Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Enviromentalists to EPA: Expand Methane Emission Rules

Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

Pennsylvania is the second largest natural gas producing state in the country. Credit: Ruhrfisch/Wikimedia Commons.
Pennsylvania is the second largest natural gas producing state in the country. Credit: Ruhrfisch/Wikimedia Commons.
PITTSBURGH – Proposed rules on methane emissions are a good start, but don't go far enough. That's the message from environmentalists to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In comments to the agency at a public hearing in Pittsburgh today, advocates say the rules as written would not apply to existing sources of methane. Rob Altenburg, director of PennFuture Energy Center, says Pennsylvania has thousands of gas wells in operation now.

"These new rules target only new and modified sources, so the vast majority of the wells in the state are not likely to be covered by these rules in the near future," he says.

Pennsylvania is currently the second-largest gas producing state in the country.

Jim Murphy, senior counsel with the National Wildlife Federation, says reducing methane emissions would do more than slow global climate change – it would also reduce ozone and other ground level pollution.

"You really get a two for one, you cut carbon emissions to help the climate, and then you also reduce localized pollution that harms wildlife and people who want to enjoy outdoor areas," he says.

In 2012 the federal government initiated measures to reduce methane emissions during the drilling process. Altenburg says the state can step in to control emissions the federal rules may miss.

"What we would like to see is the governor act aggressively to cover the thousands of wells and the thousands of sources that aren't being covered by these rules," says Altenburg.

The EPA has also held hearings on the proposed methane rules in Denver and in Dallas.

Thousands of Janitors Rally to Save Union Jobs

Andrea Sears, Public News Service
Commercial office cleaners in many eastern U.S. cities are currently negotiating new contracts. Courtesy: SEIU Local 32BJ.
Commercial office cleaners in many eastern U.S. cities are currently negotiating new contracts. Andrea Sears, Public News ServiceCourtesy: SEIU Local 32BJ.

PHILADELPHIA – As many as 2,000 janitors will converge on Philadelphia on Wednesday to rally for what they consider good jobs and fair contracts.

More than 75,000 office cleaners from Massachusetts to Virginia are bargaining for contracts this year. Juanita Acre, a member of local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), says good paying union jobs are in jeopardy.

"You got the real estate companies throwing our people out of their building and trying to make it non-union," she says. "This is contract time and it's Important to us to stop them."

The rally will be held outside of a luxury high rise where the union says new building management illegally displaced union workers.

According to Acre, union workers are making a living wage. But while rent on residential and commercial real estate keeps skyrocketing, developers in Philadelphia and other cities are trying to push workers back to minimum wage levels.

"We're making $16.44. Some are making a little more than that," she says. "They're trying to break us down to $7.25, $8.25, $9.25, with no benefit."

The union calls this the largest private sector contract negotiations taking place in the country, affecting the lives of nearly half a million men, women and children.

Acre says the janitors and commercial office cleaners have worked hard to make a decent living for themselves and their families.

"We just want to be part of the middle class," she says. "We're not going to accept anything less. And we think we have what we earned and they're trying to take it away. We're not going to accept that."

The union says fair contracts will go a long way toward addressing the growing income inequality condemned by Pope Francis during his visit to the U.S.

Monday, September 28, 2015

REGISTER NOW: Pennsylvania wind energy forum to lay out vision for growth in the state

Don't miss an opportunity to discuss the path forward for wind energy growth in Pennsylvania at the American Wind Energy Association's State Wind Energy Forum in Harrisburg on October 14.

See more info below or visit their event page here.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) will host a day-long forum to discuss the path forward for wind energy growth in Pennsylvania.

John Hanger, Secretary of Planning and Policy, Pennsylvania

Larry Schweiger, President & CEO, PennFuture

Gladys Brown, Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission

Bruce Burcat, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition (MAREC)

Robert Frick, Senior Sales Manager, GE Power and Water

Dave Campbell, Associate Director, Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 Office

Rob Gramlich, Senior Vice President, Government & Public Affairs, AWEA

For a full list of speakers see: http://bit.ly/1L0jCMJ

Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET

Penn State Harrisburg, 777 West Harrisburg Pike, Middletown, Pennsylvania

Wind energy industry leaders, state officials, and renewable energy advocates in Pennsylvania will join in a series of panel discussions and meetings to chart the path forward for wind power in the state.

