Editorials from around Pennsylvania
Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
LAWMAKERS SHOULD DEBATE THE FUTURE OF NUCLEAR ENERGY IN PENNSYLVANIA, Dec. 10
Nuclear energy is a thorny issue to navigate as we ponder the present and future of Pennsylvania’s energy grid and simultaneously juggle the crucial need for a reliable, diverse, economical, safe and clean energy infrastructure. We’ll be honest: We’re unsure at this moment of the smartest way to handle the existing nuclear power plants in this state. The conflicting factors and priorities can seem headache-inducing.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s office has stated he “believes we need a robust conversation about our energy economy and looks forward to engaging with the General Assembly about what direction Pennsylvania will go in regards to its energy sector, including the future of nuclear power and the value of lower-emission energy for Pennsylvania’s economy and environment.”
Agreed. We need a robust and immediate conversation in Harrisburg about TMI and the state’s approach to nuclear energy. We appreciate that Aument has taken the lead in bringing this issue to the table.
A little more background: Pennsylvania is the second largest state, in terms of nuclear energy capacity, in the nation. Its five nuclear power plants — including TMI and Beaver Valley — are home to nine nuclear reactors that provide about 40 percent of the state’s total electricity production.
There are risks to nuclear energy, as we well know. Three Mile Island’s Unit 2 suffered a partial meltdown of its reactor core in 1979, just three months after beginning operation. Nearly 2 million people were exposed to small amounts of radiation. Unit 2 has been shut down since the partial meltdown, while TMI’s Unit 1 has been in operation since 1974.
There are also benefits to nuclear energy. Reactors provide electricity around the clock and are not as vulnerable to extreme weather events as the infrastructure of the natural gas or coal industries. Some argue that having nuclear power as part of the overall grid helps to keep electricity prices down for consumers. TMI and Beaver Valley, according their owners, combine to employ more than 1,500 Pennsylvanians and provide work for thousands of contract laborers.
“The loss of these (nuclear) plants would be a devastating and permanent blow to Pennsylvania’s communities, economy, and environment,” Aument says.
But, according to a recent article by The Associated Press, nuclear power plants are struggling with profitability as they are “buffeted by a flood of natural gas plants coming online, relatively flat post-recession electricity demand and states putting more emphasis on renewable energy and efficiency.”
That’s where the Nuclear Energy Caucus is speaking up.
The legislators’ caucus that Aument co-founded has some ideas that we think should be explored by state lawmakers and Gov. Wolf in early 2019.
“Specifically, the caucus recommends the state act on a likely upcoming initiative from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would allow states such as Pennsylvania to independently buy power from sources it deems important,” LNP’s Ad Crable wrote in an article published Nov. 30.
Other proposals to help the industry: requiring utilities to purchase a defined percentage of nuclear power or imposing a fee on carbon emissions, which would make nuclear power plants’ electricity sales more competitive with carbon-based producers.
But PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid covering Pennsylvania and numerous other states, says the closing of TMI and Beaver Valley could be absorbed without affecting costs or consumers. PJM also says, according to Crable’s article, that the state can survive “worst-case weather outages” without electricity from the nuclear plants that are slated for closure. That supports the argument that taxpayers should not prop up nuclear power.
Counterarguments put forth by the Nuclear Energy Caucus’ report include:
— “Both of these plants are being retired well before their current operating licenses are set to expire and once these plants are shut down, there is no mechanism in place to bring them back into operation.” (Beaver Valley’s two reactors are licensed through 2036 and 2047, respectively. TMI Unit 1 is licensed through 2034.)
— “The premature shutdown of a nuclear plant would set back Pennsylvania’s air quality decades in terms of emissions reductions, particularly for carbon emissions.”
— “A significant gas infrastructure event, which could be the result of a natural or man-produced disaster, such as a cyber-security attack or other serious event, could prevent the PJM Mid-Atlantic area from serving electric load on several days, weeks or months if existing nuclear capacity was retired.”
Indeed, this is a difficult, layered topic. We urge state legislators to examine thoroughly whether actions can or should be taken to halt the planned closure of two of the state’s nuclear plants, including the one in Lancaster’s backyard.
Energy costs, energy-grid diversity and capacity, environmental issues, jobs, safety and health risks — these are all important factors that should be weighed in Harrisburg. We are grateful that Aument’s caucus has put together part of the framework for having these discussions.
It’s a debate that should not be put off, given the planned closure of TMI about 10 months from now.
WOLF’S OPIOID LEADERSHIP STANDS OUT, Dec. 12
It is not exactly a traditional holiday giveaway. Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is stepping forward not with turkeys or toys, but with a sobering gift that could prove lifesaving.
