Editorials from around Pennsylvania

October 23, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:

Gov. Wolf should step on the gas to clean up PA’s power sector, labeled the 5th dirtiest in the nation

Harrisburg Patriot News/Pennlive.com

Oct. 20

Now that Gov. Tom Wolf has signed an executive order for Pennsylvania to join nine other states in a program to push power companies to reduce carbon emission, climate control advocates are pushing him to step on the gas and get the train moving.

Mandy Warner, senior policy manager of the Environmental Defense Fund, is concerned it could take more than a year before the Department of Environmental Protection completes the regulations and legislators, as well as the public, weigh in on the Commonwealth’s joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to reduce carbon emissions from the power section. And she thinks that’s too long to wait.

“Our pollution is so massive,” said Warner. “It either equals or exceeds all of the rest of the RGGI states. We’re a huge part of the problem and need to be a huge part of the solution.”

Warner said Pennsylvania has the 5th dirtiest power sector in the nation, which brings serious health consequences.

“In some areas of Pittsburgh, asthma rates are five times the national average . . . in some area, one in two children has asthma. This is not fair to the children, especially when there’s something we can do about it.”

RGGI is one major step toward doing something about it. Pennsylvania would join Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont in turning to power plants to reduce their impact on global warming.

The program essentially levels a tax on power companies that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Like the other RGGI states, Pennsylvania would require power plants to acquire credits for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit.

Power companies would have a strong financial incentive to reduce their emissions, as the credits the state allows are reduced over time.

“We need the power sector to get to near zero emissions,” Warner said, and RGGI is the best way forward.

But after the governor’s bold move last , there already is push back in the state legislature. Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County and the chairman of the Senate’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, is skeptical about whether RGGI would benefit Pennsylvania. He and other Republicans object to what they call the governor’s “go-it-alone” approach in signing an executive order.

The Environmental Defense Fund and climate change advocates applaud the governor for showing bold leadership on an issue they consider urgent and a matter of life or death for the planet.

Yaw and his colleagues are right, Pennsylvania is not New York or New Jersey. We are a major energy producer and our economy is closely tied to the natural gas and coal industries. But that is no reason to block what is a proven process to provide incentives to the industries to clean up their emissions.

Instead of complaining about the governor’s executive order, they should get on board and make sure the regulations DEP drafts to join RGGI will protect both the environment and the economy.

Warner says both are possible. Power companies in states that have joined RGGI have seen significant economic benefits in reducing carbon emissions, she said, and they have quickly come on board as they saw the savings in their operations.

Plus, in all of the states, rate payers have been protected from increases in utility costs through rebates and other programs, Warner said. Overall, RGGI seems to be a win-win for both the power industry and the environment.

Gov. Wolf is right to proceed carefully and to make sure both the public and lawmakers have a chance to provide input. But Warner and the EDF also are right to warn that lawmakers shouldn’t try to slow down the process, considering the urgency of climate change and the health issues involved.

They argue DEP doesn’t need until July 2020 to draft the regulations, since successful models already exist. They say it can be done by spring of 2020. And while they agree with encouraging legislative input, as well as holding town halls and public education forums, they contend Pennsylvania should be able to join RGGI no later than next summer.

We understand their urgency and join them in urging Gov. Wolf to move as quickly and as prudently as possible in what clearly is the right direction - planting Pennsylvania firmly among the RGGI states that are taking climate change seriously.

Online: https://bit.ly/2N6hUzJ


Cooperation must ground Erie’s renewal

Erie Times-News

Oct. 21

Collaboration, shared vision and sheer audacity power this moment of revolutionary change in Erie.

Key stakeholders have embraced the priorities spelled out in the Erie Refocused comprehensive plan and set their sights on its central mandate: to strengthen the city’s core and heal the upside-down real estate market that, left unperturbed, will lead to further decline.

Leaders are speaking with one voice to leverage resources to engineer needed changes.

But given the scale of change sought — an extreme makeover to stock the downtown with shops, businesses, restaurants and market-rate housing — it is bound to get messy. And it has.

The feeble market won’t churn the growth needed. So the Erie Downtown Development Corp., led by Erie Insurance and other visionary businesses and nonprofits, has raised $27 million and attracted other investments and grants to restore the market by building it anew.

