February 29, 2012

MCARE Ruling Reversed By PA Supreme Court

Also today, the PA Supreme Court reversed a Commonwealth Court ruling which would have required the General Assembly to return about $800 million to the MCARE Fund used to pay the malpractice insurance of some doctors.  The money instead was used to balance the state budget in FY 2009-10.  A copy of the decision is available online.

PA Supreme Court Orders House Special Elections

In a 4-3 decision, the PA Supreme Court ordered House Speaker Sam Smith to hold six special elections for vacant House seats on Primary Election day April 24.  In their opinion, the Court also waived the usual 60 day waiting period before special elections can be held.
The vote again put Chief Justice Ron Castille on the side of the three Democratic members of the Cour, just like the decision to reject the House and Senate redistricting plan developed by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission.

Wednesday NewsClips

Public Welfare Secretary Goes Under The Budget Microscope
Welfare Secretary Grilled On Required Cuts
Welfare Cuts Get Scrutiny
Welfare Secretary Defends Proposed Funding Cuts
Corbett's Welfare Cuts Draw Anger From Democrats
State System Schools Make Their Budget Case
14 State-Owned Universities Fear Impact Of Budget Cuts
Editorial: Powerful GOP Senator Opposes Higher Ed Cuts
Editorial: Let's Call State-Related Universities' Bluff
LCB Launches App For Wine, Spirits
Veon Trial To Shift To Defense Today
Judge Upholds Charges In Veon Case
3rd Democrat Emerges In Attorney General Race
Sen. Folmer Back To Work After Cancer Treatment
AG Launches Prescription Drug Abuse Program For Kids
Receiver's Plan For Harrisburg Not Much Different
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February 28, 2012

House Appropriations Committee Changes DEP Budget Hearing To March 6

House Appropriations Committee changes DEP budget hearing to March 6 at 3:00. 

Tuesday NewsClips

Corman Wants To Retain Higher Ed Funds
Corman: I Want To Restore All Higher Ed Funding
Corman Advocates Against Higher Ed Funding Cuts
California U President Fears Effects Of More Cuts
Leaders Gather Support To Change HACC Funding
Op-Ed: Where's The Return On Higher Ed Investment?
Op-Ed: Tuition Increases Could Price Students Out Of College
Op-Ed: Stop The School Cuts
House, LCB Talk Modernization, Not Privatization
Editorial: Lottery Sales In Private Wine Stores
Blake Outlines Local Sale Tax Option Bill
PA Inmates To Return From Virginia By End Of March
Editorial: Health Secretary's Breakfast Tiff Costs Taxpayers Money
Six Jurors Selected In Orie's Corruption Trial
Jurors Selected For Orie's Second Corruption Trial
Prosecution Moves To Withdraw Some Veon Charges
Prosecutors Wrapping Up Veon's 2nd Corruption Trial
LaValle: Veon Rarly Consulted Him About Nonprofit Operations
Veon Defense On Deck
Latino Activists Rally Over Redistricting Maps
Sen. Costa To Seek Fifth Term
Gay Candidates Run Openly For State House
Op-Ed: Politicians Who Make, Keep Promises Rare Breed
Westmoreland Dems Endorse Altmire For 12th
Editorial: Santorum's Throw-Up
Impact Of Philly Refinery Closure Detailed
Report: Fuel Markets Significantly Impacted By Refinery Shutdown
Editorial: PA Also Has An Anti-Abortion Bill Ready
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February 24, 2012

Feb. 27 PA Environment Digest Now Available

Feb 27 PA Environment Digest now available.  Click Here to print this entire Digest.

DEP Secretary: I'm Bullish About This Budget And In Our Ability To Deliver
Secretary of Environmental Protection Michael Krancer told the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday DEP has the resources and personnel to properly regulate and protect pubic health and safety and the environment in all areas of the department, including Marcellus Shale.  "I'm bullish about this budget and in our ability to deliver."
            A copy of Secretary Krancer's formal budget statement is available online and a summary appears below.  Video of the Senate budget hearings for the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Protection are available online.

