Friday, July 30, 2010

Medicare Supporters Protest Possible Cuts

Activists rallied in the Allegheny County Courthouse courtyard today to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Medicare and to decry possible cuts to the federal healthcare program.

State Senator Jim Ferlo of Allegheny County organized the event. He says many older Americans depend on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – all programs that the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform may cut.

Ferlo was flanked by a host of community activists and politicians, including Temple Sinai Rabbi James Gibson. He says as Pittsburgh’s population ages, Medicare becomes a local issue.

“What about the people who live to their 70s and 80s, who worked in these steel mills, who worked the streets of this town, who did everything they were asked, and we leave them holding the bag?” says Gibson.

Green Party candidate for Senate Mel Packer says Americans pay taxes for Medicare and Social Security, so the government should not be able to take that money away.

Some speakers, including Ana Malinow of Physicians for a National Health Program, went further, saying Medicare should be expanded to include all United States citizens.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is an 18-member, bipartisan panel formed by President Barack Obama to reduce the federal deficit by 2015. The Commission will announce its recommendations to Congress December 1. Both Congressional chambers are slated to take an up or down vote on the proposal.

Ridge Consulting For Marcellus Gas Drillers

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents some members of the drilling industry, has signed up former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. The coalition announced today that the former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary has agreed to service as a strategic adviser. A spokesman says Ridge's communications and policy groups will be paid $75,000 a month for help in such areas as public outreach, education and coalition building.
Ridge says he's pleased to work with the coalition..and that resources must be developed safely and efficiently...."During my term as Governor, we grew our economy by providing incentives for economic growth and always by ‘Growing Greener.’ The development of the Marcellus Shale will benefit all of the citizens of our state, our region, and our nation. Not only can the environmental and economic benefit be transformational for generations to come, our homeland security will be forever strengthened."

Children's Hopsital to Host Program About Tourette's Syndrome

On Saturday Morning, the hospital will host a panel discussion about Tourette syndrome. The event will be followed by an informational session held by the Tourette Syndrome Association.

Dr. Keith Coffman, co-director of the Tourette and Movement Disorder clinic at the hospital is one of the panelists. He says the most noticeable symptom of Tourette Syndrome is involuntary movement which includes outbursts, sniffling and other such tics. It is more likely to occur in males than females and is often more prevalent in childhood than in adulthood. It often co-occurs with other disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The event will be held from 9 to 12 and is free and open to the public.

Plans for Independent Elementary School

Nearly two months ago the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh closed the doors of St. John Neumann Elementary School to avoid falling into debt this upcoming school year. Now, fifty former students and their parents, along with board members and supporters are trying to raise the money needed to relocate and reopen as an independent, faith-based school geared towards Arts and Science. The school will be named Lawrenceville Academy.
Board member Brian Narr believes closing the school was a mistake. He says enrollment was not an issue, nor was money. Last year, 92 children were enrolled, and 15 new families had already registered for fall. As of now, fifty kids remain, which he says is not a problem, but new students are more than welcome to register. However, the diocese says they cannot afford to run a school with fewer than 100 students.
Narr says tuition will be a substantial amount, but that it should not be a problem as they have a "terrific fundraising group."
A fundraiser will be held tonight on the top floor of the Catalyst Building in Lawrenceville, at 5:30pm. Narr says they’re asking the community for donations such as cash, desks, books—anything that would be feasible for the school. Another fundraiser will take place at the end of September.
He says everyone involved has no doubt that Lawrenceville Academy will be up and running by the start of the academic year. “Keep a close eye on us because we’re moving forward.”

Upcoming Festival Emphasizes Need for Minority Organ Donors

Saturday, the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE) will host a Celebration of Praise Gospel Fest in honor of National Minority Donor Awareness Day. The event will be held at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in downtown Pittsburgh at 6 p.m.
National Minority Donor Awareness Day, officially on August 1, was established to raise awareness about the shortage of designated donors in the United States, with particular emphasis on the multicultural community.
CORE’s spokesperson, Holly Bulvony, says the need for organ transplantation is great within minority groups, particularly with kidneys, but the amount of organ donors from these groups is small. African Americans and other minority groups are three times more likely to suffer from end-stage kidney disease than Caucasians, yet 73% of organ donors are Caucasian. Bulvony says the key to a donor/recipient match is blood type and race is not a criterion. Because minority patients make up more than half of the national transplant waiting list, the awareness day is meant to encourage more members of the African-American community to become a designated donor.

Basic Ed Funding Increase to Be Cut Back

Governor Ed Rendell says he’ll spend the next week cutting 850 million dollars out of the state budget.
Rendell will sit down with top lawmakers on Monday, to begin the process of slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from the spending plan he signed into law earlier this month. He says he’ll announce layoffs in two weeks.
The budget banked on 850 million dollars in federal aid (FMAP) that still hasn’t arrived, and Rendell says he can’t wait any longer.
During an interview in his Capitol office with DUQ Reporter Scott Detrow, Rendell conceded he’ll likely trim most of the 250 million dollar basic education spending increase he fought so hard for.

Detrow: "Before the budget passed you said if there’s no FMAP money, your basic education increase is gone. Is that still the case?"
Rendell: "A good percentage of it will be gone, yes."
Detrow: "But you’re hoping to keep some of it, still?"
Rendell: "Some of it. At least enough to cover the districts for inflation."

Rendell defends his decision to include the federal money in the budget, pointing out leaders in both Congressional chambers support the federal medical assistance extension, as does the president. He blames the Senate impasse on the fact Republicans have made the ballooning federal deficit into a top campaign issue.

"It became such a talking point for the Republicans. How spending did. Because they passed it once, and they didn’t insist it had to be paid for. And now, all of the sudden, it has to be paid for. They just passed an increase in war funding, and strangely that didn’t have to be paid for."

PA Grants for Tech Development and Professors

Pennsylvania is handing out 2.5 million dollars to 23 educational institutions.
Governor Ed Rendell says the money will help the schools hire and retain top-tier professors.
In addition to the one million dollars in money for professors, the state is handing out 1.5 million dollars for technology development.
The “Keystone Innovation Zone” money is spread across ten awards and 17 grants.
The award portion of the money will go toward professor hires, while the grants will be used to help schools develop and market technology.
Rendell says the K-I-Z program has doled out nearly 15 million dollars over the course of his administration.

"You know, there’s always a question, can government create jobs? No, government can’t create jobs. But government investment can be the catalyst that will allow people to create jobs. 725 companies for a commonwealth investment of 15 million dollars is an awfully good return on our investment."

Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, St. Francis and Westmoreland County Community College are among the institutions receiving money.
The funding comes from the Department of Community and Economic Development’s budget.

Keystone Innovation Starter Kits

* St. Francis University, $80,000 - Greater Johnstown KIZ
* Penn State University (Main Campus), $120,000 - I-99 Corridor KIZ
* Villanova University, $100,000 - Delaware County KIZ
* Carnegie Mellon University, $100,000 - Greater Oakland KIZ
* Penn State University (Main Campus), $100,000 - Navy Yard KIZ
* Westmoreland County Community College, $100,000 - Westmoreland KIZ
* Institute for Hepatitis and Viral Research, $100,000 - Bucks County KIZ
* Lehigh University, $100,000 - Southside Bethlehem KIZ
* University of Pennsylvania, $100,000 - University City KIZ
* University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, $100,000 - University City KIZ

Innovation Grants

* Temple University, $100,000 - BioLaunch611+ KIZ
* Lehigh University/Northampton Community College, $100,000 - Southside Bethlehem KIZ
* Carnegie Mellon University, $100,000 - Greater Oakland KIZ
* Salus University, $100,000 - BioLaunch611+ KIZ
* Penn State University-DuBois, $100,000 - Tri-County KIZ
* Institute for Hepatitis and Viral Research, $100,000 - Bucks County KIZ
* Thomas Jefferson University, $100,000 - University City/Chester KIZ
* Saint Vincent College, $75,000 - Westmoreland County KIZ
* Drexel University, $100,000 - University City KIZ
* The Wistar Institute, $100,000 - University City KIZ
* Great Valley Technology Institute, $100,000 -Lackawanna KIZ, Luzerne KIZ, Pocono Mountains KIZ
* Penn State University (Harrisburg), $100,000 - Lancaster KIZ
* University of Pennsylvania, $100,000 - University City KIZ
* Gannon University, $75,000 - Erie KIZ
* Penn State University (Berks), $50,000 - Greater Reading KIZ
* Penn State University (Erie), $50,000 - Erie KIZ
* University of Pittsburgh, $50,000 - Greater Oakland KIZ

Search for Source Of Toxic Fumes at Wastewater Plant

An investigation continues into the death of a worker at the Sewickley Wastewater Treatment Plant. Officials say 31 year old Jack Hogan of Baden became faint and fell into a 30-foot shaft. He was pronounced dead at the scene yesterday afternoon. Three other workers at the construction site at the plant tired to rescue Hogan but they were overcome by fumes. Frank Pounds Jr., a worker for Pipeline Systems, remains in fair condition at Allegheny General Hospital. The other two men, plant supervisor Dennis Mike and Sean Haynes, an inspector for the borough's engineering firm, were treated and released. Sewickley Borough manager Kevin Flannery says Hogan was hired in June as an operator trainee, and his wife recently gave birth to a baby girl. The origin of the fumes in the shaft is not clear. But Flannery says emergency workers did detect a small amount of methane gas when they arrived.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

1 Dead, 3 Hurt at Waste Water Plant

An investigation is underway into an accident at the Sewickley Waste Water Treatment plant where one worker was killed and three others injured.
According to Sewickley Fire Chief Jeff Neff, the first call to the county 9-1-1 system said four men were trapped in a shaft at a construction site at the plant. It appears that one man was working in a shaft and either fell or was becoming light-headed from fumes and radioed for help. Three other workers came to his aid in the shaft and they were overcome by fumes. 2 of the surviving workers are in good condition at Allegheny General Hospital, another is in fair condition.

