Pennsylvania

State Legislators Scored by Green Groups -- Best, Worst Legislators Highlighted in New Rankings

(Harrisburg) – Sierra Club and Clean Water Action released today a new scorecard for all current Pennsylvania state legislators for their support for environmental laws and regulations over the past two years. State House members and State Senators were scored based on floor votes in the legislature, or other official actions taken by legislators on environmental matters.

“Before voters head to the polls next Tuesday, the Environmental Scorecard is a way to see what a state legislators’ actual record has been over the past two years. Voters who care about the environment should hold their elected officials accountable,” stated Jeff Schmidt, Pennsylvania Chapter Director for the Sierra Club.

The two groups noted that there were large differences between legislators who have a history of supporting environmental positions and those who are clearly opposed. Myron Arnowitt, PA State Director for Clean Water Action stated, “It is striking that the House Environmental Resources Committee Chair, Rep. George (D-Clearfield) had one of the highest scores at 92%, while the senior Republican on the House Environmental Resources Committee, Rep. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) had one of the lowest scores at 13%. This stark difference shows how the outcome of the State House elections could have a big impact on the environment.”

The Environmental Scorecard is available for download at http://www.cleanwateraction.org/pa. Direct link [PDF].

Commonwealth moves to buffer water quality and control drilling waste

Commonwealth moves to protect rivers with new wastewater and stormwater rules
Mobilization of citizens, organizations and legislators succeeds in limiting pollution in streams

(Harrisburg) – The PA Independent Regulatory Review Commission voted today to enact new protections for the state’s rivers and streams. Two regulations were approved to set new treatment requirements for wastewater from Marcellus Shale drilling operations, and to require buffers along our best streams when new development is proposed there. These new rules fall under Title 25, in the PA code, Chapter 95, Wastewater Treatment Requirements, and Chapter 102, Erosion and Sedimentation Control.

State Forest Drilling Moratorium bill, HB 2235, moves out of committee

What our state forests could look like with more drillingVitali's bill to put a moratorium on Natural Gas Drilling in State Forests (HB 2235) was voted out of committee just now. he and Rep. Levdansky led this charge, along with a coalition of Democrats calling themselves the Green Dogs. The vote was 16-9. GOP members Harper and Everett voted for the bill, which is great news.

Read HB 2235 here.

The Green Dogs believe that they were sold a bill of goods by the Governor last year. The Governor asked them to support his budget with some prescribed forest leasing. In exchange, he said he wouldn't ask to lease more land this year.

But he has.

Hit Read More, below, yo.

When negligence causes explosions in your front yard -- the case of Norma Fiorentino and her Natural Gas Drilling neighbor

Right behind Norma Fiorentino's house, they have been drilling for natural gas. Some of the gas is coming from under Norma's property, so she gets a little money for it (not all that much so far, though). She also got a present on New Year's Day. Her water well exploded all over her yard. Now she can't drink the water from her tap anymore and she's worried that her kitchen might blow up.

Good times, right? And when the checks stop coming, the gas won't stop. It will still be there in the water table. Totally ruined. Won't that be great when she her or her heirs try to sell her land?

Clean Water Action is meeting with people and talking to them about their experience living nearby or around natural gas drilling rigs.

So what can you do? Watch this video, then I have two quick things for you after the jump.

As PA-DEP cuts proceed, a disaster on a natural gas drilling site.

On Wednesday, a Halliburton subcontractor hired by Cabot Oil & Gas spilled over 8000 gallons of an as yet undisclosed substance (known only as a "drilling gel") into a wetland and a creek in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Efforts by environmentalists to figure out just what's been dropped in the backyards of Pennsylvanians have turned out no real answers.

