By: Andrea Sears
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Conservationists say the push to expand clean, renewable energy sources is a top priority, but it needs to be done in a way that protects wildlife.
There are now 27 wind farms in Pennsylvania, generating enough electricity to power almost 350,000 homes, and more are on the way.
Jim Murphy, legal advocacy director at The National Wildlife Federation, says the switch to renewable energy is critical to combat climate change that threatens all life on the planet, but planners should locate onshore wind farms primarily in developed areas such as agricultural land and avoid wilderness that provides habitat for wildlife.
“You want to avoid flyways, areas where you get a lot of animal movement, particularly birds and bats, and then you want to make sure that siting doesn’t unnecessarily fragment habitat,” he explains.
Murphy adds that operational and technological advances now make it possible to reduce the risks to species such as eagles and bats that may be at risk of flying into wind turbines.
Atlantic coastal waters may soon be home to massive, offshore wind farms. Murphy notes they too can pose a risk to birds, sea turtles and marine mammals, but offshore wind farms also have proven to benefit some aquatic life by forming artificial reefs.
“The Block Island wind operation, just in the couple of years it’s been on line, has attracted a lot of wildlife,” he points out. “It’s a great fishing ground already. It’s already serving as a habitat structure.”
Murphy says siting wind farms far from shore can minimize the impact on birds.
While clashes between environmentalists and the fossil fuel industry have been difficult and often dramatic, Murphy has found the developers of renewable energy to be receptive to concerns about its potential impact.
“By and large, from the industry to the state regulators to the federal regulators, concerns about wildlife rise to the top, and there’s generally a desire to do something to ensure that wildlife is protected,” he states.
In 2017 there were approximately 54,000 land-based wind turbines in use in the United States, generating enough power for 27 million homes.
By: Andrea Sears
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Last year’s state budget increased funding for career and technical schools in Pennsylvania for the first time in a decade, but education advocates say there’s still a long way to go.
That extra $10 million in the current state budget for schools that provide hands-on training and experience for high school students was a much-needed boost, but Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, said local school districts still are paying 90 percent of the cost of those schools out of their overall budgets.
“We see students who apply to these programs and they can’t get in, because there aren’t enough slots,” she said. “We would have more slots available to students if the school districts had enough money to send more students.”
Spicka called on Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers to commit an additional $10 million to career and technical education, and to increase Basic Education Funding by $400 million. She said failure to fund technical schools also hinders growth of the state economy by leaving employers unable to find skilled workers to fill vacancies.
“There are good jobs that can give students a pathway to a good, middle-class life even without going to college,” she said, “but these jobs are vacant, because students aren’t graduating from high school with the skills and the training that they need.”
About 55,000 students are enrolled in career and technical schools across the state.
Spicka said the low level of state funding for education has the greatest impact on lower-income school districts, which have to depend on local property taxes to fund their schools.
“As long as the Legislature continues to refuse to adequately fund education,” she said, “we’re going to have students in school districts that don’t have strong tax bases unable to access career and technical education opportunities.”
The state budget process will get under way next week when Wolf unveils his proposed budget for the coming year.
More information is online at paschoolswork.org.
By: Laura Rosbrow-Telem
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Chesapeake Bay became more polluted last year for the first time in a decade according to a new report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation – and a majority of the pollution came from Pennsylvania.
The foundation’s “State of the Bay Report” said extreme weather from climate change – including record rainfall in the summer – caused large amounts of dirty water to flow into the bay. In particular, increased pollution from farms and city streets drained into rivers and streams, especially the Susquehanna River.
According to Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania executive director for the foundation, more than half the state of Pennsylvania is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“It’s all about Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams and the lands that drain into them,” Campbell said. “And if we were to sustainably and successfully address this issue, we have to start at that source.”
Campbell recommends cost-effective, green solutions such as planting more trees along city streets, rivers and streams. This would help absorb nitrogen and other pollutants from the air and runoff from the land. According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania has 19,000 miles of polluted rivers and streams.
Campbell also advocated helping farmers so that less debris and pollutants from agricultural areas enter bodies of water. He said helping farmers adapt will likely cost the state resources beyond what is available in the farm bill.
“There is a need for additional logistical, technical and financial assistance to help get the plans that are necessary to keep soils and nutrients on the land instead of in the water,” he said.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker applauded the Keystone State’s efforts to improve the watershed.
“The Commonwealth is actually developing a good science-based plan as to how to move forward,” Baker said. “But there is simply no evidence that they have the political will to fund it.”
Baker had some pointed words for the president.
“The Trump administration’s anti-environmental policies must be stopped,” he said.
