- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:

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THE POWER OF MARCELLUS: REAL & IMPRESSIVE

Impressive as they are, statistics tell only part of the positive economic story of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale natural-gas industry. The stories of entrepreneurs who depend on and partner with the industry to succeed tell the rest.

Former miner Frank Puskarich, 61, has seen his Hog Father’s Old Fashioned BBQ boom along with gas production, drawing about 40 percent of his business from the oil and gas industry. Since opening in Washington, Pa., in 2007, sales and employment have risen eightfold. He now has five restaurants plus four trailers delivering meals to well pads and fracking sites. “One business feeds off another business,” says Mr. Puskarich, who spends $2.5 million annually with food suppliers.

Hog Father’s embodies the shale gas industry’s difficult-to-quantify but undoubtedly huge “multiplier effect.” And that only makes more striking such statewide industry benefits as the 243,000 jobs it supported in 2014, $1.2 billion in 2012 royalty payments to landowners, $2.3 billion in state tax revenue since 2008 and more than $850 million in state impact fees since 2011, according to the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Yet Gov. Tom Wolf would replace the impact fee, and its sharing of revenue among all 67 counties, with a severance tax that would go straight to Harrisburg and hobble both the industry and businesses such as Hog Father’s. It’s a sure way to slow the biggest engine of prosperity that Pennsylvania has seen in decades.

- The Tribune-Review

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CELL PHONES BEHIND THE WHEEL SHOULD BE CURBED

…Slowly but surely state legislators have recognized the danger of distracted driving due to cell phone use. Hand-held cell phone use is now banned in 14 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by teen or novice drivers. School bus drivers are prohibited from cell phone use in 20 states and in the nation’s capital…

Pennsylvania legislators got on board three years ago by enacting a text-messaging ban. Even though it was hailed as a step in the right direction by highway safety advocates, most of them agreed that the law did not go far enough.

All use of hand-held cell phones while driving was in the original version of the bill, but that was removed before the final version passed…

Making or answering a call is a similar distraction, research shows. While one earlier AAA study revealed that 95 percent of drivers agreed that reading or sending text messages while driving was dangerous, 35 percent of them admitted to doing it.

Police can pull drivers over simply for texting while driving because it is a primary offense with a $50 fine upon conviction, but officers predicted in 2012 that enforcing the no-texting law would be a challenge. Calling on a cell phone is still legal -plus police have to prove drivers are not using navigation or other electronic devices such as iPods…

While the increase in distracted driving citations in Pennsylvania is encouraging, they are a drop in the bucket compared to the number of motorists who pass through the state talking on their cell phones. Studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Utah show that drivers who talk on their cell phones are three to four times more likely to be involved in crashes…

Delaware County residents and other southbound motorists passing through the county on I-95 are regularly issued stern warnings via a digital sign about their fate should they use hand-held cell phones while driving through Delaware. It is about time Pennsylvania returns the favor with the same warnings for northbound travelers.

- The Daily Times

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NO GAIN WITH NFL GIVE-BACK

The National Football League’s decision to forgo its tax exemption is not quite what it seems, and is not the most valuable gift that the federal government has given it and other pro sports leagues.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Monday that the NFL will file tax returns for 2015, ending its nonprofit status. But that applies only to the $375 million or so that flows through the league’s office and management committee. Most of the NFL’s $10 billion in revenue flows to its 32 franchises, which are not individually tax exempt. The same is true for Major League Baseball, which gave up its tax exemption in 2007, and for the National Basketball Association, which never had one. Other leagues with exemptions are the National Hockey League, the PGA and the LPGA. According to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, ending all pro sports’ tax exemptions would increase tax revenue by only about $10 million a year.

A principal benefit to giving up the exemption is that the NFL no longer will be subject to rules requiring tax-exempt nonprofits to file publicly accessible reports on executive salaries. Thus, Goodell no longer will have to answer questions about his salary, which in 2013 was reported as $35 million, down from $44 million in 2012.

