Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Senate Adds December 2 As Voting Day

The Senate has adjourned until December 2, a new voting day.

House Adds Voting Days In December

The House has revised its voting calendar for the next 2 weeks-
Nov. 30 (non-voting), Dec. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (all new)
December 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 (new)
December 14, 15, 16

DEP Awards $9.3 Million Contract To Extinguish Carbon County Mine Fire

The Department of Environmental Protection Tuesday announced it has awarded Hazleton Shaft Corporation a $9.3 million contract to isolate and extinguish the Jeanesville mine fire near the village of Tresckow in Banks Township, Carbon County.
Hazleton Shaft has an active permit with DEP to mine on land adjacent to the entire 200-acre site and has been working to extinguish the part of the fire that is burning on the active mining area.
“We are happy to be working with Hazleton Shaft Corporation on this phase of the mine fire project,” said Mike Korb, Environmental Program Manager of the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation in Wilkes-Barre. “The company, lowest of eight bidders, is familiar with the mine fire, and they and DEP’s Pottsville District Mine Office have implemented a work plan for the active mine area that will be worked in coordination with this abandoned mine project.”
The Jeanesville mine fire is burning on approximately 28 acres both on the surface and underground. Approximately 50 new and existing monitoring boreholes will be used to continue to gauge the scope and intensity of the fire.
Hazleton Shaft has also agreed to extinguish any underground burning material they may discover during the project.
During the work, residents may experience a sulfur-like odor. DEP is committed to completing the construction utilizing any methods available to minimize the smoke and odor, and conducting air quality monitoring on an as-needed basis. Previous air quality monitoring related to the fire indicated no dangerous levels of gases in the area.
“Our Air Quality staff is ready to respond if residents notice any lingering odors in their neighborhoods,” said Mike Bedrin, Director of the DEP Northeast Regional Office in Wilkes-Barre. “We want people to feel safe knowing the fire is being extinguished and the air they breathe is not hazardous.”
Residents who do experience any odors coming from the fire are encouraged to contact DEP’s Northeast Regional Office complaint line at 1-866-255-5158 ext. 2.
The work to extinguish the blaze involves digging two isolation trenches to contain the fire and stop it from spreading. The project will involve the excavation of approximately 2.6 million cubic yards of material to isolate the fire on the south side.
A water supply for the fire will be obtained by connecting to a line owned by the Hazleton City Authority and from a well to the mine pool which lies below the area.
As part of the project, approximately 200 acres will be cleared and grubbed. It is anticipated that the work will take two years to complete, and upon completion of the project, any disturbed areas will be seeded, cleaned up and the equipment removed from the site.
The site will be stabilized and vegetated in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Office of Surface Mining. Firefighting foam will be used as needed. The overall length of the project could be up to two years.

PUC Offers Black Friday Top 5 Tips For Energy Shopping, Savings

The Public Utility Commission Tuesday offered consumers a “Top Five” list of Black Friday tips for energy savings and shopping:
Shopping for Energy
The PUC recommends that consumers regularly review their contracts and bills from electric and natural gas suppliers in order to be familiar with key factors like pricing, term length and fees, including monthly fees and cancellation fees.
With current price and consumption information in hand (more information below), consumers can visit the PUC’s PAPowerSwitch.com and PAGasSwitch.com websites for detailed information about offers from various energy suppliers.
The Commission also encourages consumers to discuss energy issues with family members, especially relatives who may be older, may not have Internet access or may be initially uncomfortable with shopping for alternate electric or natural gas supply.
Conservation and Energy Efficiency
Consumers should review their monthly bills to better understand their actual energy usage. That information can help evaluate the potential savings related to conservation and efficiency projects, such as switching to LED lighting, weatherization, programmable thermostats and other improvements.
Conservation and efficiency steps undertaken now can help save money and provide greater comfort and safety during the coldest and darkest months of the year.
Ask For Assistance
Information about various energy assistance programs also is available on the PUC’s website, as part of the Commission’s annual “Prepare Now” campaign.
Consumers on limited or fixed incomes are encouraged to call their utility company about programs to help heat their homes or pay their energy bills, such as Customer Assistance Programs and Low Income Usage Reduction Programs.
Other aid also may be available, such as grants under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – which is administered by the Department of Human Services.
Monitor Energy Bills
Consumers should carefully monitor their monthly utility bills, along with the financial accounts used for bill payment. Any questions or concerns about pricing, payment processing, meter readings or changes in energy consumption should be raised with utilities as soon as possible.
Report Problems
The PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services is available to help consumers resolve disputes with utilities, but it is important that any potential issue be immediately brought to the attention of the utility.
In most cases issues are quickly resolved – but more challenging problems may require intervention through the informal or formal complaint process.
The Bureau of Consumers Services can be reached toll-free at 1-800-692-7380.

