November 30, 2012

Dec. 3 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The Dec. 3 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

Advisory Committee Meeting Canceled On Proposed Drilling Reg Changes

The Department of Environmental Protection has canceled the December 11 Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board meeting where they were due to roll out proposed changes to Chapter 78 regulations required by the Act 13 Marcellus Shale drilling law enacted in February.
DEP issued a white paper in August for the Advisory Board and the public outlining the agency’s proposed changes to regulations in response to Act 13.
The bulleted list of changes in the white paper covered application requirements, well location restrictions, proposed protection of water supplies, pre-drilling or pre-alteration survey requirements, erosion and sedimentation controls, wastewater control and disposal planning, standards for pit and tank containment and much more.
DEP originally said proposed language to implement these changes would be available online on or about September 14.
DEP had scheduled two additional Oil and Gas Board meetings to review the proposals on September 17 and October 15.  The proposals were also to be shared with DEP’s Small Business Compliance Assistance Advisory Committee on October 24.
DEP anticipated finalizing proposed language at the November 15 Oil and Gas Board meeting and then send it to the Environmental Quality Board on December 18 for their consideration.  (The December EQB meeting has been canceled.)
Keep watching the Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board webpage for more information.

Former Sen. Mellow Sentenced To 16 Months

Former Senate Democratic Leader Robert Mellow was sentenced Friday to 16 months in prison and ordered to pay $120,000 in restitution to the state and federal governments.  He was convicted of using Senate staff to run political campaigns in violation of state law.
He joins former Democratic House Speaker Bill DeWeese and former Republican House Speaker John Perzel in drawing prison sentences for similar charges.
NewsClip: Mellow Sentenced To 16 Months In Prison

Friday NewsClips

Here are some quick highlights from Gov. Corbett’s year-end interviews with different groups of Capitol reporters:
-- “I’m not going to increase taxes right now.”
-- Corbett will present a transportation funding plan to the General Assembly with his budget address in February.  He is considering raising the cap on the tax on wholesale prices of vehicle fuels to help fund it.  He said all the options outlined by his Transportation Funding Commission are on the table, including creating more toll roads and toll lanes.
-- Corbett supports expanding lottery gaming with keno-like games in taverns to raise money for senior programs.  He said these games could be in bars and taverns in January.  He would still oppose video poker.
-- Corbett is considering reducing future pension benefits for current state employees and teachers to deal with the estimated $41 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.  He discussed a possible 10 percent cut in the yearly pension multiplier.
-- “We really need to look at what liquor privatization is... it’s an issue of choice.”
-- PA does not yet have the answers it needs from the federal government to make a decision on health insurance exchanges that will cost the state between $30 and $100 million.
-- The cost of expanding Medicaid health insurance will cost from $134 to $221 million.

Click Here for a transcript of an interview with one group of reporters.  Click Here for a transcript of a Capitolwire interview on the Sandusky case.
Corbett Considering Lifting Cap On Fuel Tax To Fix Roads
Corbett Stays Firm On Promise To Not Raise Taxes
Pensions, Road Funding Loom Large For Corbett In 2013
Corbett: PA Pension Cuts Would Apply To All
Editorial: Time To Ditch No-Tax Pledge
Op-Ed: Create Property Tax Alternative
Corbett: Would Probably Talk To Sandusky Investigators
Mellow Will Learn His Fate Today
Mellow Would Set Record By Going To Jail
Corbett Incredulous Lawmakers Continued Bonusgate Actions
HACC Receives Warning From Accrediting Body
Health, Advocacy Groups Urge Corbett On Medicaid
Continual State Budget Cuts Hurt United Way
Editorial: Ensure Funds To Help Protect Kids
PA Hospitals Report Another Drop In Infections
Click Here for today's Environmental News

