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Spotty oversight of western Pa. chemical plant

Plus, state police don their first body cameras.

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Official oversight, on camera, Medicaid cuts, box boom, abortion ballots, merger hearing, and the cancellation of Made in America 2023.

Emails between Shell and Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection show early trouble and regulatory failures around the energy giant's embattled and polluting Beaver County petrochemical plant. 

PublicSource obtained more than 500 documents (1,426 records were withheld by officials) suggesting "a pattern of inconsistent DEP responsiveness in critical situations." The newsroom reports the state "relied on Shell to assess the extent of its own mishaps" and some citizen complaints.

Read the full report: An inside look at Pennsylvania’s monitoring of the Shell petrochemical complex.

THE CONTEXT: DEP told PublicSource its inspectors have had a regular presence at the sprawling facility in Monaca borough, but inspector reports show 55 visits between September of last year and May mostly relied on human observations, not available technology, for critical checks. 

Pollution at the plant has prompted more than a dozen violations and ultimately brought about a $10 million penalty against Shell. 

The correspondence detailed by PublicSource covers Shell's promises of malfunction reports that never came, DEP inspectors being denied entry to the plant after a spill of cancer-causing benzene, calls to a DEP emergency line that failed to connect, flaring concerns, and "mystery booms."

Heavily subsidized by the state, the plant opened in 2022 and quickly became a leading emitter of volatile organic compounds.

Read more, via EHN: This community will get $5M due to Shell’s petrochemical pollution — just don’t call it charity.


"Video footage shows Gates using the flagpole in a spear-like motion to lunge at the officers, striking at them at least three times."

A DOJ news release announcing Jan. 6 charges against 63-year-old Mechanicsburg attorney and real estate developer Lowell Gates
Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
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» State budget bankrolls free school breakfast in Pa., via City & State

» Trans man wins case over Pa. name-change rule, via The Advocate

» SCOTUS reinstates Biden ghost gun rule, via the Associated Press

» How ghost guns evade state, federal laws, via WHYY archives

» Langerholc floats castration of sex offenders, via @StephenJ_Caruso

» Pa. Rep. Kutz running for Pa. Young Republicans post, via PoliticsPA

A “site-specific” sculpture, rising from a tree trunk outside Biglerville, Adams County, via Robert S. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A wood carving showing a woman with wings rising from a tree trunk.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.BODY CAMS: State troopers in Carlisle have begun a body camera pilot program ahead of a statewide rollout, per City & State. It's a first for the law enforcement agency, one of the largest in the U.S., and follows a shooting that renewed related scrutiny.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.MEDICAID CUTS: WHYY reports Pennsylvania has cut 137,000 people from its Medicaid program since the end of a federal continuous enrollment policy, some on technicalities. Experts say they expect the number of terminations to only grow in the coming months.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.BIG BOX RULES: Two years after the New York Times labeled warehouses Pennsylvania's new e-commerce-fueled cash crop, the environmentalists at Penn Future want local zoning rules to regulate "this very impactful form of development," per StateImpact. 
  • RELATED: Despite pausing expansions in most regions, Amazon doubles down on Pa.'s I-81 corridor, via CoStar (paywall)
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.VOTED DOWN: Ohio voters Tuesday said no to making it harder to amend that state's constitution: "a proxy fight over abortion rights," per CNN. Pennsylvania abortion providers already seeing more out-of-state patients post-Roe were watching closely

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.COURT DATE: Lawyers for DuBois and Sandy Township are now set to meet in court on Oct. 11 as the latter looks to pause a town merger over financial questions raised by the high-profile corruption arrest of DuBois' former city manager, the Courier-Express reports.
  • RELATED: A DuBois official was arrested on corruption charges; then nearly $100K in cash arrived at city hall, via Spotlight PA
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.

I-95 VEEP: Vice President Kamala Harris was in Philadelphia Tuesday for a firsthand view of the I-95 rebuild, which some in President Joe Biden's camp believe is the kind of thing that could help win the next election.

  • RELATED: Lancaster manufacturing company helping rebuild I-95 with expedited 100-foot steel beams, via WHTM
NO SHOW: Philadelphia's Made in America festival won't happen this Labor Day. Organizers canceled, citing "severe circumstances" outside their control. Lizzo and SZA were set to headline the Jay-Z-founded event.

CRASH UPDATE: Police say the dramatic crashing of a car into the second floor of a Clearfield County home on Sunday was an intentional act. The driver was injured and is facing criminal charges, per WTAJ. 

IT'S BACK: Heinz Field is back, sort of. Months after the company's name came off Pittsburgh's biggest stadium, it's found a new home on a much smaller stadium at Aliquippa high school, WTAE reports.

EARLY BIRDS: If it's 5:37 p.m., chances are your Pennsylvania friends are eating. That's the average dinnertime here, and according to a new study (paywall), it's the earliest average dinnertime in all the U.S.
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 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Melodramatic 

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Elaine C., Barbara F., Jon W., Susan D., Ben S., Don H., Kimberly D., Kim C., Craig W., Jane R., Craig E., John E., Stacy S., Susan N.-Z., Tom M., David W., and Dennis M.
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