the Post-Gazette’s request to unseal the Haney settlement; the newspaper argued that its reporters only found out about the September, 2018 settlement while reporting a January 28, 2019 story.

If the newspaper had known the existence of the confidential settlement earlier, a judge might consider its request to unseal it nearly half a year later ‘untimely’. “Range has reason to doubt the truth of (the Post-Gazette’s) statements,” its lawyers argued.

But Emery ruled against Range’s request, which included correspondence or documentation between the newspaper and unnamed sources quoted in its January 28 story.

In her opinion, issued Friday, she said the Shield Law’s protection for confidential sources meant the newspaper employees “cannot be required to disclose any information that could lead to the disclosure of their sources.”

A hearing on whether the Haney settlement should be unsealed is scheduled for May 28.

The Haney case is the subject of the book ‘Amity and Prosperity’ by journalist Eliza Griswold, which won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Spokesmen for Range Resources did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hopey said via email: “We really don’t have anything more to say about his decision which is part of an on-going legal action.”