1 Dead, 3 Sickened at Sewickley Wastewater Plant

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office says one worker was killed and three others became sickened this afternoon at the Sewickley Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Police say a worker was in a 30-foot hole at the plant when he radioed up for help, admitting that he felt lightheaded. When three workers went down to help, they were apparently overcome by fumes, causing them to pass out. Initial reports indicated that the cause may have been exposure to methane gas.
No names have been released. The three sickened workers are being treated at Allegheny General Hospital, who reports that two are in good condition, and one is in fair condition.
The Water Authority is working on two improvement projects, including one to reduce odors that emanate from the plant.

No New Taxes...a Pledge or Gimmick

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett is trumpeting his “no tax” pledge on the campaign trail.
Against a backdrop of waterfalls, palm trees and lush vegetation, Corbett told a group of supporters at Longwood Gardens he’s the only candidate who will lower state spending next year.
Corbett says Pennsylvania’s taxes are too high, and the levies are dragging down the state’s economy.

"That’s why I’ve signed a no new tax pledge. I would note, though, that my opponent has not signed that pledge, nor do I think he’s going to sign a tax pledge like that. In fact he has developed, he has implemented the largest single tax increase in the history of Allegheny County."

Corbett is referring to the alcoholic drink tax that helped fund the county’s Port Authority. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato dismisses the “no new taxes” pledge.

"His proposal is simply not real, and he knows it. It’s simply political rhetoric, and it’s a political gimmick."

The next governor will likely face a multi-billion dollar deficit in 2011.
The Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, has said he “doesn’t see how” Corbett could pass a budget without raising new revenues.

Housing Alliance of PA Calls Attention to Housing Crisis

Nearly eighty people gathered today at a regional forum held by the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania (HAP) to discuss issues involving the severe housing crisis in the state. Consumers, developers, real estate professionals, community activists and politicians spoke about the state’s problematic housing market and shared ideas and initiatives that might help fix the situation.
Executive Director of HAP, Liz Hersh, shared statistics about Pennsylvania’s housing market. She says in Allegheny County, hard working families, seniors, and people with disabilities are struggling to find and maintain affordable homes.
• 42% of families who rent are living on $23,850 or less.
• 71% - 80% of families living at or below 30% of Area Median Income (AMI) face severe cost burdens.
• There are only 31-40 units of affordable housing for every 100 of these working families.
• The housing wage is $14.04 per hour—the wage needed to afford the rent of a 2-bedroom apartment. The minimum wage is $7.25.
• 13% of all renters are 75 or older, while 26% are 25-34 years old.
• 32% of homes were built prior to 1940, and most owners struggle to keep them in good conditions.
Hersh says Allegheny County needs 21,545 more rental units that are both affordable and available to the lowest income renters. That number is approximately ten times larger than any other county’s in southwest Pennsylvania. She says the state needs 220,000 more rental units.
The housing crisis is affecting homeowners, low income people, children, senior citizens, the economy and the government. According to Hersh, more than 43,000 children are homeless in Pennsylvania, and 1/3 of these children have psychiatric disorders by the age of 8.
HAP board member Ellen Kight says for these reasons Pennsylvanians must join initiatives to reduce the housing shortage. She says ultimately, HAP seeks to “influence public policy in ways that improve the health and balance of our housing market so that it really meets the needs of local residents.”

CMU Announces Infrastructure Lab

Carnegie Mellon University hopes to unveil a new infrastructure research laboratory by the end of the year.

The university announced today that it has partnered with IBM to create the IBM Smarter Infrastructure Lab on the school’s main campus.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Chair Jim Garrett says the idea is to help businesses and governments make informed infrastructure investments. Garrett says the lab will do that in two ways.

“We’ll have researchers that are working on new technologies and new areas of development, but also bringing in various government authorities [and] municipalities that have already collected some data and want to better understand their system and better understand what might be done with that data to help them better manage their infrastructure.”

Garrett says for example, some water authorities already contract companies to collect data on the state of their distribution systems. The lab would simply compile that information and help the authority understand where to invest its money.

Garrett says the project is part of the Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator, which will build two laboratories at a cost of $2.2 million with investments from the state, the university, IBM, and Bombardier, Inc.

Pittsburgh Diocese Sued After Suicide

The estate of a former Pittsburgh area man allegedly abused by a priest filed suit today in Allegheny County Court against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. The lawsuit says that 39 year old Michael Unglo committed suicide May 4 at a Massachusetts facility after the diocese stopped paying for his mental health treatments. Unglo, who grew up in Etna, attempted suicide two other times. Unglo was an altar boy and was allegedly sexually abused in the early 1980's by Richard Dorsch, a priest at All Saints Church in Etna. Dorsch was arrested in 1994 for molesting another boy. Dorsch was sentenced to jail and banned from the ministry.
Unglo attempted suicide in June 2008 and a month later the diocese began paying for his treatment. According to the estate, the diocese sent a final payment of $75,000 on March 17 and indicated there would be no further payments.
In a statement, the diocese said that it had not received notice of the lawsuit.
"Without any legal requirement to do so, the Diocese of Pittsburgh readily provided hundreds of thousands of dollars for counseling and residential treatment for Mr. Unglo in recent years and continued to do so up to the time of his tragic death. The Diocese of Pittsburgh denies any negligence in this matter and cannot accept that any action of the Diocese contributed to or was responsible for his death. The facts of the case will bear this out. Suicide is a complex tragedy that can deeply affect surviving loved ones. We continue to offer our sympathy, prayers and support to all touched by this tragedy."

Logan to Leave PA Senate

After 10 years in office, Sean Logan (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) has announced he will leave the Pennsylvania State Senate to become Vice President of Community Relations for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).
Logan says the decision to leave the Senate effective August 24 was not an easy one...

“I have been presented with a great opportunity to build on a decade’s worth of work in the Senate. Whether it was addressing the needs of our emergency responders and their families or expanding access to health care for children, I always tried to bring the needs of the individual in the community to the political maze that is Harrisburg."

Prior to his election to the Senate, Logan served as the mayor of Monroeville.

Two men who might have worked with Logan in the future praised his efforts in the Senate. Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Corbett said he had the pleasure of knowing Logan prior to and during his tenure in the legislature..... “He has served the citizens of Monroeville and all of Pennsylvania well and will continue to do so as he embarks on this new phase of his career.”

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato said Logan has been a valuable asset to Allegheny County........“He was very effective in Harrisburg and secured vital state funds for important projects here in the county.”

Among Logan's legislative accomplishments, Logan pushed for passage of a bill to ensure that the survivors of police, firefighters, and EMTs killed in the line of duty receive 100 percent of their loved one’s monthly salary.
“It was years in the making and serves as a shining example of how working together in a bipartisan way can bring tangible benefits to Pennsylvania families now and in years to come.”

Logan co-authored bills to make the legislative process more transparent including one that mandates that each vote taken in the House or Senate be posted on-line. The journal of each legislative session day is now posted as well.

“I am proud of the progress that was made to ensure behind-the-scenes, late-night sessions became a thing of the past. Public scrutiny is the number one ingredient for fostering accountability.”

There's no official word yet but it's likely a special election will be held November 2 to fill out the final 2 years of Logan's Senate term.

World Panceas Experts in Pittsburgh Discuss Diabetes, Cancer

More than 200 physicians and scientists from around the world will come to Pittsburgh July 29-31 to discuss the latest findings in pancreatic research. Dr. David Whitcomb, chief of the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, says PancreasFest 2010 is the 6th annual gathering of pancreas researchers who are working together to improve patient care...."there are many factors that come together in a perfect storm causing one person to have severe pancreatic disease where their relatives and neighbors don't."
Dr. Whitcomb says researchers at 20 centers around the world are looking at different parts of the pancreas and they will link that information and use computer modeling to come up with predictions to know which patients will need intervention.

Dr. Whitcomb says they are trying to determine why some people develop diabetes and others do not..."It appears that the cells that make insulin can grow back after injury in some cases and not others. Is that the reason why some people develop diabetes because their beta cells that make insulin don't grow back, and what is the reason? If we could understand that, perhaps we could have everyone's beta cells grow back and help cure diabetes."

Whitcomb says another group of researchers is working on injuries to the pancreas and why some of those people develop cancer and others don't This is particularly important because early warning of pancreatic cancer is very difficult because currently the "early warning signs are the cancer has developed or spread."
Whitcomb says he remains optimistic..."a large group of people working together over a number of years and we can solve these problems."

Kasunic: Tolls Not Taxes

If you can't toll one interstate, why not try to toll them all. That idea was brought forth Wednesday in the second in a series of hearings by the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee on filling a $492 million hole in the transportation budget. That shortfall is due in large part to the federal government's rejection of a plan by Pennsylvania to toll Interstate 80.
However, Turnpike Commission CEO Joe Brimmeier told the committee that in a recent newsletter, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that allowing states to toll interstates might be necessary to provide the funding states need for highway construction and maintenance.
State Senator Richard Kasunic, Democrat from Fayette County and a member of the committee, says he agrees with Brimmeier....
"He pointed out that the Federal Highway Administration is talking about the need to replace and rebuild many of those interstates and the money just isn't there to do it right now, and nobody wants to vote for a tax increase. So, the other alternative would be to toll the interstate system throughout America."

