Senator Fontana asks a question of a panel member during last week’s Senate Policy Committee Town Hall Meeting on Marcellus Shale. Held at the Pittsburgh University Center Holiday Inn, the meeting brought out over 100 people with nearly 40 individuals testifying as part of the panels or public comment period.
Marcellus Shale Questions
This past week, I joined my colleagues on the Senate Policy Committee for a Town Hall Meeting on Marcellus Shale. The meeting included panels of public health, environmental, regulatory, local government and industry experts in the natural gas extraction field. PA State Fire Commissioner Edward A. Mann participated, as did Chief Alvin Henderson, Jr. of the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services, both of which testified as to their agencies’ ability to respond to emergency situations at drilling sites. Randy Elder of Kleinfelder joined Dave Spigelmyer of Chesapeake Energy in testifying on behalf of the industry. They were followed by Erika Staff of PennEnvironment, Dr. Conrad Dan Volz, and Jeanne Clark PennFuture, each of whom testified as to the health and environmental concerns of the drilling.
As many of you are aware, Governor Corbett has been absolutely adamant in his opposition to any tax on the Marcellus shale industry. That has also carried over to the administration’s willingness to provide input, answer questions and participate in hearings such as this one. An invitation to participate in the Policy Committee hearing was formally issued to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael Krancer. When that invitation was initially declined, Secretary Krancer was personally invited during a meeting with our caucus – and indicated his willingness to have someone from the Department contact the caucus about participating. Yet last week not one of the DEP’s 2,500 employees were able to attend.
We all understand and acknowledge the future impact on jobs and the economy that the Marcellus shale industry can provide. It is for exactly that reason that we must address, rather than ignore, the negative issues surrounding this industry. We must work cooperatively to address what can be, and in some cases has already been, devastating results. Unlike the industries of the past, we cannot ignore the impacts on the health, safety and welfare of our residents. Our state Constitution quite clearly spells this out: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s natural resources are the common property of all the people including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”
Senator Scarnati announced last week that he was putting together a proposal that would impose an impact fee for natural gas drilling. During a conference call, he outlined the parameters of his proposal and indicated that a bill would be forthcoming. When asked about the Governor’s response to his proposal, he said that he got a “yellow light” to proceed. Yet a day later, Governor Corbett said that no legislation should be written until the impacts of Marcellus shale drilling are defined by his Marcellus shale commission. While I am not certain that I could have, or would have, supported Senator Scarnati’s legislation, the decision of whether to pursue legislation is not the Governor’s – it is the General Assembly’s purview – and one that we should be doing with the input of our constituents. That input is something that the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission is lacking.
Regardless of the assurances that the industry has made that their work must be completed in an environmentally responsible fashion and that there must be transparency in their operations, there have been mistakes made and accidents have occurred. At last week’s hearing, a woman from Towanda, PA in Bradford County traveled to the hearing to talk about the high levels of Barium and other chemicals that were found in her water after drilling began on her property. While she acknowledged that some companies do it right, she also asked us who is there to protect her when they do not live up to their responsibilities. She is not alone. According to PennEnvironment, between 2008 and August 2010, there have been 325,000 residents affected by drinking water advisories and more than 1,000 violations of cornerstone environmental laws. Just last month, residents had to be evacuated from their homes because of a leak from a Marcellus shale well that spewed brine water and hydraulic fracturing fluids on the drill pad, the surrounding fields and into a creek. There have also been fires.
The public agrees that we need to act. According to a Franklin & Marshall College poll conducted in March, 62 % of Pennsylvanians favor taxing companies that extract and sell natural gas in the Commonwealth. A Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies poll also found 87 % supported dedicating a significant portion of a Marcellus tax to conservation programs to protect land, water and wildlife. Quite frankly, it shouldn’t be about the revenue – although we all know that we have needs in our Commonwealth that could use additional funds.
The health, safety and welfare of our residents should be our priority and our largest concern. We should improve access to information on the chemicals and compounds used in hydrofracking. We should consider construction standards for private water wells and Marcellus shale wells. We should review bonding requirements for oil and gas wells and determine whether those amounts need to be increased. We need to ensure proper distances and set backs between well sites and water sources. We need to improve records and access to complaints and inspection reports to the public. We need to allow local communities to make decisions that are best for them in determining whether to allow drilling within their borders. And we need to continue the conversation with our residents, to hear their concerns and complaints, and we need to be responsive to the issues that they bring to us. That is why they elected us.
I am not, by any means, an expert on the issue of Marcellus shale. I (along with many of my colleagues) am learning more each day and will continue to read, ask questions and seek answers that will allow me to make educated decisions about legislation that is in the best interest of our Commonwealth. As always, I look forward to hearing from you on this and other issues that are of interest and importance to you.
IGA Market on Broadway Update
As I write this, Wayne Hancock of IGA Market on Broadway is in Florida, on a purchasing trip for equipment for the new grocery store. I have been hearing a lot of rumor that this project is not moving forward, but I can assure you that those rumors are just that – rumor. If you attended the last meeting, you saw first hand that there has been interior demolition and equipment removal, but there is also much work left to do. The property was far more dilapidated than was initially expected, with the years of deferred capital reinvestment and neglected maintenance adding up. Regardless of the unexpected challenges, Beechview has a good partner in IGA, Wayne and Ron Previck – they are committed to this project and excited about the opportunities that Beechview presents.
