The King of Prussia Mall is the largest suburban mall in the Philadelphia region with 400 stores, and a total of 31,500 people employed at the mall and nearby office parks. The mall is visited by about 68,000 people daily with 5,600 bus riders using six routes to and from the KOP area. Unfortunately, there is currently no rapid transit to get commuters and shoppers to the mall. That is why SEPTA and the King of Prussia business community are planning to extend the  Norristown High Speed Line, which skirts the edge of the KOP currently, the rest of the way to King of Prussia.  

Currently, it can take commuters from Philadelphia as much as two hours to get to work in King of Prussia on the bus, and drivers take an average of 70 minutes – both while navigating the unpredictable beast known as the Schuylkill Expressway. A light rail connection would ease the burden on our transit system and reduce traffic on the already congested expressways near the mall.According to the proposal, the new rail line would take around 40 minutes for the same trip, and offer an appealing option for people who have the choice between driving or public transit.

Clean Air Council was there to express its support for the project. Not only does the Council believe it will ease the commutes of transit riders and mall employees, this project will have a ripple effect on the region’s traffic problem. The more reliable transit lines the Delaware Valley has, the more likely commuters will choose to leave the car behind. This will ultimately reduce emissions, and let us all breathe a little easier.

The Council wrote a letter voicing its support, and sent Kamali Alloway, Sustainable Transportation and Special Events Outreach Coordinator, to read the letter aloud at the public hearing. You can read the letter here, and watch a video of Alloway reading the letter below. This project is still in the first stage, and its projected completion date is a few years away. Clean Air Council will keep you updated on developments as they occur. 

 

 Tell the Pennsylvania General Assembly that clean air and clean water are not for sale. 

On July 27, 2017, the Pennsylvania Senate approved a revenue package that will further decimate the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), threatening public health and damaging our environment in the process. By the slimmest of margins, the Senate voted 26-24 to adopt amendments to the Tax Code bill – House Bill 542 – which does achieve one of Governor Wolf’s long-sought goals, a severance tax on the extraction of natural gas from unconventional wells. On its own, this is a worthy policy goal. However, in exchange for what amounts to a paltry revenue increase, the Senate approved a series of environmental riders wanted by industry groups that gut DEP’s ability to act in the public interest. This is unacceptable; the state budget is not the place to debate critical protections for our air, water, and public health. DEP’s budget has already been slashed by 40 percent over the last 13 years – resulting in the loss of over 22 percent of its staff – and HB 542 would undermine DEP’s authority going forward and pose an immediate threat to Governor Wolf’s proposed commonsense controls on methane pollution.

In February, DEP published proposed general permits (GP-5 and GP-5A) that would establish cost-effective controls on methane pollution from new sources in the unconventional natural gas industry. These permits will protect public health, the environment, and Pennsylvania’s economy. Following extensive input from stakeholders and members of the public, the 120-day public comment period on the permits closed on June 5. While DEP is currently working to finalize the permits, HB 542 would allow the General Assembly to unilaterally weaken or eliminate them. Instead of working with the agency or going through the standard legislative process, this bill would create a new “Air Quality Permit Advisory Committee” – dominated by members handpicked by the legislature – that would have ultimate authority to approve (or disapprove) the permits once finalized. The bill prohibits DEP from submitting the permits to this “Committee” before 2018 and would allow industry-backed lawmakers to effectively veto these much-needed commonsense protections. This unprecedented hurdle to environmental protection is not grounded in science or designed to protect public health, it’s a transparent political game to benefit the gas industry.

Another amendment to the bill directs DEP to establish a program for third-party review of any permits issued by the agency, effectively privatizing the oil and gas permitting process in the Commonwealth. DEP would be required to contract with third-party permit reviewers, and the bill’s language includes no provisions for any supervision of these individuals or for accountability. Disturbingly, there are no conflict-of-interest provisions in the bill and permit applicants are allowed to handpick their own reviewer among those contracted with DEP. That means there is nothing to prevent a consultant from reviewing his own application. Furthermore, there are no provisions dealing with public participation, meaning there is no guarantee that third-parties handling permit applications will hold a public hearing or allow for public comment. This ill-advised approach will cede our public servants’ responsibility to protect public health and the environment to unaccountable private interests. It will undermine the integrity of the permit review process while limiting public participation and allowing for rampant self-dealing.