Natural Gas Drilling: Rendell caved on the Severance Tax; Rep. George and Rep. McCall are still in it to win it

I woke up Monday morning to hear on WHYY that Governor Rendell had abandoned the idea of imposing a tax on the extraction of natural gas from our state's massive but deeply buried reserves of natural gas. If he'd given a better explanation for his decision, I might be able to keep quiet about it, but the reason he said we shouldn't do it because it would kill a fledgling industry. Hogwash. Everywhere else the industry operates has a severance tax already and we've got more gas here than all of them combined (well, okay, we have the most, hands down -- no one knows exactly).

Besides, it's not a new industry at all. It's the same rigs, same teams, same operations already operating in Texas and Wyoming and Colorado. Moving to a new state doesn't make it a new industry. In fact, moving those rigs around to tap new gas plays is just how the business works. They already know how to do it. That's the essence of what they do.

So, the Inquirer did an editorial today spelling this out with numbers. Why, they ask, should we believe that a modest tax would quash this operation when the revenue forecast of the main players are so rosy? It seems like there is plenty of money there.

Some context the Inquirer didn't mention. Did you know that we don't tax the extraction of any natural resource from our state? Not coal. Not gas. Not wood. Not freaking gravel. Why? Because the coal industry is so powerful here that they have time to argue about any severance tax because they believe that as soon as one resource gets taxed that would take us that much closer to taxing coal. And they don't want that to be taxed ever. So they fight them all.

Awesome.

But we had a Governor who had said he would back taxing gas and Democrats who said they would, too. We had that, but now we don't anymore. It's too bad. Fortunately, the House Dems seem to be standing pat on Severance Tax, and that's the right call. Rep. George told PA Environmental Digest that he's standing firm on the Severance Tax and that Speaker McCall is with him.
Clean Water Action Pennsylvania

believes that the severance tax is so important that we canvassed part of McCall's district on it recently and delivered a stack of letters to him from locals who agreed: tax the shale and make it pay for environmental protection.

In fact, we specifically argue that a piece of the tax should be used for hiring and training enough DEP inspectors that one can be on site for each well bore at the stage of siting, drilling, cementing, stimulating and the closing of waste pits.

We Ignore the State Budget at Our Peril

Thanks for raising the issue of the state budget, Dan. To most Philadelphians Harrisburg can seem pretty remote, but we ignore what's going on right now at our peril. The General Assembly is currently considering two budget bills that will have serious negative consequences for our city.

One, already passed by the Republican-dominated Senate, cuts $2 billion in services (mostly education, public welfare and community economic development) all to avoid a modest, three-year tax increase. (For more on cuts and the impact of the proposed increase go to www.pccychildwatch.blogspot.com.) It's called SB 850.

The other, proposed by House Democrats, would restore many (but not all) of those cuts by removing higher education from the general fund, and funding it some other (as yet undetermined)way. Oh, and did I say it would also reduce basic education funding by $118 million and Pre-K by $15 million? That' HB 1416.

Dear Arlen and Bob -- you both could be as cool as Patrick, Allyson, Robert, Chaka and Joe, maybe even cooler...

Environmental advocates, like myself, are giving public thank yous for area U.S. Congressional Representatives who went out of their way to stand up for the environment and for all of us by voting the first bill to do something about Global Warming out of the House of Representatives.

Congressional action on climate change is long overdue. Sure, there are people out there who still have their doubts about climate change. Those people are known as "crazies."

Can I get an amen?

The reps I know of around here who voted for the new climate change legislation were Allyson Schwarz, Patrick Murphy, Joe Sestak, Chaka Fattah, John Murtha and Bob Brady all made the right vote.

For some of them, it was a no-brainer, but it's important to remember that people like Schwarz, Murphy and Sestak live in much more politically mixed districts, places where people listen to a lot more Rush Limbaugh than anyone in Philadelphia does. It took some bravery for these reps to make that vote as it will lead to real shifts in the way America operates, and they are going to have constituents that aren't too sure that they want that kind of change.

We could go further in the Senate, tho. Hit "read more."