The forum agenda is designed to appeal to a broad array of Pennsylvania wind stakeholders, including landowners, county officials, rural bankers, agricultural producers, policy makers, manufacturers, developers, educators, researchers, advocates, utilities, economic development specialists, energy specialists, government officials, analysts, and regulatory personnel.

John Hanger, Secretary of Planning and Policy for Pennsylvania, will be kick things off as the opening plenary speaker at 8:30 a.m. ET. Larry Schweiger, President and CEO of PennFuture will be the keynote speaker, delivering remarks at noon.

The AWEA State Wind Energy Forum – Pennsylvania is the third state forum AWEA has hosted this year. Previous events this year were held in Montana and Michigan.

Today, wind power supports 2,000 jobs in Pennsylvania and has attracted $2.7 billion dollars in capital investment to the state’s economy. Pennsylvania is a wind manufacturing leader with 29 factories supporting well-paying jobs throughout the state. With 1,340 MW of installed wind capacity in the state, wind energy currently supplies 1.6 percent of Pennsylvania’s in-state electricity production.

Pennsylvania has the technical wind resource potential to meet 88 percent of the state’s current electricity potential, using current technology and 110 meter hub heights.

Pennsylvania passed an Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) in 2004, requiring electricity suppliers to supply 18 percent of their sales from alternative energy sources by 2021. Wind energy has historically been the renewable resource chosen to meet renewable standards requirements, fulfilling 86 percent of RPS requirements through 2011 and driving economic development in the state as a result.
American wind power supplies more than 25 percent of the in-state electricity production for Iowa and South Dakota. Department of Energy data show wind power is the fifth largest electricity source in the U.S. providing electricity to power the equivalent of 18 million average American homes. Over 73,000 jobs are supported by wind energy and more than 500 factories in 43 states produce parts and supplies for wind. Over $100 billion dollars in private investment has been attracted to the U.S. economy by growing new wind farms.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope's Visit Shines Spotlight on Prisons

Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

Pope Francis also has visited prisoners in Italy and Bolivia. Credit: Benhur Arcayan/commons.wikimedia.org
Pope Francis also has visited prisoners in Italy and Bolivia. Credit: Benhur Arcayan/commons.wikimedia.org
PHILADELPHIA - Pope Francis will visit a Philadelphia prison Sunday, drawing attention to mass incarceration and the need for criminal-justice reform.

Philadelphia pioneered prison reform as early as the 18th century. Ann Schwartzman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, which was founded in 1787, said the papal visit will help open the door on what has traditionally been a closed system, "looking at what are the best practices across the world, what does make the most sense, and bringing that element of humanity right into the prisons as he visits."

The pope will visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, Philadelphia's largest prison, with beds for up to 3,000 inmates. More than half of those held in the facility have not been convicted of a crime but can't afford bail while they await trial.

With more than 2 million people behind bars, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. Schwartzman said she believes that the entire criminal-justice system needs to be examined.

"We need to look at sentencing, who we're incarcerating, conditions inside when people are incarcerated," she said, "and we really need to look at what we're doing to help people when they come back out."

Last July, President Obama visited a federal prison in Oklahoma as part of his efforts to call attention to the need for criminal-justice reform.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Local progressive advocates launch campaign to welcome the Pope’s message of economic justice

For Immediate Release

Contact: Mike Morrill, Keystone Progress Education Fund
             Tara Murtha, Women’s Law Project
             Leah Chamberlain, Philadelphia Women’s Center


Local progressive advocates launch campaign to welcome the Pope’s message of economic justice—and call for real policy solutions
Philadelphia- As you may have heard by now, Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia this week.

We’ve watched in fascination as the former nightclub bouncer from Buenos Aires now known as Pope Francis—“part rock star, part diplomat and part politician,” according to the New York Times—has shifted the conversation about and within the Roman Catholic Church by preaching compassion, mercy and tolerance.

