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Contested fossil fuel deal en route to Wolf's desk

Plus, mapping Pa.'s hazardous dams.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

October 27, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Tax breaks, political canvassing, power House, outside spending, hazardous dams, King's Bench, 2024 vision, Tree of Life, and the Krasner report.

The Pennsylvania legislature has passed a controversial multibillion dollar tax credit package that includes a program to encourage natural gas-fueled hydrogen production here.

Stephen Caruso reported earlier in the week that Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders were quickly working on a deal, while the plan's emphasis on fossil fuel production raised alarms for environmentalists.

A final version worth $2 billion in tax credits — 90% of which are going toward natural gas development — is headed to Wolf's desk after receiving final legislative approval in a 139-59 state House vote on Wednesday.

Also this week, Democrats have the lead in Pennsylvania's marquee midterm races for governor and U.S. Senate, but the polls don't tell the whole story, and office seekers will need to woo a cross section of voters to win.

To gauge the electoral landscape this year, Caruso, Angela Couloumbis, and Katie Meyer connected with likely voters in key regions of the state, as well as those willing to flip between parties.  

Five categories emerged: Republicans worried about extremism; the new voter; disconnected, disillusioned; ambivalent big-city Democrats; and Democrats who have voted for Republicans — but not this time around.

And finally, Caruso and Kate Huangpu have three things to watch for as Pennsylvania prepares for its first general election under new legislative maps — the product of the state's latest round of redistricting.

The revamped state House and Senate lines have already reshaped the General Assembly by spawning a wave of retirements. How they shape the balance of power in Harrisburg will soon be evident

Find more voter-focused election coverage with Spotlight PA's guides to where the frontrunners for governor stand on taxes and business rules, as well as election security and voting rights.


"Our target is suburban, college-educated voters ... showing them who Doug Mastriano is."

—Gunner Ramer of the Republican Accountability Project PAC on outside spending targeting the far-right candidate in the governor's race

Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on:
»  Energy & Environment
»  College Funding & Student Debt
»  Crime & Justice
»  LGBTQ Rights
»  Abortion, Medicaid, & Opioids
»  Rural Health Care & Broadband
»  Taxes & Business Regulations
»  Election Security & Voting Rights

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:
»  Your complete guide to voting in the Nov. 8 election
»  Everything you need to know about mail ballots
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
»  How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
»  These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election for 50+ years
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español: 
»  Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos
»  Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre
»  Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo
»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador
»  Una guía completa para las elecciones del 8 de noviembre

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» @EVERETTSTERN1: Senate write-in bid ends with 'democracy at risk'
» AXIOS: Dems deploy Biden and Obama to lock down Pennsylvania
» DISPATCH: York Co. vows hand count after election deniers meeting
» PENNLIVE: Mastriano falsely says CHOP 'grabbing homeless kids'
» TMP: Fetterman and Oz battle over Pa.'s felony murder law
» TRIBLIVE: Takeaways from Pa.'s first and last US Senate debate
» Most outside spending on governor's race targets Mastriano
» Track how your Pa. municipality is using federal stimulus funding

A Q&A on the challenges facing Pennsylvania farmers 

Pennsylvania is home to 52,700 small and large farms, and they take up more than 7.3 million acres of land across the state.

The agriculture industry here creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and had an economic impact of more than $100 billion in 2019. This year, however, farms are struggling because of supply chain issues, drought, and economic hurdles.

To better understand these challenges — which are contributing to increasing food prices across the country — we spoke to Richard Ebert, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. The group represents farms across Pennsylvania and lobbies in Harrisburg for policies that benefit its members.

Ebert, a dairy farmer in Blairsville and Penn State graduate, has served as president of the farm bureau since 2014. Ashad Hajela, rural affairs reporter and Report for America corps member

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell me about some of the challenges that farmers have been facing this year so far?