Wolf Signs Executive Order Creating Hunting, Fishing, Conservation Advisory Councils

Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday announced he has signed Executive Order 2015-13 to formally establish both the Governor’s Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation and the Governor’s Youth Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation.
“Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation is an important part of Pennsylvania’s civic and cultural life,” Gov. Wolf said. “I look forward to hearing from and working with Pennsylvanians who equally cherish these rich traditions. This executive order will help solidify the important role of outdoors enthusiasts in my administration’s policies and priorities.”
While attending the annual kickoff event for a statewide venison donation program called Hunters Sharing the Harvest, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Dunn announced the Governor’s executive order and spoke about the importance of hunters, anglers and outdoors enthusiasts.
“As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches I wanted to take a moment to thank our hunters and anglers for all they’ve done over the years to support conservation,” Secretary Dunn said. “Today, we’ve learned about how hunters work to end hunger by making venison donations to local food banks and needy families through the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program. These activities are such a rich part of our heritage and this executive orders ensures we will move carefully and deliberately as we make important decisions regarding our natural resources.”
The Governor’s Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation will be comprised of twenty Pennsylvania residents who will offer recommendations and advice on a range of outdoor-related issues, including pending legislation.  
Among the council’s specific duties will be to recruit, screen and recommend nominees for the boards of the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission.
The Governor’s Youth Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation will be made up of twenty youth from around the Commonwealth, ages 14-18, and will be asked to provide the Governor with innovative ideas about how best to engage today’s youth, and future generations, in the conservation of our natural resources and the enhancement our outdoor heritage.
“Here in Pennsylvania, we’re blessed with abundant natural resources that create widespread recreational opportunities for all outdoor recreationalists,” Dunn said. “About 6.4 million people in Pennsylvania enjoy some form of outdoor recreation, like birdwatching, nature photography, hiking, camping, boating and these healthy, family based activities not only improve our quality of life, they enhance our economic well-being.”
Pennsylvania’s two wildlife agencies are sustained primarily from the license fees hunters and anglers pay and from various federal excise taxes they’re charged when they purchase things like firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle, trolling motors and watercraft.  
Since 1938, when the Pittman-Robertson Act first went into effect, hunters and target shooters across America have provided more than $9 billion to purchase land for wildlife habitat, preserving open space for all citizens, not just those who hunt and fish.  
And the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act collects about $1 billion annually at the national level, providing the Fish and Boat Commission with about $13 million annually to help it fulfill its mission.
Outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania accounts for $21.5 billion in consumer spending and supports 219,000 direct jobs.  
Our hunters and anglers spend about $1.5 billion annually, creating a ripple effect on our economy valued at $2.5 billion; they support roughly the same number of jobs as are provided by our third largest employer, Penn State University.
Interested In Serving?
Individuals interested in volunteering for either council should send a resume and detailed cover letter explaining their desire to serve to Robb Miller, Governor’s Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation, 400 Market St., 7th Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17101-2301 or email their information to: robmille@pa.gov.  
The selection process is expected to be competitive and the deadline for applications is January 1, 2016.
A copy of the Executive Order is available online.
Gov. Corbett created an Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation by Executive Order in 2012. Gov. Rendell created a Governor’s Advisory Council on Hunting, Fishing and Conservation and a Youth Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation in 2003 by Executive Order. Gov. Ridge created a Sportsmen’s Advisory Council and Youth Advisory Council in 1995 by Executive Order.