At that community meeting, Mr. Hancock announced a tentative date for a job fair for the IGA Market on Broadway positions for May. Because of construction schedules and other work, that job fair has been moved back to June. As additional information regarding the date and time of the job fair becomes available, I will post it on the website and include it in the News & Views.
Remember Our Troops
I think we were all captivated with the news this past weekend when the President reported that a Navy Seals team had found and killed Osama Bin Laden. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those members of the service for their bravery, dedication and commitment. The war on terror, though, is far from over.
Since 9/11, our force of 19,000 Pennsylvania Air and Army Guard members have had more than 25,000 individual mobilizations, meaning that many have gone more than once. We know that the PA National Guard will continue to be there for us – to serve and protect – and so as our country continues to take steps to make us all safer, let us remember our troops and keep their safety uppermost in our minds. Thank you for your service.
Absentee Ballot Application Deadline
The deadline for Allegheny County residents to apply for an absentee ballot for the upcoming May 17th primary election is Tuesday, May 10th. Absentee ballots are available to registered voters who will be absent from their municipality that day, as well as those who cannot make it to the polls due to an illness or physical disability. Applications are available through my website, or you may stop by one of my district offices. Applications must be completed and returned to the Allegheny County Elections Division, 601 County Office Building, 542 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
Upcoming Policy Committee Hearing in McKees Rocks
Please join me and the Senate Policy Committee on Wednesday, May 18th beginning at 3 p.m. at the Father Ryan Arts
Center in McKees Rocks for a public hearing on the PA Works plan. Specifically, those businesses and organizations participating will be testifying about the component that makes critical investments that create jobs – including re-capitalization of the Business In Our Sites program, the creation of a PA Works fund with dedicated revenue sources for well-established programs with records of success, and revamping the job creation tax credit.
The Father Ryan Arts Center is located at 420 Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks. This is a hearing, so no public comment will be accepted, but interested parties may certainly submit written testimony to the committee for consideration. The hearing is expected to adjourn by 5 p.m. I am appreciative of the generosity and kindness of the Father Ryan Arts Center for allowing us the use of their site for this hearing. I hope to see you there!
SBDC Outreach Day
Next Tuesday, May 10th is this month’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Outreach Day, allowing small business owners to get answers to their questions from someone with extensive finance and business communication knowledge. Client Services Liaison John Dobransky will be at my Kennedy Office (Kenmawr Plaza) to provide assistance between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You may schedule an appointment with John by calling 412-624-2290. Appointments are not required but are encouraged. This is a free service that allows entrepreneurs to get help starting a small business or improving their existing business. If you cannot make it next week, another SBDC Outreach Day is scheduled for Tuesday, June 7th.
President Not Coming to CAPA
As I noted in the my special edition of the News & Views last week, CAPA was in the running to have President Barack Obama as their commencement speaker. Pittsburgh’s School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) was one of six schools from across the country selected for the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge. Each of the six schools created a 3-minute video about how their school uniquely prepares students for college. All of the videos were posted on the White House’s website where viewers could rate them, with the top 3 rated videos being viewed by President Obama who would select the winning school himself.
Unfortunately, CAPA did not end up in the final three – but I congratulate them for even being in the running. It is quite an honor for the school and its students. Thank you, too, to all those who voted.
Around the District
This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of taping a segment with the PA Association of Realtors about Senate Bill 353 (SB 353), my private transfer fee legislation. The bill is currently in the House Urban Affairs Committee and is scheduled to be considered by that committee later this month as the House version of the bill also makes its way through the Senate. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about this important issue, look forward to its final passage by both Chambers and thank the PA Association of Realtors and the PA Land Title Association, among other organizations, for their continued support of this effort.
In addition to a full session day and caucus meetings with Secretary-nominees, the Senate Appropriations Committee also met on Tuesday to consider several Senate bills. Meetings with Secretary-nominees continued on Wednesday, as did meetings with a number of organizations on several legislative issues that we will be considering in the near future, including the budget.
On Thursday, the PHEAA Board Meeting included some good news for students as a decision was made by the Board to increase the amount of grants. That plan will set the average grant amount at $2,530, which is up from this year's nearly $2,300 average. We also expect the number of students who receive grants to grow by 4,000 students, to 172,000. PHEAA also continues to make improvements to its operations and offerings that make them more consumer-friendly. Last week, we also announced the launch of PHEAA mobile websites for smart phones.
Also on Thursday, as noted above, the Senate Policy Committee held a Town Hall Meeting on the topic of Marcellus Shale. A spirited meeting, there were over 100 people in attendance during the 3-hour long event.
This weekend, I had the opportunity to help kick off two baseball/softball seasons. First, I had the pleasure of throwing out the first pitch for the Dormont Athletic Boosters Opening Day Ceremony at the Dormont Municipal Center. Also on Saturday, I joined the Beechview Athletic Association in its Opening Day Parade festivities as they began their seasons. My thanks to both of these organizations for the invitations – and my congratulations on a job well done by the parents and volunteers whose dedication to these organizations is unmatched. Best of luck on successful seasons!
Andrew W. Mellon, the famous Pittsburgh-born banker, was a great local entrepreneur as well as the principal economic advisor to the President of the United States. From 1921 to 1931, he served as Secretary of the U.S. Treasury for three U.S. Presidents, including Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana