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Why toxic derailed train wasn't labeled a hazard

Plus, Fetterman expected to remain in hospital for weeks.

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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
Monday, February 20, 2023
Dimock dilemma, train tracking, Fetterman timeline, special session, charcoal plugs, repeal bill, and the breakdown of a famous Pa. rock band.

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Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all new monthly gifts will be matched 12X!

Susquehanna County residents are raising alarms over a potential conflict of interest involving a local judge and the company responsible for one of the worst fracking disasters of Pennsylvania's shale boom. 

Court of Common Pleas Judge Jason Legg served on the board of a charitable foundation with a Coterra Energy executive and oversaw a criminal case against the company for pollution in the town of Dimock that left some residents without potable water for more than a decade.

The Dimock case ended in a plea deal that saw eight felonies against Coterra reduced to a single misdemeanor and required the company to build a public waterline. On the day of the deal, Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection lifted a 12-year ban on fracking in Dimock.

"Coterra has been salivating over that nine square miles, because there is no place on God's earth where there are more prolific shale gas wells," said Anthony Ingraffea, who testified as an expert witness in an earlier lawsuit filed by Dimock residents against the drilling company.

Read Inside Climate News' full report: In a Pa. town riven by fracking, concerns about ties between a judge and a gas driller.

THE CONTEXT: Legg and executive George Stark were on the charitable foundation's board together for 10 years, and Coterra has donated millions to its causes. Legg says he has "no personal relationship whatsoever" with Stark and does "not believe it creates any type of conflict of interest."

Legg recused himself from a prior case involving the company. But prosecutors with Pennsylvania's Office of Attorney General did not object to him remaining at the helm of the Dimock case — a decision the AG's office hasn't explained and one area residents don't understand.

Democrat Josh Shapiro was attorney general at the time of the plea deal and is now governor. His energy agenda is being closely watched.

Spotlight PA cataloged his campaign pledges on that front and others and will be keeping tabs on them in a new promise tracker project.


"I am infuriated and heartsick about the tragic loss of life of a Temple University police officer this evening."

—State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D., Philadelphia) on Saturday's murder of officer Christopher Fitzgerald in his district; 18-year-old Miles Pfeffer was arrested in Bucks County and charged with the killing on Sunday
A LOST NEIGHBORHOOD: Join us Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. EST on Zoom for a free panel on the history of Harrisburg’s 8th Ward, the residents who once called it home, and the groups making sure it's remembered. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and for a limited time, all new monthly gifts will be matched 12X!
Philly's Ben Franklin Bridge times two, via Christine K. Send your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
The bridge lit up at night and reflecting in the surface of the Delaware River.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.HAZARDOUS CARGO: Despite carrying 20 cars of hazardous material, the Norfolk Southern train that derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border this month was not labeled a "high hazard." The Allegheny Front reports on the federal rule changes that could follow and the safety measures that weren't in place. Pennsylvania officials are also stepping up their criticism of Norfolk Southern's crisis response.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.HOSPITAL STAY: U.S. Sen. John Fetterman is expected to remain in the hospital for weeks while being treated for clinical depression, via WGAL. Fetterman (D., Pa.) checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Wednesday. He suffered a near-fatal stroke during last year's campaign, and the American Stroke Association says depression is a common experience for stroke survivors.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.SESSION DAYS: The Pennsylvania House returns tomorrow after a weeks-long recess amid a partisan stalemate over operating rules. Speaker Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) has replaced three days of regular session with four days of special session. They'll be focused on bills providing legal relief for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which the state House failed to move by last month's primary deadline.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.CARBON TRAPS: Colorado lawmakers have proposed a bill to study whether a type of charcoal can be used to plug abandoned oil and gas wells and "trap carbon for millennia," the AP reports. Pennsylvania has one of the highest numbers of abandoned wells in the nation. Experts say sinking the special charcoal, biochar, into millions of U.S. orphan wells could help to tackle climate change.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.DEATH PENALTY: State Rep. Chris Rabb (D., Philadelphia) plans to reintroduce a bill to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania, via CBS 21. His announcement came a day after Gov. Josh Shapiro called on lawmakers to repeal the penalty while vowing to sign no execution warrants himself. There are 101 people on death row in Pennsylvania right now. The state hasn't executed anyone since 1999. 

DRIVING AGE: State Reps. Stephen Kinsey (D., Philadelphia) and Eric Nelson (R., Westmoreland) plan to introduce a bill that would lower Pennsylvania's driving age to 15, saying it would help teens entering the workforce

GOLD GUYS: The treasure hunters accusing the FBI of making off with a suspected trove of Civil War-era gold in Elk County say documents released under court order have only heightened their suspicions, via the AP.

MYSTERY BUYER: Two old bridge piers in downtown Pittsburgh have sold for more than $300,000. WESA reports the piers' first new owner in 44 years is anonymous and their intentions are a mystery, at least for now.

BAND BREAKDOWN: Rolling Stone (paywall) details how "a series of interpersonal calamities and alleged betrayals led to the breakdown" of Live, one of the most famous bands to ever come out of Pennsylvania

MOSLEY Q&A: Pittsburgh artist Thaddeus Mosley has been at it for decades. He spoke to The New York Times (paywall) about the "professional uptick" he's experiencing at 96, the offers he's turned down, and more.

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: Sleeplessness

Congrats to our weekly winner: Daniel S.

Congrats to our daily winners: Barbara F., John P., Marty M., Don H., Beth T., Becky C., Katie W., Jon W., Ted W., Susan D., Mark O., Eric F., Judy M., Bruce B., Richard A., Irene R., Wendy A., Jane R., Susan N.-Z., Dan A., Jodi R., Ada M., Nancy S., John F., Kate P., Bill S., Starr B., Marla C., Kim C., Kathee M., Patricia R., Stanley J., Allie S., Connie K., Elaine C., Daniel M., Keith W., James L., James B., David W., William Z., Vicki U., Gail E., Rick A., Kimberly D., Craig W., David S., Dennis M., Dianne K., Joel S., Tish M., Suzanne S., Kathleen S., Laura T.


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