Monthly Archives: July 2012

Pocket change: Fracking industry invests $23M in Pa legislature, reaps $1T profit

Fracking money pours from a golden faucet into capitol dome inverted to be a funnelAccording to a release last week by, the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry has spent $23 million in direct contributions to favored legislator campaigns and lobbying efforts since 2000.

The big winners in the Cash for Legislation sweepstakes between 2000 and April 2012 were:

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Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater

Unlimited free speech can become explosiveWhen I stopped counting, there were 12 dead and 58 wounded in the audience that had, earlier in the evening, looked forward to a peaceful midnight opening of “The Dark Knight Rises” – third in a series of Batman movies.

Shortly after the shooting in Aurora, CO, authorities had arrested 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes …

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“UnClean Coal” not listed on billboards

Coal heaped and waiting for customersKing Coal loudly proclaims its place in our society, from the employment it claims to offer to the electricity it sends to our homes. Billboards along the Interstate insist that coal – often referred to as “clean coal” – is the way to go for continued prosperity and energy independence.

But the billboards and television commercials leave out some established, and troubling, truths their supporters hope we will not notice lurking behind those huge signs.

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Don’t kill the army because the general was infected

Paterno led the team to victory, but why allow his disgrace to destroy the team

Joe Paterno guided his football teams to some pretty impressive performances. Football, we all know, is seasonal preoccupation  – except in upper New England where winter isn’t just a word surrounding Christmas, and where basketball is the main focus, primarily, I suspect, because it’s not necessary to plow two feet of snow off the area between the hoops.

Football, in much of the nation, means money, and JoePa’s boys certainly made certain a healthy serving of it landed beneath the home goal posts in State College, Pa. – enough so that his final contract was $5.5 million and, one hoped, worth every penny.

JoePa’s fall from grace threatens to take the team down with him. It shouldn’t.

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It’s all in the presentation

Old timey outhouse connected to state of the art communications towerI bought a container of ice cream, recently. In its upper corner was a big sign boasting of “2 extra scoops, over 15% more ice cream than 1.5 quarts.”

I know I’m in the ranks of Senior Citizens, but does anyone still alive remember when a half-gallon box of ice cream actually contained two quarts of the frozen treat?

In 2007, I wrote a tradition among through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. When they arrived at the half-way point on their trek along the 2,100-mile Georgia-to-Maine trail, many of them paused to attempt the Half-Gallon Challenge. The challenge was to see how quickly they could consume a half-gallon of ice cream.

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Wind helping blow coal away – in the U.S., anyway

Wyoming and Pennsylvania have some of the most reliable wind in the nationThe largest wind farm in the world may be coming to the Wyoming prairie. And smaller farms are in the works offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Wyoming project would comprise up to 1,000 turbines, generating enough electricity to serve a million homes. The project, in two groups of turbines named, respectively, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre sites, would occupy about 2,000 acres of public and private land south of Rawlins. Together, the two farms could replace two coal-fired generating plants in nearby Nevada.

The Bureau of Land Management has completed the final environmental impact statements …

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City kid, Country kid and Real Maple Syrup

(This piece first was published as a guest column on The Green Grandma, July 10, 2012. It will continue there after the jump.)

Someone asked recently what could be done about Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision in 2010 that allows unlimited money to be spent on presidential campaigns – as long as the donors don’t actually talk with the candidate about where and how to spend it.

Last week SCOTUS affirmed that decision with an addition: the same rule – there is only the one – applies now to state campaigns.

The answer to the writer’s query is simple. About the decision, nothing. Contrary to the opinion of at least one politician, the Supreme Court, by definition, has the last word. Until a new Supreme Court changes it. Those who say they want to follow the U.S. Constitution need to read that part; it’s in there.

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Save gas, clear the air, promote retail traffic and get a little exercise; downtown pedestrian-only should be an attractive idea

Kloggers perform in a pedestrian-only stage area in Burlington, Vt.A recent thread about sidewalk cafés in Philadelphia reminded me of a thread I’ve followed many years in the town where I live – making a portion of downtown pedestrian-only. The idea benefits everyone who shops, works and even breathes in the burg that tries it.

It’s a hard sell, though. We Americans have a long independent streak.

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Community shows a way to reduce water use

Hillside development features rooftop solar panels and natural wastewater treatment

(This column was first published on Rock The Capital, Oct. 21, 2011.)

It is said that that much of the county in which I live is only 30-45 days away from drought. The land beneath the houses and pavement is nearly solid – compacted dried clay virtually incapable of storing water.

We turn on our tap and water issues forth, which we use to drink, wash ourselves and our dishes, and flush away our waste. Most of us remain unconcerned about how long that sequence will continue.

In 1998, one group of South Central Pennsylvania residents had a different idea. They created a community designed from the start to minimize demands on natural resources, including water. It seems to be working.

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The hidden cost of food

Fields of crops becoming ready for pickingMen and women are picking tomatoes to earn 50 cents for each 32-pound bucket, $50  to hand pick more than two tons of tomatoes in a 12-hour day.

Of course,  cheaper isn’t always better. The idea leaves thousands of farm hands needing taxpayer support for food stamps and medical care because their wages will not cover the expense.

For one more penny a pound, the person who picked it can see a doubling of her wage, but it’s hard convincing grocery chains and restaurants it’s the right thing to do.

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Pennsylvania’s parallel governments: a journey to The Outer Limits

Two Pennsylvania capitals side by sideFor decades, science fiction has been telling of parallel universes. I was introduced to the idea in my youth by “The Twilight Zone,” a weekly television show that ran 1959 – 1964 and featured people in strange situations – often in places they thought they recognized, but were not where they thought they were – their home town, but with no people, for instance.

Or “imagine, if you will,” as show host Rod Serling would say, finding yourself on the street where you lived. You walk up to your home and are met by – yourself. It’s you, your wife, your child, your dog – and none of them know who you are.

Sometimes the evening news resembles reruns of those old shows. We recognize the representatives we voters sent to Harrisburg to oversee the state’s operations, but they seem not to recognize us. It’s as though we live under parallel governments.

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The Sky is Pink

White puffy clouds float through a pink sky“With the gas-bearing Marcellus Shale formation underlying 50 percent of the state (of New York), and with the gas industry proposing upwards of 100,000 gas wells (in the state), (Gov. Mario Cuomo’s decision to repeal a moratorium on fracking) could fundamentally transform New York.”

With that, producer/director Josh Fox opens an 18-minute video foray into the dangers of fracking for natural gas. Fox was nominated for an Academy Award in 2010 for “Gasland,” a documentary about the hazards of fracking, and is working on a full-length sequel, “Gasland 2.”

In his new short video, Fox says all the chemicals and gas often do not remain confined to the well casing and pipelines, and the industry knows the dangers they deny exist.

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