As reporter Jim Martin detailed, the EDDC now expects to make investments of between $68 million and $84 million to build and renovate 295,000 square feet spread over three different property purchases along North Park Row, East and West Fifth Streets and State Street. A certain opacity necessarily shrouds real estate development. Announcing every next move could only serve to price it out of reach.

And yet the transformation sought won’t be behind the gates of an estate or campus, but in the heart of a city in which all residents have a stake. First, because we are neighbors, and second, because together we make infrastructure and services possible.

Communication is vital and when it is lacking, distrust and energy-wasting conflict result. That was seen in the divisive rollout of plans to evict restaurateurs from the North Park Row properties purchased by the EDDC and, most recently, in the flap with Erie City Council over a $2.5 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant awarded to the EDDC.

The project was not on the list of those recommended for funding by local leaders. City Council members, tasked to sign off as local sponsors, understandably raised questions. After a dizzying few days, a satisfactory result emerged. EDDC will retain the grant and the city will oversee its deployment to improve the streetscapes around North Park Row.

A learning curve should be expected, given the unprecedented nature of this daring, fraught Erie experiment. But if Erie is going to continue to speak in one strong voice and move forward together, communication, mutual respect and appreciation for what will be the sometimes-competing roles, duties and interests in play must be consistent, not an afterthought. That’s true for the EDDC and City Council both.

We got to this dire juncture by languishing in silos and tending tiny plots of turf. Don’t go back.

Online: https://bit.ly/2pNGTj8


Philly refinery blast left behind a cloud of questions

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Oct. 23

No one ever wants to read the headline, “Hydrofluoric acid cloud kills thousands in Philadelphia refinery blast.” According to an investigation from the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released last week, that headline came closer to reality than we should ever have to contemplate.

The CSB reported that 5,000 pounds of lethal hydrofluoric acid was released as a result of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery blast on June 21. By a miracle, the force of the refinery blast sent the acid high enough into the air that it didn’t settle as a vapor close to the ground.

Given the catastrophe we escaped, the explosion should be a wake-up call to ensure the right questions are being asked. Not about the city’s immediate response in the aftermath of the blast, which included advisory committees to explore the impact, but about a bold vision for the future that involves the public.

The CSB findings demand pressing and urgent responses from city leaders. We get that the city must be cautious about panicking people over present or future dangers, but the current volume of the conversation doesn’t seem to match the seriousness of the event, especially in a city as densely populated as ours.

For example, what’s our overall energy and environmental policy? Earlier this month, Mayor Jim Kenney signed on to the Climate Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia to tackle climate change. But how does that jibe with the reality that on June 16, City Council approved a liquefied natural gas plant, expanding the city’s fossil fuel infrastructure? One week later, the refinery — a close neighbor to the LNG plant — exploded.

The future of the PES refinery site is unclear. It could very well be another energy plant. The city won’t have ultimate control, but it has ways to shape the ultimate outcome of who buys the site. Asking questions can help. For example:

Should we ban the use of the site as another refinery? The ultimate use will be determined by rulings from the bankruptcy court. The city has no direct control over that outcome but could use zoning and regulatory changes to have some impact.

Should we ban HF? There are alternatives to HF, which is used in only a third of the 135 refineries across the country. The Clean Air Council has called for a ban in Philadelphia. The city is unclear on its authority to ban HF, though energy experts say it is possible.

Where else is HF used and stored in the city, and where are the levels that could be potentially dangerous? The city should conduct an inventory of other facilities that use and store HF and inform the public where high levels exist. Dangerous chemicals are even more dangerous when the public doesn’t know about them.

The city faces a set of complicated environmental challenges — whether it’s our aging and sometimes toxic infrastructure or the future of legacy energy production. The mayor, City Council, and other regional leaders need to create a bold vision, with input from the public. They need to do it now — and they need to do it loudly.

Online: https://bit.ly/2PaILxf


Personal finance could be most important course that a student ever takes

Uniontown Herald-Standard

Oct. 23

The student loan crisis is an epidemic.

The horror stories of young adults leaving college with debts in excess of $100,000 have become all-too commonplace.

It’s a situation that can result in a cavernous financial hole that is impossible to escape. It can become a black mark on the student’s credit that never goes away.

Often, young graduates use high-interest credit cards to pay off their student loans, which just exacerbates an already bad situation.

That’s why it’s absolutely imperative that high school students learn early on the critical importance of handling their personal finances.

