All blogs filed under Environment

The Need to Act on Climate Change

In November, I wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to support EPA’s comprehensive Clean Power Plan to lower carbon pollution while urging EPA to adopt a structure that would be fairer to the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania powers states throughout the region and has made great strides as a leader in the development of clean energy sources.

We must be serious about the threat of climate change for the sake of public health, national security and children’s health. I support the need for a comprehensive climate change plan. We must rise to the challenge of climate change and revitalize our economy by increasing our efforts in the areas of energy efficiency; developing and adopting cleaner ways of producing electricity; and creating jobs.

The key points of my letter:

  • We must take action on climate change because it poses a serious threat to public health, the environment and national security.
  • The transition to cleaner energy must include a pathway for multiple forms of electricity generation including clean coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydropower, wind, solar, biomass and other renewables, as well as energy efficiency measures.
  • EPA’s comprehensive four-building-block plan is a necessary and effective approach to reducing carbon pollution.
  • Pennsylvania is a net-energy-producing state (generating more power than it consumes) whose economy is built on affordable electricity for manufacturing and other energy-intensive industries.
  • EPA’s renewable energy target for Pennsylvania imposes an unequal burden on the Commonwealth relative to other states with much greater renewable energy potential, and it wouldn’t be possible to get greater carbon pollution reductions from the other three building blocks in Pennsylvania.
  • EPA must give greater recognition to zero-carbon sources such as nuclear power and hydropower to provide an incentive for these sources to remain in operation, as they make up a large portion of Pennsylvania’s electricity sources that would lower its carbon pollution rate.

Protecting Our Environment

Last week in Canonsburg, PA, 1,200 people attended an EPA public listening session on concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing during natural gas drilling. Since the U.S. Senate was in session and I was unable to attend the event, I asked a staff member from my Pittsburgh office to attend and read my statement on the EPA’s proposed study of hydraulic fracturing and potential impacts on drinking water.

Pennsylvania has a history of environmental hardships, most created in previous generations when federal regulations promoting responsible natural resource development did not exist.  For example, Pennsylvania has old natural gas wells that remain uncapped and leak methane into homes.  Pennsylvania has acid mine drainage that costs millions of dollars every year to remediate.  There are lessons contained within these examples from which we need to learn.

Last June, I introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act, because I believe if the development of the Marcellus Shale is carried out in a manner that protects the environment and human health, then it will enhance our State’s economy and increase our Nation’s energy security. The FRAC Act requires public disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracturing process and requires that hydraulic fracturing be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  It is my hope that the FRAC act will keep the environment and the people of Pennsylvania safe, while fully developing the great opportunity that the Marcellus Shale has to offer.

Trouble at the Erie Coke Corporation Plant

Last month, after news about possible environmental and public health threats posed by the Erie Coke Corporation plant, I requested that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conduct a public health assessment to determine if emissions from the Erie Coke Corp.’s coke-making facility has or will cause harm to the health of people living near the facility.  Many Erie residents believe they have suffered a wide range of health problems, ranging from headaches to cancer, due to the plant’s emissions.  

Earlier this month, ATSDR notified me that it plans to work other agencies to determine what information and monitoring data exist about the type and concentration of air contaminants that may be released from the facility or present in the air of the surrounding community.  ATSDR will use this information to determine if a public health assessment is feasible and, if so, what type of assessment would provide the community with the most accurate and timely information possible to respond to its concerns. 

Protecting the health of those who work at the Erie Coke plant and those who reside near the plant is a top priority.  I believe all citizens are entitled to a clean, healthy environment and that any serious threats to this entitlement must be addressed. 

public health

Response to the Gulf Oil Spill

Coast Guard ResponseI am gravely concerned about the oil spill disaster that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico and the economic and environmental destruction it has caused.  Federal, state and local governments have worked around the clock to stop and clean up the oil spill in the Gulf Coast.  Although the United States Coast Guard is charged with overseeing the response effort, every federal agency that is capable of assisting on this major national issue is at work.  Through hearings, legislation and funding, the Senate too is working very hard to address the multitude of issues which are the result of the oil spill.

Although no one can ever truly be compensated for the losses which resulted from the April 20th incident, including the tragic loss of eleven lives, it is vitally important that the responsible parties are held accountable.  For this reason, I cosponsored the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2010, which requires polluters to pay the full cost of oil spills.  Among other things, the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act raises the liability cap from $75 million to $10 billion.  

I am also concerned that Transocean Limited, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, might be trying to decrease its corporate funds to make it more difficult for individuals to pursue liability against the company.  This is unacceptable.  On May 24, 2010, I cosigned a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to investigate the corporate actions of Transocean after it announced its plans to distribute $1 billion to its share holders at a time when it may be responsible for financial damages related to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  

To date, more than 22,000 personnel have responded to protect the shoreline and wildlife and more than 1,300 vessels have responded on site, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels to assist in containment and cleanup efforts.  I understand that some Pennsylvanians do not want BP engaged in the efforts to stop the spill; however, due to its equipment and knowledge, BP has an obligation to help respond to and fix this disaster.

The April 20th incident in the Gulf brought into sharp focus the need for Congress to revisit policies regarding the development of our domestic energy resources.  The Senate has conducted and will continue to conduct many hearings related to the April 20th incident.  The information acquired at hearings and through investigations regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is crucial to the Senate’s development of its legislative response and its reevaluation of national energy policy.  I have followed the situation in the Gulf very closely and will continue to do so.  I am committed to protecting our natural resources, enforcing liability, and providing aid to affected communities.  

Immediately recognizing the gravity of the April 20th incident, the Coast Guard established a Regional Command Center and Joint Information Center.  To access the latest updates from those on the ground, I recommend that you visit the Regional Command Center and Joint Information Center’s website at

Gulf of Mexico

Recognizing the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.  The first Earth Day in 1970 brought into sharp focus the need to protect our environment and led to the introduction of key Federal legislation such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.  These bills were critical to addressing many environmental issues in Pennsylvania including abandoned mines, acid mine drainage, power plant and industry emissions, and hazardous waste disposal.

So, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, let us reflect on the great strides American has made in improving the quality of our air, water, and land.  But let’s also take a moment to recognize that the job is not done.  The remaining challenges are many.  The most daunting of which is climate change.  We must move forward with climate and energy legislation that will put us on a path that reduces pollution, ends our unsustainable reliance on foreign energy, and creates new, clean energy jobs.  In doing so, we can help ensure that our children and grandchildren will always have a clean environment, a robust economy, and a secure Nation.

You can read a copy of my statement for the record here.

Clean Energy
Earth Day
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