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Record-setting Pa. methane leak was 'super-emitter' event

Plus, Norfolk Southern pledges $7M to Pa. for derailment.

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A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Record-setting leak, disappearing rebates, budget plan, derailment pay, political opportunity, and fired from WHYY over standup comedy.

The biggest natural gas leak in Pennsylvania history — and one of the largest ever detected in the U.S. — happened in Cambria County last fall.

"It sounded like two jets were directly above my house," Doug Harrison, 50, told The Guardian. "I swear to God I thought this is it."

The leak at the Equitrans Midstream Corp. facility in Jackson Township was estimated to be "equivalent to planet-warming emissions from burning more than 1,080 rail cars of coal or from running 360,000 cars for a year." 

Some residents reported headaches, lightheadedness, sore throat, nasal burning, nausea, and other symptoms as the company struggled for weeks to stop the leak. David Hess, former head of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, said spotty enforcement of oil and gas regulations all but guarantees more incidents like it

THE CONTEXT: The massive leak got far less attention than last month's toxic train derailment in eastern Ohio, but the environmental impacts are significant: Methane is a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide, per the United Nations Environment Programme.

The leak in Jackson Township was among more than 1,000 super-emitter incidents involving methane in 2022, The Guardian found

State and federal probes continue, but as gas infrastructure grows in Pennsylvania — from the Mariner East pipeline to a proposed liquefaction terminal in Wyalusing that's piquing congressional concerns — observers say investments in regulatory enforcement have not followed suit.

Patrick McDonnell, former Gov. Tom Wolf's DEP secretary, warned of the effects that a decade of underfunding has had on the agency's impact, and said he hopes Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's administration will push for more funding. Shapiro's first budget address happens this morning. 


"John is well on his way to recovery ... and will be back soon."

—Aide Adam Jentleson sharing photos of U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D., Pa.) working from the hospital where he's being treated for depression
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all new monthly gifts will be matched 12X!

VITAL DATA: Join us during Sunshine week on Thursday, March 16 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on health care reporting in Pennsylvania, how we fight for open records, and your rights under the Right-to-Know Law. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org


Crossing the Veterans Memorial Bridge into Wrightsville — a favorite of mayflies — via Gail E. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.

A photo taken from a car crossing a bridge with sunset on the horizon.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.REBATE PROGRAM: The number of Pennsylvanians eligible for rent and property tax rebates will keep shrinking unless Gov. Josh Shapiro and the state legislature agree on a fix this budget season, Spotlight PA reports. The state legislature hasn't updated related income limits in decades. Adding to the urgency is an inflation-related hike in Social Security payments that threatens to disqualify more people in need.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.BUDGET TALK: Gov. Josh Shapiro will deliver his first budget address at 11:30 this morning. You can watch live here. In case you missed it, Spotlight PA broke down what we know about the first-term Democrat's spending priorities, including expected pitches for greater child care investments and a tax break for teachers, and the potential pitfalls on the road to winning bipartisan support for his plan. 

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.CRISIS MONEY: Gov. Josh Shapiro says Norfolk Southern has made an "initial commitment" of $7.4 million to cover the cost of the emergency response and recovery in Pennsylvania stemming from last month's toxic train crash just over the Ohio border, the AP reports. In related news: The company says it will pay to relocate residents of Ohio and Pennsylvania during the monthslong cleanup.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.POLITICAL WILL: New operating rules for the Pennsylvania House make it possible for members to force committee votes on popular measures that might otherwise languish under partisan chairs. Advocates on a host of issues see an opportunity to advance meaningful legislation. But what actually ends up happening "will depend on the legislators themselves," good-government advocate Carol Kuniholm told WITF.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.HOUSE CALLS: Pennsylvania is one of seven states that doesn't require insurers to cover telehealth services. The Inquirer (paywall) reports some lawmakers say now's the time to change that, with Democrats in control of the state House and the COVID-19 public health emergency winding down. Most commercial insurers covered the option during the pandemic, but many are pulling back.

JURY TRIAL: The first phase of jury selection is underway in the federal trial of accused Pittsburgh synagogue gunman Robert Bowers, TribLIVE reports. Questionnaires are being filled out by prospective jurors presently, with in-person questioning set to begin on Monday, April 24

BELL CURVE: An Allentown museum honoring the site where the Liberty Bell was hidden from British soldiers in 1777 has an extra month to reach a deal with the new owners of the historic church that houses it, the Morning Call (paywall) reports. Rent was free. The new owners want a big hike. 

HEALTH BILL: A bill that would require insurers to pay for an MRI or ultrasound to screen people at elevated risk of breast cancer is headed to the Pennsylvania House after clearing the state Senate on Monday. 

TIKTOK STOP: A Pennsylvania Senate panel has advanced a GOP-sponsored bill that would ban TikTok on state devices, arguing that the social media application poses a security threat, the Capital-Star reports.

OFF AIR: The Inquirer (paywall) looks at Philadelphia public radio station WHYY's firing of reporter Jad Sleiman over standup comedy performances the station said amounted to "egregious violations of WHYY's values."

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. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Capricious

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Becky C., Craig W., John P., Charles K., Eric F., Susan D., Don H., Margaret C., Jon W., Barbara F., Carol S., Nancy S., Ada M., Chuck M., Michael P., Daniel M., Ted W., Tracy S., Kimberly D., Mark O., Susan N.-Z., Beth T., Starr B., William M., Wendy A., Elaine C., Jane R., Vicki U., Jodi R., Bruce B., Lisa H., Richard A., Judith D., Karen W., Helen N., Tish M., Mike B., Dennis M., Liza Jane B., Marty M., Deb N., Bill S., Stanley J., Dianne K., Patricia R., Myles M., James B., William Z., Geoff M., Frederick H., Kim C., and David W.
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