Finally, there is a provision stating that any permit for unconventional oil and gas development is simply “deemed approved” unless DEP denies it within the relevant timeframe (which varies from 30 to 45 to 60 days depending on the situation). Even if the relevant review period is extended for cause, this provision would require that DEP refund the permit review fee to the applicant. This radical approach puts the burden on DEP – intentionally underfunded and understaffed – to rush its permit review process and allows for the automatic approval of permits that have not been subject to appropriate agency review or public scrutiny.

Put it all together, and it is clear that HB 542 is a direct assault on Pennsylvania citizens’ fundamental, constitutionally-protected rights to clean air and pure water. Rolling back environmental and public health protections won’t balance the budget – all it does is give drillers a license to pollute. Governor Wolf has political concerns over his reelection and, in his single-minded pursuit of a severance tax, he has cut a bad deal for the people of the Commonwealth that needlessly trades away clean air and water protections. This deal should be rejected as an affront to our fundamental rights and to responsible stewardship of our public natural resources.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(PITTSBURGH, PA – Wednesday, June 27, 2017) Monday, Clean Air Council filed an action in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in order to ensure a fair public participation process for individuals wanting to submit comments on proposed air permits by the Allegheny County Health Department.

The Title V program of the Clean Air Act requires that major sources of air pollution obtain Title V permits, which are renewable on a five-year basis.  This provides the public with a means to review the requirements that apply or do not apply to a facility, and comment on proposed permits.  It also affords groups like Clean Air Council to evaluate whether the proposed permit meets all legal and technology requirements.

Clean Air Council alleges the Hearing Officer unlawfully upheld the Department’s denial of a request for an extension of time for public comment on a proposed Title V permit for the Allegheny Ludlum facility in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania.  The Title V permit application had been pending for over twenty years, and the relevant records were voluminous.  The Council alleges the Department violated federal regulations requiring “adequate procedures” for notice and comment on Title V permits.  In addition, the Council alleges the Department violated state law by having a blanket policy against extensions of public comment on Title V permits.

“It is unconscionable that  the Department would not allow community members and environmental health advocates adequate time to review a complex proposed Title V permit. One of the main purposes of the Title V comment process is to encourage impacted community members to offer their insights into how the Department might improve the permit. This is a Department that has shown time after time that it does not want serious public input.  This is not good government and this is not the law,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel, Clean Air Council. 

The Council also alleges the Hearing Officer unlawfully required the Council to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the Department had committed an abuse of discretion.  Previous decisions make it clear that the Council need only prove by a preponderance of evidence that the Department violated federal or state law.

“The effect of the Administrative Order is to strip the public participation provisions of the Title V program of nearly all meaning, at least in Allegheny County,” said Christopher D. Ahlers, Staff Attorney, Clean Air Council.

The Case is Clean Air Council v. Allegheny County, Case No. GD-17-009155.

About Clean Air Council
Clean Air Council is Pennsylvania’s oldest member-supported environmental nonprofit, fighting for everyone’s right to breathe clean air since 1967. Through research, public education and advocacy, the Council empowers citizens to fight for policies and practices that create healthier communities and a healthier environment. For more information about Clean Air Council, visit www.cleanair.org.

 

Contact: Christopher Ahlers, Clean Air Council – cahlers@cleanair.org, 215-567-4004, x 125

(June 20, 2017) – Pennsylvania elected officials held a hearing Tuesday morning to discuss regulatory oversight in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Representatives from oil and gas, manufacturing, finance, and environmental advocates testified before the panel. Environmental standards and regulations, specifically methane protections, were discussed by a number of panelists including PennFuture and Range Resources. In response, Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of the Clean Air Council, released the following statement:

 

“The oil and gas industry openly admitted that they are not looking for “regulatory relief” but want DEP to address delays in issuing permits. This is directly related to DEP not having enough funding to properly do their job, not about regulations that would drastically cut air pollution.”

 

About Clean Air Council

Clean Air Council is Pennsylvania’s oldest member-supported environmental nonprofit, fighting for everyone’s right to breathe clean air since 1967. Through research, public education and advocacy, the Council empowers citizens to fight for policies and practices that create healthier communities and a healthier environment. Clean Air Council believes everyone has a right to breathe clean air. For more information about Clean Air Council, visit www.cleanair.org.