He even criticized the Church for “putting dogma before love, and for prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized.” Turns out, listening to and ministering to the poor and advocating for economic justice is a popular message: Not only do 85% of American Catholics approve of Pope Francis, but seven out of ten Americans as a whole.

As advocates for economic justice and reproductive rights, we are welcoming the Pope to Philadelphia by extending the conversations he is starting around issues of poverty and family, and discussing real solutions, under the banner #FrancisLovesMeToo.

We invite you to join us as we explore Pope Francis’ message of mercy and economic justice for struggling families, something we need here in Pennsylvania and especially Philadelphia, a city with the highest rate of deep poverty, where children are routinely ravaged by the effects of poverty and trauma, and women suffer the highest rate of maternal mortality in the country.

We are a community of advocates who fight to see the values espoused by Pope Francis reflected in the state Legislature and our communities. Economic justice and equality are not possible without possible without equal access to reproductive healthcare including contraception and abortion, support for working mothers, and eliminating discrimination.

We will be posting about the status of families in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania all week, and highlighting opportunities for policies to reflect the values being discussed.  

Throughout the week, we invite you to contact us for comment from experts on related issues, such as: reproductive justice, workplace discrimination, poverty as a risk factor for sexual violence, equal pay, contraception, abortion, LGBTQ discrimination, working mothers, healthcare access, the cost of mass incarceration, and raising the minimum wage.

Like www.facebook.com/francislovesmetoo to stay up-to-date on messages from Pennsylvania advocates working to replace discriminatory “family values” rhetoric in Pennsylvania with policies that actually value families: traditional families, modern families, LGBTQ families, poor families, our families, and yours.


Seniors Rally to Support Family Caregiver Bill

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Family members in Pennsylvania provide care for loved ones worth an estimated $19.2 billion annually. Courtesy: AARP.
Family members in Pennsylvania provide care for loved ones worth an estimated $19.2 billion annually. Courtesy: AARP.
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Seniors rallied in the Capitol Rotunda this morning, urging senators to pass the Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable Act (CARE).

Currently, 1.6 million Pennsylvanians are serving as unpaid caregivers for family members. According to Desiree Hung at AARP Pennsylvania, the bill would help ensure that older adults who have been hospitalized get the continuing care they need once they are released.

"They can identify a caregiver who would take care of them once they leave," she says. "And it would provide some training for the caregiver, so that person could care best for their loved one."

The CARE Act passed the House in June with only one dissenting vote, and has been adopted in more than a dozen other states. Hung says AARP is confident the Pennsylvania Senate will pass the bill as well.

She adds they are also asking lawmakers to ensure caregivers have access to home care and adult daycare resources, and to fund additional support with state lottery proceeds.

"People want to stay in their homes as long as possible, and supporting programs to build up home- and community-based care would certainly go a long way to helping people do that," says Hung.

It's estimated family caregivers in Pennsylvania provide more than 1.5 billion hours of unpaid assistance for loved ones every year.

School Funding Lawsuit Goes to State Supreme Court

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether the state is meeting its constitutional requirement to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education. Credit: Ad Meskens/Wikipedia.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether the state is meeting its constitutional requirement to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education. Credit: Ad Meskens/Wikipedia.
HARRISBURG, Pa. – A lawsuit challenging state funding for public education is going to Pennsylvania's highest court.

According to a coalition of parents, school districts and statewide organizations, the Pennsylvania Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately and equitably fund public schools.

Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Public Interest Law Center, says all schools are affected by decades of under-funding, although poorer communities have suffered the most.

"'Catastrophic' is too mild a word," says Clarke. "You have children in classrooms with 70 kids, schools with no foreign languages, no nurses."

Last April, a lower court dismissed the lawsuit, saying it was a political issue that cannot be addressed through the court system.

Clarke says that opinion was based on a Supreme Court ruling 15 years ago, before there was a system of statewide standards. Now, both state and federal governments mandate what the content of public education should be – and how to measure the results.