Friday NewsClips

Corbett Criticizes Rendell Bid For Philly Papers
Corbett Blasted Rendell For Capitol Renovations, Now He Does It
Auditor General Again Says Turnpike Carrying Too Much Debt
Editorial: Baby Steps To Help Distressed Municipalities
Bullet Breaks Window At State Capitol
Sen. Mike Folmer Has Treatable Cancer
Allentown's House Seat Uncontested
Democrats Step Up Attacks In U.S. House Race
Toomey Speaks Up In GOP Presidential Campaign
Veon Gave Harrisburg Law Firm $4,000/Month
Aide Says He Secured Salary For Veon's Brother
Feds Conducting Separate Sandusky, Penn State Investigation
Hospital Infection Rates Inch Lower
Hospital Infections Fewer, But Still Costly
Harrisburg Gasoline Prices Likely To Rise
Gasoline Expected to Rise This Weekend
Motion Filed To Prevent Implementation Of HBG Recovery Plan
Editorial: Harrisburg Could Use Some County Gaming Money
City Council To Seek Distressed Status For Altoona
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February 22, 2012

DEP Secretary: I'm Bullish About This Budget And In Our Ability To Deliver

Secretary of Environmental Protection Michael Krancer told the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday DEP has the resources and personnel to properly regulate and protect pubic health and safety and the environment in all areas of the department, including Marcellus Shale.  "I'm bullish about this budget and in our ability to deliver."
            A copy of Secretary Krancer's formal budget statement is available online.  Click Here for the complete summary of the hearing.

Wednesday NewsClips

Redistricting Panel Meets Over House, Senate Maps
People In Unrepresented House Districts Want Special Elections
Senate To Drop High-End Health Coverage
Revenue Secretary Sidesteps Closing Tax Loopholes
Revenue Secretary Outlines Internet Sales Tax Strategy
LCB Works To Increase Revenue, With Privatization Bleak
Corbett Plan To Cut Pension Watchdog Questioned
Penn State, Other Colleges To Make Pitch For More Funding
School District Approves Ads Inside Buses
Philly Takes $42 Million Hit In Corbett Budget Plan
PA Docs Oppose  Mandatory Ultrasound Anti-Abortion Bill
Veon Nonprofit, Legislative Funds Were Intertwined
Critz Challenges Altmire Petition Signatures
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February 17, 2012

Feb. 20 PA Environment Digest Now Available

Feb 20 PA Environment Digest now available.  Click Here to print this entire Digest.

DCNR Budget Hearing: No New Drilling Leases Planned For State Forests

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Allan appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday for a little over an hour answering questions about DCNR's proposed FY 2012-13 budget.  
            As usual, the Committee dispensed with Secretary Allan's prepared remarks.  Here are some of the highlights from the questions asked--

Drilling Leases: There are no plans to lease additional State Forest Land, but if they would, they would follow the recommendations of the Governor's Marcellus Shale Commission to only do leases where they leave little or no surface impact.
            Of the 812 well permits have been approved by DCNR on State Forest land, 778 Marcellus Shale wells have been permitted by DEP, 442 wells have been drilled and there are 152 producing wells.
            DCNR anticipates receiving $65 million in FY 2012-13 in royalties and rents from drilling, Secretary Allan said.  He said there may be some decrease in drilling revenues in the next year or so with lower natural gas prices.
            In response to a question, Secretary Allan said the agency professionals are constantly monitoring drilling companies to make sure they comply with their leases and agency best management practices.  He said so far, the drillers have been good stewards and have minimized their impacts on State Forest lands.

Drilling In State Parks: DCNR has a policy that there will be no drilling in State Parks where the state owns the mineral rights, Secretary Allan said.  Unfortunately, he said, the state owns mineral rights on only 20 percent of the land in State Parks and on 80 percent in State Forests.  He said DCNR will look to enforce their guidelines and best management practices on drillers on State Park land and other areas where they don't own mineral rights to make sure any surface impacts are minimized.

State Parks: In spite of budget constraints, Secretary Allan said, DCNR anticipates being able to keep all State Parks open and available for residents, but acknowledged there may be some changes in some services offered, such as the hours in some parks.
            Secretary Allan said an updated economic study shows for every dollar invested, State Parks bring in $12 for a total of $1.1 billion of economic activity annually and they support over 13,000 jobs in and around the parks.

Keystone Fund: The proposed transfer of all DCNR revenues from the Keystone, Parks and Conservation Fund to the General Fund, Secretary Allan said, will require the agency to look to other sources of monies to support their operations, like the Oil and Gas Fund, the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund and the new drilling fee revenue.
            He said he advised the Governor's Office the reduction in funding will require the agency to put off some maintenance projects and reduce the funding going for grants.
            Secretary Allan said he believes in the future there will be more revenue in the Oil and Gas Fund and from the new drilling fee to replace at least some of the Keystone Fund monies.  Click Here for more....