Contact

Katie Edwards – kedwards@cleanair.org, 215-567-4004, ext. 102

PENNSYLVANIA, April 26, 2017 – From Scranton to Pittsburgh, impacted Pennsylvania residents held a number of coordinated press conferences and actions across the state to hold Governor Wolf accountable to his promise of regulating methane and harmful air pollution from existing oil and gas industry operations. Demonstrations and meetings occurred in Harrisburg and all of Wolf’s four regional offices. Everywhere methane leaks, it is accompanied by other harmful air pollutants. Pennsylvania is the second largest producer of natural gas and is responsible for emitting over 100,000 tons of hazardous toxic air pollution per year from the oil and gas industry.  

“It’s been a year and a half since the Governor announced his plan to address methane pollution, said Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Clean Air Council’s Executive Director and Chief Counsel. “While Pennsylvanians continue to breathe unhealthy air, the Governor is already taking credit for implementing methane standards that have yet to be finalized. DEP released draft standards for addressing methane pollution from new oil and gas operations earlier this year, but Governor Wolf has still not made good on his promise to regulate the operations that currently pollute the air – and has yet to even propose them. The public needs and deserves these protections and we will hold the Governor accountable until he implements them.”

“People like myself and my family, living in the shalefields, would like to thank Governor Wolf for proposing his plan to cut methane,” said Lois Bower-Bjornson of Scenery Hill, PA. “However, we still must forge ahead on much-needed protections for existing operations. Each day that goes by without these protections is another day that I worry about my family’s health and exposure to harmful pollution.”

Residents affected by natural gas operations were outraged by a recent Wolf Facebook Live Town Hall where the Governor claimed to have instituted methane emissions standards, when residents say there has been no action to date on proposing and finalizing a regulation on existing sources, the most critical part of Wolf’s methane reduction plan. In Pittsburgh, residents participating in the action collected air pollution samples from near their homes and released it outside of the Governor’s office, bringing the pollution directly to him until he regulates it.  Residents in Scranton met with Wolf Administration staff from the regional office, held an educational event, staged a demonstration with signs, and wrote letters to local papers and comments to the Department of Environment Protection calling for more action to cut methane. Advocates also came to Wolf’s offices in Harrisburg, Erie and Philadelphia to share materials demonstrating strong support from across the state for strong air pollution standards.

About Clean Air Council:

Clean Air Council is Pennsylvania’s oldest member-supported environmental nonprofit, fighting for everyone’s right to breath clean air since 1967. Through research, public education and advocacy, the Council empowers citizens to fight for policies and practices that create healthier communities and a healthier planet. Clean Air Council believes everyone has a right to breathe clean air, and we all have a role to play. For more information about Clean Air Council, visit www.cleanair.org.

 

It’s nomination time for the Clean Air Commute Awards! Each year at the Run for Clean Air, Clean Air Council awards the Clean Air Commute Employer and Clean Air Commuter award to the employer and commuter who are the most committed to sustainable commutes. Our previous winners show different ways of being an exemplary employer—see how your company compares!

Our easy entry form for the Clean Air Commute Employer Award is here, and the Clean Air Commuter form is here. Nominations close March 10, 2017.

Public Transportation Benefits

Public transportation is often a much cheaper commute than driving, but that doesn’t make it a welcome expense. With RideEco, WageWorks, and similar public transportation benefits, employers and commuters save money. Commuters pay for their public transportation with pre-tax earnings, and employers get lower payroll taxes. Some options for the programs allow commuters to receive passes at their workplace, saving time. 2016 Clean Air Commute Employer Yards Brewing Company offers employees a pre-tax benefit, and so does 2016 runner-up Elsevier.

At Clean Air Council, we often talk to commuters who say they’d gladly take public transportation to work if their workplace were more accessible. All three of the Clean Air Commute Employers and runner-up Elsevier purposely chose public transportation accessible locations. 2015 co-winners Azavea and ChatterBlast, as well as Elsevier are all located in or near Center City Philadelphia, and Yards Brewing Company is close to the subway and multiple bus lines.

Bike Parking

Providing a dry, secure, easy place to store commuters’ bikes takes half the hassle out of bike commuting. It’s so helpful and easy to offer that it’s no surprise that all of our Clean Air Commute Employers have indoor bike storage. Secure bike parking can range from an office rack to a secure, separate room. (At Clean Air Council, it’s a metal hanging rack in the conference room, and it’s full except on the wettest and coldest days.)  ChatterBlast and Azavea both have bike racks inside their offices. Yards Brewing Company has bike racks both inside and outside of its brewery in Northern Liberties, and Elsevier shares a locked bike room with its building’s other tenants. No matter the rack style, employees have the peace of mind that their bike is sheltered from the elements and theft. As a bonus, having more bikes in the office can foster a culture of biking as transportation.