"We still think that the courts have a role," she says. "If the Legislature is going to establish content and require children to know it, it needs to fund it in a way that makes sense."

The plaintiffs in the case maintain that an over-reliance on property taxes to fund schools deprives students in poor districts of the resources they need to meet state academic standards.

Clarke notes the state constitution guarantees all Pennsylvania children a system of public education that is "thorough and efficient."

"Those words are in the constitutions of some half a dozen other states," she says. "All those courts have used that language to say they have substantive meaning that the court has to enforce."

The Legislature, governor, and state Board of Education have six weeks to respond to the Supreme Court brief. The court will likely hear arguments sometime next year.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pennsylvania Holds Clean Power Plan "Listening Session"

Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

A Pennsylvania state plan to reduce carbon pollution is due in Sept. 2016. Credit: Emilian Robert Vicol/Pixabay.
A Pennsylvania state plan to reduce carbon pollution is due in Sept. 2016. Credit: Emilian Robert Vicol/Pixabay.
HARRISBURG, Pa. – The first of 14 "listening sessions" on implementing the federal Clean Power Plan was held in Harrisburg on Tuesday evening.

Environmentalists, concerned citizens and representatives of the coal, gas and nuclear industries lined up to express their hopes and concerns about how the state will achieve required reductions in carbon pollution from power plants by 2030.

Tom Schuster, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club of Pennsylvania, says whatever the final plan looks like, it must meet some basic requirements to be effective.

"We want to make sure that the carbon-pollution reductions that are achieved are real and meaningful," he says. "That they are achieved through an emphasis on renewable energy and efficiency."

States have until next September to submit a plan to the EPA or request an extension. By beginning the process now, the Keystone State has an early start toward meeting that goal.

Pennsylvania is one of the nation's largest exporters of electricity, and critics of the Clean Power Plan say mandated cuts to carbon emissions could hurt the state's economy. But Schuster believes investments in energy efficiency are going to be the most cost-effective way to meet pollution-reduction goals and continue to generate surplus power.

"It will lower our own demand so in the event that we do generate less electricity from coal and gas, we'll still be able to maintain our status as an exporter since we're consuming less," he says.

To ensure the Clean Energy Plan doesn't have a negative impact on those already disproportionately affected by pollution and poverty, 10 of the 14 listening sessions will be held in or near low-income and minority communities.

With careful planning and implementation, Schuster is confident achieving the goals of the Clean Power Plan will offer the most benefit to the most people.

"It's going to be less expensive for ratepayers," he says. "It's going be healthier for all Pennsylvanians, and it is actually going to create more jobs than the current system."

The next listening session will take place Sept. 21 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

GOP's "Pay to Play" Congressional Campaign Contract Condemned Across America

GOP's "Pay to Play" Congressional Campaign Contract Condemned Across America

WASHINGTON: As controversy continued to grow regarding a contract signed by numerous
Rep. Ryan Costello asked to quit GOP's
"pay to play" Patriot Program.
vulnerable Republican legislators with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), promising to supply detailed information about their "legislative agenda" and "political justifications" to national Republican donors in exchange for financial support, numerous state affiliates of ProgressNow, one of the nation's largest and most influential progressive advocacy organizations, called on Republican candidates to withdraw from the program and disclose all correspondence with the NRCC.[i]

Rep. Ryan Costello (R, CD 6, Berks, Lehigh, Chester, Montgomery) is the only Pennsylvania Member of Congress who has agreed to this "pay to play" scheme.

"Shame on Rep. Ryan Costello for selling Pennsylvania out to the same Washington, D.C. special interests he said he was running for office to fight," said Keystone Progress' Michael Morrill. "The voters won't forget this in the next election. If Costello really wants to put the people of Pennsylvania first, it's time to exit the 'Patriot Program ' and come clean about what he promised big donors and Republican Party bigwigs. If he doesn't, he'll be held accountable at the polls in 2016."

According to the Washington Post:

Two dozen House Republicans have agreed to privately detail their “legislative strategy” to party operatives, promising to offer “political justifications” for their goals in Congress.

