Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cost of Pension Reform is Key Factor

A top Senate Republican says Pennsylvania's upper chamber may consider shifting public employees’ benefit plans from pensions to 401-k-style contributions.
A bill passed by the House this month trims benefits for future public employees.
It also raises the retirement age to 65, and requires employees to work for ten years, rather than five, before they’re vested in the state’s pension program.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says GOP senators will begin discussing the measure in caucus later this week.

"Obviously what’s not included in the House plan is any sort of a nod to a defined contribution system or option. And we still have some members of our caucus who feel very strongly about that and would like to see whether that could be worked into what the House bill sent."

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association says the teacher’s union opposes a shift to a defined contribution benefit plan.
Wythe Keever says defined benefits save the state money, and are better for both employers and employees.
Under a defined contribution plan, the amount of the contribution is fixed but the benefit is not because it is affected by investments. Under the current defined pension plan, the benefit upon retirement is determined by a set formula, rather than depending on investment returns.

Pileggi says the Senate will consider several factors, as it amends the House version bill and ultimately it's about the total cost of the bill.

State Funds Sought for West Penn Layoff Help

After yesterday's announcement that the West Penn Allegheny Health System will drop 1500 employees, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are teaming up with the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board to secure $500,000 in state funds. Ravenstahl says that money will be used to help transition the workers into new employment.

The mayor says he's also concerned about the reuse of some empty facilities. He says the city is committed to helping Bloomfield get through this "tough time."

"Anytime you take 1500 employees out of an area, specifically a smaller neighborhood like Bloomfield, it's going to have an impact. It's going to be tough, but they'll survive," says Ravenstahl. "It's a strong-willed neighborhood with tough people there, and we'll be there to help them along the way."

Mayor Outlines Parking Lease Plan

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says chartering Pittsburgh’s parking garages and meters to a private firm is the best way to avoid state takeover of the city’s ailing pension fund.

Today, he released documents outlining the terms of a 50-year lease. The mayor says he wants a down payment of at least $200 million with $15 million more coming in each year thereafter.

Unless the city receives a windfall, all of the lease’s revenue would go toward the pension fund, which is only 30% funded. The pension liability has grown to $990 million and covers benefits for all city employees.

Pennsylvania’s legislature has warned city leaders that unless Pittsburgh funds its pension at least 50% ($495 million) by December 31, the state will take it over. Ravenstahl says that would mean yearly payments of $30 million.

“To illustrate what it means: a property tax increase of 24%, a wage tax increase of 44%, or for reference to the reduction of workforce, what would it mean? It would mean reducing our police force by approximately 400 officers,” says Ravenstahl.

A lease would allow for gradual increases of garage and meter rates. Hourly meter rates downtown and in Oakland would increase by 50 cents each year until 2014, while outlying neighborhoods would see a total increase of just 50 cents. Neighborhood meter rates will increase according to their “tier” – until 2014, when rates will only increase according to the Consumer Price Index.

Ravenstahl says the city will still own the assets, and all Parking Authority employees not retained by the lessee will be offered jobs with the city.

The mayor says once bids for the parking assets come in, City Council will have two months to deliberate: he says a vote is needed by September 15 for the city to have enough time to finalize the deal and put the $200 million in the bank before New Year’s Eve.

Budget Goes to House

The Pennsylvania Senate has passed a spending bill for the fiscal year that begins tomorrow, setting the stage for a House vote that could come hours before tonight’s midnight budget deadline.
The Senate approved the 28.05 billion dollar spending plan on a 37-13 vote.
Among the lawmakers voting no was Democratic Senator Daylin Leach of Montgomery County, who says he’s frustrated the budget doesn’t include more targeted taxes.

"We’re not talking about gut-wrenching votes, as the governor said. There’s so much low-hanging fruit for revenues, whether it’s the vendor discount, whether it’s the smokeless tobacco, whether it’s the Marcellus Shale, that we ignored. And as a result, people are going to suffer."

Even though a natural gas tax is part of the budget agreement, this year’s plan won’t factor in any revenue from the levy, and lawmakers won’t vote on the proposal until the fall.
Senate Appropriations Chair Jake Corman, a Centre County Republican, says there are a lot of cuts in the budget.

"This budget reflects spending less money than we did two years ago. And I think that’s a reflection of the recession we’re in, and the commitment of this legislature to rein in spending, and to tighten our belts as well."

Nearly every department would see its funding trimmed in this budget.
The Department of Environmental Protection loses 13 million dollars, and the Department of Public Welfare’s budget shrinks by more than 60 million dollars.
The House is expected to vote on the plan tonight.

Anti-Gang Program Gets Underway

Pittsburgh City Council has approved a second $200,000 outlay for the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, or PIRC--a program announced in 2008 and modeled after a successful effort in Boston.

PIRC Coordinator Jay Gilmer says the first meeting with gang members will take place next month, when community members, social service providers, and law enforcement will deliver a clear message that violence must stop. The accompanying message will be that the community cares about the gang members and needs them in neighborhoods doing good things, but if they can't abide by the rules, law enforcement will try to take them away so they can't hurt people.

For those who want to turn their lives around, Gilmer says there will be social services available through Pittsburgh Community Services in the Hill District: drug treatment, educational opportunities, job training, and more. Gilmer says the group One Vision One Life is also a critical partner, contrary to a recent study that found them to be ineffective.

The PIRC has a contract with the University of Pittsburgh to evaluate the program.

Teen Sexting Might Become Illegal

The Pennsylvania House decided Tuesday that minors who sext should be prosecuted with either summary offenses or second-degree misdemeanors. The ACLU of Pennsylvania says that may be unconstitutional.

Bill 2189 went unto the Senate. It would create a tiered system of criminalization for sexting, the act of sending suggestive photos on cell phones.

The bill doesn’t address child pornography laws.

Andy Hoover, the Legislative Director or the ACLU of Pennsylvania says it infringes on First Ammendment rights. He also says the bill creates a new crime. "Kids are gonna stumble sometimes, they’re gonna be irresponsible but that’s best left to parents. This bill is basically a government takeover of parenting. This bill basically says we’re not going to trust parents to discipline their kids, the criminal justice is gonna do it and that’s wrong," he said.

According to a recent survey, 25 percent of teens have participated in sexting.

PA Senate & House to Vote on Budget

The Senate Appropriations Committee did not vote on the tentative budget agreement for Pennsylvania last night after all. Instead the Senate Republican Caucus met late preparing for a vote this morning or early afternoon on the $28.05 billion spending plan. In announcing the agreement with legislative leaders, Governor Ed Rendell called it a conservative and responsible budget that is full of painful cuts to account for a huge deficit and the rising costs of prisons, health care and pensions.
There are no broad-based tax increases and the proposal to tax cigars and smokeless tobacco was dropped.
Rendell says the agreement does include a natural gas tax.

"The budget will include language that a tax on Marcellus Shale will be passed by no later than October 1, and the tax will go into effect in January of next year. The reason we didn’t specify the rate or the breakdown between county and state is because there was a number of complex issues that we just ran out of time to deal with."

If the Senate approves the budget, it would go on to the House for consideration. This would be the first on-time budget in the last 8 years.

UPDATE 6/30/10 11:30am-- The appropriations bill has cleared a Senate committee and a full Senate vote is expected soon.

Therapy Dogs Help the Ailing

No matter who you are, its hard to keep a bright outlook when you have a life-limiting or terminal illness. Therapy dogs can make rounds in hospitals and hospices and comfort some very sick people. We made medical rounds with them. Listen to the story here.

In this photo, Crystal Stoyanoff gets a visit from Draco, a therapy dog.

Council Okays $200K for Crime Reduction Program

Pittsburgh City Council unanimously okayed $200,000 in contracts with the non-profit groups Pittsburgh Community Services and One Vision, One Life to provide social services to gang members in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime (PIRC) was proposed in 2008 and Council originally authorized $200,000 for planning. Council President Darlene Harris says not all of that money has been used and this new grant is to get the initiative implemented.
"I'm encouraged that this possibly could help. Any tool that we can utilize is another way to work with young people and hopefully reduce crime."
Harris says it's been proven to work in Boston and she hopes it will be successful in Pittsburgh.
Council passed the measure only after an accountability amendment was added by Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak ..“We need this program to get off the ground. We have authorized nearly a half a million dollars for PIRC over two years. Its time to get serious about protecting our neighborhoods. We need to know how the funds are being spent and what impact PIRC is having on our neighborhoods.”
The measure requires the PIRC administrator to provide quarterly reports with details information on the program's activities and next steps for implementation..

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

PA Budget Could Be On Time

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and legislative leaders have hammered out a budget agreement, one day before the June 30th deadline.
The 28.05 billion dollar spending plan includes a 250 million dollar increase in basic education spending, but Governor Rendell says most departments will experience cuts.

"For the Agriculture Department, their budget was cut by 11.7 percent. For Environmental Protection Department, 9.2 percent. For Conservation and Natural Resources, 11 percent. For State Parks, 7.3 percent."

More details will emerge tonight, when the Senate Appropriations Committee votes on the spending bill. That will set the stage for a full Senate vote tomorrow morning.
If the measure passes the upper chamber it goes to the House, where members would need to suspend their rules in order to vote on the bill by midnight Wednesday.
Rendell says both parties have agreed to pass a natural gas severance tax by October 1st. The levy would go into effect in January, 2011. The governor says there wasn’t enough time to work out the tax’s details before the budget deadline.

