Allegheny County has among the worst air pollution in the country — emissions from industrial point sources like coke ovens, steel mills, and factories contribute to Allegheny County’s ranking in the worst 1% of counties nationwide for cancer risk as a result of these types of emissions, and vehicle emissions are also problematic, placing Allegheny County in the worst 7% of counties nationwide.
The Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers serve as the source of drinking water for roughly five million people, yet they suffer from a combination of legacy and novel pollution sources such as acid mine drainage, combined sewage overflows, increased flooding and stormwater events, and industrial pollution. Many of these toxic discharges can impact the environment, public health, and economic growth.
Research also shows that vulnerable populations are disproportionately impacted by pollution. How will your administration reduce pollution in Allegheny County and address this impact disparity?
As County Executive, I will create a DEE – a Department of Environmental Resources – a department charged with enforcing existing laws. I would also have the Department of Health continue to be in charge of monitoring, testing and administering health care, as they do presently, but I would get it out of the business of enforcing the law. The Health Department Board is made up of many people with health and medical backgrounds, but not necessarily law enforcement. In having a DEE devoted to enforcing laws relating to air, water & groundwater pollution, we would hold corporations accountable under the law, as I have done all of my career.
With the new fracking industry and the threat to water and groundwater, we must be particularly vigilant. And with our small group of major air polluters, we will enforce the law. As for our drinking water, we need to reclaim our riverfronts, and move rail lines back from the rivers. Presently, Norfolk Southern and CSX run an enormous amount of liquid fuel and hazardous chemicals right along rivers every day; right near our water treatment inlets (e.g., Shaler Waterworks; City of Pittsburgh Water Treatment Plant; West View & Oakmont Water Authorities), posing the threat of catastrophic harm if there were to be more derailments. I would change that.
Under my plan to create a Countywide Riverfront Park – which the County is authorized to create under ordinances that I sponsored and that unanimously passed in 2007 when I was on the County Council – we would work with the railroads to move their tracks, in many places, away from our rivers, reclaiming our riverfronts for public use and protecting ourselves as a County from the possibility of enormous danger. Finally, relative to air pollution, I would “think globally and act locally” by urging and advocating for all our residents to work to lessen their carbon footprint – bike and walk more; take public transit; and rely less on their cars and trucks.
If we want Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to be a beacon of sustainability – which would be my goal – we must take a broad and aggressive approach to these environmental issues. I would do that.
Finally, it is important that we make big investments in our underserved, underrepresented, and low income communities, so they are offered the opportunities and resources to be safe, healthy, and fight pollution. Our worst air and water quality, and the least amount of greenspace, are found in low income communities, particularly in our urban core and in the old industrial towns along each of our 4 major rivers (e.g., McKeesport; Clairton; Elizabeth; Duquesne; Braddock; Millvale; Etna; Sharpsburg; West End; Stow; Coraopolis; Neville Island). I would ensure that air pollution is more highly regulated countywide, especially in these areas, with the creation of a DEE, and with strict enforcement of our environmental protection laws, which presently are not being enforced.
This would include the creation of a transformative Countywide Riverfront Park, an amenity that would build upon our natural environmental advantages – our rivers, our green hills and our natural beauty – and breathe life back into our urban core and our old mill towns and riverfront communities that stretch up and down all of our rivers.
As County Executive, I will crack down on pollution and help the industry find real solutions to reduce their environmental and public health impacts. I will direct our public resources to put people to work and repair the environmental damage of the past, not send billions to the wealthy few and big corporations with tax breaks and tax cuts. I will work toward renewable energy solutions that are good for workers, good for families, and good for our climate.
I will first prioritize a set of policies that combine to both hold polluters accountable and create new union jobs for extraction workers. I will harness the unique power of the County Health Department to regulate air pollution to make sure every child and family in our County is able to breathe clean air and afford to raise their family, while also creating a Made Clean in America Manufacturing Jobs plan to leverage our region’s unique manufacturing, technology, and research strengths to massively scale up green technology. The Title 5 permitting process under the purview of the County Health Department is designed to keep our communities safe, not to prop up the pay-to-pollute model which currently exists. I will appoint a Board of Health comprised of members with strong public and environmental health credentials who will put our health and safety first and create regulations that are based on science. Similarly, I will appoint directors to the ALCOSAN board who prioritize public health and will work collaboratively with nonprofits and other agencies to make sure that the billions of dollars invested in the Wet Weather Plan actually address our challenges in a sustainable way – that recognizes the role climate change does and will continue to play in our region. I will also encourage water authorities in the county to dramatically accelerate their efforts to remove and replace lead pipes. There are billions of dollars of federal resources available to support these efforts and the County government will be a partner to these water systems in obtaining these resources.
We can create thousands of new jobs, build wealth equitably and sustainably, and bring life and hope back to all of the people and places that have been left behind. As County Executive, I’ll make sure Allegheny County becomes a powerhouse of a new green economy, where our economy, our environment, and our public health are protected.
There’s a reason our children have the highest rates of asthma in the nation. We know our air quality disproportionately affects our marginalized communities –1 in 3 black children have asthma here in Pittsburgh. We need to take a really close look at the standards of pollution that are allowed in our air and water and crack down on polluters and corporations. Our air is leading to our personal decline as well as our county’s.
I got my start organizing the small steel mill river communities that were in decline. These areas have been hit the hardest and have continued to be left behind. That’s why I will create a RiverCommunities Authority to work directly with these communities on environmental justice and sustainable economic infrastructure, especially for black and brown individuals.
Through an Office of Municipal Partnership, we help communities build and invest in their own green projects, from expanding or transforming green space to building new green infrastructure in homes and businesses starting in our marginalized communities.
Something that we could do that would have an immediate impact would be to give all 7500 Allegheny County employees a bus pass to reduce vehicle emissions, strengthen our public transportation, and cut down on traffic.
John K. Weinstein
Our region has come a long way from its reputation as a smog-ridden industrial town, but of course there is much work still to be done. To be clear, every population and community matters to me and deserves every effort to ensure clean air, water, and natural resources. We need to do this together, and we need our County officials empowered and committed to enforcing the highest standards. I will do everything within my power as Executive to work toward that, and bring local, Commonwealth, and federal officials together to accomplish it.