November 28, 2012

John Hanger Launches Campaign To Unseat Gov. Corbett, Look At His Real Record

John Hanger Wednesday launched his campaign for governor of Pennsylvania at the Reading Terminal Market.
Hanger said he has has a 28-year record of accomplishments improving PA’s economy and environment, including serving as Commissioner of the Public Utility Commission, as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and as the Public Advocate for Philadelphia’s utility customers.
Real Hanger-Rendell Environmental Record
For eight straight years, Gov. Rendell and Secretary Hanger’s proposed budgets included cuts for the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources.
A total of $1.3 billion was been diverted or cut from environmental programs to help balance the state budget or to fund programs that could not get funding on their own over the eight years of the Rendell Administration.
These Rendell cuts put appropriations for DEP at 1994 levels and for DCNR at 1995-96 levels, wiping out nearly a decade of steady growth in the state’s commitment to the environment.
Complement levels at DEP were reduced by over 378 positions from 3,211 in FY 2002-03 to 2,835 at the end of the Rendell Administration, even less if you take out the 105 positions DEP added for the Marcellus Shale drilling inspection and permit program during that time.
The FY 2009-10 budget cuts alone required DEP and DCNR to furlough or eliminate 333 full time positions.  DCNR had to eliminate or reduce hours for 1,131 seasonal workers.
During the eight years of the Rendell Administration, DEP's General Fund budget was been cut by 40.9 percent ($245.6 million to $147 million), DCNR by 23.7 percent  ($108.8 million to $82.4 million) and the Department of Agriculture by 35.2 percent ($76.1 million to $62.8 million) from the FY 2010-11 to FY 2002-03 budget.
One result of all these cuts is the  permit review backlog DEP said was already building in 2009 and in truth during the last 7 years of the Rendell Administration, delaying hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development projects across the state.
Click Here for more details on the real Hanger-Rendell environmental record.
Hanger Announcement Continued
Hanger, who lives in Hershey, said he’s taking the school bus between Philadelphia and Harrisburg to emphasize his commitment to public education.
“A good public education system is the foundation of a growing economy that generates good-paying jobs. Businesses today, and more importantly, the businesses of tomorrow need well-educated, high-skilled workers and will locate where those workers are,” said Hanger. “That’s why Tom Corbett’s attack on public schools and universities is so disastrous for every educational level and also for our future economic well-being.”
“We cannot afford another Corbett term in office,” Hanger continued. “Corbett’s education policies destroyed 19,000 education jobs, raised class sizes, and ended tutoring programs, language classes, arts programs and extra-curricular programs like sports. His education cuts also raised local property taxes. And local taxpayers are now paying more for less.”
“When elected governor, I will make our schools and universities the first priority for funding, not the last; I will make sure taxpayer money given to charter schools, including cyber charters, is not wasted or stolen; and, I will immediately end what ESPN Magazine called Corbett’s vendetta against Penn State.”
Hanger also supports Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane’s commitment to fully investigate the handling of the Sandusky case.
Hanger also said that his campaign will emphasize four main issues: education, the economy, energy and the environment.
“Under Gov. Corbett’s watch, we’ve gone from being a job leader in 2010 to a job-killing laggard,” said Hanger. “When the governor took office, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was below the national average and had been for four years. Now our unemployment rate is above the national average.”
Hanger pointed out that Gov. Corbett’s only economic development strategy is to rely completely on natural gas development while ignoring or harming education, agriculture, transportation, medicine, tourism and energy sources like renewable energy and energy efficiency.
“I have a vision for how to build a growing economy and a comprehensive strategy that makes key investments in rehabilitating roads, bridges, water and sewer systems and public education,” he said. “I will partner with private businesses to strengthen manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, health care, energy, education and others to create and implement a broad-based strategy to create tens of thousands of good jobs.”
A widely-respected energy expert, Hanger said that Pennsylvania’s diverse energy resources make the Commonwealth an energy powerhouse.
“We need a comprehensive energy independence strategy that ensures the safe production of natural gas; grows our supply of renewable energy including biodiesel; saves energy and money by cutting waste; and, diversifies our transportation fuels,” said Hanger. “Unfortunately, Governor Corbett has squandered the Commonwealth’s energy potential by neglecting or harming all our power resources other than natural gas.”
Hanger also supports taxing the extraction of natural gas and using the money for education, local communities and environmental conservation and restoration.
“Environmental quality and economic prosperity are dependent on each other – you cannot grow an economy on the barren soil of a degraded environment,” he continued. “Gov. Corbett clings to the old, discredited idea that you can’t have both a good environment and a growing economy.
“As governor I will increase the budget for the Department of Environmental Protection to ensure the department has adequate enforcement capacity; create a new Growing Greener III program that conserves and restores our air, land and water; protect state parks from gas drilling; continue the moratorium on further leasing of state forestland for drilling; create a Citizens’ Ombudsman to provide timely services to people in gas drilling areas who encounter problems; and, implement the actions identified in the state’s Climate Change Action Plan that cut pollution and save money.”
During the next several months, Hanger says he will travel the state meeting people and conducting town hall listening sessions.
“I want to be a governor for all Pennsylvanians,” he said. “And I look forward to meeting my fellow Pennsylvanians, learning from them and making them part of building a new Pennsylvania.”