HACP To Open Fitness Center

The Housing Authority of Pittsburgh is teaming up with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League to open a new fitness center in Fineview. The authority will cut the ribbon on the facility in the basement of one of its the Allegheny Dwellings buildings July 1st. Authority spokesperson Michelle Jackson says the center will provide the usual workout equipment but it will also house a boxing ring and all the equipment needed to train boxers. One retired and one current Pittsburgh Police officer will run that aspect of the program. Jackson says residents will also be able to tap into a raft of special programs aimed at helping head-of-household mothers and young mothers. Housing Authority, Iron Cross Ministries and One Vision, One Life staff, will lead the programs and mentoring sessions. Jackson says the programs include self-esteem, self-awareness and health and wellness classes. She says the center will serve residents “mentally, physically and spiritually.” The housing authority will go door-to-door in effort to inform residents about the new programs. Jackson says the center will be open to all Housing Authority residents but it is particularly focused on serving the Allegheny Dwellings residents, which she says includes a higher percentage of young, single mothers.

West Penn Will Shed Services, Jobs

About 1,500 employees at the West Penn Allegheny Health System will lose their jobs in the coming months. That's due to the consolidation of Allegheny General Hospital and West Penn Hospital. AGH will become the primary hospital of the health system while most medical and surgical programs at West Penn will move to AGH in the first quarter of next year. IN addition West Penn's emergency department will close in January.
West Penn will continue to provide its Women's and Infants' Center, bariatric surgery program and the burn center and inpatient rehabilitation programs.
President and CEO Christopher Olivia says despite improving its cost structure West Penn Allegheny has lost $11.6 million in the first three quarters of this fiscal year.
Olivia says he can’t say yet how much money the system will save through the consolidation. Most of the 1,500 lost jobs will come from West Penn which currently employs 2,400.
Olivia said the city and county’s population has declined and more patients are seeking care closer to home ...outside of the city as population shifts in the region. He also says more patients are seeking care in an outpatient setting. On an average day West Penn has about 240 patients, or just 47 percent capacity. West Penn will see its inpatient beds cut from 505 to 202.

“After long and careful deliberation, we believe this consolidation, together with our suburban strategy, will help us achieve this goal and ensure that we have the necessary capital and alignment of resources to fulfill our mission and charitable purpose."

In May, West Penn Allegheny announced that the Suburban Campus of AGH in Bellevue, would become an outpatient facility only. Two weeks ago, the system announced plans to build an ambulatory care and surgery center in Peters Township.

Panel Suggestons Could Save $457 Million

The bipartisan commission created by the Pennsylvania Senate has issued its report identifying cost-saving measures in state government. The Senate Government Management and Cost Study Commission was made up of members of the public and private sectors and held 7 public hearings and reviewed e-mails from Pennsylvanians in completing its review of state departments and expenditures.
The co-chair, State Senator Daylin Leach of Montgomery County, says the report provides more than 40 recommendations with a potential savings of $457 million over 3 years. Leach says the suggestions include changes in the Corrections and Public Welfare Departments, reductions and consolidation of the legislature's caucus staff functions, reviewing the current per diem reimbursement for lawmakers and possibly replace it with a receipts-based system, and an online database of state spending that is accessible by the public.
Leach says they are recommending that a non-partisan office be created to continue to monitor expenditures in order to find where more money can be saved..."It's not just about spending money and not spending money, it's about doing things smartly, doing things more efficiently. If we could spend a little bit of money having an office that is saving hundreds of millions of dollars every year, that would be clearly worth it."

Other recommendations include:

-Savings of over $110 million over three years within the Department of
Corrections after examining areas that include: alternative sentencing
guidelines, parole and re-entry services, pre-release guidelines,
problem-solving courts and graduated sanctioning processes for state
parole violators.
-Reducing the number of state vehicles within the Department of General
-Further investigation of the Department of Public Welfare’s programs
to build upon a 2009 Auditor General’s audit report at an estimated
cost savings of $380 million or more.
-Consolidate school district administrative functions
-Begin comprehensive reviews of the Pennsylvania Department of
Community and Economic Development’s grants and loan programs.

Onorato: Why Wait Till Last Minute?

While legislative leaders work to patch together a budget deal before July 1, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato says there’s no reason to cut it so close to the deadline.
A centerpiece of Onorato’s gubernatorial platform is a vow to make sure the House and Senate both pass budgets by May 15, so the two chambers have more than a month to hash out their differences.
Several lawmakers have dismissed Onorato’s suggestion, saying it’s irresponsible to budget before the commonwealth’s full revenue picture is in place at the end of May – especially during volatile years where Pennsylvania faces deficits.
In an interview with DUQ, Onorato countered that argument, pointing out tax revenue could drop off at any point during the year.

"They’re volatile today. They’re volatile last week. They’re volatile in January. They’re volatile every month of the year, so what’s the difference? You’re going to have a volatile situation in May. You’re going to have a volatile situation on June 30. You have to budget."

Both Onorato and Republican nominee Tom Corbett are vowing to make sure budgets are in place by the June 30th deadline.
That’s something that hasn’t happened yet during the Rendell Administration.

PA Legislature Reaches Tentative Budget Deal?

Pennsylvania legislative leaders tried to hammer out a budget deal until nearly three o'clock this morning.
House Speaker Keith McCall says they’ve reached an agreement, but Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (photo, left) says more details need to be hammered out.
Lawmakers are in a race against the clock to pass a budget by June 30th. The timeline is more than cosmetic. Pileggi says many of the concessions Senate Republicans are making will be taken off the table if the spending plan isn’t finalized before July.
Democratic and Republican leaders holed up in offices on opposite sides of the Capitol last night, and engaged in what Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati called “shuttle diplomacy.”
Pileggi says talks will resume later this morning...

"The major outline of this agreement is in place, but the details are important, because as we said from the beginning, unless all of the components of the outline are agreed to, then none of the components are agreed to."

McCall says the $28 billion budget includes 850 million dollars in federal medical assistance (FMAP) that still hasn’t cleared Congress.

"We’re hoping that it is addressed. We understand that FMAP is – it certainly is a concern, but there are other issues tied to FMAP, that it may be taken up separately. So we have time to digest what the federal government does, be it 400 million, 600 million or the full 850 million. We don’t know yet."

The budget includes an increase for basic education spending.
It also calls for a natural gas severance tax, though lawmakers say the levy would be passed as a separate measure later this year.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Poplawski Trial Delayed

The judge hearing the case of accused police killer Richard Poplawski has agreed to put a hold on the trial until April. Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffery Manning listened to arguments today from assistant public defender Lisa Middleman who asked for the delay saying she needed more time for experts to review Poplawski’s school, medical and other records. She says those experts will not be available until September. The trail was to have begun in October. Jury selection will now begin April 11th with the trail to begin April 25th. The jury will be pulled from a pool of Harrisburg area residents due to the high profile nature of the case. Poplawski is accused of killing three Pittsburgh Police officers in April of 2009 as they responded to a domestic dispute call in Stanton Heights.

Toxins in Frack Water To Be Listed

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says it plans to post on its website soon an updated list of compounds associated with health problems that are used in hydraulic fracturing fluids. Water and a mix of chemicals are pumped under high pressure into the Marcellus Shale gas wells to break the rock and release the gas. Some of the water returns to the surface. Many are concerned that the return water and the water that remains underground could pollute drinking water supplies above and below ground and kill wildlife in surface water systems. The DEP says it should have the revised list online later this week. It is believed to be their first comprehensive list to be published. The list includes chemicals that are linked to neurological and other serious health effects. The list was compiled using data provided to the DEP by gas exploration companies. Those companies say the chemicals pose no environmental threat because they are captured and treated safely.
To review the current DEP list

UPDATE: JULY 2, 2010: The Associated Press is reporting that state environmental officials erred in an attempt to list chemicals used by natural gas drillers.

Local Group Wants Designs For Old Arena

Preservation Pittsburgh has opened a design competition that Board President Scott Leib admits is more of an “ideas competition.” The group is looking for people to submit a proposal for the reuse of the Civic Arena that fits on a single 24X36 inch board. Leib says the designs should reuse the building to, “serve the community well into the future.” He says the Sports and Exhibition Authority has not done a good job of engaging the community in the process. The Penguins and the SEA had originally planed to raze the building and use the footprint, along with the acres of parking surrounding it, for new development. The structure is eligible for historic preservation which means plans to demolish it must go through a review process. Interested designers need to register on the Preservation Pittsburgh web page and pay a $24.00 fee by July 15th. Designs will then be due by August 6th. The designs will be reviewed by a jury of architects, Hill District community leaders and elected officials and then presented to the SEA. Leib says he does not think it will be too late to make a difference in the SEA’s decision process. He admits that the construction of the civic arena shows the best and the worst of Pittsburgh’s past. Leib believes the design of the building showed off new technologies from Western Pennsylvania but at the same time it displaced thousands of residents without much public input and stands as an example of poor civic design. Leib says it is important that the city preserves that past and finds new ways to use the structure for the good of the community.

Bald Eagle Population Continues to Grow

The Pennsylvania Game Commission reports 192 bald eagle nests in 50 of the state’s 67 counties this year—a huge comeback since 1983, when there were only 3 nests, largely because of DDT. At that time, the Bald Eagle Restoration Project introduced 88 bald eaglets from Canada.

Allegheny County is on the list with a confirmed nest for the first time, says Game Commission Press Secretary Jerry Feaser, although it produced no young. It's not uncommon for young eagles' first nests to fail, and it's hoped the pair will return and succeed next year.

Although Feaser says they will eat carrion and other animals, eagles’ favorite meals are fish, so nests occur most often along river corridors or near lakes. It’s a little surprising, therefore, that no nests have been identified in Washington, Beaver or Greene Counties, where there would seem to be ideal habitat. Fayette County went on the list last year, so Feaser expects more nests will appear in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Anyone who sees a huge nest—they can be six feet wide and four feet deep--is invited to notify the Game Commission so they can take a look.

Thefts at Duquesne Light Substations

A $10,000 reward is being offered to anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever has been responsible for stealing or buying stolen copper and aluminum from Duquesne Light substations.

“These thefts threaten the safety of our workers, which is unacceptable,” said Joe Vallarian, spokesperson for Duquesne Light, in a statement. “Taking these materials also can cause interruptions in our customers’ electrical service, as well as threatening the lives of the thieves themselves. A substation is a very dangerous place to attempt to remove copper or aluminum.”

According to news reports, over the weekend, a man was found in a New Brighton substation, possibly electrocuted. A bag with pieces of copper and aluminum were found nearby.

Whenever the price of copper and aluminum rise, thefts of those materials also increase.

Orie, DeWeese Lawyer Hopes SCOTUS Ruling Impacts His Case

A lawyer representing two state lawmakers facing conflict of interest charges says he’s heartened by the recent United States Supreme Court ruling narrowing the scope of a federal corruption law. The Supreme Court decision scales back a federal “honest services” law. The ruling states it’s only applicable when officials are receiving bribes or kickbacks.
Attorney Bill Costopoulos represents Democratic Representative Bill DeWeese of Greene County and Republican Senator Jane Orie of McCandless Towship, Allegheny County. They are both facing charges for allegedly using state resources to conduct campaign work.
He’s filed motions questioning the constitutionality of the state conflict of interest counts both are facing, and says the Court ruling will help his cause.

"What happened yesterday isn’t going to necessarily resolve the challenge here in Pennsylvania. But it is authority, and I believe compelling authority, to do what I would like done. And that is, have this statute in Pennsylvania declared unconstitutional, as it is being applied."

Attorney General Tom Corbett’s spokesman, Nils Frederiksen, says Costopoulos’ argument is a stretch.

"Well it’s possible somebody may try to argue that, the reality is Pennsylvania statutes, and the charges brought in a variety of these cases, the conflict of interest, theft and other charges, are fundamentally different than the federal law which the Supreme Court ruled on."

But Costopoulos says the laws are both unconstitutionally vague, and he hopes judges will take the Supreme Court ruling into consideration when they weigh his challenge.

Stone Bridge to get New Face and Lights Soon

Renovation of the more than 120 year-old Stone Bridge in Johnstown could begin soon. The Stone Bridge Project Committee has been raising funds to upgrade the bridge’s façade and install decorative and architectural lighting. The bridge is best know for the role it played in the Johnstown flood when debris piled up against it and caught fire. Johnstown area Heritage Association Executive Director Richard Burkert says the railroad has made structural repairs over the years but the work planed now “goes beyond the scope” of what the company would be expected to do. He says the bids for the work came in a bit higher than expected so the project has been split into two phases. The first phase will work on the cement façade of the structure to make it more aesthetically pleasing. That work will be paid for from private donations. Burkert says he expects it to cost about $80,000 plus the cost of hiring flagmen and other safety measures. The bridge spans the Conemaugh River, Iron Street and Route 65 and carries about 45 trains a day. Phase 2 will include the lighting of the bridge. Burkert says that bid came in much higher than expected but he feels a second bid will be much more reasonable. Penn DOT has offered to kick in $.5 million for the project. Private individuals have contributed more than $200,000. The fundraising effort is about 90% complete and Burkert says he thinks all the funding will be in place soon. The group is still taking donations. Work on the façade could begin in the coming weeks and Burkert says if all goes well the lighting could be done by the end of the year. The lighting (as seen in the artist’s rendering) both bathes the bridge in light and highlights aspects of the architecture using LED. Burkert says the work will, “turn this aesthetically challenged railroad bridge into something of an attraction for Johnstown.” The lights will be programmable and can change with the time of day or season, or can be programmed to help celebrate a special occasion. Burkert says the bridge can become part of the community’s life.

College Graduates Expectations Differ According to Gender

Males who are graduating from college have expectations of making more money than women do according to a survey done by Duquesne University researchers.

In the third year of the 2010 Collegiate Seniors’ Economic Expectation Research (SEER) Survey and Index the gap in expected earnings has widened more than in previous years.

Nearly 800 students from 49 states were surveyed. Sixty percent of the females surveyed expected to earn $30,000 or less in their first year after graduation from college, compared with only 27 percent of the males polled.

A likely reason for the different expectations may be the academic majors of the students. Females tend to study liberal arts, social sciences and nursing. Men tend to study economics, computer science, mathematics and engineering. Those are generally more financially lucrative fields.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bat Habitat to be Protected

The United States Department of Agriculture has launched a $1.1 million dollar effort to preserve the habitat of the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalist) in Pennsylvania. The bat was placed on the endangered species list in 1967. USDA Pennsylvania State Biologist Barry Isaacs says the Indiana bat looks like the much more common Little Brown bat but it has not adapted to humans as well. The Little Brown bat will roost in man-made structures but the Indiana bat continues to roost under the bark of dead tress and some species of live hickory and elm. The money will be spent over three years to purchase 99-year and 30-year conservation easements and 10-year cost share agreements. Isaacs says the easements will not necessarily mean there will be no commercial logging on the land but any cutting would have to be done with the bat’s habitat in mind. Along with the right kind of trees the USDA will look for forested acreage along creeks and streams. Isaacs says people think the riparian zones help the bats to better hide from predators like owls while providing more flying water insects for dinner. A special rating tool has been created to make sure the best habitat possible is being preserved. Isaacs says it will not guarantee that bats are living in the areas protected but it will help to pick the right areas to protect. Several counties have been selected for the program including Adams, York, Bedford, Berks, Blair, and Greene Counties. Along with the loss of habitat the Indiana bats have fallen victim to white nose syndrome. The fungal growth is being found in winter hibernacula and has been linked to the deaths of more than a million bats. The goal is to protect about 300 acres in the first year of the program.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

New Pact for Giant Eagle Workers

By a 5 to 1 margin, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 23 have ratified a new 4 year contract with Giant Eagle. The deal covers about 5,800 workers at 36 stores....mostly in Western Pennsylvania, with a few in West Virginia.
Jim D'Alessandro, a bargaining team member and a meat cutter for Giant Eagle, said they are pleased with improvements in 3 key areas for members.... "Wage increases will up the standard of living for our members, the improvements to the health plan mean members will be able to take their kids to the doctors when they need to go, and we have secured the pension so they don’t have to worry about living in abject poverty after a lifetime of work.”
The old contract was to have expired today.

EOG Gets Okay to Resume Fracking

Houston-based E.O.G. Resources, which had a blow out of one of its Marcellus Shale gas wells in Clearfield County three weeks ago, has been given the go ahead to resume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Pennsylvania. A Department of Environmental Protection spokesman says a review found no violations at the 70 other EOG well sites in the state. The company can resume fracking but it does not yet have the green light to do the finishing work that allows the gas to be extracting from the wells. The June 3rd accident allowed explosive gas and toxic wastewater to spew out for 16 hours before the well was capped.

Friday, June 25, 2010

NRA Bid to Void Stolen Gun Law Fails Again

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court dismissed today the National Rifle Association’s challenge of a Pittsburgh ordinance that requires gun owners tell police if their firearm is lost or stolen.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence sided with the city in the case. Brady Center Senior Attorney Daniel Vice says this is the fifth Pennsylvania court ruling against the NRA on this issue.

“This is a big victory for Pittsburgh’s efforts to protect families from gun violence and a big loss for the NRA and gun traffickers,” says Vice.

“This is certainly a good signal to other cities and towns across Pennsylvania that have been passing similar laws to go ahead and do that, to enact this common-sense law that helps law enforcement stop gun trafficking and to help recover guns that have been stolen by criminals.”

Vice says though the NRA could potentially appeal to the state’s highest court, the Supreme Court rejected the Rifle Association’s challenge of a similar Philadelphia law.

