- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



A decision by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane to shut down an investigation into corruption in Philadelphia cannot be the end of the inquiry. Not morally, anyway.

There are two sides to the story right now. Ms. Kane, a Democrat, says she inherited a deeply flawed investigation upon taking office last year and decided not to prosecute because no convictions could possibly result from it. Her critics, including a fellow Democrat who is Philadelphia’s district attorney, say she dropped the case prematurely despite devastating evidence that was uncovered against five other Democrats during a three-year sting.

Before she lawyered up with famed libel attorney Richard Sprague, Ms. Kane said that during the course of the investigation, a government informant handed out $20,000 in taxpayer money. She said the informant got a sweetheart deal from her predecessors in the attorney general’s office on his own fraud charges - thousands of them - and that the case was poorly run and racially tainted, targeting black politicians.

Philadelphia DA Seth Williams, who is a black politician, says she is wrong and that the two lead investigators - both now work for Mr. Williams - have excellent reputations.

The public doesn’t have enough information yet to decide who is right, and Ms. Kane isn’t talking anymore. After the Philadelphia Inquirer reported her decision to drop the investigation, she held a news conference and requested a meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board. At the scheduled time last week, though, she showed up with Mr. Sprague, who said he would be doing the talking instead of his client.

The voters elected Ms. Kane, not Mr. Sprague, as attorney general and she is duty-bound to give a much fuller account of the details - why this informant was used, how his targets were selected, what was the scope of the investigation and what legal hurdles she saw to bringing charges against Thomasine Tynes, president judge of Philadelphia Traffic Court, and four state representatives - Louise Bishop, Ronald Waters, Vanessa Brown and Michelle Brownlee.

Even before she answers the myriad questions regarding the investigation, though, the public can plainly see one thing here that was very wrong, no matter what: Excerpts of surreptitiously recorded conversations between the informant and the officials, published by the Inquirer, indicate they all stuffed wads of cash into their purses and pockets. In some cases, envelopes contained hundreds of dollars; in others, it was thousands.

Crass and cavalier describe the exchanges, even if a case can’t be made that the behavior was criminal. And until Ms. Kane makes a more persuasive case for abandoning this investigation, we’re not convinced that it should have been.

Yet short of being arrested, there is little that can be done to the lawmakers. There are no limits on “gifts” to the officeholders, and their only requirement is to report any they receive that are worth more than $250 each or that total $650 in a year. The Philadelphia five didn’t do that, but the law gives them plenty of time to amend their filings. In the meantime, they all have denied wrongdoing.

State senators, responding after the fact, now are calling for a ban on cash gifts to lawmakers. That’s not enough. A stronger proposal, made by government watchdog Common Cause Pennsylvania, would ban all gifts to public officials.

Enacting that change is the least that Pennsylvania lawmakers can do if they truly want to remove the taint and tame the unfettered corruption on display in Philadelphia. A law on the books won’t guarantee that everyone will comply, but it’s a start.

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



State Rep. Frank Farry, R-142, Middletown, is sponsoring a bill to regulate the indoor tanning industry. Many states already have such laws; Pennsylvania is not among them. Farry wants to protect young people from the serious hazards of overexposure to ultraviolet light, which can lead to premature aging of the skin and, more seriously, melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The bill would prohibit anyone 16 and under from using commercial tanning equipment that emits ultraviolet light; 17-year-olds would need parental permission before hopping on a tanning bed.

Given what’s known about the deleterious effects of ultraviolet rays on the skin - whether from the sun or man-made sources - Farry’s legislation is not a bad idea. Sensible regulation no doubt could have some positive health benefits. If nothing else, the rules would send a message that forcing a tan very often produces unpleasant long-term consequences.

That said, we would suggest the people of Pennsylvania would be much better served if Rep. Farry and his colleagues focused their attention - and the limited time remaining before they scatter for their biennial electioneering - on more pressing matters. Things like a law banning lawmakers from receiving gifts - all gifts, not just cash. Or facing instead of ignoring the impending pension catastrophe that threatens financial ruin for school districts and municipalities. Or addressing property taxes. Or placing limits on campaign contributions. Or assuring that social service agencies receive the funding they need. Or making higher education more affordable.

There are many, many issues that cry out for legislative remedy. And so little time to achieve anything - maybe only the next couple of months. When June rolls around, lawmakers will be focused on the budget. Then will come summer vacation. Then, if history is any guide, only a few session days interrupting what for many representatives and senators will be nonstop campaigning until November.

Lawmakers don’t have the luxury of debating relatively minor bills while matters of extreme urgency are begging for their attention. Pennsylvanians will survive an unregulated indoor tanning industry. But they might be consumed by the pension avalanche or a crushing tax structure. Or by their own elected representatives who base their decisions on the gifts they receive and not what’s best for the people they were elected to serve.