The truly valuable assets bestowed upon pro sports leagues by the government are anti-trust exemptions. They enable the leagues to squash would-be competitors and provide them with incomparable leverage in negotiating broadcast rights, their biggest sources of revenue.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, has introduced a bill to review the pro sports leagues’ exemptions and structure. Congress should do so and answer how the anti-trust exemptions serve the public interest.

- The Standard Speaker

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Sleeping Watchdog

Where is the Federal Election Commission when you need it? With more money than ever swirling around political campaigns, the FEC should be making sure rules are followed. Instead, it’s stuck in the same partisan funk that has debilitated the watchdog agency since 2008.

That’s when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) decided to gum up the works. By law, the FEC, created in 1975, has three members nominated by Democrats and three nominated by Republicans. The six are supposed to be nonpartisan, and they were for the most part until McConnell, who is now majority leader, chose three Republicans who made it their mission to act as obstructionists…

The number of enforcement actions by the FEC subsequently dropped from more than 700 a year to 135 in 2012, according to the nonpartisan reform group Public Citizen. Last year, the FEC reportedly acted on only 16 of 132 cases and issued fines that amounted to less than $207,000. That’s a very low price to do business for political campaigns spending millions of dollars.

Given the FEC’s stupor, it’s hard to believe it would act on promised complaints from two campaign-finance reform groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, alleging illegal collusion between political campaigns and supposedly independent fund-raising groups known as super PACs.

The groups are pointing fingers at prospective Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who seems to be skirting the rules by delaying an official announcement of his campaign. So long as he is not an officially declared candidate, Bush can work with super PACs. That direct link must be cut once Bush announces, but the FEC still could rule it illegal if Bush’s acolytes become his PAC proxies.

But who can depend on the moribund FEC to take any action in its current state of partisan inertia? There is another possibility: action by the Justice Department, which in February successfully prosecuted a case involving coordinated payments to a Virginia congressional candidate’s campaign committee and a super PAC that supported him. The criminal case, leading to a guilty plea, was a first for the Justice Department. Here’s hoping there will be more.

Super PACs, along with political groups hiding behind tax laws to keep their donors secret, have also been influencing local elections. Millions in third-party cash has been spent on television ads for Democratic mayoral candidates Anthony Williams and Jim Kenney. Because super PACs aren’t bound by Philadelphia’s law limiting individual donations to candidates, it’s going to be up to voters to prove they can’t be bought.

- The Philadelphia Enquirer

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STEPS SHOULD BE TAKEN TO STOP DECLINE OF HONEYBEES

A precipitous decline in honeybee populations raised public awareness of the importance of the bees and other pollinators in maintaining the nation’s food production. And research into the causes of the bees’ demise has produced other invaluable insights upon which regulators should act.

Agricultural researchers long have suspected that a widely used class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Now, new research shows that the substances likely are more dangerous than previously thought.

In 2013 the European Commission banned the use of three of the neonicotinoids - clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam - on all flowering plants. The European Food Safety Authority had determined that the chemicals posed “high acute risks” to pollinating bees.

Now a new study by researchers in Ireland and Great Britain has determined that honeybees and bumblebees actually were attracted to two types of neonicotinoids, and that exposure caused them to eat less and increase their mortality rates. Researcher Geraldine Wright of the University of Oxford told The New York Times that bees could not taste the substances, but that the nicotine-like substance affected their brains. Other researchers have reported that neonicotinoids diminish bees’ memories and navigational skills, inhibiting their abilities to return to their hives from fields. Studies also have found that exposure adversely affects bees’ growth and reproduction.

In Sweden, researchers established test fields, some of which were sprayed with the pesticides. There were half as many wild bees per square meter in treated areas, compared with areas that had not been sprayed.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has precluded any new use for the pesticides while it reviews the European research and other research conducted here. Given the importance of bees to the food supply, it should be aggressive in controlling use of the substances. Producers should accelerate their own search for safer alternatives.

- Citizens Voice

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