CBF-PA: Presence Of Pharmaceuticals In PA Waters Double Dose Of Reality

By Harry Campbell, Executive Director PA Office, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

In 2001, 14 percent of Pennsylvania youths surveyed admitted to taking someone else’s prescription drugs. The state Coroner’s Association reported that there were 2,500 drug overdoses in the Commonwealth last year.
As Pennsylvania works to remedy the scourge of prescription drug misuse and abuse, the presence of pharmaceuticals in our rivers and streams is a double dose of reality for those concerned about water quality in the Keystone State.
An investigation by the Associated Press in 2008, found a total of 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts - antibiotics, pain relievers, and heart, mind, and veterinary drugs - in the City of Philadelphia’s drinking water.
Small quantities of drugs, including antibiotics, sex hormones, and anti-seizure compounds, were detected in public drinking water supplied to over 40 million Americans across the country.
While 70 percent of all antibiotics are used are for agriculture and animal husbandry, the U.S. Geological Survey found in Pennsylvania that the greatest source of pharmaceuticals in the rivers and streams is sewage treatment plants.
Pharmaceuticals find their way into the environment through treated effluent from sewage treatment plants, farmland irrigation with reclaimed wastewater, septic systems, manure from treated livestock, raw sewage discharges, and leaching from municipal landfills.
Our bodies excrete portions of pharmaceuticals that we take and have not been metabolized. This includes metabolites that may have biological activity of their own. For many pharmaceuticals, about 90 percent of the drug is metabolized. In some cases, a significant amount of the parent pharmaceutical is released as human waste or sweat.
Scientists believe the main way a great majority of pharmaceuticals are getting into the wastewater, is through disposal. It was reported at the Susquehanna Water Science Forum in 2013 that 54 percent of medications went into the trash and 35 percent went down the toilet or sink.
Many people still believe that keeping drugs out of the wrong hands means flushing unused medications down the toilet. In fact, they are introducing portions of those compounds into rivers and streams and eventually even drinking water.
While treatment plants may remove 95 to 98 percent of pharmaceuticals from sewage, low concentrations are still active biologically. No one treatment method can currently remove all pharmaceuticals.
In Pennsylvania, the USGS found low concentrations of pharmaceuticals that are used for other than agricultural purposes, upstream of drinking water intakes. This suggests that most pharmaceuticals near those intake sites entered the stream environment via municipal wastewater-treatment effluent or on-lot septic systems.
Private wells, which may also harbor pharmaceuticals, often receive limited to no treatment before consumption.
So far, there is little evidence that human health is negatively impacted by pharmaceuticals in the water. But health experts are concerned that small amounts of so many pharmaceuticals could have a synergistic and negative effect in humans.
On the other hand, the effects on aquatic life from these “contaminants of emerging concern” in the water are well-documented, shocking, and sad.
Intersex fish have been found in the Susquehanna River. According to USGS researcher Dr. Vicki Blazer,  about 90 percent of male smallmouths sampled had sexual abnormalities that include eggs growing in their testes. This intersex condition is believed to be linked to the presence of pharmaceuticals in the water.
Smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna continue to bear lesions and sores from a “perfect storm” of factors such as abundant, harmful runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, herbicides, cosmetics, detergents, and hormones in animal and human waste. These can weaken the smallmouths’ immune systems and make them vulnerable to disease.
A drug take-back program operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs manages 410 drop-boxes across the Commonwealth where unused pharmaceuticals can be turned in for proper disposal.
Since the program began two years ago, 32,000 pounds of prescription drugs have been collected.
For more information about the drug take-back program and locations of the boxes, visit the DDAP website.
Geisinger Health Systems and others also have turn-in programs. Each year for the past 10 years, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has hosted a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.
Clean water counts. We can all help protect our precious water supplies and rivers and streams, by limiting the amount of unused pharmaceuticals that get into the trash, sewers, septic tanks, and wastewater treatment plants.
Harry Campbell is PA executive director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  He can be contacted by sending email to: hcampbell@cbf.org.  Click Here for regular updates on CBF-PA activities in Pennsylvania (bottom of left panel).