Wednesday NewsClips

Corbett Won’t Recommend Pension Crisis Solutions
John Hanger To Launch 2014 Campaign For Governor
First Dem To Announce For Governor
Bob Casey At Fiscal Cliff Edge
Federal Judge Nominees Named For PA Vacancies
Traffic Court Leak Stirs Fury In PA High Court
Jennifer Mann To Start Consulting Firm
Probation Asked For Mellow
Mellow Timeline Creates Contrast
Editorial: Prosecutor’s Memo Points To Better Way
State College Faculty Postpones Strike
State College Faculty Strike Decision Pushed To Next Semester
Op-Ed: The LCB Should Not Pass Go
Aging Population Aggravates PA Budget Problems
Powerball Gamble Pays Off Big For Lottery
Unions/State To Meet Over Lottery Privatization
Editorial: State Hunt Treasure With Privatization Plans
Task Force Recommends Guides For Reporting Child Abuse
Overhaul Of Child Abuse Law Sought
Sweeping Overhaul Of Child Protection Laws Urged
PA Must Undergo A Culture Of Change In Child Abuse
Editorial: Child Abuse Report Finally Out
PA To Seek No Child Left Behind Waiver
PA Students To Start New Standardized Tests
HBG Mayor Presents Bare-Boned Budget
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

November 27, 2012

Task Force Calls For Sweeping Changes In Child Abuse Laws

The PA Task Force on Child Protection Tuesday released its report with recommendations to dramatically improve state laws and procedures governing child protection and the reporting of child abuse.
Click Here for highlights of report recommendations.

The 11-member panel, chaired by Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, held 11 public meetings throughout 2012. It was created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December 2011.
"Our Task Force heard testimony from more than 60 people with hands-on expertise in every aspect of protecting children and investigating and prosecuting child abuse," Heckler said. "Based on their testimony, other written submissions and the substantial experience of our members, we have developed a sweeping set of proposals."
"The Task Force's recommendations call for what is essentially a complete rewriting of the Child Protective Services Law – such as redefining and clarifying what constitutes child abuse itself, and expanding the list of those who are required to report child abuse to Pennsylvania's ChildLine," Heckler said. "We also call for upgrading some crimes and creating several new offenses. We propose a transformation in the way information concerning child abuse is handled and maintained, the way in which crimes against children are investigated in parts of the state, and the way in which those with a responsibility for the well being of children are trained."
Heckler noted that the Task Force's sweeping recommendations will need to be introduced in numerous bills for the General Assembly to consider, and that many issues will require additional public hearings.
"The Task Force took a comprehensive look at Pennsylvania's current laws governing child protection," he said. "Strengthening these laws must be done as soon as possible, but we should recognize that it cannot be done overnight."
Video of Tuesday’s press conference and the Task Force report will be posted online.