Pennsylvania Morning Rush Wrap-Up

This morning I was asked to monitor my old home state of Pennsylvania for the Common Cause Protect the Vote project. Our operations in PA are aided by more than 80 poll monitors across the state and by the operations of our colleagues in the Election Projecting coalition. Here is what we learned:

Perhaps the biggest news maybe that Philadelphia Election Authorities may not count emergency ballots cast by voters because of broken machines until Friday. John Bonifaz of Voter Action is challenging the decision but if the vote is close tonight it might be that we won’t have the results in Pennsylvania until Friday. Under the law, these ballots are to be treated the same as regular ballots.

Aftershocks of the Minimum Wage: Lebanon Senator has less power but more craziness

One some level, it's always nice to have a far Right Winger in office. That way, he'll speak up from time to time and you'll know what that set is thinking. It's easy to forget. We don't go to dinner parties together very often and when we do it's uncomfortable for everyone.

One of PA's right-wingers recently spoke up after Berry Friesen, Public Affairs Manager for the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (a coalition PUP helped get started), wrote this op-ed in The Patriot-News, Sen. Mike Folmer wrote a letter to the editor in response.

Here's my favorite part of Folmer's little missive:

Health Centers! Emergency Care! Increasing support for Public Health

PUP members supporting the city's efforts to bring in more Federal funds on 4/14/08

In the present economic downturn, many states have decreased their spending, particularly in the area of public health. That's why it's gratifying to see City Council, the Department of Public Welfare and the General Assembly working together to bring more dollars into the state so we can actually improve care for the Uninsured and Medicaid eligible population in Philadelphia.

Quick Fact! Just because a person has Medical Assistance Health Coverage, that doesn't mean they can find a doctor! Most doctors around here refuse to accept Medical Assistance, that's why the Federally Qualified Health Centers and the City's Health Centers are so important.

Council took the first step yesterday to move a plan that will move millions more dollars into our hospitals and health centers. PUP is especially excited because the Department of Health believes that these new funds should enable them to bring wait times at City Health Centers down to less than 30 days and improve health care by implementing electronic records throughout all city facilities (including jails and youth centers).

More details in the jump!

Rx4PA: As the economy tumbles

The economy is tumbling. The AP reported this morning that jobs have dropped for a year now.

The number of newly laid off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits soared last week.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that claims for unemployment benefits rose by 35,000 to 380,000. Private economists had expected claims would rise by a smaller 18,000.

The story goes on to suggest that we're due to lose another 70K across our economy.

Here in PA, we've got a chance to extend healthcare coverage to many of the people who will be laid off here, at affordable prices, and thereby ease the suffering of many workers out of work. It's money that's stopping it.

Smokers have been taxed here, among other things, to create a fund that cuts malpractice premiums (at the very least) in half across PA. We collected much too much tax money for that fund and now the state wants authorization to reallocate part of that money into paying for the uninsured.

With another dime per pack on cigarettes and reallocating this money that's just sitting, we could cover many of the uninsured here. In a few years, I believe, the program would reach all of them.

The man-on-the-street will have a lot less money in his pocket, soon, when he loses his job and when a general economic tightening reins in the hours, the bonuses, the overtime, the promotions, the raises and the tips or commissions of others. We can, at least, insure that he remains whole and healthy through this downturn.

The Senate R's are coming out with their own plan this week. It's not likely to cut a break to consumers. They are more than content to let their sick constituents get sicker and destroy the liquidity of working families who catch a bad break in order to stay tight with doctors and hospitals. We can't let them do it. SB 1137 is the right vehicle to maintain health through the coming recession and it should simply pass.

An Open Letter to Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, organized by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project

From the Philadelphia Unemployment Project

An Open Letter

April 10, 2008

Dear Senator Clinton and Senator Obama:

Healthcare has been central to each of your campaigns. As you work here in advance of the April 22nd primary, we wanted to alert you that healthcare is the number one opportunity we have to improve the lives of working Pennsylvanians right now. We, the undersigned, believe your campaigns could advance the cause of Pennsylvania’s reforms, should you choose to make them an issue.

