On April 22, 2017 we celebrate Earth Day because our planet is still truly beautiful and vibrant and we want to keep it that way by stopping the assaults and decline in livability it is experiencing to improve the quality of life for all species living now and in the future.
By not addressing our serious environmental problems the new normal will be: more species extinction; hotter days that bring more mosquito borne diseases, more droughts and more forest wildfires; having acid rain and horrible air quality most days because respiratory irritants such as CO2, VOCs, smog, ozone, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide are too prevalent and increasingly sicken some and kill off those with respiratory problems; food and medicines become scarcer and more expensive because the environment is becoming less hospitable to plant and animal life due to air pollution and the increase of dangerous toxins and organisms in our water; increased radiation and toxins in our air and water due to fracking, other fossil fuel extraction methods, unregulated mining and disposal of wastes; and harsher or more frequent storms and floods that tear up the land, threaten life, and destroy property because greenhouse gases have added more heat to our atmosphere and oceans.
Other countries such as Iceland, Denmark, and Germany are moving to have an economy or 100% of their electricity based on clean and renewable energy sources by 2030 or 2050, and the U.S. can do the same. Our reliance on natural gas and nuclear power will continue to dump into our environment toxins--including some which cause various cancers, greenhouse gases that drive climate change and radioactive emissions that we don't have the technology to eliminate. Not only will moving to a clean energy based economy be better for our health, but it will be financially cheaper and we will be physically safer with no explosions due to the presence of fossil fuels in trains, industrial sites, power plants, refineries, pipelines, businesses and people's homes. Additionally, there will be less security concerns because criminals or terrorists won't be able to create explosions or other forms of mayhem if we aren't using fossil fuels or nuclear power. We must strengthen the Clean Power Plan by scheduling the elimination of polluting industries and agricultural practices in the near future so that current and future generations will be able to live healthier and longer lives.
In December 2016 the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after its yearly assessment informed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) of three life-threatening failures it found in how the PADEP conducts its activities in pursuit of enforcing the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
"Pennsylvania's drinking water program failed to meet the federal requirement for onsite review of water system operations and maintenance capability, also known as a sanitary survey," wrote EPA Water Protection Division Director Jon Capacasa in a letter dated December 30 . "Not completing sanitary survey inspections in a timely manner can have serious public health implications." The minimum number of sanitary surveys for water systems is once every 3 years for community water supplies and once every 5 years for non-community systems such as schools, camps and bulk water suppliers.
Over the past decade the state government has repeatedly cut the funding to the PADEP which has left it without adequate resources and staff. The EPA cited this lack of staff as a reason for the number of unaddressed Safe Drinking Water Act violations to have increased over the last 5 years from 4,298 to 7,922.
The EPA noted that in its recent file review of Pennsylvania's Lead and Copper Rule "a large amount of pertinent information was missing from the files" which shows how PA is making sure there are not unsafe levels of lead in drinking water supplies. Although the EPA didn't finish its review of how the DEP enforced the lead and copper rule, it stated that insufficient program personnel would be highlighted in its upcoming report.
Could a better run PADEP with more staff and resources have prevented the boil water advisory that many Pittsburgh residents faced earlier this year? A fully staffed DEP might have helped the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) avoid other problems too, such as water main failures and an illegal switch in water treatment chemicals that has contributed to rising lead levels in homes with lead service lines. Another problem that the DEP should ensure is corrected is the PWSA not knowing which of its company-owned water lines has lead piping and which do not.
The EPA, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, and other federal agencies over the last few years have expressed significant concerns about the ability of DEP to enforce minimum federal requirements for its safe drinking water, water quality, surface mining and water infrastructure funding programs.
The Green Party of PA and many environmental protection groups have for many years complained about and offered solutions on the problems the PADEP has had in stopping corporate and industrial polluters, penalizing these polluters, and providing aid and complete testing results to the people who have been harmed each year by the many environmental accidents and long-lasting pollution problems caused by the facilities operated by certain corporations and industries.
In November 2015 the EPA determined that the PADEP's Air Quality Monitoring Division was "severely understaffed". This was labelled a major finding and equated to a "nonconformance of high importance which is unacceptable and must be remedied". The EPA auditors also cited inadequate funding and recommended in their report that vacant positions must be filled in order to continue operating the air monitoring program within federal guidelines.
There is room for much improvement in terms of air quality that affects millions of Pennsylvanians in many places in the state. According to the U.S. rankings compiled in the American Lung Association's report titled State of the Air 2016: Lancaster County had the 22nd highest ranking out of the 25 counties most polluted by short-term particle pollution and of the 25 counties most polluted by year-round particle pollution Allegheny is 12th, Lebanon is 14th, Delaware is 16th, and Blair is 22nd. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are cited as being among the 25 most polluted cities for short-term particle pollution and year-round particle pollution.