- Bucks County Courier-Times



Thirty-five years ago, the letters T-M-I became part of the American lexicon for nuclear disaster.

On March 28, 1979, TMI’s Unit 2 suffered a partial meltdown when a relief valve failed to close.

As an anxious nation waited to see if the plant on Lancaster County’s border would undergo a complete meltdown, it became apparent that a power source once considered safe could, in fact, become an untamable destructive threat.

The TMI accident cast a long shadow over nuclear power generation in this country. Although nuclear plants have been built since TMI, not a single nuclear power plant has been ordered since the accident.

Coupled with the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan as a result of the 2011 tsunami, nuclear power generation has come to a standstill.

Japan shut down all of its nuclear plants and Germany reduced its reliance on electricity from nuclear plants from nearly 25 percent to 17 percent, replacing much of its generating capacity with coal-fired plants.

So, is it time to write nuclear power’s obituary?

Not yet. Although the industry faces significant challenges, it remains a significant power source in this country and around the world.

Prior to TMI, nuclear power generation was considered the wave of the future. It was touted for its stable cost, its reliability (it doesn’t need the wind to blow or the sun to shine to generate power) and it has zero greenhouse emissions. Nuclear power plants do not require a large footprint, but they need access to large water supplies.

In fact, during a recent meeting with editors and reporters from this newspaper, PPL Electric Utilities President Gregory Dudkin said nuclear plants were PPL’s cheapest electricity source this winter - cheaper even than natural-gas-fired plants.

So, why is nuclear power an outcast?

Cost is a major factor. Nuclear power plants are extremely complex and, on average, take upward of six years to build. Therefore, they cost more than twice as much to build as coal- or gas-fired plants. Also, because the fuel is radioactive, security is paramount.

There also is the problem of disposing of nuclear waste. The federal government spent $15.4 billion to have waste stored in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, but that program was defunded due to political maneuvering. Thus, nuclear power plants must store radioactive waste on site in large casks.

Add in the competition - it costs half as much to build a coal-fired plant and about 40 percent less to build a natural gas-fired plant. Given the vast reserves of natural gas in Pennsylvania and adjacent states, nuclear faces an uphill battle.

But before thrusting a stake through the heart of nuclear, it’s worth taking a look at what could be.

In addition to its reliability, it also is far more efficient. The amount of energy released in the fission of uranium 235 nucleus is about 60 million times as much as when a carbon atom burns. The cost of uranium also is low because it requires very little uranium to produce large amounts of power.

Proposals to build much smaller generation units, known as small modular reactors, are one way to reduce costs. Another is to standardize and streamline construction.

A third way to lower costs is to impose a carbon tax on fossil fuels. Congress has debated a carbon tax and Citizens Climate Lobby Executive Director Mark Reynolds was recently in Lancaster to discuss it. The tax, which has been used to reduce fossil fuel use and pollution in British Columbia, could be used to subsidize nuclear power or other green electricity sources.

No one should downplay the seriousness of what happened at TMI, Chernobyl or Fukushima. But lessons have been learned, technologies have improved and solutions can be found. Processes now exist to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, reducing storage needs.

Nuclear is not without its problems. But it is a reliable energy source that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

And despite the accident 35 years ago, TMI Unit 1 continues to run. In fact, your morning coffee maker may well have been powered by electricity produced from that facility.

- Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal



The cartel that is college athletics has been whistling past its day of judgment for decades. It makes billions of dollars off the backs of student athletes - primarily those playing football and basketball in nothing less than the minor leagues of the NFL and NBA - in return for academic scholarships that are no piddling amounts but whose value pales by comparison.

Adding insult to exploitation, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) then imposes draconian outside earnings rules on student athletes, deepening and widening exploitation’s gulch.

Now comes the National Labor Relations Board and the United Steelworkers, the latter footing the bill for a union organizing effort by football players at Northwestern University through the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). An NLRB regional director ruled Wednesday that scholarship players indeed are “employees” and, thus, legally able to unionize.

Collectively bargaining for “wages” is not CAPA’s goal. Rather it says it seeks guaranteed short- and long-term coverage for injuries, injury-reduction efforts and pursuit of commercial sponsorships. These are hardly unreasonable requests given the profits Division I schools reap from these players.

College athletic unions are far from a done deal. Appeals will wend their way through the legal system for years. But even if CAPA prevails, the ruling will apply only to private schools.

Still, the writing is on the campus walls. And the NCAA and its member schools would be stupid to not make - outside of unionization - such modest accommodations to those responsible for so much of their wealth

- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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