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GOP pol ‘dumbfounded’ as Wolf warms to voter ID

Plus, key regulator pitches new pipeline safeguards following a string of Mariner East mishaps.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 21, 2021
Pipeline rules, Wolf's pivot, Gettysburg guide, water wait, safe spaces, steel strike, and the drive-in show goes on. It's Wednesday, welcome to PA Post.
JOIN US: We're hosting a free virtual Q&A on Wednesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. ET about the millions of taxpayer dollars lawmakers spend on personal accommodations — expenses largely hidden from public view. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Pennsylvania regulators are floating a bevy of new safeguards for energy pipeline projects here following years of appeals and a string of problems along the contested Mariner East route, the Post-Gazette reports. 

Two years after Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission began considering new rules, it unveiled a formal set of proposals this week, with a 60-day public comment period to follow. 

They include: 
  • Requiring companies to submit reports on what caused an incident within four months of the event
  • New restrictions on running pipelines beneath homes, buildings, and "places of public assembly" 
  • Emergency shut-off valves every five miles — or closer near schools, churches, parks, and other public areas
  • More geotechnical studies before and after construction
  • More opportunities for well owners to test their water supplies
Find the full list here.

According to the Post-Gazette, the proposed rules are not what the industry wanted, but they also stop short of permit and siting provisions environmental and citizen groups had urged.

The paper says the measures do track closely with concerns aired around Sunoco/Energy Transfer's massive Mariner East pipeline system, concerns relayed to Spotlight PA by Pennsylvanians along its path.

THE CONTEXT: As many as 345,000 Pennsylvanians live within Mariner East's so-called "harm radius."

In April, a judge confirmed the findings of a year-long Spotlight PA investigation, declaring Mariner East operators failed to properly disclose associated risks to the public.

The judge ordered the operators to update public information campaigns to better reflect the potential for property damage, personal injury, asphyxiation, burns, and even death.

The new rules being proposed by PUC would also require more on the public information front, including annual public meetings and quarterly meetings with emergency responders.

But industry groups are already pushing back, according to the Post-Gazette, arguing "all of these aspects are regulated by other agencies and the PUC can't make its own rules that are in conflict with federal standards." 

Clarification: This space included new reporting about fracking chemicals on Tuesday and said Pennsylvania exempts energy companies from having to disclose the chemicals they use. State law requires disclosure but allows companies to claim "trade secrets" to keep certain chemicals private.
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

And Spotlight PA is answering the call in a bold new way.

We built Spotlight PA on the premise that you, our loyal readers, will step up and contribute to journalism that holds the powerful to account and gets results. Put another way, without your support, we cease to exist.

If you value our vital investigative journalism, make a contribution of any amount and become a member now. 

"Since the time that I delivered that speech, I have realized that not giving credit to Amy Poehler for her words puts into question my integrity." 

—South Middleton School District Superintendent Matthew Strine apologizing after plagiarizing part of his commencement speech from the TV star
VACCINE UPDATE: Experts and former government officials say full FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccines "would remove a significant legal and public relations barrier" for shot mandates. Pfizer's is on pace to become the first COVID-19 vaccine fully authorized by the agency. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
>> THE HIDDEN TAB: Join us Wednesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A about Pennsylvania lawmakers spending millions of taxpayer dollars on personal accommodations, and how these expenses are obscured from the public. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
A "Top Model"-ready snapping turtle basking in the sunlight near a pond just off Lowland Trail in Sinnemahoning State Park. Thanks, Don H.! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
SWITCH PITCH: Gov. Tom Wolf now says he's open to stricter voter ID rules, including requiring ID for mail voting, after vetoing a GOP-led election law overhaul because of a voter ID provision he said amounted to suppression. Wolf told The Inquirer he's open to a "reasonable" compromise. Informed of the development, the author of the GOP election law overhaul Wolf recently thwarted said he was "literally dumbfounded."

GETTYSBURG REDUX: Trump ally and state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) is the driving force behind a contested Arizona-style election audit being pursued — and resisted — in Pennsylvania. He was also the driving force behind a now-infamous Gettysburg hearing on the 2020 election, which The Caucus made the subject of an annotated guide meant to correct and clarify the "distortions, half-truths, and outright lies."

WATER FIGHT: Fearing lawsuits and costly cleanups, U.S. water utilities are pushing back against a federal effort to rid drinking water systems of toxic chemicals known as PFAS, saying the chemical makers are the ones to blame. PFAS were found in a third of Pennsylvania waterways tested, and hundreds of manufacturing sites here could be actively leaking them into water supplies, per StateImpact.

SAFE SITES: Philadelphia is watching Rhode Island's legalization of supervised injection sites closely amid the city's own stalled push to open one. Rhode Island has approved a two-year pilot for injection sites around the state, giving people in addiction a safe space. The Inquirer reports advocates say the need is greater than ever amid surging overdose deaths across Pennsylvania and the nation

STRIKE FORCE: A months-long strike by western Pennsylvania steelworkers has ended, sort of. Days after announcing the ratification of a new contract, the United Steelworkers union says unspecified safety concerns, "relentless mismanagement," and $4,000 lump sum payments have reemerged as sticking points, per TribLIVE. Managers at Allegheny Technologies Inc. say most employees return this week, but not all.
ZOO VAX: High-risk Philadelphia Zoo animals will be given a version of the COVID-19 vaccine, courtesy of a New Jersey-based veterinary pharmaceutical company that's donating 11,000 doses to 70 zoos across the country, Philly Voice reports. The vaccine goes through a separate approval process.

NOT-SO-SILENT BOB: A third installment in Kevin James' "Clerks" franchise will film in his native New Jersey this summer, the Asbury Park Press reports. "It'll be a movie that concludes a saga," Smith explained. "It'll be a movie about how you're never too old to completely change your life."

PRESS PAUSE: Solar farm plans that threatened to end the Mahoning Drive-In in Carbon County have been suspended. According to the Morning Call, an outpouring of community support for the 72-year-old establishment convinced the Connecticut developer not to move the project ahead.

HOUSE HUNT: An estimated 1,900 Pennsylvania homes were made from parts ordered by mail through Sears catalogs, TribLIVE reports. The outlet says a recent article on a 1922 example in McCandless drew lots of interest from readers "about the unique role these houses played in U.S. history."

COOL TRIP: The air conditioning is all natural at the Lackawanna Coal Mine, where an ambient temperature of 50 degrees is a year-round feature. ABC27 says tours start with a four-minute trip 300 feet underground and end with all the lights going out.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Obfuscate

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Theodore W., Michelle T., Barbara F., Eddy Z., Chris M., Heidi B., Susan D., Doris T., Craig W., Becky C., Don H., Jessica K., Neal W., Christine M., Liz K., Diane P., Bill C., James Z., Patricia M., David S., Joel S., Eileen B., Judy M., Karen W., Suzanne S., James B., Dianne K., Myles M., Elaine C., David W., Dennis M., Daniel B., Rick D., Janet C., Irene R., Paul H., Cathy S., Johnny C., Patricia R., Mike B., Craig E., Bob R., Kathleen S., John P., Jackie S., and Lex M.
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