The Daily 202 obtained a copy of the three-page contract that the National Republican Congressional Committee requires members to sign if they want to participate in its Patriot Program. The initiative, designed to protect potentially vulnerable incumbents, brings with it special attention and access to mounds of campaign cash. But strings are attached.

One of the 13 requirements is to submit an off-year “campaign plan” that includes: “Detailed, written legislative strategy that provides short-, intermediate-, and long-term legislative goals, including political justifications for those goals.”

“Be sure to include local issues unique to the district or region,” the contract says. “Complete a Patriot Policy Priorities worksheet to be used by NRCC staff to evaluate legislative priorities for the current Congress and to promote and advocate for those priorities where appropriate.”

The closely-held document offers a window into how much autonomy lawmakers often must forfeit to unelected Washington insiders.[ii]

ARIZONA: "Rep. Martha McSally has a history of avoiding questions on specific policies," said Julie Erfle of ProgressNow Arizona. "It's outrageous that she would consider giving this type of detailed information to wealthy, right-wing donors but not her own constituents. Voters have a right to know whether McSally is pushing her own agenda or that of the NRCC."  

COLORADO: "For years, Rep. Mike Coffman has tried to reinvent himself as a 'new kind of Republican,'" said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. "Rep. Coffman used to represent one of the most right-wing districts in Colorado, and has struggled trying to adjust his message to a competitive district. By signing the 'Patriot Program' contract, Coffman has proven that his new image was a ruse to hold onto political power. Colorado doesn't need another rubber stamp for the Washington, D.C. Republican agenda."

IOWA: "Rep. David Young tells Iowans he is looking out for them, but now we know he has sold Iowa out to Washington, D.C. special interests," said Matt Sinovic, executive director of Progress Iowa. "The 'Patriot Program' is an affront to Iowa values. Iowans want elected leaders who work for us, not on contract with big donors."

MICHIGAN: "It's unfortunate that Michigan has two Republicans in Congress who have signed the NRCC's special interest pledge," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. "Representatives Tim Walberg and Mike Bishop should put the needs of Michigan's people ahead of the needs of Washington funders. Walberg and Bishop have failed the people of Michigan by participating in this program. At the very least, the citizens of Michigan deserve to know what they promised Washington, D.C. special interests in exchange for financial support and even better, they should reject the 'Patriot Program' altogether."

NEVADA: "Cresent Hardy loves to talk about 'defending' Nevada from Washington, D.C.," said Annette Magnus of Battle Born Progress. "But in order to save his political skin, Hardy has sold out the people of Nevada to big-ticket political donors who won't put our needs first. The only people who should be pre-approving Cresent Hardy's 'legislative agenda' are the voters he answers to right here in Nevada."

NEW HAMPSHIRE: "Rep. Frank Guinta's contract with Washington, D.C. big donors and lobbyists proves whose side he's on," said Zandra Rice-Hawkins of Granite State Progress. "The NRCC's 'Patriot Program' asks Rep. Guinta to put the agenda of national Republican donors and fundraisers ahead of the needs of the citizens of New Hampshire. Guinta represents one of the most competitive congressional districts in America--and they deserve their own representative, not a sellout to special interests."

TEXAS: "Rep. Hurd is signing away his legislative agenda to out-of-state donors and special interests in Washington," said Progress Texas executive director Edward Espinoza. "The only thing that Rep. Will Hurd is delivering to his district is broken faith."

VIRGINIA: "It's unfortunately no surprise that Rep. Comstock would sell off her legislative priorities to the highest bidder since for years her clear allegiance has been to monied special interests, not her constituents," said ProgressVA executive director Anna Scholl. "From opposing funding for expanding Metro to voting for an invasive, transvaginal ultrasound mandate, Rep. Comstock has repeatedly thumbed her nose at her constituents. At least now Virginians know who she really works for: right-wing Republican donors, not Virginia families."

Monday, September 14, 2015

What Senator Toomey Left Out of His Re-Election Speech

The following is re-posted with permission from People for the American Way Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon, originally posted on their "People For Blog" on Monday, September 14 2015.