Mosher: Gender Selection Abortion Spreading

Longstanding cultural desires and China’s continued one child policy have created a world where more and more unborn girls are being aborted according to Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher. Mosher is in Pittsburgh this week to speak to the National Right to Life Committee Annual Convention being held near the airport. Mosher says he has been in classrooms in china where of the 30 or so students more than 20 are boys. He says he has also seen too many mysterious deaths among newborn girls. “ The little boys always seem to do just fine, “ says Mosher, “and so I went and asked elderly midwives what was happening and they said they were being given instructions by some parents that any girls children being born should not be allowed to survive.”
Mosher says it is not just a problem in China. A recent study in the Indian state of Punjab found that 130 boys are born for every 100 girls. The normal birth rate is 106 boys for every 100 girls. Mosher says it is not just a rural issue. He says the worst rate seen anywhere in the world is among the upper caste in Punjab where there are 300 girls in every 1,000 live births. “That means 7 of 10 unborn baby girls are being killed,” says Mosher. India has a law against sex selective abortions but it is rarely enforced. Most European countries have similar laws that are enforced with the exception of Sweden. Mosher says that has lead to “abortion tourism” to Sweden.
With the lack of women of marrying age in some Asian countries it could be assumed that the value of those remaining females would be great. Mosher says that is not the case. He says the lack of females has turned women into a commodity rather than desirable humans. He says girls are being married younger and the number being sold into sex slavery is increasing. Mosher says the lack of women has also lead to increased violence among single men, increased gang populations as men look for a surrogate family and he claims it has increased the incidence of homosexuality and rape as men look for an outlet for their sexual desires.
Mosher says sex selection abortion is now being seen stateside. Recent data shows some Asian American communities are using abortion to choose the sex of their children. Mosher says the first-born children of these populations show normal sex ratio however, “if the first child was a son, the sex ratio of the second born children was also normal. But what happened if the first child was a girl? The number of sons outnumbered daughters by 50-percent.” Illinois has had a law on the books since 1975 making sex selection through abortion illegal. Pennsylvania followed suit in 1989 and Oklahoma has just approved such a ban. Mosher says he expects Georgia to follow suit soon and then other states may follow.

Allegheny Gen., West Penn Share Some Services

West Penn Allegheny Health System is consolidating some inpatient services of the West Penn and Allegheny General Hospitals.

“More people are seeking outpatient care than inpatient care these days, because health care frankly has gotten much better,” says West Penn Allegheny spokeswoman Kelly Sorice. “As far as West Penn Hospital and Allegheny General Hospital are concerned, we’re looking at what services these hospitals should offer to respond to these changes in the marketplace.”

Sorice says neonatology and obstetrics are now only offered at West Penn. Neurosurgery will only be offered at Allegheny General after the West Penn department moves.

More consolidations could occur in the near future.

Sorice says West Penn Allegheny won’t know about any job losses until it works out more details.

Bloomfield residents still have many inpatient care options, including the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital and UPMC Shadyside nearby.

PAT Passes Austere Budget

At its Board of Directors meeting today the Port Authority of Allegheny County adopted a $330 million operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, projecting a $47.1 million revenue shortfall. Guy Mattola, chair of the Planning and Development Committee told attendees “unfortunately today we have to pass a balanced budget, the impact this will have on service in our region is drastic and possibly irreparable.”

Members of the board repeatedly mentioned that this was neither a cost nor expense problem, but a revenue problem that could only be addressed through action by the state legislature. Authority CEO Steve Bland says if the state legislature doesn’t come through with funding in the near future, the board will make specific recommendations to cut routes, increase fares and lay off workers at their meeting next month. The proposed changes would go through a public hearing process in August and September, the board would act on those changes in late September and they would go into effect in January. He says at any time state officials can halt that process by coming up with the funding. Bland says riders should understand that if these changes go through, it will not be like other instances in the past. He says this will “cut into meat, muscle and bone—we’ll be looking at complete areas of the community that will lose service.”

PAT and its sister agency SEPTA in Philadelphia had counted on funds from Act 44, which collapsed this spring after the Federal Department of Transportation rejected the state’s bid to toll Interstate 80 and use some of the revenue to fund other roadway projects and public transit. But today, PAT board treasurer James Dodaro moved to send a letter to officials, urging them to resubmit the bid, this time with the stipulation that all funds collected would go toward the maintenance of I-80. The federal government rejected the application in part because some funds would have been used for purposes not related to I-80. Dodaro says that would help relieve Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation of having to pay $200-$300 million a year to maintain the roadway, freeing up funds for public transit.

PA Hospitals Cause Fewer Infections in 2009

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health released a report yesterday that found declining infection rates in hospitals in the state.

The report says in 2009, 25,914 people were infected while in hospitals in Pennsylvania – that’s a 12.5% drop from 2008.

President of the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative Karen Wolk Feinstein says the Department of Health will audit that information to check for any reporting errors or omissions from hospitals.

Wolk Feinstein says one of the most common hospital contaminations is a central line bloodstream infection -- that’s when a catheter infects an important artery or vein, resulting in a 20% mortality rate. She says central line infections have been reduced by 68% in southwestern Pennsylvania hospitals.

Wolk Feinstein says Medicare and many private insurers have stopped paying for medical bills caused by hospital infections.

“With this kind of public reporting, with Department of Health sanctions, with financial disincentives, we are closing the door on the fact that for a while, you actually got rewarded as a provider for these infections and you got larger payments.”

She says hospital visits without infections averaged about $35,000 in Pennsylvania, but patients and their insurers would usually pay a bill closer to $192,000 if the person was infected. She says now that insurers have stopped covering these costs, hospitals have incentive to put effort into infection control.

Drill Industry Lobbying For Tax Loopholes

Environmental advocates are warning against exemptions and loopholes in a proposed severance tax bill.
The budget touted by Governor Ed Rendell and House Democrats includes a tax on natural gas drilling.
None of the tax proposals currently in the House include an exemption for wells in their first three years of operation, but Representative Dave Levdansky, an Allegheny County Democrat, says the drilling industry is lobbying for one.

"Why do we need to give the gas drilling industry any more incentive than they already have to come to Pennsylvania and drill? They are here. And they are here for some very significant reasons that will not at all be impacted by granting them exclusions from the tax."

Governor Rendell has proposed transferring revenue from several environmental funds into the general fund, in order to trim Pennsylvania’s deficit.
PennFuture CEO Jan Jarrett says a severance tax would eliminate the need for such a move.
"If we can get a severance tax in place, there’s not the need to take these drastic cuts that we’re taking to very important environmental programs that benefit Pennsylvanians all over the state."

Jarrett says Rendell’s proposal would “eviscerate” environmental protection funds.
A new report from the left-leaning Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center claims a three year exemption means more than 40 percent of the gas yielded from an average well would go untaxed, since wells are typically more productive early on.
House leaders have tried to pass a severance tax twice in recent weeks, but both times, they pulled the measure due to a lack of support.

Rendell: Tremendous Progress In Budget Talks But......

Governor Ed Rendell says he’s willing to accept a 28.2 billion dollar state budget but warns any spending plan would be upended, if Congress doesn’t pass a medical spending bill. Emerging from a negotiating session with legislative leaders, Rendell said talks have made “tremendous progress,” and that he and House Democrats have come up with a 28.2 billion dollar proposal.
Rendell wants to keep 850 million dollars of extended federal medical funding in the spending plan, despite growing concern Congress won’t pass a measure authorizing the aid.
He says that would create “Armageddon” for Pennsylvania’s finances.

"Back to ground zero. I mean everything goes, including my education spend. Everything is subject to, just, disaster. And again, my guess is somewhere around 20-thousand layoffs are produced if FMAP goes."

That projected 20,000 jobs includes a ripple effect on school district and local municipal employment.
Republicans want to take the FMAP money out of the state’s budget, or set up a contingency plan where the 850 million dollars in possible cuts are clearly identified. House GOP Leader Sam Smith says Representative Sam Smith, says you can't count on that money....

"You know, when are you going to face the piper? If the FMAP money’s here this year and it’s not here next year, you know, next year you still have to face the same music. That’s been our concern for the last two years with all of this stimulus money."

Rendell says he’ll travel to Washington on Monday with a contingent of governors to lobby for the medical funding bill.
Smith says he could accept $28.2 billion spending number, but Senate Republicans insist it’s too high.

Outbreak of Shigellosis Hits Pittsburgh Area

The Allegheny County Health Department is taking special measures to slow an outbreak of diarrheal illness known as shigellosis. Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole says shigella infections began to increase countywide last October and there have been 97 cases reported so far this year. That compares to 41 in 2009 and only 12 in 2008. Other parts of the state including neighboring counties are also experiencing shigella outbreaks. Cole says nearly half of the local cases were children 5 or younger.
To curb the outbreak, Cole says the Health Department is requiring children and workers with diarrhea to be barred from day care centers until they have tested negative for shigella bacteria and have no diarrhea for at least 24 hours without using anti-diarrheal medication.
Cole says for children and daycare center workers without health insurance, they can get the test done free of charge through the Health Department.
Shigella bacteria can be easily spread person-to-person or through contaminated food and beverages when people do not carefully wash their hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper or caring with someone with the illness.
Cole says symptoms including diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever usually last 5-7 days but in some cases people with no symptoms can still pass the bacteria to others.

PAT Budget Could Mean Massive Service Cuts

The Port Authority Board is to vote today on a budget for the new fiscal year that starts July 1. But the spending plan has to account for a projected $50 million deficit that PAT CEO Steve Bland has warned will mean huge service cuts and fare hikes unless the state legislature comes through with additional funds. State lawmakers have been holding hearings across Pennsylvania to discuss different revenue sources to fund roads, bridges and mass transit. The state had been counting on tolling Interstate 80 but the federal government rejected that idea which left a $492 million transportation funding hole.
Jonathan Robison, president of the Allegheny County Transit Council--the independent, rider-based advisory panel, says PAT has been improving efficiency and trimming costs but that can only go so far.....
"Expecting PAT to solve the $50 million (deficit) administratively is like expecting a surgeon to do heart surgery with a meat ax."
Robison says unless the state comes up with funding there will be a 30% service cut which means virtually eliminating evening and weekend service and cutting back on other routes.
Robison believes the PAT Board today will approve a "conditionally balanced budget" which anticipates additional state monies but unless there is legislative action by "August or maybe, September the board will have to start implementing the 30% service cuts and that would be an unmitigated disaster."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chef Speaks About Life Behind Bars and Over A Stove

Chef Jeff Henderson Jeff Henderson, a chef on the Food Channel spoke to local ex-offenders and at-risk youth in Homestead on Thursday.

