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How one Philadelphia neighborhood battles rising tides

A man waves for a tow truck after getting swamped trying to cross a flooded section of the Cobbs Creek Parkway, Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in Philadelphia. Cobbs Creek and Darby Creek merge in the Eastwick section of Philadelphia where flooding is expected to get worse due to rising sea levels.

AP Photo

A man waves for a tow truck after getting swamped trying to cross a flooded section of the Cobbs Creek Parkway, Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in Philadelphia. Cobbs Creek and Darby Creek merge in the Eastwick section of Philadelphia where flooding is expected to get worse due to rising sea levels.

Joining dozens of communities across the country Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced Wednesday he has committed the city to a goal of 100 percent clean energy. It’s part of a growing effort by cities and states to reduce their carbon footprint in the wake of President Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement, a landmark international effort to cut global carbon emissions to reduce the worst impacts of climate change.

In the Philadelphia region, climate scientists say those impacts will include hotter summers, greater rain fall and floods.

One city neighborhood is already working on how to respond to rising sea levels. Climate change is not theoretical for residents of Eastwick, a neighborhood built over a marsh in southwest Philadelphia. The area is already subject to frequent and severe flooding, and researchers say it will only get worse.

At least ten high flow events since 1999 have seriously damaged about 130 properties and city infrastructure, according to the Philadelphia Water Department.

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Citizen lobbyists make progress with Republicans on climate

Activists gather outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 1, 2017, to protest President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the Unites States from the Paris climate change accord.

AP Photo / Susan Walsh

Activists gather outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 1, 2017, to protest President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the Unites States from the Paris climate change accord. Some Republican members of congress have joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, and opposed the pull-out.

Citizen lobbyist Jay Butera believes in the power of polite persistence. Nearly every week for the past 10 years, he has taken the Amtrak train down to Washington D.C. from his home in Montgomery County to convince congress to take action on climate.

“There were times when it felt like this is not going to happen,” said Butera. “This is impossible, this is the most polarized issue in congress.”

Butera is a successful entrepreneur, having created and sold two businesses. But instead of courting investors, he now spends all his time volunteering with the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. He says he’s had hundreds of conversations with Republican aides and congressmen.

But despite the recent election that had Republicans take control of both houses of Congress and the White House, Butera is suddenly having some success. And it’s not just with Democrats. Continue Reading

Philadelphia aims to cash in on solar job boom

Dennis Hajnik installs solar panels on a roof in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Dennis Hajnik installs solar panels on a roof in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County. Philadelphia has a plan to bring those panels to 500 city rooftops by the end of 2018, which it says will create 75 new jobs.

On a rooftop in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County, four men are working to install 18 solar panels on top of a four-bedroom house. They wear safety harnesses and helmets, lowering down one solar panel at a time onto metal frames. One is 21-year-old Thomas Glenn. Several years ago, Glenn dropped out of high school and was living with his parents in the Kensington section of North Philadelphia.

“You know, I was playing video games all day, listening to music,” Glenn said. “At the time I was waiting until I turned 18 so I would become a security guard or I was going to work at McDonalds.”

Glenn says solar helped turn his life around. After getting his G-E-D, he ended up in a training program for city youth, which led to this job with a small solar company.

“The money’s good, you get nice long hours and you’re doing something good,” he said.

He’s now living on his own, making $15 an hour. The more experienced crew members are making between $20 and $25 an hour.

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Lawmaker wants pipeline protesters to pay for police, cleanup costs

Feb. 22, 2017: Refuse remained in the Dakota Access pipeline opponents' main protest camp as a fire burns in the background in southern North Dakota near Cannon Ball, N.D.

AP Photo/Blake Nicholson

Feb. 22, 2017: Refuse remained in the Dakota Access pipeline opponents' main protest camp as a fire burns in the background in southern North Dakota near Cannon Ball, N.D.

New pipelines designed to carry Pennsylvania’s shale gas have taken center stage in a controversy over climate change, private property rights, and the nation’s energy future.

Protests have emerged all over the country, including an encampment in Lancaster County, where activists hope to disrupt construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline–an interstate gas transmission line approved by federal regulators earlier this year.

After the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest against the Dakota Access oil pipeline last year led to millions of dollars in cleanup and law enforcement costs, Sen. Scott Martin (R- Lancaster) plans to introduce legislation soon that would shied the public from the costs associated with protests, and make the activists pick up the tab.

However, the move raises First Amendment issues and is part of a broader national trend among state legislators to curb or limit protesting.

Friday on WITF’s Smart Talk, we discuss this issue, and a new bill that would preemptively ban local governments in Pennsylvania from imposing bans or fees on plastic bags.

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Scientists who feel under attack, to march for political clout

Marion Leary will be speaking at the rally about science communication, and hopes to get more researchers out of the lab and talking to the public.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Marion Leary with her daughter Harper making signs at Frankford Hall in Fishtown, ahead of Saturday's March for Science in Philadelphia. Leary will be speaking at the rally about science communication, and hopes to get more researchers out of the lab and talking to the public.

Thousands of marchers are expected in Center City Philadelphia on Saturday for the first ever March for Science. The event is combined with the 47th annual Earth Day observance, which is expected to draw millions of people to cities and towns across the country, with the main event in Washington, D.C. Philadelphia’s demonstration will start at City Hall, with a march that ends up at Penn’s Landing. While this celebration of science is billed as nonpartisan, organizers say it’s time that scientists become a political force in an era when evidence based decision-making seems under attack.

Philadelphia’s original Earth Day organizers turned a day into a whole week of activism, teach-ins, and concerts in Fairmount Park. At the time, protest movements and college activism focused on stopping the war in Vietnam and promoting civil rights. The idea that hundreds of people would gather to promote environmental protection was novel.