Tuesday NewsClips

Corbett Report Reinforces Need For Pension Reform
Corbett Sets Stage For Debate On Pensions
State Pension Report Gets Cool Reception
Corbett: Reform Pensions Or Face Budget Crisis
Report Warns Of Looming Pension Shortfall
Officials Looking To Other States For Pension Fix
State: Online Shoppers Reminded To Pay Sales Tax
Corbett: Persuading Lawmakers Difficult Job
Former DEP Secretary Hanger Candidate For Governor
Former DEP Secretary To Run For Governor
Conversation with AG-Elect Kathleen Kane
Allegheny Juvenile Justice Review Shows Improvement
Feds Want Two Years In Prison For Mellow
Mellow Lawyers Say He Should Get No Jail Time
Lawyers Spar Over Musto’s Well-Being
Beyond The Bio: Sen. Vance
Editorial: Hold Hearing Before Hiring Lottery Firm
Editorial: Too Many Questions With Lottery Privatization
Panel To Recommend Child Abuse Law Changes
Domestic Abuse Charges Dropped For DPW Official
13 Philadelphia Political Powerbrokers
Pittsburgh’s Mayor’s Race Take Shape
End Of Chapter 9 Moratorium Brings HBG Creditors Into Play
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

November 26, 2012

Budget Office Releases Report On State, School Pensions

The Governor’s Budget Office released the Keystone Pension Report Monday, providing a comprehensive overview of Pennsylvania’s public pensions and demonstrating the impact pension contributions and unfunded liabilities have on the state’s budget.
The report outlines the current pension situation facing Pennsylvania, identifies factors that have contributed to Pennsylvania’s pension crisis, and offers a framework for considering structural redesign and reform of the pension system to ensure long-term stability of the plans.
“Absent meaningful structural pension reform, the state’s General Fund budget is on a very predictable path that will force a choice between either fully funding pension obligations or making cuts to the core functions of government,” Budget Secretary Charles B. Zogby said. “With a clear understanding of the crisis and the challenges we confront, it is imperative that Pennsylvania find a workable solution.”
Contributing factors to today’s pension crisis include previously instituted expansions to retiree and member benefits, nearly a decade of state and school district underfunding of contributions, and less-than-expected investment returns.
As a result, both the State Employees Retirement System (SERS) and the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) pension programs are less than 68 percent funded. A healthy pension funding ratio is about 80 percent funded.
In addition to the unfunded status of the pension systems, the report describes the growing nature of required employer contributions needed to fund the current cost of the pension benefits, as well as addresses the unfunded liability.
Contributions are expected to rise significantly in the coming decade, reducing the state’s ability to pay for mandated programs and services like medical assistance, public education, public safety, roads and bridges.
Next year’s revenue growth is expected to be nearly $819 million. Of that total growth, pension costs are projected to claim about 62 percent. That translates to more than $511 million that could have been spent on programs and services.
Without any pension reform, the state must continue spending reductions to account for this amount in balancing its budget.
While the report paints a stark picture of the pension crisis in Pennsylvania, it also outlines a framework for developing a solution to the crisis. It calls for a unified approach to pension reform involving the General Assembly, stakeholder groups and the pension systems.
The goal will be to build long-term stability to the pension systems and make them more affordable for the state and, ultimately, the taxpayer.
“The taxpayers did not create this problem, nor did commonwealth or school district employees. As we move forward, we must keep the taxpayer top of mind and not harm current and past employees,” added Zogby. “We will not touch accrued benefits, nor will we allow the pension problem to continue for future generations. We need to fix this problem for the future stability of both the pension systems and the Commonwealth’s budget.
“Over the next several months, it is my hope that by working together we can begin to institute meaningful reform.”
The Keystone Pension Report is available online.