Kasunic says if Pennsylvania would be allowed to toll the interstates and use those revenues to maintain those highways, then state transportation funds earmarked for the interstates could be shifted to "maintain local highways and bridges that are in desperate need of repair."

Kasunic believes Pennsylvania residents are opposed to higher gasoline taxes and increases in license and registration fees.
In addition to the immediate $492 million hole, a recent study indicated that Pennsylvania is about $3.5 billion short annually to fund needed repairs to bridges and roads.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Energy Bill Lacks Emissions Caps

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has introduced energy legislation that would give Americans financial incentives for weatherizing their homes and driving natural gas cars.

But the environmental group Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future says an important piece of clean energy policy is missing from the bill – making it more costly to use fossil fuels.

PennFuture Federal Policy Manager Joy Bergey says the Senate has failed yet again to pass a cap-and-trade carbon emissions bill, despite nearly a decade of work from environmental groups.

Bergey says PennFuture wants a price to be put on carbon emissions.

“We need to make fossil fuels gradually more expensive, but then we also need to provide them the right market signals so that we bring more renewable energy into the mix – wind, solar, biofuels – making them more competitive.”

Bergey says by not promoting renewable energy, the Senate has allowed other countries like China to take the lead in developing clean energy technology. Bergey says these technological advances will be desired globally and could have sparked the United States’ economy.

Bergey says although some Republican Senators claimed that a cap-and-trade system would be a “job-killer” for fossil fuel industries, investing in renewable energy also would have created jobs.

Bergey says while PennFuture is grateful for a push to give $5 billion to the Home Star home weatherization program and $3.8 billion in tax credits for natural gas cars, the group will continue to advocate a cap-and-trade carbon emissions policy.

Senator Reid’s bill also contains a provision from Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey that would require companies to publicize the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing, a process that helps drill natural gas wells. Environmentalists have expressed concern that the poisonous chemicals used in this process could leak into waterways.

Health Insurance Program on the Rocks

Free clinic representatives and health care activists are urging four Pennsylvania-based insurers to continue funding adultBasic, an insurance program for low-income individuals.

Highmark, Inc., Capital Blue Cross, Hospital Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and Independence Blue Cross agreed to fund adultBasic from 2005 through December of 2010.

In 2009, the program cost about $125 million, insuring about 46,000 Pennsylvanians who earned between $10,000-20,000 per year.

David Ninehouser, a volunteer with the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, says these organizations are required to make these kind charitable donations to retain their status as nonprofit organizations.

Ninehouser says even during the recession, “we have nonprofit insurance entities in Pennsylvania who… still posting huge surpluses. Even though they’re making these huge surpluses, they’re looking at walking away from their commitment to fund adultBasic at the end of this year. We can’t let that happen.”

A bill in the state House would require the Blues to continue funding adultBasic by extending the contract until federal health care reforms take effect.

Cleaner Engines Coming to Pittsburgh's Rivers

A new diesel project will improve air quality along the city's rivers. The Port of Pittsburgh Commission will oversee the installation of eight new, cleaner burning diesel engines in four tug boats. The initiative will be funded by a $1.1 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Diesel Emission Reduction Grant and nearly $2 million from the Port and three private businesses. David Arnold with the Air Protection Division of the EPA says old diesel engines can last for decades, so replacing them to help clean the air and environment in ports both at sea and inland is an important issue for the EPA. He says the new engines will burn between 70-90% cleaner than the ones they're replacing. Annually, the engines will eliminate more than 112 tons of nitrous oxide, 15 tons of carbon monoxide and five tons of particulate matter. In a release, James McCarville, Executive Director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission says "each tow of 15 barges moves the equivalent of more than 1,000 trucks...Just by taking trucks off the roads, we serve industries that could not be located here without the waterways." The Port of Pittsburgh is the second busiest inland port in the county, moving 30-40 million tons of cargo each year.

Council Sends 9 Review Board Names to Mayor

Pittsburgh Council is moving toward resolving the dispute with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl over nominees to the Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB).
The board investigates allegations by citizens of police misconduct. Currently there are 6 members on the 7 member board...but all of their terms have expired and they continue to serve.
Councilman Doug Shields says it's been problematic to appoint new members because the city code does not account for succession appointments, only for inaugural appointments or a process if somebody resigns or dies. Shields says he would have preferred having council hold off on sending the 9 names to the mayor until they approved his measure clarifying the language on succession appointments. He says in the end the new appointees to the board will serve varying time periods because they will be succeeding current members whose terms expired at different times.
From the nine names that council is forwarding, the mayor will select 4 and then name three others of his choosing. These 3 can be from his own list or also be among council's suggestions.
The mayor will then send the 7 names back to council for final approval.
The 9 suggestions by council include 4 current CPRB members: Richard Carrington, Mary Jo Guercio, Marsha Hinton and Deborah Walker; plus Brett Caloia, John Detwiler, Eugene Downing, Donna Kramer and Deborah Whitfield.

Casey Not Ready to Give Up on FMAP

Governor Rendell will sit down with legislative leaders soon to begin figuring out how to trim 850 million dollars out of this year’s budget. Rendell warns of 20-thousand layoffs, but the State Senate’s top Republican is skeptical of the governor’s figure.
Nearly a month after Pennsylvania passed its budget, the U.S. Senate still hasn’t approved extended medical assistance for the states. Pennsylvania’s spending plan banks on 850 million dollars from the FMAP measure.
Rendell is growing increasingly pessimistic FMAP will ever be signed into law, and he’s invited legislative leaders to a budget meeting next week.
State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi doubts the reductions will lead to the 20-thousand layoffs Rendell is promising.
The Republican argues the governor’s figures have changed several times, over the past few months.

"I think what the governor has been trying to do is to say reduced spending will cause some layoffs in state employee ranks, and trying to make that point more dramatic in using large numbers."

Pileggi says he wants Rendell to eliminate the budget’s 250 million dollar increase in basic education spending, if the FMAP money is taken out of the spending plan.

Democratic Senator Bob Casey is still holding out hope for FMAP approval....

"Look, we hit a wall on unemployment insurance, and we finally broke through that and were able to pass it. So I think that’s a pretty good model for how to proceed. To keep pushing, and keep explaining to people what the stakes are."

Casey says he’s hoping for a vote within the next two weeks. He says if FMAP doesn’t pass then, Democrats will push the issue yet again in September.

Onorato Not Worried About Gubernatorial Turnover

Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato says he’s not concerned by poll data suggesting voters want to see a change from Governor Rendell’s policies.
This month’s Quinnipiac University poll contained dubious numbers for Democrats.
Incumbent Ed Rendell’s approval rating is at 42 percent, and only 32 percent said they want to see the next governor continue the Rendell Administration’s policies.
Onorato says he’s not worried those voters will gravitate toward Republican Tom Corbett, arguing the GOP is equally at fault for Harrisburg gridlock.

"If Corbett wants to have a debate over Rendell, then he’s going to have a debate over the Republican Senate, that was a partner of what’s happened over the last eight years. He cannot wash his hands of it."

The legislature’s approval rating was just 28 percent in the poll. For the past 56 years, control of the governor’s office has switched parties every two terms.
Onorato says voters don’t care about partisan politics, but just want to see someone turn Pennsylvania’s economy around.
Onorato says any additional “Bonusgate” charges filed by Attorney General Corbett will be suspect, if they come before the November election.

"Any discretionary decision he makes between now and Election Day – and whatever I do as a county executive – will always be viewed through the eyes of, these guys are candidates. It’s much tougher when you’re a prosecutor because you’re always going to be questioned. Why now? Why didn’t you do it earlier? I think he has a real issue with his prosecutions because he’s a candidate."

ACLU Requests FBI Racial and Ethnic Data

ACLU affiliate offices in 30 states, including Pennsylvania, have filed coordinated Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information from the FBI about its mapping of ethnic and racial communities.
The Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG) is a policy from 2008 which indicates that the FBI intends to map racial and ethnic demographics, behaviors, lifestyle characteristics and other community characteristics in order to use it in intelligence analysis activity.
Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania Valerie Durch says the ACLU has asked to review the information gathered by the FBI, along with an explanation of how it is being used....
"Someone should be watching the FBI and we want to make sure they are valuing people's civil liberties, and not creating databases that suggest people of different racial and ethnic groups should be watched closer than others. If that's taking place, we're concerned."

Burch says that if the information is handed over, the ACLU will analyze it and release it to the public.

12 Haitian Orphans in Pgh Still Awaiting A Home

It's been more than 6 months since 54 children from an orphanage in earth-quaked ravaged Haiti were airlifted to Pittsburgh. However, the fate of 12 of the children remains unresolved.
42 of those children were already part of the adoption process but 12 of the orphans were not. After being checked out at Children's Hospital, the 12 were taken to Holy Family Institute, a social services organization in Emsworth, where they have been cared for ever since.
The fate of the 12 remains in limbo while U.S. and Haitian authorities struggle to determine which nation should be their future home. All parties say they want the best possible outcome for the children. However, Governor Ed Rendell, who took part in the airlift, calls it "astounding" that the situation cannot be resolved. He says it's unfair to the children and wants to see them "adopted by loving families."

