Tag Archives: legislature

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 MarcellusMoney.org, 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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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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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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Pa. lawmakers find billions for Marcellus Shale Welfare Fund

Mountaintop cleared for a well pad and pipeline connecting to wells across Gray RunIt’s looking as though Pennsylvania lawmakers may repeat last year’s performance and get the 2013 budget approved in time for them to go home for the July 4 holiday. The hot dog industry is depending on them.

To get it done, House and Senate Republicans (Democrats – at least those who would object – have pretty much been left out of the discussions) seem to have struck a deal with Gov. Corbett. If he gives back the cuts he proposed to higher education, they will give him another $1.65 billion for his favorite charity.

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Some Marcellus-related companies may be boosting profits by importing illegal workers

A quarter mile from a Marcellus Shale job site, WV union workers protest imported laborers

A newspaper story Thursday reported a federal indictment against a Texas-based company accused of bringing illegal workers to Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale fracking fields.

Coincidentally, workers in West Virginia are staffing road-side positions, protesting the practice of some Marcellus-related companies bringing out-of-state workers to take jobs for which local workers are available.

“We have a lot of people trained to do the work,” Stephen “Vern” Montoney, of Randolph County, W.Va told me last week.

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Sometimes it takes us all

A row of 300-foot tall wind turbines visible from the Pennsylvania turnpikeWind power, a Pennsylvania state politician recently said, is accomplishing one thing: spending taxpayer money.

But there is growing evidence it is doing other, more positive things, such as creating jobs and supplying the electrical grid – with considerably less risk than the Keystone State’s other burgeoning energy source.

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Late may not be better than never

50-foot wide pipeline path cuts through Loyalsock forestLast month, the EPA announced new regulations that will require natural gas drillers to capture the methane they ordinarily allow to escape before they cap their well. The new rules take effect in 2015.

Last week, the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, announced proposed regulations that would require drillers to tell us what chemicals they are pumping into the ground – and sometimes spilling onto the ground and into our waters – to release natural gas by fracturing shale thousands of feet underground.

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Replacing humans with machines not necessarily a cost savings

NASA photo of Alan Shepard's launch of first US astronaut into spaceThe Messeder Space Pod (for want, at present, of a better name) finally is ready to go. My co-pilot in life and other travels went visiting her sister a couple months ago, and came home in love with an r-Pod, a small (18-foot) camper trailer not much bigger than the original space capsule that carried Astronaut Alan Shepard from Cape Canaveral to a wet spot in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Speaking of bullies – a case in point

A field of plowed furrows awaits planting the new year's cropVermont residents would like to know what the heck is in their food. So they went to their legislature to ask for a law, and it looked for a time that their request would be honored. Unfortunately, Monsanto – the poster child for Genetically Modified groceries – informed the state that should it have the effrontery to pass such a law, the agricultural mega-corp would sue.

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Hydroelectric power – an alternative to burning dead carbon lifeforms

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the nation’s dams not currently being used to generate electricity could, if equipped, supply more than 12 gigawatts of power to run coffee pots, computers and cars.

One gigawatt is enough to electrify about 300,000 homes. That’s more than seven counties the size of the 100,000-person one in which I live in southcentral Pennsylvania.

And some of the dams probably would be cost effective to upgrade and equip. … Continue reading …

EPA regs not to blame for refinery shutdowns

One of the real reasons East Coast refineries are shutting downAccording to several sources, including the refinery owners, the U.S. EPA is not the source of their woes – unless we count a planned 25 percent increase in U.S. vehicle gas mileage scheduled by 2015. … Continue reading …

Bullying: We rail against it, but do little to actually stop it

I graduated Eighth Grade in ceremonies held at the local Grange hall, next to the town fire station, at the other end of Church Street, where the town’s only church stood.