He urged the public to oppose the administration’s denial of climate change and efforts to roll back environmental protections.
The foundation’s State of the Bay Report is available at cbf.org.
By: Andrea Sears
PHILADELPHIA – Education advocates are condemning a Federal Commission on School Safety report that recommends ending Obama-era policies against discriminatory discipline practices in schools.
Studies have shown that black and brown students are punished more frequently and more harshly than are their white peers for similar or lesser infractions.
According to Raynelle Brown Staley, policy director at the Education Law Center, ending the policies won’t change the law – discrimination based on race, disability or identity will still be illegal – but if the change goes into effect, it will have an impact.
“We think it’s going to invite discrimination to occur,” she said, “because the Department of Education has shown their unwillingness to protect the civil rights of students across our country.”
The anti-discrimination policies only served as guidance, but their critics have claimed they have hampered teachers’ ability to discipline students and compromised school safety.
The recommendation to rescind the discipline policies is, in part, a reaction to mass school shootings such as the one in Parkland, Fla. However, Staley said, efforts to end racial disparities in educational discipline are a totally separate issue.
“There’s no correlation between the implementation of restorative justice and other strategies as alternatives to school discipline and the mass shootings that prompted the School Safety Commission report,” she said.
She noted that Pennsylvania school districts that have implemented policies to limit suspensions and expulsions have seen school climates improve.
Staley said Pennsylvania’s Department of Education has stated that it maintains a commitment to examining issues of discrimination, in suspension and other forms of school discipline.
“So, we feel confident that the Pennsylvania Department of Education will continue to uphold the civil rights of students across the state,” she said.
Staley added that the School Safety Commission report also recommends that school districts consider arming school personnel, a policy many believe would severely compromise school safety.
The School Safety Commission report is online at ed.gov.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan announced that the District Attorney’s
Office (the “DAO”) has opened a criminal investigation into the construction of the Mariner East
1, 2, and 2X pipelines being constructed through Chester County. This investigation includes the
owners of the pipelines – – Energy Transfer LP, Sunoco Logistics Partners, and related corporate
entities (collectively, “Sunoco”).
District Attorney Hogan stated, “In the last two years, we have seen these pipelines rip
through the heart of Chester County. We have seen sinkholes created by the pipeline drilling,
contaminated well water, and some subtle and not-so-subtle bullying of Chester County citizens
by big corporate interests. We expected the state regulators and the governor to step in and
assure the safety of Pennsylvanians. They have not. So now the Chester County District
Attorney’s Office will demand that every aspect of these pipelines be conducted safely, or we
will bring into play all of the tools of the criminal justice system.”
The Mariner East 1, 2, and 2X pipelines are intended to ship volatile natural gas from
western Pennsylvania all the way to Marcus Hook in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. These
pipelines cut directly through the middle of Chester County, bisecting heavily populated
residential areas, running near schools and businesses, and in close proximity to railroads and
The Mariner East 1 pipeline previously existed to ship refined petroleum under Chester
County running from the eastern portion of Pennsylvania to the west. Refined petroleum is a
very different substance than natural gas and Mariner East 1 is smaller than the planned Mariner
East 2 and 2X pipelines. Sunoco intended to build the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines along the
same route as Mariner East 1. In order to accomplish this, they intended to use horizontal
directional drilling, a process that can be problematic depending on the area where drilling is
occurring. Sunoco also introduced plans to reverse the flow of Mariner East 1 and use it to ship
natural gas under Chester County in the older and smaller pipeline.
The Mariner East pipeline construction has experienced significant problems. On the
property of homes in West Whiteland Township, the drilling resulted in significant sinkholes in
the residents’ back-yards. In another area of Chester County, the drilling caused the apparent
contamination of well water for multiple residences. In Beaver County, Pennsylvania, there was
an explosion along a pipeline, destroying a home. The Department of Environmental Protection
has fined the owners of the pipelines. But the construction of these pipelines keeps continuing.
“Two things recently happened that drew the attention of the District Attorney’s Office,”
District Attorney Hogan added. “First, the explosion in Beaver County changed speculation into
tangible danger and destruction. Second, over Thanksgiving, some of the residents of Lisa Drive
in West Whiteland were kind enough to take me onto their property and show me the damage
caused by the pipelines. The concerns and fears of those citizens were both disturbing and heartwrenching.
I then detailed District Attorney staff members to do the legal research to make sure
that the DAO had jurisdiction to investigate the pipelines and received an affirmative response.”