Monday NewsClips

Editorial: Unfairness Of Automatic Pay Hikes
Lineup To Fill House Seat May Include New Faces
Editorial: Make Districts Competitive
Editorial: Must Privatized Lottery Include Video Gambling?
New Auditor General Mixing Old School With Transparency
PA Has Reputation For Litigation Tourism
Judges Sue Over Mandatory Retirement At 70
Kids For Cash Important Book About Shameful Situation
Legal Weed Not In PA’s Foreseeable Future
Click Here for today's Environmental News

November 23, 2012

Nov. 26 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The Nov. 26 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

Election, Retiring Legislators Means Change Of Key Environmental Committee Leadership

With the retirement of two Chairs of the Senate and House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and a switch from the House to the Senate for a third Chair, the new session of the General Assembly will mean an almost complete turnover of environmental leadership in the Senate and House.
Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, announced her retirement at the end of 2011.  She served as Chair of the Committee for 12 years.
Rep. Camille George (D-Clearfield), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, announced his retirement at the beginning of 2012.  He served as both Majority and Minority Chair of the Committee for 29 years.
Rep. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango), Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, was elected to the Senate this month to replace Sen. Mary Jo White.  He served as Majority and Minority Chair of the Committee over six years.  He also served as Chair of the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee for 11 years.
The only member likely to stay in a position of environmental leadership is Sen. John Yudiack (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.  He has served as Chair since the retirement of Sen. Ray Musto (D-Luzerne) in 2010.
Committee appointments should be announced at the latest in January when the new session convenes.

Friday NewsClips

Potential Corbett Challengers Line Up For 2014
Allentown Mayor Considering Run For Governor
Learning Curve For Lawmakers, Constituents After Redistricting
PA State Officials Brace For Fiscal Cliff
Op-Ed: Why Privatize The PA Lottery?
CCAC Students Could Face Significant Rise In Tuition
Dual-Enrollment Program Growing
Op-Ed: Wilson College Should Reject Proposal To Go Coed
Editorial: Cool Heads Should Prevail In State University Talks
Hoping To Buy Wine Online?  Think Again
Cash-Strapped PA Nursing Homes Increasingly On Edge
Op-Ed: Soda Tax Foes Reek Of Tobacco
Click Here for today's Environmental News

November 21, 2012

DEP To Revise Permit Review Public Participation Policy

The Department of Environmental Protection notified the Citizens Advisory Council Tuesday it is in the process of updating the agency’s public participation policy on permit reviews.
DEP’s public participation policy on permit guides when and how the public is involved in decision-making in the agency on individual permit applications.
It addresses how and when public comment periods are held, when public information meetings and hearings are encouraged, how access to permit files is managed and requires the agency to respond to public comments.
The Council, as the primary body in DEP charged by statute to oversee public participation issues in the department, strongly requested DEP to make the Council its first stop for input in developing the new policy before it is published for public comment.
DEP said they hope to have the new policy ready for comment by the end of the year.

Wednesday NewsClips

Lawmakers, State Officials Get Pay Raise Dec. 1
Corbett, Some Lawmakers To Decline Raises
Most Legislators Turning Down Pay Raises
Corbett Talks Transportation, Pensions To Counties
Corman: Transportation Funding Action Before Budget
Editorial: Governor Promises Action On Familiar Priorities, Again
Editorial: Priorities Enough To Make You Sick
Editorial: Legislators Still Plays Favorites
Corbett Keeps Mum While Dems Ponder Who Will Run
State Unveils $34 Billion Bid To Privatize Lottery
One Company Submits Bid To Manage Lottery
UK Firm Expresses Interest In Running PA Lottery
Op-Ed: All Pennsylvanians Lose In Liquor Monopoly
Farnese Calls For Transparency On Philly Casino Proposals
PA Could Host More Movies With Bigger Tax Credit
Penn State Rejects Accepting Santorum Papers
Pittsburgh Casino Fined For Underage Gamblers
Moon Giant Eagle To Sell Alcoholic Beverages
York County Sheetz Stations Have Gasoline Again
Former HBG Receiver Offers Comments On Municipal Debt
Click Here for today's Environmental News