From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at Blasco Library, 160 E. Front St., and dozens of other sites statewide, officials will distribute free kits containing the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone. Thanks to efforts by Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine, there has long been a standing order allowing anyone to receive the prescription medication at a pharmacy.
Thursday’s giveaway, believed to be one of the largest nationwide, comes free of charge. It is being funded from the $5 million budgeted to supply naloxone to the state’s first responders in 2017-18.
The event is a practical, immediate way to equip anyone to help others. It also serves as a high-profile reminder that this crisis, an ugly, preventable font of grief, dysfunction and crime, persists and requires unflagging, collective effort to defeat it.
Some believe naloxone access enables addiction. It also preserves life and hope for addiction recovery. Naloxone has been used statewide to revive more than 20,000 people since 2014. In Erie County, officials have credited its availability in part to the drop in overdose deaths so far in 2018.
Pennsylvania, where more than 5,400 people died of overdoses in 2017, ranks third in the nation in drug overdose deaths behind West Virginia and Ohio. It is also gaining recognition as a leader in its response to this epidemic, deploying under Wolf’s leadership cross-disciplinary, bipartisan strategies to attack the problem at the root: including harmful opioid prescribing practices and street-level drug trafficking; and by supporting cutting-edge treatment, such as medication-assisted treatment and the warm hand-off programs that aim to connect overdose victims with treatment resources in hospital emergency departments.
Wolf declared the opioid epidemic a statewide disaster in January and created a command center that continues to monitor opioid data, trends and strategies and devise and coordinate targeted responses. The state’s comprehensive approach has been mirrored on a local level.
There is cause for tentative hope. As reporter Madeleine O’Neill has detailed, Erie County’s drug overdose deaths, which reached a record-high 124 in 2017, appear to be on the decline. As of Oct. 25, Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook had tallied 71 overdose deaths, far below the 111 deaths seen at that time last year. Provisional numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that Pennsylvania is on track for a 20 percent decline in overdose deaths in 2018.
The state’s nimble, unflagging and, it seems, effective response deserves credit and also urging, especially since deaths by the synthetic painkiller fentanyl, more potent than heroin, still appear to be on the rise.
FIGHTING OVER ART: MUSEUMS SHOULD BETTER SCRUTINIZE ACQUISITIONS
The tug-of-war over a bronze sculpture more than 2,000 years old is the latest in a long string of disputes between museums with priceless works of art and foreign governments that want them back.
An Italian court has ordered the J. Paul Getty Museum to hand over the lifesize bronze called “Victorious Youth.” The Los Angeles museum’s response? Take a hike. The dispute, already litigated for a decade, isn’t likely to end anytime soon.
Regardless of which party prevails, both look bad. Not for the first time, the Getty has been accused of improperly helping itself to Italy’s cultural artifacts. Italy is fighting to recover a Greek-made sculpture it foolishly let slip over its border so long ago that many now know it by a nickname, the “Getty Bronze.”
Nations should have crystal-clear laws about the export of cultural works, and their border protection agencies should be as vigilant for art-nappers as they are drug traffickers. Italian fisherman recovered the sculpture from the Adriatic Sea in 1964. Once in Italian hands, it never should have gotten away.
The Getty claims the sculpture was found in international waters, undermining Italy’s claim to the work the museum foundation purchased from a dealer in Germany in 1977. The details of this case aside, it is a dirty secret of the art world that museums using velvet ropes and high-end security systems to protect their holdings sometimes acquired through the same processes that turned out to be, if not criminal, less than straightforward.
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts was forced to return a reputed Raphael — later widely believed to be misattributed to him — that it obtained for its centennial in 1970. That fiasco blotted the career of its longtime director, Perry Rathbone.
The Getty has returned disputed objects to Italy before, and the governments of Italy and Greece at one time pursued criminal charges against one of the museum’s curators. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Toledo Museum of Art have returned disputed items to foreign governments, as well.
Museums should exercise more care researching the provenance of items they want to acquire. Museum associations should have ironclad ethics policies and take a harder line when members run afoul of them. Reputation is everything in the art world, and museums might think twice about bending the rules if they knew their peers would come down on them like a ton of bricks.
When disputes occur, the parties should avoid long-term battles in their respective national courts and consider the alternative dispute resolution process offered by the World International Property Organization, an arm of the United Nations. Let a third-country arbitrator sort things out.
Art is high-minded; its acquisition should be, too. When museum visitors stand before a work of art, their joy should not come at someone else’s expense.
REDISTRICTIING PANEL IS A LONG OVERDUE CORRECTION, Dec. 12
It’s hard to argue with the fact that Pennsylvania’s court-drawn congressional districts more fairly represent the state’s electorate than the screamingly partisan map they replaced.
But the job of political map-making shouldn’t fall to judges.