Still people like Allen Ginsburg, Ralph Nadar and Dr. Benjamin Spock came to speak. The cast from the Broadway hit Hair showed up and performed. The events of that day had enormous impact on public policy. But marches have since become routine. It begs the question on what impact scientists and their supporters will have in the age of Trump.

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Allentown teen sues Trump administration for inaction on climate

Protesters unfurl a cloth sun at the conclusion of the rally on Independence Plaza.

Jonathan Wilson / Newsworks

Protesters unfurl a cloth sun at the conclusion of the rally in Philadelphia during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Eighteen-year-old Sophie Kivlehan says she doesn’t remember when she first heard about climate change. It was a normal topic of conversation at the dinner table, one that often included her grandfather, Jim Hansen, an astro-physicist at Columbia University and perhaps one of the worlds’ most well-known climate scientists. Hansen began sounding the alarm about rising temperatures and rising sea levels back in the early 1980′s.

“Because we concluded already that if we burn all the coal, we’ve got a different planet,” Hansen said recently, speaking to StateImpact prior to an appearance at the University of Pennsylvania. “We’ll lose all the coastal cities. It doesn’t make sense burn all the fossil fuels, we need to look at energy policies now.”

But more than 35 years after Hansen published his first paper on how carbon dioxide emissions could change the planets climate, he says the U.S. government has failed to act and it’s time for the courts to force the issue. He and his granddaughter Sophie Kivlehan are suing the federal government, along with 20 other young people from across the country.

The suit, originally filed during the Obama Administration by the organization Our Children’s Trust, now faces a battle with President Trump. The lawsuit claims that the federal government has taken actions to promote the use of fossil fuels.

“When [the] legislative and executive branch, when they don’t do their jobs,” said Kivlehan, “it’s the court’s jobs to act as a check.” Continue Reading

EPA cuts would leave states with more work, less money

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has said states, "have the resources and expertise to deal with clean water and clean air issues.” But many state agencies, like Pennsylvania's DEP, are struggling to do basic things, like water inspections, amidst years of cuts.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt says states, "have the resources and expertise to deal with clean water and clean air issues.” But amid years of budget cuts, many state agencies, like the Pennsylvania DEP, are struggling to do basic tasks, like water inspections.

The Trump administration has proposed cutting 2.6 billion dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about a third of its budget.

It could mean state environmental agencies will have to do more work with less money. But in many places, those agencies are already strapped.

Late last year the EPA sent Pennsylvania a letter warning its water program was so under-staffed it was failing to enforce federal safe drinking water standards. State inspectors aren’t checking public water systems often enough.

Doing “triage”

John Holden is water production supervisor for the City of Lancaster. Standing on the banks of the Conestoga River, he watches water rush into one of the city’s two filtration plants. Inside the plant, he shows off the spaghetti-like membranes that block bacteria from getting into water for 120,000 people.

“This is what separates the dirty water from the clean water,” he explains.

John Holden

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Lancaster City water production supervisor John Holden has seen the Pennsylvania DEP get cut over the past decade.

According to Holden, the state does regularly check water quality at this plant, because it’s part of such a big system. But he says smaller water systems — for example, a school in a rural area, or a mobile home community—can get overlooked. Pennsylvania has about 8,600 public water systems.

This is a problem because it’s almost always state environmental agencies that do the work of enforcing federal environmental laws. Pennsylvania now plans to hike fees on public water systems, so it can hire more inspectors. The state Department of Environmental Protection hopes the fee increase will raise $7.5 million to pay for 33 new inspectors.

“They probably need to raise their fees, so they can do their job,” says Holden. “They’ve certainly been cut over the last 10 to 15 years. I’ve seen that.”

Over the past decade Pennsylvania’s DEP has lost about 40 percent of its state funding and 25 percent of its staff. Earlier this year, the agency’s Citizens Advisory Council sent a letter to legislators warning the budget cuts have reached an “unsustainable level.”

David Hess led the agency under former Republican Governor Tom Ridge. He now worries public health is at risk.

“I think the department, over the last 10 or 12 years, has had to do so much triage– decide what lives and dies,” says Hess. “In my opinion, it is very close to not being able to accomplish its mission.”

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EPA union fights back on Trump’s planned budget cuts

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, third from left, and Vice President Mike Pence, right, is applauded as he hold up the signed Energy Independence Executive Order, Tuesday, March 28, 2017, at EPA headquarters in Washington.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, third from left, and Vice President Mike Pence, right, is applauded as he hold up the signed Energy Independence Executive Order, Tuesday, March 28, 2017, at EPA headquarters in Washington.

New reports out of the White House shine more light on the proposed 31 percent cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency. President Trump’s current plan would eliminate 25 percent of  EPA jobs. And it would slash water protection programs, including clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay. For the Chesapeake program alone, the new documents show about 40 full-time employees will lose their jobs. And unionized EPA employees are fighting back in a way they haven’t for decades.

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Pennsylvania launches program promoting solar energy

The state is launching a federally-funded program called "Finding Pennsylvania’s Solar Future."

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The state is launching a federally-funded program called "Finding Pennsylvania’s Solar Future."

The state Department of Environmental Protection is moving ahead with a 30-month program to kick-start a major solar energy initiative called Finding Pennsylvania’s Solar Future. Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell appeared on WITF’s Smart Talk Wednesday to discuss the program, which is funded by $550,000 from the federal Department of Energy.

Although less than one percent of Pennsylvania’s energy generation is currently derived from solar power, McDonnell says he wants the state to become a solar energy leader by 2030.

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