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Category Archives: Protect Quality of Life

Report: Construction Contractors Cheating Workers, Taxpayers

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By: Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Unscrupulous contractors in southeast Pennsylvania routinely are violating labor laws and victimizing customers, including state and local government, according to a new report.

The report from the Keystone Research Center found many contractors in the regional Philadelphia construction industry are in a race to the bottom.

Stephen Herzenberg, author of the report, calls that “destructive competition” – cutting costs by misclassifying workers as independent contractors, cheating them out of overtime pay, investing little in worker skills and in some cases operating unsafely.

“When construction contractors and subcontractors compete by violating the law, wage theft, threatening workers’ health and safety, in the end nobody else wins,” he states.

The report says imposing stiffer penalties for labor law violations and directing more resources to enforcement agencies would help safeguard workers, law abiding contractors and taxpayers.

Herzenburg points out that effective enforcement can pay for itself by directing revenue from fines and penalties to enforcement agencies, and it can change the current landscape of the construction industry.

“It creates a situation where, instead of people violating the law becoming the rule, you get back to what you’re supposed to have, which is most companies complying with the law,” he explains.

The report cites a study that found the Philadelphia residential construction industry operates “informally” with no pretense of adhering to state or federal labor laws.

Herzenberg notes that the skilled construction trades are among the last pathways available for blue collar workers to move into the middle class, and reining in construction companies that break the law benefits everyone.

“In the end, that’s not only good for our middle class, it’s actually a better way to run your economy,” he stresses. “You end up with a more productive economy as a whole as well as a more productive construction industry.”

Chesapeake Bay More Polluted for First Time in Decade

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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.

Chester County District Attorney Opens Criminal Investigation Into Mariner East Pipeline

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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
streets.
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,
Exhibit A.
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.”


 

FULL PRESS STATEMENT HERE

CALN TOWNSHIP SET FOR $525,000 WATER MAIN UPGRADE

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COATESVILLE, PA  – Pennsylvania American Water today announced the start of construction to install new water main in Caln Township to improve service reliability and prevent water outages. The project cost is approximately $525,000 and will replace outdated pipe dating back to the 1940s.

Starting this week, the company will install nearly 3,500 feet of new eight-inch ductile iron along Reed Street between 17th Avenue and 13th Avenue, and along 13th Avenue between Reed Street and West Chester Road. Crews expect to complete the water main installation, testing and disinfection, and connecting customers’ service lines to the new main by early December, weather permitting. Final street paving restoration is scheduled for next spring.

Crews will work weekdays between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. Traffic restrictions will be in place during construction, and motorists are urged to give themselves extra time and exercise caution when traveling through the work zone. During construction, customers might experience temporary water service interruptions, discolored water and/or lower than normal water pressure.

SEPTA Sued for Banning Ads About Housing Discrimination

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By: Andrea Sears

PHILADELPHIA – Banning ads about controversial issues is a violation of free-speech rights – that’s the claim of a lawsuit filed against the nation’s sixth-largest public transit system.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has compiled data showing racial disparities in home mortgage lending in 61 American cities, including Philadelphia. But when it sought to highlight the results with an ad campaign, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority refused to display the ads on its trains and buses.

Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, says SEPTA’s policies banning ads on political and controversial social issues turn the First Amendment on its head.

“Political speech and public debate get the most constitutional protection,” says Tack-Hooper. “But SEPTA’s policy essentially says the more important the speech, the less SEPTA wants it on its subways and buses.”

She says in letters exchanged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, SEPTA explained its policy as an attempt to keep out hate speech.

But Tack-Hooper points out that the courts already have told the authority it could not ban an anti-Muslim ad campaign sponsored by a group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

“Of course, even those AFDI ads, which I think most SEPTA riders would probably agree are racist and gross, didn’t bring the trains to a grinding halt,” says Tack-Hooper. “They didn’t have much of an effect at all on the operation of the transit system.”

She notes that the City of Philadelphia, which controls ad space on city bus shelters, has agreed to display the CIR ads. Tack-Hooper adds that the Transportation Authority has other ways to respond to hate speech in advertising that are far less extreme than banning protected speech.