Cyclist Support

Often, all it takes to get started commuting by bike is a bike-friendly office culture and a willing guide. Besides bike racks, Azavea’s offices have showers, a changing room, and lockers, so employees don’t have to worry about sweat or spandex at work. Making the cost savings between biking and driving even sweeter, Azavea helps cover the costs of employee’s bike purchases, repair, and accessories. When a non-cyclist joins the ChatterBlast team, they’re often quickly converted, thanks to ChatterBlast’s supportive culture for new bike commuters and monetary incentives for new bikes and bike maintenance. To put that cycling culture to good use, ChatterBlast often sends a team to the Bike MS: City to Shore ride. Indego, Philadelphia’s bike-share program, offers a Corporate Pass Program where employers can contribute to their employees’ monthly pass as well as receive a monthly pass discount of $3 a month below Indego’s standard monthly rate.

Flexible Hours

No matter the mode, traffic, bad weather, or public transportation delays can make commuters late or have to leave for work extra early to arrive at a scheduled time. When employers are flexible about work hours, employees can travel outside of heavy traffic times. They’re spared worry and commute time, and everyone is spared the extra air pollution from traffic congestion. With I-95 construction foreseen to continue for several more years, decongesting rush hour could prevent a lot of headaches—and air-pollution-induced illnesses. Clean Air Council hasn’t had a Clean Air Commute Employer advertise this practice yet, but it’s worth bragging about, and we certainly practice what we preach here at the Council!

Telecommuting

In an increasingly internet-based world, telecommuting is becoming an easier and easier option. You can’t beat staying at home for a time- and pollution-saving commute, so if your company offers telecommuting, let us know!

Vanpooling

Vanpooling—larger-scale carpooling with a third-party van—is a great solution for workplaces where many employees don’t have the option of public transportation or biking. Vanpooling is a great way to reduce traffic congestion, get to know your coworkers—and potentially win a Clean Air Commute Employer award.

Learning More!

Intrigued by the sound of some of these options? Contact us by calling 215-567-4004 ext. 111 or emailing ereinhard@cleanair.org. Clean Air Council’s Cleaner Commute Philadelphia program can help set your company up with any of the benefits listed above. Clean Air Council also does presentations to companies and their employers about sustainable commutes and can help companies build awareness of existing commute benefits. Clean Air Council’s presentation at 2016 runner-up Elsevier made many employees aware of the great benefits Elsevier already offered. Once you’ve built up your sustainable commute portfolio and spread the word, all you have to do is enter the Clean Air Commute Awards!

 

Dear Clean Air Council supporters and friends:

All elections have consequences and it appears to me that this election is even more impactful than others.

In the months and years ahead, it will become ever more important to make your voice heard on the issues you and I care about. The challenges that the Clean Air Council will face over the next 4 years are sure to be great. But, they were always going to be great. The Council works in a field where there is always a new mountain to climb, a new challenge to meet, or a new law to tackle head-on.

Non-profits, like the Council, are mission focused and have learned to find a path forward regardless of the odds. We persevere. Our mission, to protect everyone’s right to a healthy environment is separate from the world of electoral politics. We fight for what is right, for what is fair and just. Advocacy, community organizing and suing the government to do the right thing has always been our strategy. The Council has in the last few months gathered thousands of comments in favor of best-in-the-nation methane regulations in Pennsylvania. The Council has gathered an equally impressive amount of comments in support of the Clean Power Plan. But we have also backed up this outreach with community-based organizing and lawsuits.

This new specter of anti-environmentalism arriving in January will prompt my staff and I to work harder than ever before to ensure that Pennsylvanians are able to breathe clean air. For 49 years, we have risen to each and every challenge presented to us, from the time before there was an EPA to now when the world is more aware of climate issues than ever before. Our success is directly due to the unending support we have had through the years from our members and activists. You give me hope.

I sincerely hope that the country will not turn its back on the tremendous progress we have made in the last few years, but, if necessary, the Council will pivot to defend these accomplishments. We will continue to work at the local, state and federal levels to accomplish our goals no matter who is at the helm of our country.

You are our strength and, in the coming weeks and months, I welcome your thoughts and opinions as the Council evolves to meet this new set of challenges.

Remember two things are true, “No matter what happens, the sun will continue to rise in the morning” and the Council will continue to fight to improve environmental health.

