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Multimillion-dollar push to plug dangerous wells not enough

Plus, get ready for the May 16 primary election.

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

May 11, 2023 |
Abandoned wells, commissioner analysis, public health, election information, House control, next phase, in custody, outside money, and SCOPA seat.
Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism and all monthly gifts will be matched 12 times!
Abandoned oil and gas wells dot the Pennsylvania landscape, many spewing the powerful, climate-impacting greenhouse gas methane.

But while federal infrastructure money is on tap to start plugging them, some environmental activists fear it won't be enough.

That's in part due to the scale of the problem and incomplete driller disclosures that make pinpointing abandoned wells much harder, Kate Huangpu reports.

Also this week, county commissioner races will be on this year's primary ballot, and the outcomes could greatly impact how elections are run in Pennsylvania. Votebeat's Carter Walker analyzed statements and social media posts from hundreds of candidates and found some wrongly believe the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

Finally, Ed Mahon examines what Gov. Josh Shapiro's first budget pitch would mean for public health in the state

Keep reading this week's Investigator to get prepped for next week's primary election!

"It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. It’s great getting federal money to plug these things. But if you’re plugging old [wells] as new ones are getting abandoned, then you’re not doing anything."

—State Rep. Greg Vitali (D., Delaware) on the challenge Pennsylvania faces plugging thousands of dangerous, abandoned gas and oil wells

POLICING VS. TREATMENT: Join us Thursday, May 25 at 6 p.m. ET for a free panel on how Pa. wants to spend a $1B opioid settlement, the policing versus treatment debate, and how Pennsylvania's spending plans compare to other states'. Register here and submit questions to
Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism and all monthly gifts will be matched 12 times!
» Penn State president’s special adviser accuses students of spreading misinformation

Get ready for the 2023 Pa. primary election

Pennsylvania’s 2023 primary election is almost here. 

Voters will head to the polls May 16 to cast their ballots for statewide judicial seats, local positions such as school board member, and two special state House races. Election officials across the commonwealth will also soon begin counting the mail ballots that have been coming in for weeks.

The winners of these contests will face off in the Nov. 7 general election. 

Here’s what you need to know about how primary Election Day 2023 will go down. Kate Huangpu, Spotlight PA

When do polls open?

Polls open at 7 a.m and close at 8 p.m. If you’re in line when the polls close, make sure you stay in line — you can still vote.

Where do I vote?

You can find your polling place here.

Am I registered to vote?

You can check if you’re registered here. If you see that you have an “inactive” status, you can still vote on May 16.

Can I vote if I live in a different county?

If you moved within Pennsylvania more than 30 days before an election but did not update your registration, you can vote at the polling place for your old address for one election.

Read more in the “If you move” section of the Department of State’s website.

What do I need to bring to vote?

If this is your first time voting or your first time voting since changing addresses, you’ll need to bring proof of identification. See the full list of options here

If you’ve voted at this polling place before, you don’t need to bring anything. 

How do I check if my mail ballot has been received?

You can check the status of your mail ballot here.

I’m worried my mail ballot won’t arrive in time. How can I return it?

Your county election office must receive your ballot by 8 p.m. on Election Day. If you still have your mail ballot on Election Day, don’t put it in the mail, as it won’t arrive by the deadline. 

Instead, drop it off at your county election office or at a satellite location or drop box, if your county offers those options. See a full list of ballot drop-off locations here.

I requested a mail ballot but haven’t gotten it. What should I do?

If you have not received your mail ballot, you can still vote in person at your polling location. A poll worker will offer you a provisional ballot, which will be counted after election officials confirm you did not submit a mail ballot.

What will I be voting on? 

You can use the League of Women Voters’ sample ballot tool to see what your ballot will look like on Election Day, including local races and ballot measures. 

Pennsylvania has multiple high-level court races this year, including an open state Supreme Court seat. You can read Spotlight PA’s guides to the state Supreme Court race here and Commonwealth Court and Superior Court races here

Voters will also choose candidates for positions such as school board member, mayor, and district attorney. You can read Spotlight PA’s guide to vetting local candidates here.

» How Spotlight PA will cover Pa.'s 2023 primary election

» How to request, fill out, and return your mail ballot

» How to vote, find your polling place, understand mail ballots

» A guide to vetting candidates for school board, judge, and more

» A guide to the Commonwealth, Superior Court candidates

» A guide to the Pa. Supreme Court candidates

» High court candidates with party backing show fundraising edge

» Register to vote in the May 16 primary here; deadline May 1

» Request your mail ballot for the May 16 primary; deadline May 9

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election and voting coverage now.
» Los candidatos a la Corte de la Commonwealth y Cortes Superiores

» Guía completa de los candidatos a la Corte Suprema del Estado

» Una guía completa para el día de las elecciones primarias de Pa.

» Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos a la junta escolar

» Todo lo que necesitas saber para votar por correo

Apoye ahora la cobertura electoral de servicio público de Spotlight PA.
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaHOUSE CONTROL: Next week's primary election will coincide with a special election in Delaware County for control of the state House. Set up by former Democratic state Rep. Mike Zabel's resignation, the contest will determine whether Democrats maintain their one-seat grip on the lower chamber or lose it. The AP reports abortion and the handling of misconduct complaints against Zabel are focal points. 

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaNEXT PHASE: Could the looming closure of Pennsylvania's largest coal-fired power plant usher in Pennsylvania's renewable energy era? Next month will be the last for Indiana County's Homer City Generating Station, and Capital & Main reports "a solar project is already 'in wait for the area,'" and federal funds are available to help communities with retired coal plants pivot to new forms of power generation.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaIN CUSTODY: A 42-year-old man is the latest to die in Allegheny County Jail custody after he was found unresponsive there on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (PINJ) reports. Pinpointing the causes of such deaths is difficult, as Allegheny and Philadelphia are the only counties in Pennsylvania where autopsy reports are not made public. PINJ went to court yesterday to change that.

OUTSIDE MONEY: While Philly's mayoral race breaks spending records, the race for the top office in Pennsylvania's second-largest county is drawing large sums too. WESA reports it's the money being spent on the Allegheny County executive race by outside groups that's drawing controversy and fueling political attacks. Democrat John Weinstein has provided his disclosures, days past Friday's deadline.

SCOPA SEAT: The Inquirer (paywall) reports Montgomery County Judge Carolyn Carluccio, the likely Republican nominee for an open seat on Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, told the Erie County Republican Party two weeks ago that she wants a chance to rework Act 77, the 2019 law that greatly expanded mail voting in Pennsylvania. Carluccio declared the law “bad for the commonwealth” and pointed to unproven “hanky panky” with mail ballots. Meet the high court candidates here.

» APNew Twitter rules expose election offices to spoof accounts

» CAP-STARAllegheny County campaigns raise big bucks

» KDKAMan living in Uniontown gets 14 years in Jan. 6 riot

» STATEIMPACT: Climate change threatens the state tree, bird, and fish 

» WTAEState rep wants pet custody clarified in divorce cases

Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism and all monthly gifts will be matched 12 times!
Send your answers to

PROFIT MOTIVE (Case No. 199)A person bought an item for $7, sold it for $8, bought it back for $9, and sold it for $10. How much profit did they make?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Carpet. (Find last week's clue here.) 
Congrats to Thomas S., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Jon N., Michael H., Linda C., Annette I., James D., Peter S., Tish M., Joe S., Fred O., Donna D., Samantha S., John H., Don H., Jeffrey F., Ken S., Mary B., Jody A., Leann T., and Johnny C.
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