About 1,100 other children were flown out of Haiti to the U.S. after the January 12 earthquake, but they were involved in adoption procedures. Officials are trying to decide if the 12 at Holy Family Institute should be put up for U.S. adoption or returned to relatives in Haiti.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

NHL Hosts Winter Classic Preview

National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman says the New Year’s Day Winter Classic match-up between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals will give hockey fans all they could want.

“If you love rivalries, Capitals/Penguins may be our best. If you enjoy the sight of team captains providing passionate leadership and game-breaking skill, I don’t think you could do much better than Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin,” says Bettman. “And if you can’t get enough star power, both of these teams are loaded with it.”

The outdoor game is scheduled to fill Heinz Field about a week after the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Carolina Panthers there.

It will be the fourth annual January 1 Classic, with each showcasing a well-known football or baseball arena. The Penguins beat the Sabres 2-1 in the first Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium, in Buffalo, New York in 2008.

Bettman predicts the game will sell out quickly, noting that demand for tickets has gone into the hundreds of thousands in previous Winter Classic games.

Every team in the Winter Classic introduces a new sweater for the event. The Penguins’ popular powder-blue uniforms were first worn in the 2008 game and they’re expected to don a new design for this game as well.

City Council Passes Clean Water Act

Pittsburgh Council today unanimously passed the Clean Water Act.
Executive Director of Pittsburgh UNITED, Barney Oursler, said the passing of this legislation is a big step in the environmental world, as it addresses one of western Pennsylvania’s biggest problems. He said the bill was unanimously passed mainly due to the large coalition of supporters urging council to vote for it.
Councilmen Bruce Kraus and Bill Peduto said the approval demonstrates their commitment towards a better environment.
This bill will require publicly funded developers to use the maximum amount of green infrastructure to catch storm water and reduce runoff, which is a major cause of pollution in the city's rivers.
A staff member of Clean Water Action, Kathy Lawson, said passing this bill is a huge step for the city of Pittsburgh as it will benefit the economy, home and business owners, and the health and safety of the people of Pittsburgh.
Peduto said the next step is to pass the Clean Air Act this fall.

Council Okays Cameras for Police Cars

Pittsburgh Council gave final approval today to police reform legislation sponsored by Councilman Ricky Burgess. The bills are a result of the January beating by 3 plain clothes police officers of 18 year old Jordan Miles of Homewood, a senior at the time at the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) High School. The officers said Miles failed to obey an order to stop while he was walking in his neighborhood and he resisted arrest. Miles says the officers did not identify themselves as police and he was frightened. The 3 officers remain on leave pending investigation by the Justice Department and the city Office of Municipal Investigations.

One bill passed today requires that all new marked police vehicles have video and audio recording equipment. Marked vehicles already in the fleet would have the equipment installed within 5 years.this morning to three measures designed to improve police performance in the wake of the Jordan Miles controversy. The Police Bureau would have to develop a policy on the use and storage of the information recorded by the cameras and microphones.

Another measure passed by Council requires the police chief to alert the Office of Municipal Investigations when an officer uses force and it appears that officer violated department policy. The chief would be authorized to place the officer on paid administrative leave pending an OMI investigation.

Markosek: Red Light Camera Bill Aims to Make Green

House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Markosek wants to scale back a Senate-passed bill allowing red light cameras in 53 Pennsylvania cities.
The measure would permit officials to install an unlimited number of automatic cameras at intersections.
Markosek, a Democrat from Monroeville, Allegheny County says he’s worried the cameras would be viewed as fundraising opportunities, rather than tools to increase safety.

"Many of these intersections, I think, it’s going to be tantamount to the old speed trap. Where they have areas that aren’t particularly unsafe. Yet they know they can get a lot of people going over the speed limit, and nail them to make money."

The Allegheny County Democrat says one solution could be mandated studies documenting intersection’s crash rates, so that city officials would only install the cameras in areas where they’re needed. The cameras take pictures when the light changes to red, and automatically issue tickets to cars inside the intersection.
Under the Senate plan, municipalities would split revenue with the Department of Transportation. The cameras would be allowed in Pittsburgh and cities with populations below 250-thousand.
Philadelphia has had red light cameras for several years.

Sestak, Toomey Joust Over Deficit

For months now, Republican Senate nominee Pat Toomey has labeled his Democratic opponent, Congressman Joe Sestak, as a big-spending liberal who’s voted to explode the federal government’s deficit.
Now Sestak has tried to turn the tables during an appearance at the Pennsylvania Press Club.
Sestak said by voting for President Bush’s tax cuts and budgets, then Congressman Toomey was “practically pro-deficit.”
In contrast, Sestak framed himself as a fiscal moderate who wants to balance the government’s books.

"I support, and have voted for, pay as you go budgeting, closing wasteful corporate tax loopholes, ending the earmark system, and finding practical bipartisan solutions to reform entitlement spending. However, my opponent has been practically pro-deficit."

Toomey’s campaign manager, Mark Harris says Sestak has a “creative memory.”

"Joe Sestak, who voted for the stimulus, voted for the health care bill, voted for all these things that just have tremendously growth the deficit. For him to try and basically revise history, it’s just laughable."

Sestak defends most of those votes as emergency measures aimed at keeping the economy from sinking into a depression. The government ran a 1.4 trillion dollar deficit during the 2009 fiscal year.

Corbett Favors Defined Contributions to Cut Pension Costs

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett says defined contribution plans need to be on the table, when Pennsylvania lawmakers debate reforming public employee retirement plans.
Right now, state workers and public school employees receive set pensions.
Several Senate Republicans want to put future employees on 401-k-style plan, where the state contributes money during a person’s career, but doesn’t spend any more once he or she retires.
Corbett says that’s a logical way to reduce costs.

"90 percent of the businesses I’ve talked to have gone away from a defined benefit program. Have gone to a combined contribution program or some hybrid. And we are certainly looking at that."

The Pennsylvania State Education Association and other public employee unions oppose a shift to defined contributions.
The next governor will need to address a multi-billion dollar pension payment that’s due 2012. Earlier this year, the House passed a bill increasing the retirement age for future public employees, and requiring a longer period of service before they’re vested into pension programs.
However, the measure keeps the current defined benefit system in place.

DeWeese Held for Trial

For the second time in a week, a Pennsylvania state lawmaker has been ordered to stand trial on corruption charges. Following a preliminary hearing Monday, Linglestown District Judge William Wenner said he heard enough evidence to hold State Representative Bill DeWeese of Greene County for trial. The former House Speaker was indicted in December but remains in the House and won his Democratic primary in May. He's charged with theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest
Former aides testified for the prosecution including Kevin Sidella who was given immunity. Sidella testified that there was not enough legitimate legislative work to go around so he did campaign fundraising on state time.
Another DeWeese aide, who faces similar charges, waived her right to a preliminary hearing.
Last week, State Senator Jane Orie of Pittsburgh's North Hills was ordered to stand trial on charges she used her state-paid legislative staff to do campaign work for her and her sister, State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Wagner: Educate Public on Electric Deregulation

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner says the state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) and electric utility companies should step up efforts to educate the public on the effects of deregulation.

Since 1997, rate caps have prevented electricity suppliers from raising their prices beyond certain levels. Rate caps have since been lifted gradually to ease the state into the competitive electricity market.

Wagner says while 40% of Pennsylvanians have already seen their providers’ rate caps expire, the remaining 60% won’t have their rates uncapped until January 1. Wagner says in areas where rate caps have already expired, prices have risen an average of 25%, with increases ranging from zero to 70%.

Though the PUC has already held some town hall meetings on the issue, Wagner says more should be done to inform consumers about these likely increases.

The Auditor General says consumers can shop the market, but it takes six to eight weeks to switch from one provider to the next. Wagner urges Pennsylvanians to call the PUC or their local electric supplier to find out more. The Public Utility Commission website can be found here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Community Conversations on Region's Future

The regional visioning initiative, "Power of 32," kicks off its public listening phase Tuesday with community conversations across the region. The public input sessions will be held at 4 locations in Allegheny County as part of similar conversations in 28 of the 32 counties on July 27. Executive Director Selena Schmidt says the initiative involves 32 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, the Maryland panhandle and West Virginia's mid-central and panhandle and strives to build a better future by leveraging the collaborative strengths of the larger region.
Schmidt says this project is rare because it starts with the people .."What is it that's important to you. Policymakers have their agendas they've put together, but not often enough do we start at ground level and say these things are important to me. Once we have their issues, we'll take them to policymakers to come up with solutions."

Schmidt says in the fall the most prevalent issues identified will be vetted into policy options and in 2011 thousands of residents will attend a regional town meeting in multiple locations linked by technology to prioritize those options into a regional agenda..."We know we have limited resources...people of the region need to be part of the process how we use them."

At the Community Conversation events, participants will consider four main questions:
--What does a thriving region look like?
--What key challenges must be addressed for the region to thrive and what key strengths can we build on?
--What one or two possibilities must be pursued to ensure the region thrives? Why?
--It is 2025. What makes us most proud of our region, and what was key to getting us here?

Meetings will be held at the Mount Lebanon Library, the Monroeville Municipal Building, the Pump House in Homestead, and the Carnegie Borough Municipal Center.

In order to participate in a conversation session, attendees must register. More information can be found at

Hearing on Emergency Response in the Marcellus Shale

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) chaired a hearing on emergency response in the Marcellus Shale region on Monday at the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh.

He heard testimony from the head of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, an engineering professor, energy company executives and a resident of Washington County who lives in direct proximity of horizontal gas wells.