Eugene Ziegler was among the audience members who asked Chef Jeff Henderson for advice. Ziegler is a 52 year old Marine Veteran and trained cook. He’s also a recovering drug addict and ex-offender. He’s got post-traumatic stress disorder. And he says, low self-esteem. It’s been hard for him to find work.

Like Ziegler, Henderson is a former felon. A former drug-trafficker, he spent ten years in prison where he learned to cook. Upon release, he worked his way up to becoming an executive chef at top restaurants, got a TV show and authored a book.
Although he achieved fame as a chef, Henderson said he’s often asked to speak to ex-felons and at-risk youth about his life.

Makinma Gustave, 35, has been in and out of prison over the last eight years. The Homestead woman said she finds Henderson’s story inspiring.

Ex-offenders have a higher unemployment rate than the general public.

NLRC Open Convention in PA

The National Right to Life Committee opened its three-day national convention Thursday morning and the group’s leadership is optimistic about the future. NRLC President Wanda Franz says recent studies show more Americans are calling themselves “pro-life” and the number of abortions performed in the US continues to fall even as the number of women of childbearing age increases. She says it all points to a changing mood in the nation. A mood they hope to be able to tap into in the November elections. NRLC Political Director Karen Cross says that new mood is already showing up in the political arena. She says the last few months have been exciting to watch. “Every week its almost like Christmas for me,” says Cross. She says many of the races pit candidates with clearly defined differences when it comes to abortion issues. That includes the US senate race in Pennsylvania between Joe Sestak and Pat Toomey. Toomey is strongly Pro-life, Sestak is Pro-choice.

The National Right to Life Committee leadership is also praising some state level gains made in the last year including a law in Oklahoma that will force those performing abortions to display the ultrasound in a place where the woman can see the image. Other states with ultrasound viewing laws only force the procedure provider to offer the pregnant woman the opportunity to see the image. NRLC State Political Director Mary Spaulding-Balch says that is a slight difference from other ultrasound viewing laws but one that clearly makes a difference. “In the states where they are offered the opportunity to view there has not been a single challenge and yet when Oklahoma simply changes the language to the point that the ultrasound must be displayed it is challenged by our opponents,” says Spaulding-Balch. That law is to go into effect in October.

The group is also taking an interest in the confirmation of Elena Kagan. NLRC Executive Director David O’Steen says his organization will “very actively oppose” the nomination of Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court. Hearings for Kagan begin Monday. The Committee has already sent a letter to all members of the Senate asking that Kagan be rejected. The letter lays out an argument that Kagan was key in defeating the partial birth abortion bill during the Clinton administration. He says Kagan’s writings show she strongly argued with the president that he should not support the bill saying it was unconstitutional and that pro-choice groups “will go crazy.” O’Steen says those writings also show that Kagan is a “social engineer” and will be more interested in driving change if she is added to the court rather than defending the constitution. The letter to the Senators reads in part, “she believes that ‘it is not necessarily wrong or invalid’ for appointed judges ‘to mold and steer the law in order to promote certain ethical values and achieve social ends.’” O’Steen says the NLRC Federal Legislative Department will be lobbying members of the Senate Judicial Committee but they will be, “choosing people to speak with based on, of course, the anticipation of success and Arlen Specter (D-PA) is history… it seems he has been rejected by both parties now.” The letter says Kagan will “treat the US Constitution not as a body of basic law that truly constrains both legislators and judges, but rather, as a cookbook in which may be found legal recipes that will allow the imposition of the policies that Ms. Kagan deems to be justified.”

Council Member Awaits Ethics Advisory Opinion on Ravenstahl Nominee

Shortly after Adam Ravenstahl, the younger brother of Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl, won a seat in the state house in May, the mayor nominated him to serve on the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority Board. In response, city council member Bill Peduto wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh Ethics Hearing Board asking for an advisory opinion on the nomination. Peduto, citing city code notes that elected officials are barred from nominating, promoting or even endorsing immediate family members. In response to the request, Sister Patrice Hughes who chairs the board responded, indicating that Peduto could file a complaint if he wished but that he needed to clarify the intent of his request. Peduto has since re-written the letter saying he does not want to file a complaint, and is only looking for advice, something he's done in the past. The nomination has not yet been forwarded to the city clerk's office. Candidates must be interviewed before council can vote on their appointment. Peduto believes the only way Adam Ravenstahl can be appointed is if the Ethics Hearing Board grants him a waiver.

Regatta Promises Fun for the Fourth

It’s business as usual this year for the Three Rivers Regatta, as Pittsburgh’s official Independence Day celebration will bring music, fireworks and stunts to the city for the 33rd year in a row.

In addition to the customary speedboat races, this year’s event features the Red Bull Air Force’s aerial acrobatics show. Parachutist Miles Daisher says the RBAF will do what’s called “super swooping.”

“Which is diving our canopies at the ground, and we’ll build up speeds across the ground of up to 70 miles an hour. Usually we’re doing about 50 to 70 miles an hour when we come swooping in, and we’ll have smoke on our feet, skydivers’ smoke, when we’re coming in, so we’ll be easy to spot.”

Music acts visiting Pittsburgh for the July 3-4 regatta include country star Craig Morgan and the “GetBack! Cast of BEATLEMANIA” tribute band.

The Regatta will also host a bass fishing tournament, a Frisbee-catching dog show, dragon boat races, balloon artists, a pizza-eating contest and, of course, the ever-popular “Anything That Floats” competition. All programs are free of charge.

For a complete schedule of events, visit the Three Rivers Regatta website.

Pgh Task Force to Hold AIDS Testing Event

In observance of National HIV Testing Day on Sunday, the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force will hold the East End Community Health Day this Friday at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

The Allegheny County Health Department will have a van at the event to do HIV and STD testing, as well as other health screenings.

PATF Executive Director Kathi Boyle says most HIV-positive Pittsburghers get the virus through unsafe sex, not via needle-sharing or blood transfusions.

Boyle says HIV/AIDS remains a major issue, particularly in the African-American community. She says gay African-American young men are at high risk for HIV infection. Boyle adds that HIV/AIDS is the primary cause of death for African-American women aged 25-34.

“Women are getting infected and they aren’t getting into care. They don’t get themselves tested. Traditionally, women are busy taking care of families and they’re the last to take care of themselves, and so when they finally find out, they’re so sick that they die from HIV and AIDS, and that doesn’t have to happen.”

Older gay white men are also at increased risk, says Boyle.

But she says many treatment options are available in Pittsburgh.

“It’s possible to get medication without having to pay anything for that if you don’t have insurance, and you can get the care without insurance. We really want people to understand that HIV is not a death sentence any longer, if they get into care.”

The East End Community Health Day will run from noon to 3 p.m. Friday. Screenings are confidential and anonymous, as mandated by Pennsylvania law.

131 Marcellus Wastewater Trucks Idled

For three days last week, Pennsylvania State Troopers targeted trucks hauling wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas drilling sites across the state. Lieutenant Myra Taylor, spokesperson for the state police, says the Marcellus drilling has led to an increase in heavy truck traffic hauling equipment and water to the drill sites and wastewater away from the wells.
Lieutenant Taylor says during Operation FracNET June 14-16, state police working with the Department of Environmental Protection, pulled over 1,137 trucks for inspection. The majority were hauling wastewater. As a result, 250 rigs were taken out of service, 131 of those were hauling wastewater, and 45 drivers were also taken off the road. In addition, 669 citations and 818 written warnings were issued. The trucks that were removed from service cannot return to the roads until safety violations are repaired.
Lieutenant Taylor says they've been working with truck operators...."in understanding what is needed should you be crossing our roadways, our highways, living in our communities, to ensure that Pennsylvanians are safe. There has been some voluntary cooperation but as you can see from the results of our operation, unfortunately there are far too many people and trucks in violation."
Lieutenant Taylor warned truck operators this will not be the last operation targeting the rigs hauling wastewater.

McCall: Next 24 Hours Critical for On-Time Budget

With a week to go before Pennsylvania’s state budget deadline, legislative leaders are holding several rounds of negotiations a day.
House Democrats have presented a 28.2 billion dollar spending plan to their Republican counterparts.
Their budget would include a 300 million dollar increase in basic education spending, which is 54 million dollars below Governor Rendell’s initial proposal.
Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati says Senate Republicans are backing a smaller budget.

"We certainly are in the basement of the number of spend – the 27.5. That’s not saying we can’t move that number somewhat, but we certainly are a world away from 29 billion, where the governor started."

House Speaker Keith McCall says the “next 24 hours are critical,” if legislators want to get a budget to Rendell by June 30.

"We don’t have an agreement on a particular number at this point. We’re going through the exercise of the macro of what the balance sheet would look like. They have a number, we have a number, and then the line items. And that’s the exercise we’re going through right now by putting together a budget line item by line item. When we have all that detail, when we have agreement on that, then we can take it to the caucus."