It was in the two-room school house, and on the way home from it, I learned about bullying, … Continue reading…

So many colors in a rainbow

First Born's kids play on a Civil War battlefieldGoogle has started a new, free, travel opportunity. It’s called the Google Art Project, and offers young people of all ages opportunity to visit places many will never have opportunity to see – for instance, Freer Gallery of Art (Smithsonian), Denver (Colorado) Art Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Art. Point your browser to www.googleartproject.com and start admiring.

Art, one of my college professors said, is the history of the tribe. To which I add, that and fiction. In both, the creators get to show life as they see it, without their stories being approved by Texas and California school districts.

“But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one”

(From “Flowers are Red,” by Harry Chapin, 1978)

When my son started school, … Continue reading …

Big Brother wants your Facebook password

A growing number of employers would like your Facebook login filled in.I was in Florida a couple weeks ago, and purchased a SunPass – like an EZ-Pass to most of the rest of the East Coast states, except EZ-Pass doesn’t work in Florida. They have their own thing going down there, and they’re not sharing.

Of course, one can drive the Florida Turnpike without a SunPass. The state also has Photo Billing, with which it has replaced humans in toll booths. Gone is the toll-taker with whom you could have a slow-down and human contact on a long trip via interstate highway. Instead, you go speeding through (no need to slow down in Florida) beneath an array of cameras and have your picture taken.

And if your car does not have a working SunPass, the registered owner of your license plate will get a bill from the state – plus a couple bucks “administration fee.”

We have become inured to cameras following us around. Banks have them, as do most retail stores. They’re in casinos, … Continue reading …

Just how much does a gallon of gas cost, anyway

We may pay $3.95 at the pump, but the actual cost is much higher.The U.S. Senate this week decisively shot down a proposal to eliminate subsidies to Big Oil & Gas.

The tally was 51 senators, including two Republicans – from Maine – voting to end the subsidies, and 47, including four Democrats – from Alaska, Lousiana, Nebraska and Virginia – voting to keep them. The 100-seat senate has a nifty rule in place designed to increase the power of the minority party: 60 votes are required to pass a bill.

It’s probably coincidental that the four states whose Democrat senators opposed the repeal are heavily involved in oil production or transportation.

Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. Bob Casey voted to repeal the subsidies, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey voted to keep them.

A report published last year said Pennsylvanians provide nearly $3 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel producers. It’s a subject that draws little media attention. … Continue reading …

Fines, remediation & campaign contributions: all “a cost of doing business”

The state Department of Environmental Protection announced last week it had fined Chesapeake Appalachia LLC “$565,000 for multiple violations” in its Marcellus operations. Chesapeake Appalachia is a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy Corporation, an Oklahoma City, Okla.-based company which claims to be the nation’s second largest producer of natural gas.

In Potter County, the company was found to have insufficient erosion and sedimentation controls. The deficiency was discovered when heavy rains washed dirt off a road and a nearby well pad, into the Right Branch of Wetmore Run, am environmentally high-quality stream.

“High-quality streams receive some of the highest levels of protection in the state,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said in a prepared statement, “and (natural gas drilling) operators are expected to ensure their work does not negatively affect them.

The sediment carried by the stream also “impacted” Galeton Borough Authority’s water treatment filters, which, to be fair, Chesapeake paid to repair. Continue reading

Pa. residents pay the taxes, should share the profit

A swath cuts through Loyalsock State Forest for a natural gas pipeline

As I begin to write this offering, we await Gov. Tom Corbett’s second State of the State address, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 11:30 a.m. There is some expectation he will remove a moratorium on releasing additional state forest land for Marcellus shale natural gas exploration. Currently, about 700,000 of the state’s more than two million publicly owned acres has been leased to Marcellus shale developers.

Meanwhile, the state House of Representatives has received a Senate report on House Bill 1950 – a bill that has been batted back and forth, in one form or another, for two years and which may, eventually, begin to levy a tax on the billions of dollars in profits gas and oil companies plan to extract from beneath our feet.

Several years ago, my mother owned 50 acres of woodland in Maine. One day, while I was on leave from the Navy, she came home to report seeing a van parked on the road that ran around the property. Would I go check on it, she asked. Continue reading …