They all testified on emergency preparedness at gas drilling sites throughout the region.

Casey said he called the hearing because of the recent incidents at gas well sites.
"We hope that what we can put in place is not just a response but a series of rules that would prevent an emergency from becoming a tragedy," he said.

On Friday two contracted maintenance workers were killed in an explosion in Indiana Township, Allegheny County. However, that was a shallow gas well, not a Marcellus Shale well. In June, there was a blow out at a Marcellus Shale gas well in Clearfield County. No one was injured but natural gas and fracking water spewed for 16 hours before the well was capped.

Anthony Iannacchione is the Director of the Mining Engineering Program at The University of Pittsburgh. He said there specific plans should be in place for drilling in different areas.

"When you drill in a remote area like Clearfield county and a populated area like Allegheny County probably the likelihood something will go wrong will be similar but the consequences will be much different," he said.

Casey has introduced legislation to improve emergency response procedures at gas and well sites. His bill would require that an emergency response trained employee be present at the well during exploration and drilling, and that operators must contact first responders within 15 minutes that an emergency arises.

PA Lawmakers Propose New Ethics Commission

Outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia today, a group of bipartisan legislators proposed a Public Integrity Commission to combat public corruption in the state of Pennsylvania. State Representatives Curt Schroder, Mike Vereb and John Yudichak were joined by groups Common Cause and the League of Women Voters to propose in detail the new ethics commission. Yudichak believes this legislation is their way of acting “boldly and swiftly to restore the ideals of good, honest government.”

Schroder says the commission will be a “permanent investigative body to root out and prevent public corruption at all levels and branches of government in Pennsylvania.”

Representative Mike Vereb of Montgomery County says the seven-member commission would make annual reports to the General Assembly, including recommendations for legislative and administrative action.
-- It would have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents, seek immunity orders from commonwealth court, obtain information from individuals who invoke their 5th amendment rights, and refer criminal violations to the proper authorities for prosecution.
-- The panel would also incorporate the current state ethics commission, and take over its duties regarding financial interest statements and conflicts of interest.
-- In addition, it will have trained, certified, law-enforced personnel with the authority to enforce laws related to public corruption. This will provide access to law enforcement records and investigative information.
-- Vereb says it would be better equipped than the existing ethics commission to take a proactive approach to end public corruption.

Fifteen committee members will be nominated by a panel of law school deans, district attorneys and members of government reform advocacy groups. Seven of the 15 will be selected by the governor. The commissioners nominated by the governor would then need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Markosek: Oil Tax a "Longshot"

One of Governor Ed Rendell’s top legislative point men in the upcoming transportation funding debate is throwing cold water on the governor’s preferred plan for new revenue.
Rendell wants to impose a tax on big oil companies’ profits, and include language barring the energy giants from compensating for the new levy by raising prices in Pennsylvania.
But House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Markosek, an Allegheny County Democrat, calls it a populist notion.

"And in a perfect world it would be nice to be able to dip into those profits."

But Markosek says energy companies would challenge the excess profits tax in court.....

"For no other reason, I think the oil companies would take all that to court because they don’t want to see other states doing that, either. I think that would be a long, drawn-out battle. We’d end up with maybe nothing for awhile, and maybe nothing forever."

Markosek also doubts whether the proposal would garner enough support to pass the lower chamber. He says no single revenue source will fill Pennsylvania’s nearly 500 million dollar transportation funding gap.

Other ideas include a gas tax increase, raising vehicle and license registration fees, and leasing Pennsylvania roadways.

4 Hearings Set on Parking Lease Draft

Pittsburgh City Council President Darlene Harris has set dates for four public meetings to discuss Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s plan to lease the city’s parking assets. Harris says they will hold the meetings in the neighborhoods that will be impacted the most.

Each meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m., dates and locations:
Monday, July 26 – Downtown – in City Council Chambers, 5th Floor, City-County Building, enter on Grant street side
Tuesday, July 27 – South Side – Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers Headquarters -- 10 S. 19th Street at the River
Thursday, July 29 – Oakland – Pittsburgh Board of Education headquarters – 341 S. Bellefield Avenue, second floor
Monday, August 2 – North Side – Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School Cafeteria –
50 Montgomery Street – enter by the loading dock

Harris suggests residents read the draft agreement posted on council’s web page. The Mayor has proposed a 50-year lease. A study commissioned by the Parking Authority to evaluate its parking garages and meters is also available online. Harris says, “These four meetings will be the public’s best opportunity to comment on the concession agreements before an official meeting of Council.” Harris says this may be the most important vote she will ever cast as a councilmember. Council has commissioned a study of the value of the city’s parking assets. That study is expected to be published this fall and Harris says once that is in hand another round of hearings will be held.

Altmire Bill Would Extend Benefits to Nat'l Guard

Armed forces members serving within the United States would be eligible for the same education benefits as those serving abroad, under new legislation proposed by Congressman Jason Altmire of suburban Pittsburgh. (D-PA-4)

National Guard and reserve members could qualify for more than $24,000 in annual education aid if Altmire’s bill is passed.

Currently, soldiers and sailors need 90 days of overseas duty to qualify for education benefits under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. But Altmire says that’s unfair to the men and women serving in a more domestically-focused role.

“If they are training for deployment, if they’re responding to a domestic emergency like those who responded after the September 11 attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon, people who are responding to natural disasters like Katrina, the oil spill where we have people along the Mexican border, if there is a federal deployment along the border, those are things that would qualify.”

The education benefits package covers tuition as high as that of the most expensive state-owned university. Also included are a book stipend of $1,000 and cost-of-living coverage that varies depending on the soldier’s location.

Altmire says about 19,000 Pennsylvanians would qualify for the federal money, including about 6700 from the Pittsburgh region. All 14 schools owned by the state have a yearly tuition of $5,804.

The Congressman says the measure would boost recruitment and retention rates in the National Guard and armed forces reserves.

Altmire says with support from veterans’ groups and both chambers of Congress, he expects the bill to be signed into law later this year.

ADA 20 Years Later

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and events to celebrate the milestone will be held across the country. In Pittsburgh, a Community Forum will be held from 1:30-5:00 at the Sheraton Station Square to “celebrate accomplishments and recognize past and future leaders.” The event sponsored by Allegheny County, Three Rivers Center for Independent Living, the Consumer Health Coalition and several other groups will feature panel discussions and a keynote address from Power of 32 Regional Visioning Project Executive Director and former State Senator Allen Kukovich. Also in attendance will be Three Rivers Center for Independent Living program manager Rick McWilliams. He suffered a spinal cord injury when he was 16 and has had to use a wheelchair ever since. He was at the signing ceremony for the ADA 20 years ago. He says at the time he did not fully understand the significance of the act but he says it has meant a world of difference to him and other like him over the years. “It was the opening of doors against discrimination,” says McWilliams who lives on his own, “prior to having this law there were places I could not go… I could not go to downtown Pittsburgh because there was no way to get around on the streets.” McWilliams says even though the act has been around for 20 years everyone still needs to fight to make sure it is properly enforced. He says that does not just mean adding curb cuts and ramps for those with physical disabilities but also making sure people with all types of disabilities are not discriminated against in public spaces and in the workplace. Mc Williams says he hopes everyone will take a moment today to think about those with disabilities. “People with disabilities are just like you and we want to accomplish the same things as you,” says Mc Williams.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Carrie Furnace To Get New Life

The Rivers of Steel National Heritage area has taken control of Carrie Furnaces 6 and 7 and several acres of land around it with the hope of turning it into a “first day destination.” Rivers of Steel Director of Museum Collections and Archives, Ron Baraff says there is no better site to help tell the story of steel in the Mon Valley and its impact on the world. “These are the only non-operative blast furnaces in the Pittsburgh District to remain standing,” says Baraff. The 92-foot tall furnaces were constructed of 2.5-inch thick steel plate and lined with refractory brick. They have not been used for nearly 30 years and Baraff says they are in “rough shape.” The immediate plan is to clean up the site and stabilize it before allowing “Hard Hat” tours of the furnace beginning in August. Baraff has much bigger plans for the site. He hopes it will one day host a museum that not only tells visitors the story of how the furnace operated but also the history of innovation at the furnace and the history of the people who ran it and lived near it. The twin furnaces were built in 1907 and produced iron for the Homestead Works until 1978. These furnaces reached their peak production in the 1950s and 1960s when they were producing 1000 -1250 tons of iron a day. Baraff says this will be the focal point for the entire heritage area. He says it will take more than $100 million to fully develop the site. The hopes is to get the National Park Service to kick in a major portion of the funds with the rest coming from foundations, private donors and government entities. “This becomes that attraction that pulls people into the Mon Valley,” says Baraff, “it really allows for economic growth of the region.” The remainder of the 107-acre Homestead Works site is owned by Allegheny County, which plans to develop it into light industrial and residential. The land lies in Rankin and Swissvale and is just up river from Duck Hollow.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kaye Cowher Dies at Age 54

The wife of former Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Bill Cowher died Friday after a battle with skin cancer. Kaye Cowher was 54 years old. She is survived by her husband and three daughters: Meagan, Lauren and Lindsay.
The former Kaye Young and her twin sister Faye were basketball stars at North Carolina State University and played 3 seasons of pro basketball. When the Women's Basketball League folded in 1981, Kaye Young married Bill Cowher whom she had met when he was playing football at North Carolina State and she was playing basketball.
The Cowhers moved to her native North Carolina in 2006, Bill Cowher's last season as Steelers coach. Bill Cowher has been an NFL studio analyst for CBS for 3 seasons.