Leaders met three times yesterday including once with Governor Rendell.
Today they’ll present line item specifics of the Democratic and Republican spending plans to Governor Rendell.

'Active Allegheny' to Promote Biking, Walking

Allegheny County has launched an effort to encourage biking and walking.

Active Allegheny is a long-term initiative that will eventually spawn new routes for bikers and walkers. But Allegheny County Assistant Director for Transportation Initiatives Lynn Heckman says the routes won’t be simply bike paths.

“A bike path is almost like a bike trail, and it’s not really a recreation use, but multi-use trails that provide that linkage, that connection that people need to get from one place to another,” says Heckman.

She says the project is in its planning stages. Public input and a $300,000 state-funded study will help the county make a prioritized list of biking and walking projects. Heckman says some of those projects will be quick fixes while others may take a long time to finish.

A commuter survey and public hearing postings can be found online at

Canada Quake Felt Locally

There was no damage but some people in the Pittsburgh area felt an earthquake that originated in the province of Ontario in Canada yesterday around 2 p.m. Seismic equipment at the University of Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory registered the tremors of the 5.0 magnitude quake which was centered near Toronto.
The quake was felt in at least 14 northeastern and midwestern states. There were no injuries in the Pittsburgh area but some rattled nerves of people in the Southside, Strip District and Oakland who felt the shaking and placed emergency calls.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

County Overdose Initiative Holds Meeting

In light of the Methadone Accountability Package proposed earlier this month, members of the Allegheny County Overdose Initiative held a meeting in Oakland to discuss overdose prevention strategies. They heard from speakers Robert Newman and Holly Catania, who do overdose prevention work in New York and have collaborated with members of the initiative here.

The Methadone Accountability Package includes bills that would keep track of methadone deaths and prohibit driving while on methadone. It also includes controversial bills that would require drug-users be users for a certain length of time to be eligible and would require two failed non-methadone attempts to get off of drugs before becoming eligible for a prescription.

Methadone deaths have been rising for the last ten years but Newman said that was due to doctors prescribing methadone for pain.

PLCB Unveils Wine Kiosks

If all goes well with a couple of beta test machines, wine drinkers in Pittsburgh will be able to buy a bottle or two from a vending machines this fall. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) today began operating two self-service wine kiosks located at grocery stores in Dauphin and Cumberland counties. PLCB Chairman P.J. Stapleton says the performance of the machines will be evaluated in the next 30-45 days and if there are no problems they will start the rollout of 98 more machines statewide. The 40-square-foot machines will operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, offering as many as 53 types of wine stored at 62 degrees F. Stapleton says they will range from about $10.00 a bottle to about $20.00 a bottle. The machines created by Simple Brands LLC of Conshohocken, PA will ask the purchaser to swipe their drivers licenses and then look at a high definition camera to allow a worker at a call center to verify identity of the purchaser. The customer will also have to blow on a screen housing a Breathalyzer. If a breath alcohol level of .02 or higher is detected, the consumer will be unable to make a purchase. All of the machines will be placed in grocery stores but Stapleton says the final list of locations has not yet been determined. “Consumers are yearning for additional consumer convenience,” says Stapleton, “Customers are going to local supermarkets to pick up a couple of great steaks and bring them home for dinner and now they can bring home a cabernet to have with them.” Pennsylvania is the only state using such machines.
The union that represents the state store employees has weighed in against the machines. Independent State Store Union spokesperson Ed Cloonan says, "Cigarettes are banned from being sold in vending machines in Pennsylvania supermarkets and yet Americans' number one drug of choice will now be vended only in Pennsylvania by the PLCB." Cloonan calls the wine kiosks “Rube Goldberg-like contraptions.” The Independent State Store Union has filed suit in Commonwealth Court to stop the placement of wine vending machines in grocery stores. "Alcohol is not a Red Box DVD - it is the most abused drug in every town, city and state in the USA," says David Wanamaker, Vice-President of ISSU.

State Prison Reform Legislation in the House

The State Senate has passed prison reform legislation to reduce the prison population, lower the rate of recidivism and reduce spiraling costs. The bill’s sponsor and other supporters are urging passage in the House.

The author--Republican Senator Stewart Greenleaf of Bucks and Montgomery Counties-- says prison expenditures have gone from $110 million in 1980 to $1.8 billion, while the inmate population has ballooned from 8000 to 51,000. State population has only gone up 4- or 5%, which Greenleaf says shows the system isn't working.

The current annual increase of 2000 inmates means Pennsylvania would have to build a new prison every year at a cost of about $200 million and $60 million a year to maintain. Meanwhile, recidivism is 46% and violent crime continues to go up. The state now spends more on prisons than on higher education, says Greenleaf. While it’s important to be tough on crime, he says it’s also important to be smart on crime.

Other states, says Greenleaf, have enacted reforms that reduce crime, rehabilitate offenders, and save money. New York is reducing its prison population by 1000 inmates per year as violent crime goes down. Virginia and Michigan are housing thousands of Pennsylvania inmates because their reforms have freed up space.

Greenleaf’s legislation would reform parole and sentencing policies to reduce the numbers of non-violent offenders in jail.

Democratic Representative Ronald Waters of Philadelphia is chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus. He says African-Americans are about 12- to 13% of the general population but are 45- to 50% of the prison population. Poor people are also over-represented, a category which can cross color lines but includes many people of color. Good attorneys are often out of reach for the poor and minorities. He’s visited inmates who say they were coerced with threats of long sentences if they insisted on their day in court, so they plead for a short sentence, not realizing what an adverse and long-term effect a conviction would have on their lives.

Waters says laws reflecting a “lock them up and throw away the key” philosophy have not made communities safer but have increased prison populations and expenditures disastrously. With 90% of inmates coming out of jail eventually, it makes much more sense, he says, to use resources to help them turn their lives around and become contributing members of society.

Waters says the House will amend Senator Greenleaf’s bills to reflect concerns expressed by district attorneys and hopefully send it back to the Senate. He thinks Governor Rendell will sign the reform legislation.

CCAC No.2 in Nursing Grads

The publication Community College Week has ranked the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) as the nation’s second largest producer of both nursing and health professions associate’s degrees among two-year institutions. CCAC was ranked second in nursing last year and fourth in other health profession degrees. CCAC spokesperson David Hoovler says the school has been focused on training health care professionals for more than two decades. “As we were involved in the revitalization of Pittsburgh’s economy we did put a lot of focus on the growing health sector,” says Hoovler. The ranking is based on the 2008-2009 school year when CCAC handed out degrees to 405 nursing graduates. Hoovler says that was a 4% increase from 2007–2008. In 2008–2009, the college awarded 593 degrees in the Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences category.
Hoovler says he does not expect the rankings to fall next year. “We still recognize that nursing is one of our strong areas and we certainly intend to keep a strong emphasis on that. We are expecting to break ground on a new science center on our Allegheny campus on the north side this fall and that shows a commitment to these programs,” says Hoovler. Hoovler says he does not think the schools has saturated the market with nurses and health care professionals, “it’s a field where there is a good bit of turn over… so I think we are helping to fill a need there.“ A study launched by the school last year shows there is still strong and growing demand for health care workers with an associated degree. He says more than 92% of CCAC’s career program graduates are working in this region. Overall, CCAC is 58th in the number of associate’s degrees awarded by all institutions in 2008–2009, with 1,661 graduates. That is down from 49th in the previous listing.

Charity Healthcare Center Nets $500,000

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield gave $500,000 to a free health care center run by the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh yesterday.

Catholic Charities Executive Director Susan Rauscher says the insurance company’s grant is equal to the amount of all other donations the center received. Rauscher says like most charities, the center had been hard-pressed to find donations in a down economy.

“We’re going to continue to need to look for resources and to look for support, but certainly this very generous gift from Highmark just ensures that we’re going to be functioning at capacity for another year,” says Rauscher.

She says the Free Health Care Center treats about 700 people per month for many kinds of dental and medical problems. She says those patients are often those who “fall between the cracks”: their employers do not insure them but they make too much to be eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.

The Free Health Care Center operates at a budget between $800,000 and $900,000 each year, says Rauscher. Only six of the workers are paid staff members; the majority of the medical and dental work is done by volunteers.

Highmark and the Highmark Foundation have given more than $1 million to the center since 2005, including this year’s gift.

Legislative Leaders Still Hoping For On-Time Budget

Legislative leaders will sit down with Governor Ed Rendell again this afternoon, as they continue to negotiate the details of next year’s budget for Pennsylvania.
The June 30th budget deadline is a bit more than a week away, and leaders from both parties insist that unlike last year, they’re doing everything they can to pass a spending plan beforehand.
Senate and House leaders met twice yesterday.
House Speaker Keith McCall says leaders haven’t agreed on a spending number yet.

"We really haven’t worked all those numbers out at this point. That’s still a matter of what we’re trying to reconcile right now."

Joe Scarnati, the top Republican in the Senate, says talks have been productive.

"We don’t have anybody drawing lines in the sand, arbitrary statements that it has to be this way or it’s not going to happen. And I think that’s very encouraging."

Scarnati says Republicans are opposing any tax hike, and says he’s “encouraged” the House has not been able to pass a revenue plan featuring increased tobacco taxes and a natural gas levy.
He warns Senate Republicans will oppose a spending plan that includes 850 million dollars in increased federal medical assistance, if Congress still hasn’t passed the FMAP extension by the time the budget is voted on.

