The Cathedral of Learning is one of at least 25 buildings that the University of Pittsburgh prioritized for energy renovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo by Terry Clark/PublicSource)

Pittsburgh’s city government says it’s on track to meet climate goals in public operations. But what about the rest of the city?

While the city is taking the lead at reducing greenhouse gases from its own buildings and vehicles, it hasn’t yet kicked off one of its most important strategies: pressuring the biggest buildings in the city to stop using so much energy. And there isn’t a plan yet for how to reduce the next biggest source of emissions: energy use in people’s homes. 

Earth melting into water

Recognizing the climate crisis through focused journalism in Pittsburgh and around the world

“Where were you when you first heard about [insert tragic event]?” 

We all have our stories and memories for the biggest crises of our time. Usually, it’s a specific moment seared into our minds. I’m sure many of you were recalling one recently on the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I know I was: I was in a high school French class, gasps and wide eyes around me as the announcement came over the speaker.

Fracking at Edgar Thomson steel mill among concerns discussed at environmental forum in Forest Hills

Braddock resident Je'Amour Matthew punctuated Tuesday's environmental forum hosted by state Rep. Summer Lee with a passionate speech that resonated with the roughly 50 people who attended. “What have they done for you, my friends?” Matthew said, referring to what she sees as inaction by elected officials. “When you stand up and start asking your representatives, ‘What the hell?’ I am of flesh and blood. I matter. Your pocket shouldn’t be benefitted for my health.”

Matthew said she feels that some officials are neglecting the health concerns of their constituents to support the fracking and petrochemical industries.

Founded in 1868, the McConway & Torley steel foundry touts itself as a neighborhood staple thanks to their worldwide success in automatic train coupler manufacturing. Emissions from the foundry include benzene, particulate matter, gaseous nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, and metal toxics such as manganese, chromium, and lead.

In formerly blue-collar Lawrenceville, residents worry how foundry emissions could impact the future

Although air quality in Lawrenceville isn't breaking federal laws, some air quality advocates are concerned that the levels of some harmful pollutants, like manganese, have been increasing. The challenge in Lawrenceville mirrors the challenge Allegheny County has faced to rein in industrial polluters in the Mon Valley, where excessive pollution has caused the county to earn an F grade from the American Lung Association.

How Karen Hacker worked to resuscitate the Allegheny County Health Department

Hacker, the county’s highest paid employee with a salary of more than $220,000, said she thinks she should be judged on the progress she’s helped to usher in, including reduced lead poisoning in children, fewer opioid overdose deaths and a steady decline in air pollution that is on the verge of coming into compliance with the law.

But a number of constraints made the work difficult.