Funeral services will be held Monday in North Carolina.

Investigation Continues Into Zinc Plant Blast

Officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration continue to look for the cause of Thursday's explosion at zinc plant in Beaver County that killed 2 workers. The Beaver County Coroner says 53 year old James Taylor of Aliquippa and 41 year old Corey Keller of Newell, West Virginia died from smoke inhalation in the refinery section of the Horsehead Corporation plant in Monaca. The refinery remains idle however the zinc smelter is still operating.

Texas Crew Helps Put Out Gas Well Fire

About 10 and a half hours after an explosion at a natural gas well in Indiana Township, Allegheny County, firefighters extinguished the intense blaze. A team of oil and gas well firefighting experts were flown in from Texas to help put out the fire which was being fueled by natural gas. The explosion killed two workers but a third member of the crew was not injured.
Allegheny County Emergency Management Chief Bob Full says firefighters first tried using foam on the fire but then brought in water tanker trucks.
3 firefighters were taken to the hospital for treatment of heat-related problems due to temperatures in the low 90's compounded by the intensity of the fire.

A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says the workers had been welding equipment at the site of the gas well.
DEP spokeswoman Helen Humphreys told DUQ News that the gas well was 2 years old, a shallow well of about 3,500 feet in depth and was operated by Huntley and Huntley of Monroeville. The well is on property owned by the Rosedale Sportsmen's Association. That company operates about 350 gas wells in the Pittsburgh area. Humphreys says fortunately this well was located in a rural area with few nearby residents.

County officials continue to investigate the explosion and fire.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Influx of Jobless Benefits Claims Anticipated

Pennsylvania officials are praising the Congressional passage of an extension of unemployment benefits for 2.5 million long-termed jobless individuals.
President Barack Obama quickly signed the legislation after the House approved it Thursday, a day after the Senate gave its okay mostly along party lines.
The measure restores unemployment benefits to people who have been out of work for 6 months or longer. Passage ends a 7 week interruption in benefits that average about $300 a week.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry Sandy Vito says she's relieved by passage of the legislation and it will affect about 200,000 state residents. Vito expects a high volume of claims...."For those who have continued to file their bi-weekly claims, they will receive their benefits by the end of next week. For those who have not yet filed their bi-weekly claims, we need them to do immediately."

Vito says claims can be filed online ( or by calling 1-888-255-4728.

Gas Well Explosion Update

After two men were killed in a gas well explosion this morning, Allegheny County emergency crews continue to fight the resulting fire at the Indiana Township well.

The blast occurred at a Huntley & Huntley natural gas well at about 9:50 this morning. The two workers killed in the accident are believed to have been welding at the time of the explosion.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Helen Humphreys says DEP is on-site, trying to determine the best way to "shut the well in." Humphreys says the lines connected to the well have now been shut down in order to isolate the rig.

Humphreys says while the blast fortunately happened in a wooded area with few structures nearby, it's still a dangerous situation. She says the greatest concern at this point is the fire. Crews can't tell yet if gas is leaking from the site as well as burning.

Humphreys says the 3,500-foot-deep well was completed two years ago, so whatever work the crews were doing was unrelated to drilling. She says DEP has not found any safety violations from Huntley & Huntley, who Humphreys says own several wells in the area.

2 Killed in Gas Well Explosion

Emergency crews are on the scene of an explosion at a natural gas well in Indiana Township, Allegheny County. Two workers were killed in the blast that happened shortly before ten this morning. County spokesman Kevin Evanto told DUQ News that this is a regular natural gas well site....not a Marcellus Shale well. The explosion occurred in a wooded area between Rich Hill Road and Challenge Lane. Evanto says Dominion Peoples Gas company sent workers to the scene to shut off gas service in the area.

However, a Dominion spokesman says his company does not own the well and does not have any lines to the well. The Dominion spokesman says the well is independently owned, so his company's crews were not authorized to shut off the gas.

Evanto says no other injuries have been confirmed.

PA Drought Free

The Pennsylvania Drought Task Force met this week to discuss conditions. Despite some very dry and hot weather of recent weeks, no drought problems are being reported at this time. Tom Rathbun, a spokesman for the PA Department of Environmental Protection, says moisture levels are okay, thanks in part to a very wet and cool spring. He says the DEP monitors a number of different parameters, including watching rainfall amounts. The state shares a monitoring network with the US Geological Survey that checks groundwater levels and stream levels. He says the PA Department of Agriculture also monitors soil moisture. Rathbun says all of those parameters together can tell if the state is entering drought conditions.

The last time Pennsylvania declared a drought emergency was in 2002. Rathbun says the Drought Task Force has no further meetings planned, but will continue to monitor soil and moisture conditions as the summer progresses.

Looking for Alternatives to FMAP $$$

Governor Ed Rendell says he’ll try to resurrect some of his policy proposals that weren’t adopted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, if Congress doesn’t pass a federal medical funding bill.
Rendell admits prospects for receiving the $850 million in FMAP funding for Pennsylvania’s budget banks on are growing bleak.
He says if he’s forced to cut the money out of the spending plan he signed into law this month, he’ll ask lawmakers to fill some of the gap by eliminating or restricting the tax discount the state provides to businesses who file their returns on time.

"Other than that, I don’t see much revenue increase. We’re going to deal with 850 by making tough and in many cases brutal cuts. Brutal cuts. So we’ll see where we go."

Rendell proposed capping or eliminating the vendor sales discount, along with tobacco taxes, in his February budget address, but lawmakers didn’t include the proposals in their budget bills.
The governor concedes a limited sales discount wouldn’t make up all of the lost revenue, and that he’d still need to lay off “thousands” of state employees, if the federal money doesn’t come through.

Hospitality Workers Protest

16 people were arrested in downtown Pittsburgh late yesterday afternoon during a demonstration against the hospitality industry. 10 workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 57 which represents housekeepers, servers and other employees at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and hotels, plus 6 organizers refused police orders to get out of the middle of 10th Street near the convention center. Police then arrested them. Union members were protesting increased work load and not enough staff to do the job adequately.
Union representatives had warned in advance there would be civil disobedience.
Similar actions were scheduled for Chicago, Honolulu, San Francisco, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Monterey, Boston, Vancouver, Toronto, Miami, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Santa Clara and San Diego. In 2010, citywide hotel contracts covering 45,000 unionized hotel workers in ten cities across the U.S. and Canada will expire and be subject to bargaining

2 Dead at Beaver County Zinc Plant

An investigation is underway into an industrial accident at a zinc smelting plant in Beaver County that killed 2 men and injured 2 other workers. The coroner has not released the identity of the men who died. Workers at the Horsehead zinc plant reported hearing what they described as explosions although the company is not calling the accident an explosion. The accident occurred in the zinc distillation columns...part of the facility's zinc oxide refinery. That's where the molten zinc is converted to zinc oxide.
The company employs 600 at the plant which according to the firm's website is the largest zinc smelting operation in the nation.

Open House at Masonic Center

The Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center will hold an open house from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. tomorrow.

District Deputy Grandmaster Doug Heinz says the event will include tours of the center, an introductory video, and informational brochures. Representatives from the seven Masonic lodges that make up the Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center will also be on hand to answer questions.

The Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center accepts all males more than eighteen years old who believe in God.

Heinz says Freemasonry is difficult to explain briefly, but much of it is simply about meeting people.

“We have become such a networking society over the internet with various social networking sites,” says Heinz. “I kind of look at the Masonic Fraternity as an up-close and personal networking group, where you actually go and meet people and expand your network of friends and associates face-to-face.”

Heinz says there is plenty of interest about the charitable fraternity, but men often don’t know where to turn for information.

The Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center is located at 3579 Masonic Way in Pittsburgh. Interested parties can call the center at (412)939-3579 for more information.

Packed House For EPA Marcellus Hearing

The Federal Environmental Protection agency came to Cecil Township yesterday to take input on how it should structure its study of the impacts Hydraulic Fracturing has on drinking water. The meeting was one of four the agency is holding around the country. More than 150 people signed up to speak at the 5-hour meeting I the packed hotel ballroom. It began with EPA employees asking for input from the public on what issues should be part of the study, where the EPA can find important data (both empirical and anecdotal), and what regions of the nation should be used for case studies. EPA Drinking Water Protection Division Manager Ann Codrington says they can only look at a limited number of locations so they want to know why one region is better than another. Robert Donnan of the South Hills says the Pittsburgh region would make a good case study because fouled water is still being dumped into waterways that are used for drinking. “Our county has had two fish kills and dead cattle near drilling. This is quite similar to other [situations] that brought death and destruction, Agent Orange,” says Donnan, “we are still stuck on stupid.” Brian McConnell of Cecil Township invited the EPA on to his farm where a well was hydraulically fractured in the 70’s, “to assist in the historic reference that fracking impacts do not occur from responsible fracking operations.”

Several speakers used their two minutes to highlight subject areas they feel the EPA needs to explore, including Brad Carpenter who wants the agency to look at on-site desalination of flowback water. “Once the brackish water leaves the site or is stored for any length of time, that seems to be when the issues come about.” Angela Wiley is a member of the Pittsburgh Environmental Student Coalition. She says the EPA should look at the re-use of frack water. Robert Hoard says any study needs to take into consideration of the economic impact of any regulation.