Sen. Pat Toomey is running for reelection next year in a state that tends to favor Democrats in presidential election years.  So it is no surprise that the former head of the far right Club For Growth opened his campaign by presenting himself as a moderate.  As station WITF reports, Toomey presented the area of judicial nominations as an example of his ability to work across the aisle:
"One of the areas [Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and I] work together regularly on is filling vacancies on the federal bench," Toomey said. "The fact is in the four and a half or so years I've been in the Senate, we have been able to recruit, vet, nominate, confirm 15 men and women across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
Many judicial appointments are held up by partisan bickering.
Unfortunately, judges are one of the areas where Toomey has regularly put conservative ideology and the interests of party leaders in Washington, DC, ahead of the interests of the people of Pennsylvania.
The current example involves Phil Restrepo, President Obama’s nominee for the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.  The Administrative Office of U.S. Courts has formally classified the vacancy Restrepo would fill as a “judicial emergency” because the caseload per judge is so high.  When judges are overburdened, it is hard for the court to provide justice to litigants in a timely, efficient, and fair manner, forcing too many people to learn the hard way that justice delayed is justice denied.
President Obama nominated L. Felipe Restrepo way back in November, and both Toomey and Casey praised the nomination.  That’s important, because the Judiciary Committee generally won’t even give a judicial nominee a hearing until their home-state senators formally signal their approval on a blue slip of paper.  Casey his submitted his blue slip immediately, but Toomey did not, giving cover to committee chairman Chuck Grassley’s efforts to delay the hearing for as long as possible (part of the GOP’s efforts to obstruct a Democratic president’s efforts to staff the nation’s courts with fair, just, and qualified judges in the hopes of leaving as many vacancies as possible for a Republican successor to Obama to fill).  It took a full seven months before Grassley held the hearing, far longer than was necessary.  The senator faced a torrent of criticism at home for his role in the delay, and Toomey’s efforts to explain Restrepo’s delay raised more questions than they answered.
There was enough time after the June hearing to confirm Restrepo before a second vacancy was scheduled to open in July.  Toomey could have prevented the Third Circuit from having two simultaneous vacancies by using his influence with his Republican colleagues to have Restrepo confirmed in time.  However, he chose not to.
When it became clear that Grassley was planning to delay the scheduled committee vote by two weeks for no reason other than delay’s sake, Toomey could have interceded with his fellow Republican.  That is exactly the kind of thing that home-state senators do for nominees they support.  But Toomey chose not to ask Grassley to hold the vote as scheduled.
When the committee finally approved the nomination in July – unanimously, by the way – there was plenty of time to get him confirmed and fill the emergency vacancy before the Senate’s August recess.  But Toomey failed to press his party leader for a timely vote on Restrepo, the Senate left town, and the vacancy remains open today.
Unfortunately, the Restrepo nomination is not the first time Toomey has put ideology and partisan judicial obstruction ahead of Pennsylvanians’ needs.  In late 2013 and early 2014, he voted in lockstep with Washington Republicans to prevent President Obama from filling any of the three vacant judgeships on the critically important D.C. Circuit Court.  Second in importance only to the Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit is the exclusive court to consider appeals of a wide variety of federal agency regulations and decisions affecting the entire country.  Dominated by ideological conservatives, the court was becoming increasingly notorious for issuing troubling decisions favoring the powerful and limiting the role government can play to address national problems.  Working to keep the D.C. Circuit both short-staffed and dominated by far-right conservatives certainly didn’t help the people of Pennsylvania.  Yet he voted against all three highly qualified nominees: Patricia Millett,Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins.
Toomey apparently didn’t mention any of this in his re-election speech, but it is something Pennsylvanians ought to know when they go to the polls next year.

Friday, September 11, 2015

New Federal Rule Could Protect Streams from Mining Damage

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Underground mining can drain water from streams and wells. Credit: Center for Coalfield Justice
Underground mining can drain water from streams and wells. Credit: Center for Coalfield Justice
PITTSBURGH - Protect our water, protect our future - that's the message federal mining regulators heard at a public hearing in Pittsburgh on a proposed Stream Protection Rule.