“For example, SEPTA could use its ad space to put up its own message of tolerance and disavow groups like AFDI that might advertise on SEPTA,” says Tack-Hooper.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Wolf Administration Joins in Tree Planting Event to Kick Off “Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership” to Improve Water Quality

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 Harrisburg, PA – The Wolf Administration today joined in a streamside tree planting event at a farm in Lancaster County to kick off a local, state, and federal partnership to plant 10 million trees to improve water quality in Pennsylvania’s part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Patrick McDonnell, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, and Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding participated in planting about 100 trees along Little Chiques Creek. They were joined by farm owner Rodney Garber, EPA Region 3 Administrator Cosmo Servidio, Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker, Lancaster County Conservation District Manager Chris Thompson, Future Farmers of America students, and a host of water conservation organizations.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation coordinates the “Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership,” supporting the effort with federal and private funding as well as some of more than $800,000 in state funding provided to the foundation from the DEP Growing Greener Plus and Environmental Education Environmental Justice Grant Programs and the DCNR Riparian Forest Buffer Grant Program.

The goal is to plant 10 million trees by the end of 2025 to help Pennsylvania make significant progress in reducing nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment levels in streams and rivers.

“We’ve all seen fast-moving uniformly brown water in streams after a rainstorm, and many people have come to take it for normal,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “It’s not. It’s sediment—literally the earth beneath our feet—eroding from banks to damage water quality and aquatic life.

“With 43 counties in the Bay watershed, Pennsylvania faces a great challenge to restore local water quality and help farms, towns, businesses, and residents make changes to prevent further pollution. The only way to meet the challenge is to combine innovative ideas with committed partnerships, as the Keystone 10 Million Trees initiative demonstrates today.”

“When we look at solutions for some of our conservation challenges, such as managing stormwater from very heavy rain events, having clean drinking water, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife, it turns out that trees are the answer,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. “We are excited to work with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and many other partners on this movement to plant trees along streams and in communities across Pennsylvania.”

“A farm is the perfect place to kick off this initiative,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “Prosperous farms and a safe, abundant food supply depend on clean water, and a clean water supply depends on strategic farm management practices like forested buffers. Pennsylvania’s farmers are key to clean water for our region and we are pleased to support them as stewards of our resources.”

While the partnership will plant trees throughout Pennsylvania’s part of the Bay watershed, special emphasis is placed on five southcentral counties, where land is under intensive agricultural use, which collectively put more than 30 million pounds per year of nitrogen pollution into local waters.

Trees will also be planted in parks, on municipal properties, and on private properties. Trees are cost-effective tools to filtering and absorbing polluted runoff, stabilizing streambanks, and improving soil quality.

By the end of April, the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership will plant more than 30,000 trees at over 50 locations.

Eastern Panhandle Pipeline Expansion Raises Concerns

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A TransCanada pipeline extension is the subject of protests from Pennsylvania through Maryland to West Virginia. It would enter Maryland just west of Hancock. (Stacy Miller)

A TransCanada pipeline extension is the subject of protests from Pennsylvania through Maryland to West Virginia. It would enter Maryland just west of Hancock. (Stacy Miller)

March 28, 2018

BALTIMORE – A natural-gas pipeline expansion that would run from Pennsylvania through Maryland and into West Virginia is raising concerns about its potential environmental impact.

TransCanada wants to build the Eastern Panhandle Expansion, and says increasing the natural-gas supply in the area will support growth.

Opponents call it the “Potomac River Pipeline” because it would run underneath the river, with the potential of affecting the drinking water in and around Washington, D.C.

Rianna Eckel, a Maryland organizer for the group Food and Water Watch, said reliance on fossil fuels is moving backwards from a healthier environment.

“We believe that further investing in pipeline infrastructure, natural-gas infrastructure, locks us into a system where we are then dependent on fossil fuels,” she said.

Food and Water Watch called on Gov. Larry Hogan to begin an investigation into whether the pipeline would negatively affect water quality, but the governor declined. Emergency legislation has been filed in Annapolis to require that the more extensive Water Quality Certification be conducted, and currently is in the House Rules Committee.

If the legislation doesn’t pass, only the federal government would have the ability to halt the pipeline’s progress.

Environmental groups are worried about the method known as horizontal directional drilling that TransCanada would use to dig under the Potomac. They have said that on previous pipelines, thousands of gallons of drilling fuel leaked into water sources. In this case, Eckel said, that would affect millions of local residents.

“The Potomac River is the main drinking-water supply of more than 6 million people who live downstream,” she said, “so anything that happens to that water can quickly impact the drinking water of almost 6 million people.”

The pipeline would connect with the Mountain Valley Pipeline that begins in northwestern West Virginia, which also has been the subject of recent protests by environmental groups.

Information about House Bill 1826 is online at mgaleg.maryland.gov.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service – MD