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Outlooks mixed as contested Pa. plant nears launch

Plus, Mastriano equates J6 response with Hitler power grab.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 15, 2022
Plant prep, Russian ties, heat wave, Nazi books, Grenfell suits, ICE penalty, and 'Soil Your Undies' for science. It's Wednesday. This is PA Post.
Shell's long-awaited, hotly contested, and heavily subsidized ethane cracker plant in Beaver County is expected to come online this summer. 

The Allegheny Front reports some residents in the area, an industrial swath of western Pennsylvania, "hope for good jobs, while others fear a return of the toxic skies and waterways" that marked the steel era there. 

The state air permit for the multi-billion dollar petrochemical plant, which will turn shale gas into plastic pellets, like these, allows it to emit more asthma-inducing "volatile organic compounds" a year than any facility in western Pennsylvania, and the second most of any facility in the state.

The project continues to enjoy bipartisan support in Harrisburg, where it was approved for the largest subsidy in state history.

THE CONTEXT: Concerns about the project have largely centered on air quality — Shell says emissions will be lower than projected — and the network of pipelines set to deliver the integral natural gas.

Not only is the plant fossil fuel dependent, it will also produce a torrent of non-biodegradable plastic for a range of everyday items.

Yale Environment 360 reports companies like Shell were drawn to plastic production as means of diversifying their portfolios ahead of possible climate change-related drops in demand for their flagship product: fuel.

But the outlet questions the length of the runway.

Still, The Allegheny Front reports that some in Beaver County welcome any economic boost after a prolonged period of decline.

"We haven't had anything this big since the mills, so why complain about it when people were saying there's no jobs?" asked Derrick Reynolds. Reynolds was one of the few locals hired to help build the facility, he adds.

When fully operational, the plant will have 600 permanent jobs. A Robert Morris University study — paid for by Shell — estimates the plant will generate nearly $3.7 billion annually in statewide economic activity.

But stiff economic headwinds, the same outlined in the Yale E360 piece above, could undermine long-term profitability, observers caution.

"I agree with the political, with the historic analogy laid out there, so using something that was very suspicious in Berlin to advance their agenda, you know, the national socialists there. I do see parallels."

GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano comparing the U.S. Capitol attack with a fire Hitler used as a pretext to seize more power
That would be Pennsylvania's state flower, the mountain laurel, showing off in Cook Forest State Park. Thanks for sharing, Don H. Send us your Pennsylvania pics, use #PAGems on IG, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
CUT TIES: A Ukraine-inspired bill barring government contracts with Russia and Belarus in Pennsylvania is on the move, along with another requiring divestments of related public holdings. Capital-Star reports the bills were unanimously advanced by the Senate State Government Committee on Tuesday after a public hearing with testimony that was mostly in favor. The bills now head to the full state Senate.

HIGH HEAT: Heat advisories are in effect in Pennsylvania today with temperatures set to reach 90 degrees across much of the state. W. Larry Kenney, a professor of physiology at Penn State, has long studied the effects of heat on humans in intense environments and activities. As climate change worsens, The New York Times reports his work is increasingly focused on impacts seen in the most mundane of settings.

HATE READS: A trio from Montgomery County with Penn State ties is behind the Antelope Hill publishing company specializing in white nationalist and Nazi publications, the SPLC uncovered, via Literary Hub. They are: Vincent Cucchiara, 24, Sarah Elizabeth Cucchiara (formerly Nahrgang), 25, of Green Lane, and Dmitri Anatolievich Loutsik, 25, of Harleysville. The company even has a children's imprint.

FIRE FALLOUT: Lawsuits against Pittsburgh's Arconic continue five years after the fire at Grenfell Tower in London, in which 72 people were killed. Arconic made the aluminum cladding that covered the building, the same blamed for speeding the spread of the blaze. WESA reports two of the cases are pending before federal courts in Pennsylvania. There's also a scathing new documentary about the disaster.

RECORD FINE: GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz is vowing to "fight to end illegal immigration." But Insider found that a family-owned business, in which he is a shareholder, faced the largest fine in ICE history for repeatedly and knowingly hiring unauthorized workers. A spokeswoman told the New York Post that neither Oz nor his wife were involved in decision-making around business practices.

COPING SKILLS: Tim Murphy, the anti-abortion Pittsburgh-area congressman who resigned amid revelations that he urged a mistress to have an abortion, recently told a Westmoreland County Community College crowd about managing pandemic stress, via TribLIVE. Murphy, a licensed psychologist, added of his own story, "I screwed my life up big time."

BEST CHEF: Congratulations to Cristina Martinez, of South Philly Barbacoa, who has won the James Beard Foundation's prestigious Best Mid-Atlantic Chef prize, Eater reports. "It's an honor to win this medal, remembering all the immigrant workers in our restaurant industry," Martinez said.

BEER BUYS: Pennsylvania bar and restaurant owners can't pick up their own beer supply under a state law that an industry group says is further driving up prices, per The Center Square. The industry group says the law has created a "delivery monopoly" that's adding to supply chain issues.

NOT A TEST: Environmental groups are asking Pennsylvanians to bury a pair of underwear in the ground and dig them up after 60 days. WLVR reports the "Soil Your Undies" challenge is part of a statewide campaign to test soil health. Sign up here. Undies must be 100% cotton. 

MOUSED UP: Columbus Dispatch writer Theodore Decker describes the ordeal he endured on a camping trip to Tiadaghton State Forest in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, where a mouse came for his cake and his car

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.

This week's theme: Coffee
Yesterday's answer: Percolation

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Becky C., Don H., Irene R., Kim C., Vicki U., Susan N.-Z., Brooke S., Judith D., Susan D., Karen W., Elaine C., Jude M., Joel S., Kimberly D., Sarah S., Barbara F., Doris T., George S., James B., Elizabeth W., Mark O., Steve D., Chris K., Christine C., Kimberly B., Starr B., Dianne K., Jane W., Bill S., Kimberly S., David W., and Al M.
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