Early last year, Governor Rendell unveiled an ambitious package of reforms known as The Prescription for Pennsylvania (Rx4PA, www.rxforpa.com). Rx4PA would expand access to health insurance with a high quality healthcare plan. With revisions from the House Democrats, that plan is now known as “Access to Basic Care,” and it passed the House this month in Senate Bill 1137.

Rx4PA would also rein in the forces that have driven up the price of insurance in the small group market, reward employers already providing coverage and insure that no one with a pre-existing condition is denied coverage.These also passed the House of Representatives in House Bill 2098 and House Bill 2005.

If these reforms succeed in the Commonwealth, it will make the arguments for either of your national plans much stronger. Rx4PA’s success should also galvanize your allies in Washington while chastening your opponents.

Make insurers insure people again

A coalition of Democrats and Republicans who really support small businesses is forming to make certain that you can get health insurance at every phase of your life. They should soon send a bill to the Senate that will make our health insurance market make sense.

Can you think of an industry that makes its money by avoiding customers? Doesn't that seem like a really weird concept? Well, there is one: the health insurance industry. Private insurers, like Aetna, carefully screen their customers to keep the ones most likely to have health problems out, a.k.a., "cherry picking." They look for small companies filled with healthy, young workers and offer them great plans. Then, they just rake in premiums, because even at reasonable rates they are making money because the young turks don't get sick.

They can do this because Pennsylvania permits insurers to set rates based for an employer based on the health status of its employees. So, Blue Cross & Blue Shield have to insure everyone. All the middle-aged and older workers end up with the Blues, while Aetna and others steal the healthier workers. By "steal," I mean they rob these larger pools of the healthy workers who bring costs down. That's the same trade-off we've always had with insurance. I pay in now while I'm healthy so that, in exchange, I won't have to pay in so much when I'm older.

That's not how it works anymore. Click "Read More" to find out what legislators are trying to do about it.

Likely House Vote TODAY on Insurance Reform and Final Passage of "Access to Basic Care"

Two editorials today in both of our city's main dailies highlight the hope for Final passage of much needed coverage for the Uninsured.

Editorial: Covering the Uninsured, The Inquirer

A SICK PLAN, The Daily News

Both papers say that the House should approve "Access to Basic Care" in S.B. 1137. That means they should permit the Dems to make their technical amendments (they dropped a couple brackets in there) and send it to the Senate.

That means you, Rep. Perzel, who stepped out before the final vote on the amendment that put "Access to Basic Care" in the bill. Rep. John Taylor, a Philadelphia Republican who usually supports the working poor on issues like this, was not around last week. Hopefully, today, he'll be back in the Capitol and will support the House Democrats new plan. Kenney and O'Brien are on the side of right and justice. Speaking of the Democrats, though: Democrats, none of you can call in sick this week. It would be more irony than I can really handle if people lost their chance to pay for doctor visits because one of you got the flu.

Up for first consideration in the House today, as well, is HB 2005, which reforms the market for insurance purchasers for small groups of people -- the small and medium sized business. This legislation would make it impossible to deny coverage to individuals because they have a health problem (the "pre-existing condition"). In other words, sick people will still be able to buy coverage. Insurers won't be able to jack up people’s rates based on their medical history, and the cost of covering someone will be based only on their age and the average cost of covering a person in that area or community, modified by the individual's age.

HB 2005 will also lower costs. When the uninsured get covered and when hospitals quit making so many mistakes, insurers won’t have to pay out as much money for medical bills anymore. Under HB 2005, the state can make sure that insurers can’t keep the difference. Instead, they’ll have to lower premiums, making insurance less expensive for individuals and easier for employers to provide.

[If anyone asks you, the Deluca Amendment is good and the Micozzie amendment masquerades as compromise while effectively gutting the bill - if in doubt, pass it it as it is.]

More details on the plan, after the jump. So Jump!

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