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Pa. Dems turn to bonds in race to plug orphan wells

Plus, introducing the Pennsylvania Progressive Caucus.


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Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Orphan wells, Capitol beat, DA rematch, mandatory runoffs, high demand, big bill, and where the recycling goes (or doesn't). Thanks for stopping by.

After the Pennsylvania legislature stripped an independent board of its ability to use a tool — financial bonds — to keep oil and gas drillers from abandoning greenhouse gas-spewing wells without plugging them first, Democrats in charge of the state House are working to reverse that decision.

From Spotlight PA's reporting

The state House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee passed a bill Tuesday along party lines that would restore the Environmental Quality Board’s ability to raise bond prices on conventional drillers.

The legislation is part of a continued effort to plug hundreds of thousands of abandoned conventional oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, with a big infusion of federal money and questions about whether it's enough.

Read the full report: Pa. limited a board's power to regulate abandoned oil and gas wells. Democrats want to restore it.

THE CONTEXT: Individuals or companies that want to dig new wells in Pennsylvania have to post a bond, similar to a security deposit on a rental home. If a well has been inactive for at least a year, the state declares it abandoned and requires the operator or owner to plug it.

If the driller fails to do that, the state Department of Environmental Protection can seize the bond and plug the well itself, though it rarely does. 

The bill passed Tuesday faces a long, likely rocky path to becoming law — and some environmental advocates and lawmakers say it won't solve the commonwealth's underlying regulatory shortcomings. 

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"It's a feel-good, look-good amendment that really doesn't help things."

Lisa Hastings, an environmental advocate and former employee of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, on an update to industrial air pollution regulations in Philadelphia where she lives now
» 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 the way Pennsylvania's spending plans compare to other states'. Register here, send questions to events@spotlightpa.org

» ELDER LAW: Join us Thursday, June 1 at 6 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on Pennsylvania's elder protection laws and how they could be improved. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org
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Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.CAPITOL BRIEFS: The Pennsylvania Progressive Caucus has officially formed, claiming 34 state House members; Al Schmidt, Gov. Shapiro's pick for Secretary of the Commonwealth, is set for a "tough, but fair" confirmation hearing today; and the state House on Tuesday approved Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D., Montgomery)'s legislative study of the sometimes very cool-looking "conservation corridors."

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.ROUND TWO: Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. lost last week's Democratic primary to progressive challenger Matt Dugan, but WESA confirmed Tuesday that Zappala received enough Republican write-in votes to appear on November ballots. Zappala says he's likely to accept the opportunity under a "sore loser law" loophole. If he does, a general election rematch will happen.Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.RUNOFF BILL: Count state Rep. Tom Jones (R., Lancaster) among the opponents of state Sen. Ryan Aument (R., Lancaster)'s push to require runoffs in primaries where the winner gets less than 50% of the total vote. Jones, of the hardline Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus, won his open 2022 primary with 50.2% of the vote, writing on Facebook: "Primary Election Runoffs = BIG MONEY CONTROL!!!"

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.SHELTER SHUTDOWN: An in-demand shelter in a Pittsburgh church is closing next month. Allegheny County's Department of Human Services, which funds the shelter, had extended operations "indefinitely" to meet demand. DHS told PublicSource the shelter lacks a central cooling system, but a parish administrator said air conditioning units were brought in hours before the closure was announced.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.HOSPITAL BILL: Jay Comfort flew to the U.S. from his home in Switzerland to attend his daughter's wedding and left with a $42,000 hospital bill after being treated for appendicitis by UPMC in Williamsport, KFF Health News reports. Comfort's Swiss insurance had no contract with the U.S. hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. Now he's left to cover $34,000 of the bill on his own.

CANCER CASES: Cancer deaths fell in every U.S. congressional district over the past quarter century, according to a study in the journal Cancer. Axios reports Pennsylvania's congressional districts saw cancer deaths drop between 17% and 49% in that time, but disparities remain.

BAG CHECKS: WPVI and ABC News put tracking devices in plastic bags and recycled them to see where they ended up as bag bans grow and more big box stores offer recycling options. Of 46 total trackers used, half last pinged at landfills or trash incinerators, including four in the Philadelphia area.

HEMP HELP: A $1 million National Science Foundation grant will help expand the commonwealth's hemp industry and find new uses for the plant, WVIA reports. Hemp production was banned in 1937 and unbanned in 2018.

POOL SEASON: TribLIVE reports Pittsburgh City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith wants to consider a dramatic scaling back of city pools amid an ongoing lifeguard shortage impacting Pittsburgh and other cities.

WANDERING WILDS: Erie-Times News' (paywalled) list of things to do in the Pennsylvania Wilds this summer includes ancient forests, museums, heavenly views, and the largest wild animals in the commonwealth.

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Yesterday's answer: Inflationary

Congrats to our daily winners: Jon W., Barbara F., Vicki U., Susan N.-Z., Kimberly D., Susan D., Bob C., Elaine C., Dan A., Stacy S., Becky C., Keith W., Don H., Craig W., William Z., James B., Dianne K., Daniel S., Kim C., and Dennis M.
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