A fight seems to be raging supporters of drilling and detractors over the scope of the study. Those who are against the practice want the scope to be as broad as possible while supporters are looking for a narrow study. Supporters also often called on the EPA to base its study on “scientific fact, rather than emotions.” The one place both sides could agree is a desire to have the study completed as quickly as possible. The EPA hopes to launch the 2-year study later this year.

Many of the more than 100 speakers used their time to tell personal stories and vent their frustrations rather than commenting on the study. Listen to a few of their off-topic comments here starting with farmer Terry Greenwood.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Deal On Suit Over Drilling

A U.S. District Judge in Erie has been asked to approve a nearly $29 million settlement between Range Resources and nearly 2,000 Pennsylvania leaseholders. The drilling company, which has a division based near Canonsburg, would pay the plaintiffs, who leased their land for drilling, about $1.75 million immediately and more than $20 million over several years. The leaseholders filed a class action lawsuit in 2008 claiming Range Resources did not adequately compensate them for the drilling rights in the Marcellus Shale formation. About $7 million of the settlement goes for attorneys' fees.
As part of the proposed settlement, the company does not acknowledge wrongdoing.

EPA Considers Impact of Fracking On Water Quality

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is holding the third of four multi-state public information meetings this evening in Canonsburg, Washington County on a proposed study of hydraulic fracturing...fracking...and its impact on drinking water.
Pumping fracking water with chemical additives into the drilled well breaks up the shale and allows the natural gas to be extracted.
The E.P.A. will use comments and suggestions from an independent scientific advisory board and stakeholders to guide the design of the study. Earlier E.P.A. meetings were held in Colorado and Texas.
Listen for reports about this evening's session in Canonsburg from WDUQ's Mark Nootbaar tomorrow on Morning Edition.

Parking Lease Plan Would Make Meter Rates ‘Soar’

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto says the debate over leasing the city’s parking assets to help shore up the city’s faltering pension plan has been overly focused on the garages downtown and he hopes to change that. Today he produced numbers that show metered parking rates as much as tripling in some neighborhoods. The plan proposed by Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl would allow the company that buys the lease to phase in higher rates that, by 2014, would hit $2.00 and hour for a spot in a neighborhood business district and $4.50 downtown. Peduto says right now the city’s parking rates are “about in the middle” when compared to comparable cities but in 2014 it would “soar above the rest of the nation.” Peduto says the higher rates will have a negative impact on business and residents as people avoid the meters by either not making a trip to the business district or trying to find parking “in front of someone’s house.”

Ravenstahl has proposed leasing 12 downtown garages and some 9,000 meters for the next 50 years in an effort to raise $200 million. The money would be used to get the city’s pension program up to the 50% funded level. If that does not happen by the end of the year the state has threatened to take over the pension plan and demand higher payments. Peduto says even if the city makes the one time payment it will still have to find a way to increase annual payments to the fund to keep it from slipping below the 50% level in the future.

City Council has commissioned a study of the value of the parking assets and other possibilities for raising the needed funds. That report is due in September but the mayor has asked on council to approve his plan by Sept. 15. Peduto says he thinks council members will be able to find a solution and have it in place by the end of the year. However, at the same time Peduto says he “will not be held by any false deadline.” He says, “This pension problem has been going on for decades. I’m not going to be told I have to have an answer by December 31st. ”

Four public meetings have been set to discuss the parking lease. The first will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday in council chambers. The second will be held Tuesday at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers headquarters on the Southside, the third Thursday at the Pittsburgh Public Schools headquarters, in Oakland and the fourth, Aug. 2 in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School Cafeteria on the North Side.

4.5% Tuition Hike at State-Owned Universities

The Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education today approved a $1.5 billion budget that includes a 4.5% tuition hike for resident undergrad students. That translates to an additional $250 and brings annual tuition up to $5,804 at all 14 state-owned universities.
State System spokesman Kenn Marshall says it's still the lowest rate among all 4-year colleges and universities in Pennsylvania..."In order to meet our full budgetary needs, we would have had to go higher but the board was full cognizant of the (economic) situation facing Pennsylvania students and families."
Marshall says the tuition increase was needed because state appropriations have remained relatively flat for the last several years and rising costs for salaries, benefits and utilities. He says the board is also planning ahead for when the $38 million in federal stimulus funds goes away June 30th.
In addition, $9.5 million in spending cuts will be spread across the 14 universities. Marshall says whether that means maintenance projects delayed, layoffs or program up to each university.
Marshall says 5 of the 14 universities...Indiana, Slippery Rock, Kutztown, Mansfield and Millersville have already indicated layoffs are likely in the next year and unless the lost stimulus funds are made up by a larger state appropriation "unfortunately there may have to be staff reductions probably at more than the 5 universities that have already announced them."

Layoffs at IUP?

Faced with a projected $12 million dollar deficit for 2011-12, Indiana University of Pennsylvania officials are warning the faculty union of potential layoffs.
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) says the president of IUP union faculty was given an outline of the university's budget for 2011-12 and it included a statement that to eliminate the deficit it might require "the retrenchment (layoffs) of faculty and/or furloughs of management and staff."
APSCUF spokesman Kevin Kodish says potential layoffs have already been brought up at 4 other state owned universities: Kutztown, Mansfield, Millersville and Slippery Rock, the IUP meeting was disheartening because union leadership was told the meeting was not about layoffs.
According to the union, the university document said layoffs "may be unavoidable due to financial considerations, program curtailment, elimination of courses and other reasons."
But Kodish countered that interest in the universities is high..."We're going to have 120,000 students in the fall....another is not the time to cut programs."

Kodish says there is still time to avert layoffs. However, the 14 state-owned universities will have to deal with the end of the federal stimulus funds after this coming school year.

PNC Ups Earnings, Finishes Nat'l City Switch

Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group announced solid financial results for the second quarter of the year today.

“We produced second quarter earnings of $803 million, or $1.47 per diluted common share. That’s a 20% increase in net income on a late-quarter basis,” says PNC Chairman and CEO James Rohr. “For the first half of the year, our net income of $1.5 billion was double that of the same period in 2009.”

Rohr says recently passed financial reform legislation will introduce hundreds of changes to the banking industry, and PNC is studying how those will affect the company.

“One thing is clear: the reform bill will impact revenue and increase the cost of doing business,” says Rohr. “However, we believe the expected changes will be manageable for PNC and will have a smaller impact on us than the Wall Street banks.”

Rohr says his bank also finished the final wave of converting former National City banks to PNC branches ahead of schedule and under budget. Six million retail and business clients switched to PNC in the conversion.

Hot and Humid Conditions Return Friday

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a special weather statement that alerts residents across much of Western Pennsylvania to be prepared for extreme hot and humid conditions Friday and Saturday.
The NWS says a warm front will cross the region Friday and Saturday with daytime highs expected to reach into the lower 90's. With increasing humidity levels, the heat index can reach 100 or more. The weather service advisory says residents should consider curtailing activities and drinking plenty of water. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothes and stay out of the sun as much as possible. Being in direct sunlight can make a person feel even 15 degrees hotter. Officials ask that residents check on elderly and others who may be impacted to a greater extent by the heat and humidity.

The counties under this special advisory are Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Clarion, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Mercer, Venango, Washington and Westmoreland.

The city of Pittsburgh is extending hours at two senior centers tomorrow. The Homewood and South Side Healthy-Active Living Centers will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday July 23 to provide seniors with cooling stations as temperatures are predicted to reach 90 degrees.
Refreshments will be provided during the extended hours and there will be games and internet access.


South Side - 12th Street & Bingham Street - 412.488.8404
Homewood - 7321 Frankstown Avenue – 412.244.4190

Rendell: No Reason Not To Vote for Oil Profits Tax

Governor Ed Rendell says a new tax on oil companies would generate nearly a billion dollars for Pennsylvania’s transportation needs.
Rendell told the Senate Transportation Committee due to oil companies' use of the Delaware Loophole, major oil companies only pay about 65 million dollars worth of income tax in Pennsylvania.
He’s pushing for a bill exempting energy giants like Exxon Mobil and BP from the corporate net income tax, but creating a new levy on their profits.
The governor says his measure would make sure the companies don’t increase gas prices to pay for the tax, by creating an index of states with rates similar to Pennsylvania.

"If those other three states go up two cents an average and we go up sixteen cents an average, then those companies are subject to investigation by the Attorney General, and have to come up with a reason. Otherwise they’ll be subject to severe civil and criminal penalties."

Rendell concedes the language would likely be challenged in court, but says he’s confident a judge would rule in Pennsylvania’s favor.
The oil company tax is the governor’s preference for filling the transportation funding gap created because state leaders counted on revenues from a proposed tolling of Interstate 80 but the federal government rejected that plan.
He says it could generate up to 900 million dollars a year.

Gas Representatives, Environmentalists Spar at Hearing

Allegheny County Council held a public hearing on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling in the county last night.

Environmental groups like Clean Water Action and PennFuture spoke about the environmental downsides of drilling in Allegheny County while county energy companies such as Atlas Energy and Consol Energy touted the industry’s job-making capabilities.

County Council members addressed concern over three main areas: frack water pollution, jobs, and the health of county roads.

Carl Carlson of Range Resources says PennDOT has regulations requiring the industry to cover the costs of road damage inflicted by their vehicles.

Atlas Energy President Richard Weber says the industry would also bring jobs to the county, by both hiring Pennsylvania workers and bringing in experts from other states.

Clean Water Action Western Pennsylvania Director Tom Hoffman says he supports a statewide moratorium on Shale drilling so that the state has some “breathing room” to investigate safety and health issues. Hoffman pointed to a recent gas well blowout in Clearfield County that allowed thousands of gallons of chemically-treated frack water to leak into the surrounding environment. Hoffman also mentioned air pollution caused by the drilling, which he says is underestimated.