The District Attorney’s investigation will cover both past and future conduct related to
the pipelines. Potential charges include causing or risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief,
environmental crimes, and corrupt organizations. Such offenses could include criminal charges
directly against the individual employees involved, from workers on the pipelines through
corporate officers. Sunoco has been advised of this investigation via a letter. See attached,
District Attorney Hogan stated, “This investigation will not be easy. It will take time to
dig into the historical information and we will need to constantly monitor any future activity.
But we are committed to protecting Chester County. And we will need our citizens to help.”
Chester County Detective Ben Martin is the lead investigator. The assigned prosecutors
are Alexander Gosfield and Myles Matteson. Anybody with information should contact
Detective Martin at 610-344-6866.
District Attorney Hogan concluded with, “We understand that only the Pennsylvania
Utility Commission or the governor can shut down construction of these pipelines, and neither
has shown any inclination to do so. But we can at least make sure that anything that happens in
Chester County complies with the criminal laws of Pennsylvania. We owe that to our citizens.
Money should not be allowed to trump safety.”
By: Andrea Sears
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Animal rights advocates are reminding pet owners that cold weather can be fatal to dogs and cats that remain outside.
Many people keep their pets in backyard enclosures or tied to dog houses, even during the winter.
But like humans, pets can suffer from deadly frostbite and exposure and can experience dehydration if their drinking water freezes.
Last winter, at least 50 cold weather animal deaths were reported nationwide, but most deaths are not reported at all.
According to Kaleigh Rhoads, a campaign coordinator with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), pets already are at risk in Pennsylvania this year.
“Just this week in Fayette County, a dog was found left outside in 26-degree weather and police are currently filing charges for animal cruelty on that case,” she relates.
Rhoads urges pet owners to bring their animals inside if possible when the weather is cold.
If animals cannot be brought into the house, then Rhoads says owners are responsible for making sure they have adequate shelter outside of the house.
“A legal shelter in cold weather must be raised off the ground and completely waterproof, properly sized so the animal can stand and turn around while still retaining their body heat, have a protected entrance, dry bedding, and should be placed in an area where it will have the best protection from the wind and cold,” she states.
Rhoads adds that animals may need extra food in the winter if they’re burning more calories to keep warm.
Rhoads wants everyone to be aware that pet ownership comes with legal obligations, and protecting pets from severe weather is one of them.
“These dogs and cats are required by law to have adequate shelter,” she stresses. “So if you see an animal who has inadequate shelter or none at all, please report it to the authorities.”
More information and tips for cold-weather care of animals is available online at PETA.org.
By: Andrea Sears
PHILADELPHIA – Students with disabilities who are homeless in Pennsylvania have won an important victory.
Following an investigation into the plights of two students in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has been ordered to issue specific guidance to all school districts on their legal obligation to assign surrogate parents to students with disabilities who are living on their own.
Paige Joki, an attorney with the Education Law Center, points out that without surrogate parents, students have no way to enforce their legal right to get the educational services they need.
“It is our hope that by re-sending out this guidance, school districts are going to be better equipped across the Commonwealth to serve unaccompanied young people, and ensure that they’re prepared for their bright future ahead,” she states.
Federal law requires districts to appoint surrogate parents within 30 days to represent unaccompanied students throughout the special education process.
Joki notes that the two Philadelphia students, who were subjects of a complaint filed by the Education Law Center, were not assigned surrogate parents and suffered severe educational consequences.
“One student was wrongly graduated, which forced her to surrender her right to remain in school until age 21, which deprived her of years of educational services,” Joki relates. “And another student was forced to linger in a classroom that couldn’t meet her needs.”
The Bureau of Special Education investigation determined the students’ rights had been violated, and that the district did not have an adequate system to track and assign surrogate parents.
Joki says the state’s actions to remedy the problem represent vital progress for unaccompanied youth with disabilities across Pennsylvania.
“It is essential that we do everything we can to support these young people,” she stresses. “And part of the way that that needs to be done is that students need, and they have a legal right, to access a free and appropriate public education.”
In the 2016-2017 school year, there were more than 4,000 unaccompanied students statewide.
Proposed overhaul would force legal immigrants to risk their immigration status in order to access healthcare, housing and other programs
HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro, joined by 23 Attorneys General and Attorneys General-elect, today filed comments opposing President Trump’s latest effort to marginalize lawful immigrants in Pennsylvania and around the country. The Trump Administration has proposed an overhaul of so-called “public charge” rules that could make it easier to deny adjustment of status to legal immigrants, reject green card applications, or remove immigrants from the country if they utilize certain healthcare, nutrition or housing programs.