So, a move by Gov. Tom Wolf to get the ball rolling in earnest on a nonpartisan redistricting process is a welcome step.
It’s unfortunate — though hardly surprising — that the announcement was greeted coolly by Republican leaders in the statehouse. After all, they were the beneficiaries of the previously unfair playing field. A little history:
For much of the past decade, Pennsylvanians voted in districts that were national punchlines for political commentators. Having won statehouse majorities in 2010, Republicans set about crafting district boundaries that would solidify their hold on power.
And did they ever! By 2016, the party held 34 of 50 state Senate seats, 121 of 203 state House seats and 13 of 18 congressional seats — despite a statewide Democratic advantage in voter enrollment.
Such lopsided misrepresentation, abetted by brazenly customized districts like the infamous 7th (dubbed “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck”) proved difficult to justify, let alone legally defend. So, when the state’s Supreme Court finally struck down and — after lawmakers were unable to recraft the map themselves — redrew the districts, the only question was, “What took you?”
Now, Wolf is establishing a 15-member commission to determine the best way forward. The group will be chaired by David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the nonprofit Committee of Seventy. Its charge is simple: Find a fair and nonpartisan method of redistricting.
The commission will examine political map-making in other states, gather public input in-state and make recommendations for a new and fair process.
But “fair” and “nonpartisan” are not redistricting watchwords with GOP lawmakers like Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and House Majority Leader-elect Brian Cutler, who responded en masse to Wolfe’s executive order.
In a tag team press release, the quarrelsome quartet accused the governor of grandstanding and not having the authority to create a redistricting commission.
“With no input from the General Assembly, the Governor issued an Executive Order where he turned his back on both the state and federal constitutions and embarked on another go-it-alone strategy,” they wrote, risibly. After all, the public has seen the type of input Republican leaders in the General Assembly provide when it comes to redistricting. So have the courts.
And these very lawmakers had plenty of opportunity to address the issue this past session. Efforts to revise the process by which political lines are drawn were derailed in both GOP-led houses of the state Legislature this year.
So, Republicans should set aside the partisan pronouncements — excessive partisanship is what caused this problem in the first place — and all sides should allow the commission to do its homework and make its recommendations.
After all, the 2020 Census will necessitate new political maps, and it will ill serve voters if the party that wins statewide representation in the 2020 elections — whichever party that turns out to be — repeats the sins of post-2010 Republicans.
TAX RETURNS MIGHT HELP CLEAR SOME OF TRUMP’S LEGAL CLOUDS, Dec. 11
The investigation of President Trump took an ominous turn last week as federal prosecutors effectively accused Trump of directing his former fixer, Michael Cohen, to violate campaign finance laws in an attempt to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, while secretly seeking to do business in Russia well into his presidential campaign.
Trump continues to dismiss the gathering legal cloud with a barrage of fact-free tweets. But the mounting revelations underscore the need for the public to see Trump’s tax returns, and warrant the need for Congressional hearings once Democrats take control of the House next month.
House Republicans abdicated their Constitutional responsibility to act as a check and balance to the president the past two years. They all but admitted their willful failure before last month’s election by reportedly compiling a spreadsheet of the more than 100 possible investigations Democrats could launch when after taking control of the House.
The list included: Trump’s tax returns; his dealings with Russia; his family business, including whether it is complying with the Constitutions emoluments clause; and payments to Stormy Daniels.
The documents filed by federal prosecutors last week as part of the sentencing recommendations for Cohen, and Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, are damning.
“Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” prosecutors wrote. “He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1.”
Prosecutors added that Cohen “acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.”
Individual-1, of course, is Trump.
The filings also undermine Trump’s claim that he has had “no dealings with Russia.” Cohen admitted the Trump Organization secretly pursued a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow at least as late as June 2016 - the same month Trump campaign officials met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised to provide them dirt on Hillary Clinton.
BuzzFeed reported that, as part of the 2016 negotiations, Trump planned to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in his Moscow tower. At least 16 Trump associates have had contacts with Russians during the campaign or transition, according to CNN.
In last week’s court filing, special counsel Robert Mueller said Manafort lied to prosecutors on at least five different matters, including his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate with ties to Russian intelligence, who Manafort called his “Russian Brain.”
Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein said Mueller’s latest court filings show Trump is “boxed in,” and impeachment proceedings seem likely. The top legal analyst for Trump-friendly Fox News, went so far as to say Trump could be indicted while in office.
A bipartisan group of 44 former senators said the United States is “entering a dangerous period,” and urged current and future Senate members to put aside their political ideologies and defend America’s democracy.
As the Mueller investigation proceeds, Congress must also do its duty, starting with examining Trump’s tax returns. As former President Richard Nixon said during Watergate: “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.”