But Weber says a statewide moratorium on drilling would mean thousands of layoffs and a large loss of revenue for Pennsylvania.

Greg Vogt of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 5 says 500 of his union’s 7000 members are working on Marcellus Shale pipelines, but that number is declining due to increasing competition from out-of-state contractors. Vogt described the Marcellus Shale job outlook as a “mixed bag” for Pennsylvanians.

Gas company representatives faced a tough crowd, as they were booed, heckled, and even ridiculed over the course of the meeting.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CPRB Process Legislation on Hold

Pittsburgh City Council continues to grapple with a new ordinance to deal with the formation and ongoing population of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board. It was brought to the attention of the council this year that the enabling legislation passed a decade and a half ago did not adequately address the process of appointing new members and the rules under which the members would serve. Councilman Doug Shields introduced a lengthy bill that outlined everything from staggered terms and residency requirements to who names the members and when. Councilman Daniel Lavelle introduced similar legislation that included far fewer lines and mostly address the process of placing new members on the board. Council members are now in the process of merging those two bills and hashing out details such as what happens when the mayor does not make his/her appointments. Shields called Lavelle’s bill “poorly written” but Councilman Patrick Dowd came to his rescue saying Shields’ bill is needlessly over specific. The bills were held for one week while the two offices try to work out the differences. All members of the CPRB are serving under expired terms. Last month the mayor sent council a list of 5 new members and 2 reappointments, but council has refused to act until new governing legislation has been put in place. The partially combined bill does not define the term “vacant” as has been suggested by Shields, but it does layout a nearly ten-step timeline of letter writing and nominations to be followed every year. Ultimately Council would send nine names to the mayor (one from each councilmember) who would chose four names and then add three more members before sending the entire list back to council final approval.

Council Holds Bills to Increase Capital Budget Input

Pittsburgh City Council debated and then held off on voting today on two pieces of legislation that are aimed at giving the public more input on the city’s capital budget. The measures set up a process by which the public would be able to comment on a 5-year capital spending plan and the annual capital budget. In years past the mayor’s office has submitted 5-year plans but that has gone by the wayside in recent years. Under the ordinances, four hearings will be held on the capital budget. Those are above and beyond any hearings held on the rest of the budget. A citizens advisory committee would also be created. That committee would keep an eye how funds from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development are spent. The committee will also make sure the funds are used as intended and that they are used as quickly as possible. City Councilmember Doug Shields says with the implementation of the ICA and Act 47 boards, the council has had very limited input into the budget and public comment on the capital budget has also waned. Bill sponsor Ricky Burgess says he would like to work on a few more details in the bill and then hold a public hearing and post agenda meeting on the issue. The new requirements would go into effect in 2011 with comment being made on the 2012 budget. Both measures were put on hold until after the summer recess.

Rendell: Transportation Funding Can't Wait

Governor Rendell is urging Pennsylvania lawmakers to send transportation funding bills to his desk before Labor Day.
Rendell wants the House and Senate to return to Harrisburg in late August to start working on transportation funding.
To highlight what he sees as an immediate need for new transportation revenue, he brought a Scranton Times-Tribune article about a 6-foot long chunk of cement that fell from a 55-year-old Lackawanna County bridge to his appearance before the Senate Transportation Committee.

"We can’t wait until next year. Someone could have been killed. Every day we delay increases the chances that we will ruin someone’s lives. That we will risk public safety. We have to move and we have to move now."

Some rural Senators expressed skepticism, saying too much state money is funding mass transportation in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
But Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler countered that argument by pointing out urban tax revenue pays for rural repairs, too.

"If we only used the gas tax revenue that was generated in each county to take care of the county state-owned roads in each county, you’d have about a fraction of the money that’s being spent in your district, that you have now today."

Rendell wants lawmakers to generate at least 500 million dollars for transportation projects, but says ideally, he wants to see 1 to 3 billion dollars set aside for repairing roads and bridges and funding mass transportation.
The governor says he’ll sign any bill creating new revenue, but he prefers to impose a profits tax on oil companies.

The Bus Stops at Heinz Field

Jerome Bettis will be at Heinz Field this afternoon to honor the 21 students from Pittsburgh Public’s Murray Middle School in Mt. Oliver who have completed an 8-week computer camp at Duquesne University. In an effort to narrow the digital divide, his Bus Stops Here Foundation has funded six camps in three years.

The school district selects students based on attitude, behavior, and interest, not just grades or ability, according to Duquesne’s Jennifer Milcarek, who instructs them with the help of ten Duquesne students or alums.

The 6th 7th and 8th graders learn the latest version of Microsoft Office and prepare Power Point digital stories based on interviews they conduct with persons of their choice.

At a computer engineering session, they each construct a computer from the shell out, which they will get to keep.

Jennifer Milcarek says her biggest challenge is to find something the students don’t already know because, unlike older people, they've had some exposure to computers their whole lives.

When she introduces web design at its simplest, she says the students are impatient for the next step.

Film Company Employees Evicted from Studio

A Strip District film studio may not be a movie-making facility for much longer.

The company that owns the 10-acre building says its tenant has stopped paying rent and owes the landlord about $2 million in back pay.

31st Street Business Park has evicted Mogul Mind Studios. The property owner says unless the studio starts paying up soon, the former warehouse could be razed or used for another purpose.

But Pittsburgh Film Office Director Dawn Keezer says the region’s film industry will continue to thrive even if the Strip District studio stops producing movies.

“We’ve done this for a long time in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Film Office has been keeping track since 1990, but we’ve been making films since 1914,” says Keezer, “and we’ve always been able to find a place where they can shoot.”

Mogul Mind has been in the space since 2008. In that time, the studio has helped produce several films, including “Unstoppable” and “Warrior,” two action movies to be released in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Keezer says although the Mogul Mind Studio is conveniently close to downtown Pittsburgh, there are other options for indoor filming and production in the area. Keezer says several other companies have also contacted the property owner about continuing to run the Strip District building as a film studio.

Orie Ordered to Stand Trial

State Senator Jane Orie of Pittsburgh's North Hills and her sister Janine Orie have been held for trial on charges they used the lawmaker's taxpayer-funded staff to do campaign work on state time.
Following a three day preliminary hearing, Allegheny County Judge Donna Jo McDaniel ordered Jane Orie and Janine Orie to stand trial on charges they conspired to use the senator's staff for campaign work for the senator and for a another sister, State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. Janine Orie is on paid leave as an aide to Justice Melvin. Several former Orie staffers including the chief of staff testified they conducted campaign work at Senator Orie's direction.
William Costopoulos, attorney for Senator Orie, said he was "disappointed" and questioned the expense of the investigation.....
"Now if you wanna talk about the taxpayer's money lets talk about what this investigation has cost the commonwealth to bring the senator and her sister to trial. The amount of money that has been paid out to investigate the senator and bring her sister to trial far exceeds any of the allegations times ten."

The Ories have denied the allegations claiming they are the result of a "political witch hunt" by District Attorney Stephen Zappala. Senator Orie says she's fighting political corruption particularly in the gambling industry. She claims she was targeted because the district attorney's father, Stephen Zappala, Sr., is the chairman of the Pennsylvania Casino Association...and a former State Supreme Court Justice.

A trial date has not yet been set and another Common Pleas Judge, Jeffrey Manning, will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the investigation into the senator.

PAT Service Could Be Cut 35%

When the Port Authority Board approved a new budget at the end of last month, members warned that serious service cuts and fare hikes would be necessary unless more state funding was forthcoming. Transit agency officials today unveiled the details of those service cuts.
Port Authority proposes reducing bus and T service by 35 percent.
PAT CEO Steve Bland says weekday service would be eliminated on 41 routes, Saturday service on 28 routes and Sunday service on 23 routes. The total number of routes in the system would be reduced from 129 to 85. That translates to an overall cut of 35% of bus and "T" service.
According to Bland, about 90 neighborhoods throughout the agency's coverage area would lose public transit service entirely or face a significant loss of service.
Bland says more than 500 jobs would have to be cut including operators, maintenance workers, supervisors and administrative employees.
The proposal calls for increasing the fare for Zones 1 and 2 and creating a premium price of $4 on light rail service and 13 express bus routes.

The public comment period via e-mail and regular mail runs from July 28 to August 31. The PAT Board will hold a public hearing August 19th at the Convention Center from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The board will vote on the service and fare changes September 24 and they would take effect in January.

Lawsuit Threat Ends Violations

Four days before environmental groups were to file a federal lawsuit for violations of environmental laws by the waste coal-burning Seward Generating Station near Johnstown in Indiana County, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection issued a new permit to the plant’s owner, RRI Energy of Houston, Texas, that requires the facility to upgrade and comply with environmental standards.

Penn Environment Director David Masur says the company’s own reporting listed 12,000 violations of the Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams law over five years.

Hot water going into the Conemaugh River caused ten to twenty degree temperature swings in a matter of hours, which harmed local ecosystems, and there were toxic emissions and groundwater contamination, according to Masur.

Masur says it’s good news that the violations will stop, but it’s bad news that the DEP did not fine the company because it sends the message to polluters that there will be no penalty for breaking the law.

Masur says the Clean Water Act establishes the right of citizens to sue when government agencies are not enforcing the law, and it was the threat of a lawsuit that finally resulted in an end to the environmental violations in this case.