Sincerely,

Joseph Otis Minott, Esq.
Executive Director

Cities across the world are finding success in combating poor air quality, climate change and their related health impacts with car-free days. Last year, Paris went as far as to ban vehicles in 30% of their city. As a result, nitrogen dioxide, a harmful air pollutant, dropped by 40% in parts of the city. On Butler Street in Pittsburgh, air pollution registered four times lower during their car-free event called OpenStreetsPGH. This year, on September 24th, Philadelphia will be partaking in its first designated car-free event, known as Philly Free Streets. So, what exactly is a car-free day, how will it look in Philadelphia and what are the other benefits? We’ll let the folks at Open Streets PHL, a nonprofit behind the local movement for open streets, explain:

What if we opened our streets to people for walking, cycling, playing and socializing by simply closing them off to cars for a few hours?

It’s called Open Streets and it’s a way to bring life and energy back to Philadelphia’s most underutilized public space — our city streets.

Open Streets initiatives temporarily close streets to automobiles so that people may use them for healthy and fun physical activities. Today, there are more than 100 Open Streets initiatives in the United States and Canada alone.

Many North American Open Streets organizers originally drew inspiration from Central and South American cities, where these initiatives are often called “Ciclovía.” The word Ciclovía literally translates to “bike path,” and was coined in Bogotá, Colombia when the city introduced the program in 1974. With nearly 70 miles of streets open for non-motorized activity each Sunday and holiday and 1 million participants on a weekly basis, Bogotá is an admirable leader of this growing global movement.

Open streets programs are increasingly popular because their goals align with the challenges that cities and towns face related to public health, economic growth, and the environment. Every open streets program follows the same principles: encourage physical activity; allow participants to reimagine their communities as places to walk and bike for transportation; improve air quality by removing cars from the road; and encourage people to frequent businesses and fuel local economies.

Philadelphia’s Open Streets movement grew out of the city’s experience with Pope Francis’s visit in September 2015. As part of the security preparations, the city closed down streets all throughout Center City and some of the surrounding neighborhoods.. Though the street closures created a disruption that negatively impacted many residents and business owners, many people also realized how much they enjoyed our public streets in the absence of motor vehicles.

Parents played in the street with their children; men and women ran, cycled, and walked along corridors typically clogged with cars; and people of all ages came out to enjoy a space both familiar and brand new. Philadelphia residents were energized by the feeling of freedom that comes with open streets.

The advocacy group Open Streets PHL formed in the wake of the Pope’s visit with the aim of creating an open streets program in Philadelphia. We worked closely with City transportation staff to refine the concept, and to provide them with a playbook that served as a how-to guide for hosting these events.

Thanks to the advocacy of Open Streets PHL, the city of Philadelphia will host its first Open Streets event, called Philly Free Streets, on Saturday, September 24th, 2016 from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM, exactly one year after Pope Francis’ visit.

How Philadelphians decide the use 7 miles of open streets on the 24th is anyone’s guess, but we do have a pretty good idea of what some of the benefits will be.

They’ll get exercise — in other cities, over 90% of participants meet their recommended daily physical activity and nearly 40% get the recommended weekly activity in just a single day. They’ll also connect with the community– 25% of participants in Fort Collins, CO said they attended to strengthen community ties and nearly 90% in St. Louis, MO said they had a more positive view of their city after attending Open Streets.

We also know from open streets programs in other cities that businesses along the route benefit tremendously from all the foot traffic during the event, and from all the additional eyes on their storefronts. In San Diego, CA over 80% of participants shopped or ate at stores along the route and also said they planned to make return visits. St. Louis reported similar outcomes, with over 80% of participants spending some money, and nearly 70% becoming aware of a new store or restaurant they hadn’t seen previously.

We’re expecting similarly positive results from the first Philly Free Streets program in September. This inaugural event will transform the streets from Front & South to the Schuylkill River Trail and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, all the way up to Parkside and West Fairmount Park.

The city team planning Philly Free Streets, led by the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, has announced that the 7+ mile route will include free, family-friendly fitness activities, as well as educational programming about the City’s waterways, public art, architecture, environment, and cultural resources.

A route map for the September 24th Philly Free Streets program and the Open Streets PHL playbook can be found at  http://openstreetsphl.com.

Authored by: LeeAnne Mullins and the Open Streets PHL team

Image Source: Open Streets PHL Facebook

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