Early in 2014, I began hearing from and speaking with constituents living along the Ohio River about concerns they expressed to me regarding air pollution violations at the Shenango Coke Works plant on Neville Island. Despite a 2012 federal consent decree, residents were continuing to see and smell significant amounts of pollution being emitted from the plant.
Over several decades this facility has been in violation of federal air and water quality standards and has entered into multiple consent decrees during that timeframe. In 2008, the company was purchased by DTE Energy, a Michigan-based company. Since acquiring the plant, DTE has made significant investments into the plant’s operations and infrastructure, and more investments are planned.
Despite these investments, federal air quality violations are still occurring. Last year the plant was found to have violated emissions limits on parts of 330 days over a 14-month period. As a result, another consent agreement with Allegheny County was signed and the company paid penalties. This summer, power outages at the plant caused additional emission violations.
In recent weeks I have heard from a growing number of residents that live downwind from the plant, with continued concerns over pollution violations. It is alarming that after all this time and multiple consent decrees there continues to be serious concerns over emissions that discussion of re-opening the 2012 consent decree has been talked about.
I have reached out to the federal EPA’s Air Protection Division and asked them to continue investigating these recent complaints and subsequent violations on behalf of the residents. I have met with DTE officials in the past and fully understand they have and continue to invest into updating the plant in an effort to reduce emissions. I have also met with workers and have seen how committed they are in making this plant successful while providing for their families.
Residents need to be assured that proper oversight is being administered and corrective actions, if warranted, are being taken. The Allegheny County Health Department’s Air Quality Program is responsible for enforcing federal pollution standards. The Health Department has been actively involved in its role and constantly is communicating with the public. They encourage the public to contact them with concerns or complaints about air pollution. When contacting the Health Department, please be as specific as possible in terms of what you are seeing and/or smelling, location, time of day, etc. More information assists the Department in their follow up investigations.
To register an air quality complaint or to share concerns please call the Allegheny County Health Department Air Quality Complaint hotline at 412-687-ACHD. You may also submit a complaint online at www.achd.net.
Air pollution standards are set and enforced to protect the public. It is my hope that corrective actions are taken that adheres to these standards that allow the plant to operate as efficiently and safely as possible so residents do not have to constantly worry about the quality of the air they breathe on the daily basis.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) is accepting applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program helps low income families pay their heating bills. You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website. You can also pick up an application in my district offices or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to one of the Allegheny County Assistance Offices.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. The income limits for this season are as follows:
|For each additional person add
After your application is received you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive. Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and will be credited to your heating account. Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat. For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.
Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program
I want to remind everyone the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is accepting applications for the 2014 Property Tax/Rent Rebate program through the end of the year. If you did not receive an application, or did not apply last year and wish to apply this year, applications can be obtained from any of my district offices and my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application. The deadline to submit an application is Dec. 31.
The Property Tax/Rent Rebate program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and over; widows and widowers age 50 and over; and people with disabilities age 18 and over. Homeowners with a maximum yearly income of $35,000 and renters with a maximum yearly income of $15,000 are eligible for a rebate. Keep in mind that half of Social Security income is excluded.
Due to program changes enacted last year to ensure claimants aren’t disqualified from rebates solely because of Social Security cost-of-living adjustments, homeowners and renters may be eligible for rebates even if their eligibility income is greater than these limits. Any homeowner who collected Social Security, received a property tax rebate in 2013 for claim year 2012 and had annual income last year, discounting half of Social Security, up to $36,129, is encouraged to apply for a rebate for claim year 2014. Any renter in that same situation with an annual income in 2014, discounting half of Social Security, up to $15,484, is also encouraged to apply.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is encouraging all motorists to take the necessary steps to prepare vehicles for winter weather travel. With many motorists traveling Pennsylvania highways during the holidays and subsequent winter months, drivers should have their vehicles serviced by a mechanic they trust. A properly trained mechanic can check the cooling system, battery, hoses, drive belts, tires, and wiper blades to ensure they are in good condition and functioning properly.
Throughout the winter season, motorists should frequently check all fluid levels, lights and wiper blades. Tires should also be checked often for the correct level of air pressure and adequate tire-tread depth to perform on ice and snow. A quick way to check tread depth is to insert a penny in the tread groove with Lincoln’s head upside down. If you can see the entire head, the tires are worn and traction will suffer. Drivers should also carry an emergency kit, especially if long-distance travel is planned. Emergency kits should include items such as non-perishable food, water, first aid supplies, warm clothes, blankets, cell phone charger and a small snow shovel. Motorists should also tailor their emergency kit to suit any specific needs that they or their families may have.
As weather and roadway conditions can change quickly, motorists should anticipate traffic delays and allow plenty of time to get to their destinations. Motorists can check conditions on more than 40,000 roadway miles by visiting www.511PA.com. 511PA is available 24 hours a day and provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information, and access to more than 770 traffic cameras.
For more information on PennDOT’s winter preparations and additional winter driving resources for motorists, please visit www.PennDOT.gov/winter.
Did You Know…
Did you know PennDOT maintains 96,000 snow-lane miles each year and that during last year’s winter used 858,000 tons of anti-skid and 1.1 million tons of salt to keep Pennsylvania drivers moving?
PennDOT Projects Website
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has produced a website that shows the public both active and planned projects around the commonwealth. The site, www.Projects.PennDOT.gov, provides mapping tools and information on construction projects, improvements underway because of Act 89, and future scheduled projects. It also allows users to view projects according to categories such as county, statewide, PennDOT district, and more. The construction section also allows users to view projects on interstate corridors in the
Medicare Open Enrollment
I want to remind seniors that the open enrollment period for Medicare closes on Monday, Dec. 7. Now is the time to compare current health and prescription plans with all available options for 2016. By carefully comparing plans you may find better coverage, higher quality and/or lower cost.
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging offers the PA APPRISE program, a free health insurance counseling program designed to assist older Pennsylvanians with Medicare. Counselors are specially trained staff and volunteers who can answer questions about Medicare and provide objective, easy-to-understand information that can help find the best plan for your circumstance.
To speak with a counselor please contact the APPRISE Helpline at 1-800-783-7067. All services are free and confidential.
First Night Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is once again producing First Night Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve. This year’s celebration marks the 22nd anniversary of First Night Pittsburgh and the 13th as a production of the Cultural Trust. As the largest single-day celebration in the region, First Night offers approximately 150 events at nearly 50 indoor and outdoor locations within the 14-block Cultural District with 90 percent of events taking place indoors. This family-friendly event provides the city the opportunity to ring in the New Year with a bang while celebrating Pittsburgh’s many rich cultural assets.
First Night Pittsburgh kicks off at 6 p.m. on Dec. 31 with a children’s fireworks show and concludes with the countdown to midnight, and the raising of the Future of Pittsburgh Ball at midnight, with tons of fun in between. This year, The Wailers will perform as the headline act during the Future of Pittsburgh Grand Finale. The Wailers epitomize this year’s Highmark First Night Pittsburgh theme, Around the World – Around the ‘Burgh, by bringing to Pittsburgh, the site of Bob Marley’s final performance, a legacy and sound celebrated internationally for more than 50 years.
To view the many activities taking place during First Night and for a full schedule of events, shows and entertainment and information on how to purchase all-access buttons please visit www.firstnightpgh.org.
A new ice rink was installed this year at PPG Place. The MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink at PPG Place is now 116’ x 116’, 2,600 additional square feet more than the previous rink and 67 percent larger than New York City’s Rockefeller Center Ice Rink.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Tuesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Strip District (Mobile Office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm