- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Erie Times-News. Feb. 17, 2021.

Editorial: Pennsylvania must stop killing the Chesapeake Bay

State Sen. Gene Yaw of Williamsport is correct. The pandemic-induced economic downturn and resulting $5 billion state budget deficit make it highly unlikely Pennsylvania lawmakers will rally now to make right the state’s shameful failure to meet its obligations to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

But that financial crisis - both convenient cover and cold, hard financial reality - must not serve as the final word or be relied upon to again duck the hard work and expense that must occur if Pennsylvania is going to finally correct the leading role it plays in killing the Chesapeake Bay.

Yaw said even in good times, it was difficult to make the case for lawmakers to spend state resources on reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay located 100 or more miles away.



But the recent USA Today Network’s special report, “Killing the Chesapeake,” examining the many ways Pennsylvania fails to protect the Susquehanna River and its tributaries and, by extension, the Chesapeake Bay into which it flows, makes clear that, pandemic or no, Pennsylvania must take action.

We call on Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers to focus on this challenge and seize opportunities for aid and leadership presented by the new Biden administration. Craft a long-term vision and funding plan, not just for the health of the majestic bay - a national treasure and economic engine - but also to defend the quality of life here in its vital, vast Pennsylvania watershed, where smallmouth bass fishing, kayaking and the hellbender, Pennsylvania’s resident prehistoric salamander, and more, are imperiled, like the Chesapeake, by pollution.

Mike Argento of the York Daily Record and a team of reporters from the USA Today Network drawn from Maryland to the headwaters of the Susquehanna in New York chart not just legal and economic considerations, but also the human dimensions of this fraught environmental dilemma.

The bay is not some disconnected body of water separate from Pennsylvanians or their waterways. Nitrogen and phosphorus that run off Pennsylvania farm fields flood the bay and contribute to dead zones that starve bay creatures of oxygen. Pollutant-laden sediment piles up behind Colonial-era mill dams, then washes into virtually every stream in the watershed. Acidic fluids drain from long dormant coal mines, rendering streams that flow to the Susquehanna dead and red. Outdated, inefficient wastewater treatment plants and farm fields fertilized with manure send toxic bacteria into the watershed, which, in turn, delivers 50 percent of the freshwater flowing into the bay.

The state has a legal obligation to clean up its act. The Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees the right to clean water. Moreover, Pennsylvania, along with Maryland, Virginia and other parties, entered into a 2010 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and agreed to enact individual plans to limit pollution in accordance with the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Of all the states, Pennsylvania has fallen far short and would have to spend $324 million a year to live up to its obligation. Its performance has been so abysmal that Maryland, the District of Columbia and other bay states have sued the EPA for allowing Pennsylvania, and also New York, to so badly welch on their commitments.

It would be money not squandered but well spent.

Before the adoption of the blueprint in 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation estimated that the bay contributed $107 billion to the economy. If the plan fails, and fisheries and related businesses suffer, expect an annual decrease of $5.6 billion, instead. If the plan succeeds, Pennsylvania stands to gain $6.2 billion a year from aquaculture and recreation.

The failure to address this problem at scale can be credited in part to a lack of vision. State lawmakers have a terrible habit of diverting funds set aside to restore the environment as if that was not essential work. We can no longer afford that mindset.

Also complicating the effort, the solutions to this vast, multi-dimensional problem are many times hyperlocal, deeply personal and costly. These waterways and the industries that harm them were, and often remain, tied up in our history and livelihoods.

To clean the water, we ask rural landowners to dredge out old dams and restore tributaries’ healthy natural flows. We ask landowners to remediate acid mine drainage. We ask farmers, who might already be struggling, to make costly conservation improvements. To succeed we need to achieve that rare state - common purpose - and pair it with adequate funding for Pennsylvanians on the front lines.

In January 2020, Bay Foundation President Will Baker said if Pennsylvania fails to meet its 2025 goals, “the Chesapeake Bay will never be saved.”

Nevertheless, he told Argento he retains hope. President Joe Biden, a Pennsylvania native and longtime resident of Delaware, comes into office with both an ambitious environmental agenda and an understanding of both the critical importance of the Chesapeake and Pennsylvania’s needs. That could result in federal support for the state’s efforts.

“We can do this,” Baker said. Yes, we can. We must.

___

Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice. Feb. 21,2021.

Editorial: Fill county elections vacancies before it’s too late

The collection, counting and certification of votes has usually generated little rancor or controversy in Luzerne County.

Then came the epochal year of 2020, with a handful of mail-in ballots mistakenly discarded by the county Bureau of Elections, dueling demonstrations outside the bureau’s offices and the two GOP members of the Election Board pointlessly voting against the normally pro-forma certification of the Nov. 3 results.

Now, with the May 18 primary looming, the county’s voting apparatus appears unfocused and ill-prepared.

The Election Bureau has lacked a director since December. Two of the five volunteer members of the Election Board have resigned, one noting “the detrimental effect on my mental and physical health and on my family.”

An Elections Inquiry Committee of county council members spent three months examining the operations of the Election Bureau and produced some worthwhile findings and recommendations. But the committee focused too much time on some members’ unhappiness with the council’s limited oversight over the bureau under the Home Rule Charter and their desire to limit mail-in voting, a debate that belongs on the state, not county, level.

With the primary just three months away, time is growing short for county officials to get the election process, which performed remarkably well on Nov. 3 despite COVID restrictions, a huge turnout and an unprecedented number of mail-in votes, back on track.

County Manager David Pedri, who suspended the search for an election director after the withdrawal of what he considered the most promising candidates in January, needs to get that position filled. And the county council has to move on getting new Election Board members seated.

May 18 is just around the corner and county officials must act swiftly to ensure that a system is firmly in place to guarantee a fair and competently run election.

___

Scranton Times-Tribune. Feb, 21, 2021.

Editorial: Speed repairs to hazardous public schools

Long before COVID-19 created chaos for schools, Scranton, Philadelphia and other school districts were immersed in emergencies created by asbestos and lead contamination in school buildings.

The problem is especially acute in many urban districts because their buildings often are old, but it is far from exclusive. Even districts formed by state-mandated mergers 40 years ago - which often included the construction of new schools - have problems with toxic materials.

Friday, a group of state House and Senate Democrats, including Rep. Kyle Mullins of the 112th District in Lackawanna County, proposed a plan to attack hazardous conditions in public school buildings statewide.

The first part of the plan would expand the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, the state’s principal economic development program, by $1 billion specifically to fund hazardous material removal projects in public schools.

The second proposal would use federal funding from the pending American Rescue Plan, which likely will be passed by the U.S. House this week, to create the Public School Building Emergency Repair and Renovation Grant program. It would provide grants to public schools for emergency repairs including lead and asbestos remediation, and repair or replacement of HVAC and electrical systems, plumbing, roofs and window repair or other physical problems that are health or safety issues.

Providing safe environments for all students is part of the state government’s state constitutional mandate to provide equitable public education.

Funding the projects also would provide a job-creating economic boost for the construction industry when the COVID-19 emergency finally recedes.

This is the definition of a nonpartisan issue that cuts across a broad swath of the society. Lawmakers of both parties should get behind the sensible plan to provide safe environments for all of the state’s more than 1.6 million public school students.

___

Philadelphia Inquirer.

Editorial: Fracking puts Pa. at an energy crossroads. It’s time to pick a direction

More than a decade ago, Pennsylvania found itself at the heart of a world-changing revolution.

The ability to extract natural gas from shale by combining two technologies - hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling - was to be a geopolitical game changer releasing America from dependence on oil-producing countries in the Middle East. Domestically, it was to be an economic game changer, bringing jobs back to the abandoned coal towns of Appalachia, and an environmental game changer, due to the low levels of CO2 in natural gas.

The western part of Pennsylvania sits on the Marcellus shale formation, one of the richest in the country. The shale revolution should have had a happy ending for the commonwealth in the form of more jobs, more revenue, fewer emissions, and a cleaner environment. Instead, in the recent words of the Delaware River Basin Commission, “fracking activities have resulted in impairment to water resources, the environment, human health, and ecosystem health.”

Now Pennsylvania is at a crossroads.

On one hand, the natural gas industry and infrastructure are entrenched in Pennsylvania. On the other, a glut of supply and low prices have pushed lawmakers to create demand for gas to justify fracking, in the form of subsidies for petrochemical plants that use natural gas to make materials like plastics. Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Wolf has set lofty climate goals, such as cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Wolf also directed his agencies to work on joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate initiative to cap emissions.

In his latest budget address, the governor once again proposed a severance tax on natural gas extraction - something he has unsuccessfully proposed every budget cycle.

Pennsylvania’s ties to the natural gas industry on one hand with climate goals on the other not only threaten future progress, but also provide openings to roll back the little progress already achieved.

For example, in January, Republican legislators filed a lawsuit against the Delaware River Basin Commission, the interstate agency that manages water use in the Delaware watershed, arguing that the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction to ban fracking in the basin - all in the name of a small group of landowners hoping to become “Shale-ionnaires.” The ban has been in place since 2010.

The fight over fracking is heating up. But with more time and data, the arguments from fracking’s proponents lose standing.

A new report from the Ohio Valley River Institute, an independent think tank, shows that the eight counties that produce the bulk of natural gas in Pennsylvania gained fewer jobs than the statewide average. These counties also lost population.

John Hanger, who served as Pennsylvania secretary of Environmental Protection under Gov. Ed Rendell, commented on the findings, saying: “This report explodes in a fireball of numbers the claims that the gas industry would bring prosperity to Pennsylvania, Ohio or West Virginia. These are stubborn facts that indicate gas drilling has done the opposite.”

The damaging impacts of fracking go far beyond jobs: Industry impact fees are decreasing significantly every year, causing budget problems for counties. Emissions of methane (which natural gas has in abundance) are undercutting progress in CO2 reductions, and the health hazards of fracking are documented over and over again - from an investigative grand jury report to a Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

As rock miles underground is fractured, so too are lives above ground, as communities have been pitted against each other by promises of riches that, sadly, have not materialized except for a lucky few. Communities all over the commonwealth got stuck in years of litigation and contentious processes if they dared challenge the industry.

Pennsylvania is the home of the first oil well drilled in U.S. history. The commonwealth has a long relationship with extractive industry, but it is an abusive one. It is time to start planning a divorce. The encouragement of industry, in the form of petrochemical subsidies and still-lax regulations, undercuts important investments in renewable energy and the potential benefits of programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

What exactly a divorce looks like and how fast it could happen is not obvious. But it’s time for Pennsylvania to choose a side: empty promises of benefits in the face of losses, or a path to transform fractured communities to become sustainable and resilient.

___

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Feb. 21, 2021.

Editorial: Race against yourself

Pittsburgh city officials have announced that the 2021 marathon will not take place, dashing thousands of runners’ hopes that coronavirus vaccinations would return life to a normal-enough stage by May to hold the race. Those who registered will be able to complete their events “virtually,” which means they can run on their own and upload their route and time to receive a finisher’s medal.

Given the running tally of pandemic cases and fatalities, this was the only reasonable decision. Though the event would have been outdoors, the risk of spread and potential liability for the city and event organizer P3R would have been too great.

Nonetheless, the marathon still represents an opportunity for city officials to encourage healthy activity, as tens of thousands of competitors typically run.

Many of the same benefits of training and competing can be achieved individually or in small groups.

Runners can still build their endurance and speed and set a goal to challenge their body’s limits and set new personal records. Many train individually already, with the big race as the only time they participate in a large crowd.

There are numerous apps and social media groups dedicated to the sport of running. Anyone continuing to look for a competitive platform can upload training times and discuss techniques and records with communities of athletes.

This sort of competition is good - it encourages a push beyond what many think is possible.

And herein lies the real goal of the marathon. It’s true that running alongside many others forges a very determined, very sweaty community each May. But, at the end of the run, it was still “you against yourself,” your own limits and your own beliefs about your abilities.

Canceling the marathon doesn’t cancel the challenge, the struggle - or the health benefits of meeting that challenge and that struggle.

END

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