Ebert: A lot of it has been rising interest rates, supply chain issues, the cost of inputs [including] fertilizer, feed for animals … I know the middle part of the state was in a pretty good drought. Crops were pretty poor through the middle part of the state. 

What issues did the drought create?

Ebert: Dairy is the No. 1 [agriculture] industry in Pennsylvania. So these guys rely on the forage crops to feed their animals for the year. You don't have enough forage so you have to decide about cutting down on the number of cows. Even grain producers, that's what they rely on for their income. 

It was a cost of inputs this year — of seeds, fertilizer chemical, crop production chemical. They have to meet all those costs and expenses before they can actually make a profit. [When] the quantities aren't there, it's tough to make ends meet.

How are interest rates affecting farmers? 

Ebert: They’ll borrow money in the spring [to] buy their crop needs. As interest rates climb, it's more expensive to borrow money and pay off those loans in the fall. So you have a double whammy there, you know, [with the] higher interest rates, higher costs [of] products, and then if you're in the drought situation, or don't have a good enough crop to pay off that loan.

How have transportation issues been affecting farmers?

Ebert: Our product supplies, or if somebody's shipping grain, it relies on trucks, and you have to find truckers to do that and, actually, rail service. The pending rail strike, the slowdown of the rail service — I know they have a tentative agreement, but still they're not completely signed.

BALLOT BENCH: Pennsylvania's Supreme Court will invoke its extraordinary King's Bench power to weigh in on whether undated or misdated mail ballots should be counted here, a question very much hanging over the Nov. 8 election. The case will move quickly — litigant briefs were due to the court this week. In a ruling delivered on Friday in a separate case, the high court said yes to "ballot curing."

'DRESS REHEARSAL': Rolling Stone (paywall) reports that former President Donald Trump is preparing to wage an "election integrity" crusade in Pennsylvania — with a focus on Philly — if his U.S. Senate candidate, Mehmet Oz, isn't a resounding winner on Nov. 8. One source told the outlet Trump views a potential challenge in the pivotal midterm race as a "dress rehearsal for Trump 2024."

TREE OF LIFE: Today marks four years since the massacre at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue. And while the white nationalist charged with the killings awaits trial in federal court, American celebrities and politicians echo talking points that have fueled antisemitism and its violence throughout history. "It's hard for me to say that we, as a country, have learned anything," author Emily Tamkin told CNN.

KRASNER REPORT: GOP lawmakers in the state House have filed articles of impeachment against Larry Krasner, the progressive Philadelphia District Attorney, per City & State. The announcement came one day after a messy push to audit the DA's spending and two days after the issuance of a scathing report by state House investigators that stopped short of recommending he be removed from office.

PLCB NOD: Former GOP state Sen. Randy Vulakovich of Allegheny County is one step closer to becoming the newest member of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board following a favorable committee vote in the state Senate on Tuesday. Capital Star reported in 2021 on how lawmakers tap retired or ousted colleagues, along with former staffers, relatives, and allies, for the lucrative oversight seats.

» HUFFPOST: Inside a 'QAnon-friendly' road show's Pa. tour stop

» INSIDE CLIMATE: Sinkholes on pipeline route raise stakes of guv race

» NYT: How MOVE victim Katricia Dotson became 'Body-B1' (paywall)

» PUBLICSOURCE: The affordable housing case for more 'granny flats'

» TRIBLIVE: Penn State pivoted as school's Proud Boys plan unraveled

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

STONE WASHED (Case No. 170)What kind of stones cannot be found in water?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: In a dictionary. (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Greg V., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Fred O., Ed M., Jon N., Judy A., Karen K., Ted W., James D., Frederick H., Michele M., Peter S., Michael H., Michelle T., Annette I., Lynda G., Marisa B., Donna D., Joseph P., George S., Lois P., Rebecca D., Philip C., Robert K., Joe S., Tish M., Bill G., Mary B., Bruce B., Alice O., Beth T., Alberta V., Carol T., Jim W., Johnny C., and Ken S.
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