Conference Looks at Steel Tube Role in Shale Play

The Steel Business Briefing (SBB) is gathering about 200 executives from the steel, gas, transportation, and other industries that could benefit from Marcellus Shale drilling to look at how the tube industry can take part in the expected growth. SBB North American Tube Editor Dan Hilliard says this could be the “rebirth of the steel industry in the region.” Hilliard says each well uses between 140 and 360 tons of steel tube. There are a few companies in the region making steel tube and Hilliard says he has heard that more are considering a move to southwestern Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. On top of that, Hilliard says support industries will also be coming to the region including warehousing facilities and trucking companies. Hilliard says just keeping the tube in stock could become a problem or producers. The tube used in Marcellus drilling is not used in many other applications. The tube is consumed in the drilling, fracturing and extraction process and cannot be used again. Hilliard says, “it will be interesting to see where Pittsburgh and the local area is in 20 years as a result of this shale play.” The event begins Wednesday with a social event and then begins holding sessions Thursday morning in Pittsburgh.

Wagner: Better Photos of Offenders Needed

Auditor General Jack Wagner says Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law website needs to become more user-friendly.
Wagner’s special report gives the Megan’s Law website, which is operated by the State Police, a C minus.
The Auditor General says the site’s search engine needs to allow more flexibility, so misspellings and typos don’t prevent people from accessing needed information.
He’s also calling for higher-quality photographs of offenders.

"You see many examples in this report of sex offender photographs that are grainy, that are blurry. That are too light, that are too dark. The offender’s eyes are closed, offenders are wearing hats. You really can’t identify."

Wagner says the website should have multiple color photographs including profile views, of each offender, that include the date in which the photograph was taken.
Wagner’s report also recommends incorporating mapping software into the website, so users can pinpoint the exact location of sex offenders’ homes.
The State Police did not respond to calls for comment.
In a letter to the Auditor General’s office, a State Police official says the organization is working on including mapping features, but the effort has been held up by budgetary restraints.

Money Follows The Person

A federal initiative is helping institutionalized Pennsylvanians move into the community. It's called Money Follows the Person - and is representative of a shift in the way health care and social services are delivered.

It’s a 29 state federal effort to move people out of long-term living facilities like nursing homes or institutions. The person determines how their federal and state money will be spent. They make modifications to their personal homes or pay the health care providers they chose, for example.

In Pennsylvania, Money Follows the Person is a spin-off of the Nursing Home Transition Program, which had been helping people move into the community and linking them to services, transportation and delivered meals. Although there is an initial up-front cost to moving people, the program should ultimately save states and the federal government money.

The programs are part of a larger cultural movement of de-institutionalization following a 1999 Supreme Court decision. It required services be provided in the least restrictive setting possible.

Listen here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Study Finds Greater Risk of Infection among Blacks

A study out of the University of Pittsburgh published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association looks into the high incidence of severe sepsis in blacks compared to whites. Sepsis is a condition where an overwhelming infection leads to organ infection, sending patients to the intensive care units of hospitals. The study's co-author, Doctor Sachin Yende, says they wanted to try and determine two things: whether blacks have a higher risk of developing an infection and once they do develop infection and are in the hospital, whether they have a higher risk of organ failure/dysfunction. They found that blacks have a 67% higher rate of severe sepsis and 80% higher mortality than whites. They also have a 29% higher risk than whites of having organ dysfunction. Yende says there are a handful of potential reasons blacks have a greater risk of infection than whites. Blacks tended to develop infections at a younger age, but vaccines guidelines have them administered later in life -- too late for many since the disparities in risk of infection were apparent in individuals as young as 25, who did not have any underlying chronic conditions. He also cited socio-economic factors and a difference in genetics, where blacks have a harder time fighting off infection than whites. Once the infection has taken hold, Yende says that researchers should look into hospital level interventions. He says studies have shown that blacks often receive treatment at hospitals that provide lower quality care. One step would be to measure infection rates at hospitals that largely serve African-American populations and using that data, help those institutions follow protocols for treating infections. Yende says prevention through vaccination guideline modification coupled with hospital level interventions would be a good start.

IUP to Hike Rates for Some Graduate Degrees

Some graduate students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania will pay an extra 5% for tuition starting next fall.

The additional fee on the college’s more expensive doctorate and master’s programs will be assessed on top of a possible tuition increase from the State System of Higher Education, which manages the school.

IUP spokeswoman Michelle Fryling says the university won’t know how much revenue it will gain through the tuition hike until the State System sets its rates.

Fryling says only eight of the 765 affected students increase gave feedback to the university.

“Certainly, no one wants to pay more, but I think they understand that they want to keep the quality of their programs intact.”

The school has been struggling between maintaining quality programs and cutting operational costs. Although some vacant positions at the university aren’t being filled, Fryling says in this case it’s better to increase tuition than to cut professors or programs.

New Library Funding Formula Approved

The Allegheny County Library Association has sent a new funding formula to the Regional Asset District. Last year the ACLA wrapped up an 18-month study into how to best distribute the more than $5 million allocated from the RAD tax to the 44 libraries in the county that are not part of the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh. The RAD board used that formula for a year but asked the ACLA to revamp the formula. That new formula was approved last night on a 34-7 vote. ACLA Executive Director Marilyn Jenkins says there are three guiding principals behind the formula. She says it had to spread the funds throughout the county, it had to be based on reliable data and it had to be understandable. The formula includes consideration for population served, economically distressed population served, use by nonresidents, computer use and the amount of funding from local governments. Jenkins says she hopes the libraries will work within the formula to try to up their funding. She says libraries can try to launch programs that would increase the use of their materials and the use of the computers. She also points out that the libraries can go to their local governments and ask for more funds knowing that it will men an increase in RAD money flowing through the ACLA. The formula now goes to the RAD board for approval. Jenkins says she thinks this is a “strong response” to the board’s concerns.
Among the libraries that will see the largest gain; Sto-Rox +$33,615.36, Allegheny Valley +$28,698.94, and Braddock +$28,000.68. Among the libraries that will see the largest declines; Mt. Lebanon ($81,150.19), Monroeville ($77,487.95) and Upper St. Clair ($39,632.56). The smallest changes will be seen by Coraopolis, which will see its funding fall by $$257.74. A comparison of the 2010 and 2011 can be found here.

Board Considers Reconfiguration of Pittsburgh Schools

Pittsburgh's Board of Education is being asked to consider a new city school realignment. Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt submitted the plan to the board last night. Board Member Thomas Sumpter says he is “quite pleased” with the plan.
"Excel 9-12" is a 5-year plan that was introduced in 2006 aimed at improving the academic performance of all high school students in the city public schools. The Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12 School opened in the Hill District in 2008; the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) 6-12 began in 2009 as did the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy.
Roosevelt says an advisory committee report in April indicated the projected enrollment decline in the eastern neighborhoods means that the area cannot continue to support three feeder high schools: Pittsburgh Peabody, Pittsburgh Westinghouse and Pittsburgh Milliones.
The latest proposals call for the closing of Peabody High School in East Liberty. Pittsburgh Obama 6-12, which is the international studies magnet school, will be moved into the Peabody building. Sumpter says the district is trying to get the best use out of the assets it has as enrollment drops.
Grades 6,7 and 8 would be added to Westinghouse making it a 6 through 12 school. The school would also be transformed into two, single gender academies. Roosevelt says each academy would be led by its own administrative team, faculty and staff tailored to meet the needs of both schools.
Starting in 2011, Peabody students would either go to Westinghouse or to Milliones 6-12, which is the university prep school. Sumpter says he wishes the city could open more schools to give students more choice and more neighborhood options but that is just no t possible given the reality of the city’s population changes.
The plan also calls for developing a site for a K-8 and 9-12 Teacher Academy as part of the Empowering Effective Teachers plan. The teaching academies would be in existing schools where some of the district’s best teachers will coach new and experienced teachers with the goal of improved teacher and student performance.

The public is invited to submit written comments by clicking the Facilities Reconfigurations button on the homepage. The next public hearing is July 12. Speakers must sign up prior to noon the day of the hearing. Sumpter says he does not expect much to change between now on the final vote. “This is something that people and organizations have been coming together on, the east end, there is a couple of advisory groups out in that area. Just like last night, even thought it was presented to the board there was not a big turnout from the public because I think the pretty much understand where we are going and pretty much accept it,” says Sumpter.

Big Hole IN PA Budget Without "FMAP" Bill

Democrat Bob Casey says he’s frustrated by the Senate’s inability to pass an extension in federal Medicaid funding.
States across the country have budgeted the increased federal medical money into their spending plans.
Virginia, for instance, counts on the money to fill a 400 million dollar hole, and Washington State is expecting 480 million dollars from the FMAP bill.
Governor Rendell’s spending plan relies on 850 million dollars from the proposal.
But last week, two test votes on the measure failed, as Republicans and a group of Democrats voiced concern about more federal spending.
Senator Casey argues the spending boost will ultimately bring the deficit down, since it will save and create state jobs.

"The best way to attack deficits is to have a fully recovered economy, where you’re getting growth. Like we did in the 90s. where you have growth and the pie’s getting bigger and you can dedicate more dollars to deficit reduction."