The proposal from the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining would update regulations put in place 30 years ago. Patrick Grenter, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, said the rule will apply to coal-mining techniques that can have serious consequences for rivers and streams.

"This rule, if interpreted properly, could have a massive impact in terms of protecting human health and the environment in coal-mining communities across the country," he said.

The hearing Thursday was one of six being held around the country. The mining industry is opposed to the new rule and says it will challenge it in court if it is approved as currently written.

But Grenter pointed to a Pennsylvania report on longwall mining, an aggressive form of underground coal mining, in Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2013.

"Seventy-seven percent of the river miles undermined by longwall coal-mine operations either suffered cooling or de-watering or both," he said.

According to the Center for Coalfield Justice, longwall mining also has caused wells to go dry, depriving homes and business of water.

While environmentalists are praising the Stream Protection Rule as a giant step forward, Grenter said it must include provisions allowing private citizens to sue mining companies to force compliance.

"What we have seen in coal-mining states across this country," he said, "is either an unwillingness or an inability of regulators to enforce the rules that they have before them."

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, there were 256 surface mines in the state last year, and 48 underground mines - including eight longwall mines.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Report Highlights Need for Fair School Funding

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

According to a new report, Pennsylvania has the widest funding gap between rich and poor school districts in the country. Credit: Campaign for Fair Education Funding.
According to a new report, Pennsylvania has the widest funding gap between rich and poor school districts in the country. Credit: Campaign for Fair Education Funding.
HARRISBURG, Pa. – A new report from the Campaign for Fair Education Funding says a failure to restore state education funding and implement a new funding formula will only increase the achievement gap between rich and poor districts.

The report says Pennsylvania must adopt Governor Tom Wolf's proposed school budget to help public schools begin recovering from past budget cuts.

Campaign spokesperson Charlie Lyons says achieving fair and adequate funding could take $3.6 billion over six to eight years.

"That's why we're looking at this opportunity to invest $410 million this year as the start of a multi-year investment that we hope the Legislature and the governor would pursue," he says.

The state budget impasse in Harrisburg has meant the school year has started without any state money in place for education.

The campaign report also says the Legislature needs to implement the funding formula unanimously approved by the bipartisan Education Funding Commission. Lyons points out some differences, such as poverty levels and the number of English-language learners in a district, can affect the cost of education.

"Factors like the wealth of the district, the tax base, the ability of a local district to raise money through property taxes," he says.

According to the report, Pennsylvania has the widest funding gap between rich and poor school districts of any state in the country, and fundamental changes in distribution are needed if every child is to have access to a quality education.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ahead of Pope's Visit, Advocates Issue Call to Action on Hunger

Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

One out of five children in the Philadelphia area lives in deep poverty. Credit: Phillies1fan777/en.wikipedia
One out of five children in the Philadelphia area lives in deep poverty. Credit: Phillies1fan777/en.wikipedia
PHILADELPHIA – When Pope Francis visits Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families later this month, advocates will issue a call to action against hunger.

In preparation for the pope's visit, politicians, business leaders, community-service providers and those facing food insecurity will hold a dinner Thursday, Sept. 10.

Anne Ayella, co-chair of the World Meeting's Hunger and Homelessness Committee, points out that more than 26 percent of residents of the Philadelphia region live in poverty and thousands of children are threatened with hunger.

"One in five children not only are in poverty, but they're living in deep poverty, which means their family income is less than half the poverty line," she says.

Called "The Community Table," Thursday's event will offer an opportunity for those facing hunger to have a dialogue directly with those in a position to affect change.

While people living in poverty can enroll in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as food stamps, to meet basic food needs, many still rely on soup kitchens and food pantries to feed their families.

According to Ayella, the budget impasse in Harrisburg is putting those programs throughout the state at risk.

"Every month, the food cupboards get a supply of food that is paid for out of the state food purchase program, and the budget impasse has affected the state food-purchase program," she explains.

The World Meeting of Families has started The Francis Fund, named in honor of the pope, and hopes to raise $1.4 million to assist local food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.