The Trump Administration’s proposed rule would drastically revise and expand the definition of “public charge” from ‘a person who is very likely to become primarily dependent on government services’, to a person who receives minimal public assistance for a relatively short period of time. This would mean that the percentage of non-citizens who use benefits that could be considered in a public-charge determination would expand from 3% to 47%. The proposed rule could force lawful immigrants to make a difficult and inhumane choice: protect their immigration status, or risk it by accessing healthcare programs or other programs for which they are legally eligible.
“Once again, President Trump is attempting to implement a policy which will have devastating consequences for immigrants and put the health of immigrant children at risk,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “This proposed rule change would effectively weaponize public assistance programs and harm the very people those programs were designed to help – most of whom are seeking a hand up to a better life, not a hand-out for the long term. It’s time for this Administration to stop dividing Americans by attacking those who are most vulnerable.”
Attorney General Shapiro and his colleagues filed official comments today, co-written by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, explaining why the rule is both unlawful and bad policy that would cause significant harm to Pennsylvania, which is one of 25 states that account for 94% of all foreign-born individuals in families receiving benefits. More than 167,000 children in Pennsylvania live in families that receive benefits, more than 80% of whom are U.S. citizens.
In addition to being bad public policy, Attorney General Shapiro believes that the proposed rule violates federal law because the Trump Administration has not presented appropriate evidence or analysis to justify the radical changes it has proposed. The proposed rule also violates Executive Orders governing the issuance of new regulations.
So-called “public charge” rules have existed in immigration law for several decades. They have been understood to allow governments to deny entry to potential immigrants who are likely to become “primarily dependent” on public assistance. Once a lawful immigrant has been labeled a “public charge,” he or she may be unable to successfully apply for a green card or adjust immigration status, and may even be removed from the country.
The Trump Administration’s proposal would upend decades of established practice and make lawful immigration much more difficult by:
- Greatly expanding the scope of services that can be considered in determining whether someone is likely to be “primarily dependent” on public assistance to include Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing assistance;
- Significantly lowering the threshold for declaring someone a likely “public charge” to as low as $150 per month; and,
- Potentially exposing immigrant children to being labeled a “public charge” if they are enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
In their comments, Attorney General Shapiro and his colleagues argue that the proposed changes will be “destabilizing, discriminatory, and will cause harm to immigration populations and to the States,” particularly with regard to healthcare costs, which can be expected to climb as immigrants avoid healthcare programs like Medicaid and instead seek expensive emergency care. For example, in the City of Philadelphia alone, more than 30,000 households with at least one immigrant resident utilize Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). If experts are correct in predicting that this change will result in a 15-35% reduction in benefit enrollment rates among immigrant families, Pennsylvania will see more than 37,000 families lose access to health insurance, costing the Commonwealth $270 million in federal funds. The proposed rule would also discriminate against people with disabilities and non-English speakers.
Joining Attorney General Shapiro in submitting today’s comments are the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Washington DC, and the Attorneys General-elect of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, and New York.
Harrisburg, PA – Acting State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego wants Pennsylvanians to “Look, Listen, and Learn.” This is not just the new theme of Fire Prevention Week Oct. 7 – 13, it could save the lives of those reacting to a fire in their homes.
Trego said today’s homes are filled with synthetic materials that burn hotter and faster than ever. In a typical fire, you may have as little as two minutes to safely exit the structure from the time you first hear a smoke alarm. Knowing how to use that time wisely is critical, and it takes both planning and practice.
This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme, “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere™,” seeks to educate the public about three basic but essential ways to quickly and safely escape a home fire.
· Look for places fire could start.
· Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm.
· Learn two ways out of every room.
“How an individual reacts to a possible fire in the first few minutes is critically important,” Trego said. “All too often, these decisions result in a loss of life. We need to do a better job of teaching people about escape planning and encourage them to practice their plans with their families.
A home escape plan includes working smoke alarms on every level of the home, in every bedroom, and near all sleeping areas. It also includes two ways out of every room, usually a door and a window, with a clear path to an outside meeting place that’s a safe distance from the home.
Some additional tips for developing and practicing a home escape plan:
- Draw a map of your home with all members of your household, marking two exits from each room and a path to the outside from each exit.
- Practice your home fire drill twice a year. Conduct one at night and one during the day with everyone in your home, and practice using different ways out.
- Teach children how to escape on their own in case adults are not able to help them.
- Make sure your house number is clearly marked and easy for the fire department to find.
- Close doors behind you as you leave — this may slow the spread of smoke, heat, and fire.
- Never go back inside a burning building. Once outside, stay outside.
For additional information about Fire Prevention Week and home escape planning, visit www.firepreventionweek.org