That’s also why we fully support a state Senate bill that would allow personal finance courses to count as a credit toward fulfilling graduation requirements in social studies, family and consumer science, mathematics or business education.

Personal finance courses could fulfill grad requirement in Pa.

Senate Bill 723, which passed unanimously in the state Senate on Sept. 23, is now in the House Education Committee. There is optimism that the bill will pass the House, as well, before going to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.

“If this can help the next generation be a little more prudent and keep them out of either credit-card or student-loan debt, then it’s a big win for us,” said bill sponsor Sen. Daniel Laughlin, R-Erie.

Not a mandate: It is important to note that the bill is not a mandate, but rather gives schools the flexibility to use finance courses as graduation requirements. It’s a much-needed incentive to get our kids into the courses.

That was key to getting the unanimous Senate support. Many legislators, especially on the Republican side of the aisle, are dead set against adding any more mandates on our school districts. That’s understandable. Our schools are already burdened with a ton of legislative mandates that can be difficult to fulfill.

Senate Bill 723 is a practical, bi-partisan solution to a critical problem.

Schools should make it a requirement: However, we would encourage all of our local school districts to make the personal finance courses a requirement, not just an option.

Personal finance courses can work: There is some local anecdotal evidence that a personal finance course can have a positive impact on the decisions of students.

Pivotal decision: Choosing a college can be the most important decision in a high school student’s life. It can have a life-long impact, for both finances and careers.

Anything we can do to help our students make prudent and practical choices should be encouraged.

Students must learn that their “dream schools” can sometimes turn into nightmares and leave them with a debt that they can never escape.

That’s why teaching our students proper personal finance should be required. It could be the most important course our students ever take.

Online: https://bit.ly/2MGZNl6


Lordstown left dangling: Workers at three closed plants seem forgotten

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Oct. 23

The tentative agreement the United Auto Workers reached with General Motors is chock full of monetary and fringe benefit gains for some workers but is lacking in outlining new products and in saving GM’s closed Lordstown, Ohio, plant as well as two others.

The rank and file should be angry. UAW members are voting this week on ratification of the proposed four-year pact. They should think hard before casting their votes for a contract that does not protect Pennsylvania’s neighbor.

The failure to spell out a future for Lordstown — which employed 1,400 workers when the plant (located about 75 miles from Pittsburgh) closed this year and 4,000 employees a few years ago — and a Baltimore and a suburban Detroit plant is baffling. Union leaders had puffed their chests about getting job security provisions both prior to and during the negotiations. Yet, work for these plants was not addressed, despite more than four weeks of a nationwide strike by the UAW.

Those who worked at GM’s Lordstown assembly plant are rightly angry, first at the automaker and now at the UAW.

The new contract would create or retain 9,000 jobs, up from 5,400 the automaker originally pledged,

GM has said it will invest $9 billion in its facilities over the four years of the contract, and some of that will go to its Detroit-Hamtramck plant reportedly where GM will build electric trucks. It had been scheduled for closing.

GM has said the Lordstown complex is to be sold to a startup Cincinnati firm that will make electric trucks. But that firm, which is trying to raise financing, initially will employ just 400 workers, GM said. Separately from the union deal, GM has confirmed that it will have an electric-battery plant near the Lordstown complex that could eventually employ 1,000.

Overall, the GM-UAW tentative contract provides perks the UAW sought — pay raises or lump sums paid each year, signing bonuses of $11,000, removal of a cap on profit-sharing, a shorter term for newer workers to reach the full pay of $32 an hour earned by senior workers, better benefits for temporary workers, no changes in a Cadillac health care plan, performance bonuses, and a $60,000 early retirement incentive for workers with 30 years of service.

Somewhat bewildering is that GM insisted in advance that it needed to cut its labor costs to compete with its rivals, and yet it appears to have gotten little in the deal to address that issue after losing an estimated $2 billion in profits from the strike.

The promised pay raises and unchanged low-cost sharing by workers for health care insurance means it likely added to its $63 an hour in total labor costs, well above the $50 an hour average by foreign automakers with plants in the United States. Ford is at $61 and Fiat Chrysler is at $55.

Its agreement to allow temporary workers, hired at lower pay, to catch up quicker in pay to the senior workers, also would seem to increase its labor costs. About 7% to 10% of its 49,000 union workers are temporary employees.

Left behind: Lordstown.

Online: https://bit.ly/2PemI92