Casey says he’s hoping for another vote this week.
Rendell has said he’ll start moving the 850 million dollars into budgetary reserve if the bill doesn’t pass Congress by July 1. The governor says that translates to thousands of layoffs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tax Amnesty Brings In $71M More Than Goal

A surge of applications in the tax amnesty window’s final days led to a total haul of 261 million dollars for Pennsylvania.
16 million dollars of the surplus will pay for the cost of the effort, and another five million dollars is headed to the Motor Vehicles Fund. The rest will be applied to the General Fund to knock some out of the $1.2 billion deficit
Governor Rendell says he wants the Revenue Department to keep going, and collect more unpaid taxes.

"The total outstanding tax liability is 2.1 billion. And our estimates are, that just based on the time of some of those outstanding liabilities, that well over a third of that – just over 800 million dollars – is collectible. And that means there’s another 550 million dollars out there to be collected."

Rendell is now asking for a 2.3 million dollar increase in the department’s budget request, in order to hire 40 more Revenue agents. The commonwealth is assessing an additional five percent penalty on back taxes that weren’t settled during the amnesty window.

Onorato Asks Corbett for 14 Debates

Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato has sent a letter to his Republican counterpart asking for a series of 14 debates/forums leading up to the November election. Onorato, who is currently the Allegheny County Chief Executive, says Harrisburg is broken and the voters need as much information about the candidates as possible to make their decision in an election he says will have a huge impact on the state’s future. Onorato has asked Republican Tom Corbett, who is also the current PA Attorney General, to agree to hold at least 2 forums in each of the state’s 7 media markets. Specifically Onorato is calling for-
* One in Philadelphia and one in the Southeastern Pennsylvania suburbs;
* Two in the Lehigh Valley;
* One in Scranton and one in Wilkes-Barre;
* One in Pittsburgh and one in another part of Southwestern Pennsylvania;
* Two in the Harrisburg-York-Lancaster area;
* Two in Erie/Northwestern Pennsylvania; and
* One in Johnstown and one in Altoona.
Onorato has proposed that the debates be sponsored by independent, non-partisan groups and that each event focus on a specific topic including jobs and the economy, fiscal discipline, and government reform. The Democrat says he will agree to any format as long as it allows the voters to fully understand the candidates’ positions. The letter sent to Corbett’s campaign reads in part, “As we begin the General Election campaign for Governor, Pennsylvania is facing deep economic and fiscal challenges and the Commonwealth’s citizens have lost confidence in state government’s ability to help solve these problems. It is more important than ever that Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to hear us discuss and debate critical issues and describe our records and our detailed plans for Pennsylvania’s future.” Onorato proposes the debates be held starting in August. He says he does not think the ongoing “Bonusgate” investigation and prosecution should have a limiting impact on the debates. “If Tom wants to have a debate on how you reform government, bring it on, because my record is stronger than anybody’s and I love it,” says Onorato
Onorato says he has not had any conversations about the debates with the Corbett camp bust says he assumes the Republican will be willing to meet. He points to the more than 30 debates held during the primary as the basis for his assumption. Some of those debates included members of both parties, other focused on just the Republicans or just the Democrats.
Corbett campaign spokesperson Kevin Harley calls the letter and accompanying news conference a “media stunt.” He says, “We will have debates. However, the number of debates, the dates and locations, will be determined thought adult negotiations between the campaigns.” Harley says he will not comment on the preferred number, time or location. He says the move shows that Onorato has set a tone of attacking Corbett as his way of getting more name recognition statewide.

Black Male Leadership Development Institute at Robert Morris

Robert Morris University is hosting the annual Black Male Leadership Development Institute at its Moon Township campus—an 8-day residency program to promote higher education and community leadership that began yesterday for 65 African American high school students from a variety of schools in the region: public, charter and private.

Dr. Rex Crawley, Communications professor and co-director of the Institute, says each day centers around a theme such as academics, ethics, community involvement. Thursday’s topic is accountability and will feature a panel discussion with city police and detectives about interactions with law enforcement and how to avoid the prison system.

Crawley says the program hosted 50 students last year but had over 120 applicants this year. The 65 were chosen for leadership potential, not necessarily high achievement. The conference is an effort to counteract recent studies that show a diminishing presence of African American males in college--a phenomenon that Crawley says will leave this generation far behind if not remedied.

Recognizing the importance of role models, twenty-five community volunteers will share diverse professional experiences with students who might otherwise know nothing about particular career opportunities.

Crawley says some of the participants go to suburban schools with few other African American students, so this is the first time they've had a learning experience with a large number of other black guys, while some go to predominantly African American schools but have not felt celebrated for their unique opportunities to contribute to society in positive ways.

The institute will keep in touch with the students throughout the year.

Heritage Trail Section Closed

A one-and-a-half-mile section of riverfront trail is closed this morning as crews do work on replacing a water pumping station on Becks Run Road. The Three Rivers Heritage Trail will remain closed from just up river from the Steelers’ practice facility to the dead end near the Glenwood Bridge until Friday at 4:30 when it will reopen for the weekend. It will then close again Monday morning. Friends of the Riverfront Executive Director Thomas Baxter says the work will continue with that schedule for several months. The work is being done by Pennsylvania American Water Company. About 150 people use the section of trail every day and Baxter says it spikes on the weekends. “This section of trail currently is a dead end trail so we hope the inconvenience will not be too bad for trial users,” says Baxter, “We worked really hard with PA American Water to ensure they did the project now, before the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage. The amount of traffic on that trail segment will be significantly lower now than it will be in a few years.” As part of the agreement with Friends of the Riverfront, Pennsylvania American Water must repair any damage done to the section of trail. “We worked on a license and maintenance agreement along with the access agreement to make sure that they understood all the native plantings that are there, the trail surface, what people expect and how to put it back just as it was if not better,” says Baxter. Baxter says trail users can get the latest information one the Friends of the Riverfront webpage under the trail status link.

Proposed Law Named After Greensburg Woman

Proposed legislation would make it illegal to witness a violent crime and not report it. Jennifer’s Law is named for Jennifer Daugherty, a 30-year old developmentally disabled Greensburg woman. This past winter, she was severely tortured for days before being killed by three men and three women.

State Senator Kim Ward of Westmoreland County is proposing the bill. "I would think of Jennifer’s Law almost as a human law, you know a humanity law. If you see someone being harmed in a violent way- call for help. That’s all it says," she said.

Ward says eleven other states have similar legislation. And in Pennsylvania similar laws exist - just not in the same realm. There are Good Samaritan laws that bind medical personnel to render care if its necessary, laws that implicate someone who accompanies or assists a bank robber and laws against harboring a fugitive.

Public Input Sought Online for Budget

A new website set up by House Democrats is trying to crowdsource budget ideas Pennsylvanians.
The website,, lets people post their own suggestions of saving or generating revenue.
Pennsylvania is facing a 1.2 billion dollar revenue gap this year, and legislative leaders are negotiating a mix of budget cuts and targeted tax increases.
Montgomery County Democrat Josh Shapiro helped launch the site, which has gotten more than 700 responses so far.

"We think there are a lot of people in Pennsylvania who are thoughtful about the budget. And this website clearly proves that. There are a lot of good ideas out there. Again, some I agree with, some I disagree with."

Governor Rendell endorses the website, saying he’s willing to take suggestions from anyone and everyone. Rendell says sometimes the suggestions are “wacky,” but sometimes they’re helpful, recalling a contest to pick a new slogan for Philadelphia during his tenure as mayor.

"And we got some very good ones that we eventually used, and they went up on the signs. But we got some signs like – suggestions like, “welcome to Philadelphia. Watch your wallet.” Or, “welcome to Philadelphia. Lock and load.” Or, “Welcome to Philadelphia. We’re better than Camden.”

Suggestions are pre-screened, but Shapiro says that’s to avoid vulgar language, rather than conservative suggestions.
A similar effort launched by Republicans in Washington was marred by racist and crude suggestions.

Women and Girls Foundation To Go To White House

Eight Southwestern Pennsylvania high school aged girls will be traveling to The White House for an event on mentoring on Monday, June 21st. Their chaperon will be Heather Arnet, CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation.

They will partake in a mentoring, responsible fatherhood-themed Bar-B-Q with President Obama on the White House Lawn. 142 other teenagers, mostly from the DC area have been invited as well. There will also be workshops for the girls in the fields of business, entertainment and public service.

The foundation has been invited because of the work they do in developing self-esteem and leadership capacities in young women and working with young men to be advocates for gender equity.

Energy Co. Wants to Develop in Southwest Pa.

A new power plant slated for Westmoreland County is in the works.

Tenaska Energy of Nebraska is pursuing clearance to build a natural gas-powered facility that would provide electricity for about 900,000 homes along the East Coast.

Tenaska Project Manager Dan Culver says the construction process of the South Huntington Township plant will take about five years. He says the plant would create 300 construction jobs and 25 to 30 permanent positions.

Culver says the facility would be “clean, modern, and quiet.” He says Tenaska has a reputation as an environmentally responsible company.

“The Natural Resources Defense Council, in 2008 in their benchmark studies, listed Tenaska as having the best record for controlling emissions of carbon dioxide and as one of the top performing companies for controlling nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.”

Though the complex would only take up a space of about 50 acres, Tenaska has bought 400 acres of land just south of I-70 near West Newton. Culver says that would create a buffer to keep the plant out of sight of its neighbors.

Culver says the natural gas capacity of the Marcellus Shale bodes well for the Westmoreland plant.

More information on the plant can be found here.