Friday NewsClips

PA April Primary Ballot Taking Shape
NE Legislative Races Will Have Contests
Mundy Only Area Rep With Primary Opponent
3 Veteran Midstate Legislators Face Challenges
Candidates Abound For Legislative Seats
Raja To Run Again, Seek Pippy Senate Seat
Elections Sought For House Vacancies
House Democrat Wants To Move Ahead With Special Elections
LCB Privatization Gets Short Shrift At Budget Hearing
State Police Commissioner: Some Barracks Could Close
25 More State Troopers In NE Shale Region
Editorial: Capital Budget Funds Must Be Kept Under Control
Prosecutor: Veon Used Public Money For Private Purposes
Veon: Nonprofit Checks Meant Trouble
Prosecutors Portray Veon As Greedy Politician
Is Mike Veon A Crook Or A Victim?
Auditor General To Probe Contracts With State Hospitals
Prescription Monitoring System Eyed
PA Slips To 14th In Union Membership
Click Here for today's Environmental News

February 13, 2012

Corbett Signs Marcellus Shale Drilling, Fee Bill Into Law

Gov. Tom Corbett Monday signed House Bill 1950 (Ellis-R-Butler), the Marcellus Shale bill, into law. The bill enhances protection of our natural resources through stronger environmental standards, authorizes counties to adopt an impact fee, and builds upon efforts to help move Pennsylvania toward energy independence.
            The historic measure is the first comprehensive re-write of the state’s Oil and Gas Act since 1984. It contains much of what Corbett outlined in his Marcellus Shale proposal last October. His plan followed the work of the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. House Bill 1950 contains 24 of the legislative recommendations offered by the advisory commission.
            “This growing industry will provide new career opportunities that will give our children a reason to stay here in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said. “Thanks to this legislation, this natural resource will safely and fairly fuel our generating plants and heat our homes while creating jobs and powering our state’s economic engine for generations to come.”
            The new law enhances environmental standards by:
-- Increasing well-setback distance from 100 feet to 300 feet for streams, rivers, ponds and other water bodies, and from 200 feet to 500 feet from buildings and private water wells and to 1,000 feet for public drinking water systems;
-- Expanding an unconventional operator’s “presumed liability” for impairing water quality from 1,000 feet to 2,500 feet from a gas well, and extends the duration from 6 months to 12 months;
-- Enhancing water quality replacement standards to meet Safe Drinking Water Act standards;
-- Enabling DEP to revoke permits in a more efficient manner to deal with imminent safety or environmental concerns;
-- Increasing blanket bonds from $25,000 up to $600,000;
-- Providing for strong, uniform and consistent statewide environmental standards – building upon and incorporating the best practices used by industry leaders; and
-- Enhancing hydraulic fracturing disclosure, including online posting through FracFocus.org.
            This law also authorizes counties within the shale regions to adopt an impact fee, which will be used by local communities experiencing the actual impacts of unconventional shale gas development. 
            To recognize the tight economics associated with low natural gas prices, the fee amount can fluctuate annually and is based on the average price of natural gas for the preceding year.
            If all eligible counties adopt the fee, estimates for revenue are approximately $180 million in 2012, climbing to $211 million in 2013 and $264 million in 2014.
            State agencies with a role in mitigating shale gas impacts, such as the Department of Environmental Protection, the Public Utility Commission, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, State Fire Commissioner and the Fish and Boat Commission, will receive fixed dollar amounts off the top of the revenues collected from the fee. 
            After that, 60 percent is directly distributed to impacted counties. A significant percentage of the remaining 40 percent will also be distributed to those counties through either population- or road-mileage-based formulas, or through the awarding of competitive grants. 
            The new law also provides long-term regulatory predictability for job-creators and capital investors, and helps businesses succeed by providing increased uniformity and fairness of local regulations while preserving local government’s traditional zoning authority. Upon petition, the Public Utility Commission is authorized to review ordinances to make sure they comply with state law.
            Finally, the law creates a Natural Gas Energy Development Program, which will provide incentives to convert fleets with vehicles weighing at least 14,000 pounds to compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, or bi-fuel vehicles. At least 50 percent of the funds must be used for grants to local transportation organizations, including mass transit agencies.
            The law’s provisions authorizing counties to adopt ordinances imposing an impact fee go into effect immediately. The majority of the law takes effect in 60 days.
            A detailed summary of House Bill 1950 from the Governor's Office is available online.

Monday NewsClips

Higher Education Could Face Significant Changes
CCAC Hikes Fund Goal
Burden Of College Falling More On Students
Horse Tracks Deride Plan To Shift PA Fund
Race Horse Owners Feel Let Down
Corbett Raiding Special Funds
Corbett Proposes Flat Judiciary Funding
Guards Question Prison Savings
Op-Ed: PA Must Regain Its Compassionate Backbone
Editorial: Welfare Cuts Raise Concern
Op-Ed: PA Makes It Too Hard To Start Charter Schools
Editorial: An Amateur Redistricts Better Than Politicians
In Prison For Bonus Scandal, Veon Faces New Trial
Enforcing Texting Ban Presents Challenge
Fluoride Program Targets Needy Kids In Allegheny
Click Here for today's Environmental News