Susquehanna River Basin Commission Holds Business Meeting Dec. 4

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission is conducting its quarterly business meeting December 4 at 9:00 a.m., State Capitol Complex, North Office Building, Hearing Room 1 in Harrisburg.  The meeting is open to the public.
The Commissioners will act on several agenda items, including 30 project applications (1 involving an into-basin diversion); a rulemaking action to amend SRBC regulations to simplify and clarify the process for transferring approvals and to add sections pertaining to general permits and minor modifications to approvals; a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to provide financial support to the Groundwater and Streamflow Information Program; an update to SRBC’s Investment Policy Statement; regulatory compliance matters with Seneca Resources Corporation and Schreiber Foods, Inc.; and approval of agreements which SRBC proposes to enter.  The business meeting agenda will also include a request to extend an emergency certificate for United Water Pennsylvania.
SRBC will also host an informational presentation from Ms. Claire Maulhardt, from Capital Region Water. Ms Maulhardt will speak on an intergovernmental cooperation agreement for the Paxton Creek Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Strategy that will reduce sediment from stormwater discharges and stream bank erosion to improve the health of Paxton Creek Watershed in Harrisburg and the surrounding communities.
Opportunities for public comment on project applications and rulemaking action were previously provided and will not be accepted at the meeting. However, the Commissioners may accept general public comments at the conclusion of the meeting.
SRBC’s Rules of Conduct for quarterly business meetings include:
— Attendees must sign-in and show photo identification.
— Signage, posters, banners or other display media will be permitted only in designated areas.
— The press will be permitted to set up and use video and recording devices in a designated area. The public will be permitted to use small, hand-held devices that remain in their possession and are used in a non-disruptive manner.
For more information, visit the SRBC Public Participation Center webpage.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Senate Fails In Bid To Eliminate School Property Taxes In Tie Vote Broken By Lt. Gov. Stack

The Senate effort to eliminate school property taxes failed in its attempt Monday when a vote on an amendment to House Bill 683 (Rapp-R-Forest) resulted in a tie vote-- 24 to 24-- and Lt. Gov. Stack (D) broke the tie by voting no.
Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 76 (Argall-R-Schuylkill) the amendment was based on, was not present to vote.  One Senate seat is vacant and due to be filled Tuesday with the swearing in of Sen.-Elect Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny).
The amendment would have increased the Personal Income Tax from 3.07 to 4.95 percent and the Sales Tax from 6 to 7 percent and broaden the tax to raise nearly $13 billion.
The bill would expand the Sales Tax base to include most food, candy, gum, and clothing that costs more than $50 per garment; newspapers and magazines, caskets, flags and alcohol served at drinking establishments. It would include towing services, legal services, investment advice, veterinary services, public transportation, sporting events and dry cleaning.
The amendment voted on by the Senate is available online.
Even if the Senate passed the bill, the House has never passed legislation to totally eliminate school property taxes, despite several attempts over the years.  The best they have ever done was when it passed House Bill 504 (Gabler-R-Clearfield) which increased the Personal Income and Sales taxes enough to provide $5 billion worth of relief.
Gov. Wolf also said in remarks before the Pennsylvania Press Club Monday he would veto the bill.
PennLive.com reported earlier in the evening that using a Sales Tax increase to fund school property tax relief has, in fact, been dropped from the budget discussions.
Critics of the bill said it is not fair to release businesses of over $4 billion in property taxes, 412 of the 501 school districts would still impose a property tax because of liability for paying off bonds and the broadening of the Sales Tax would be burdensome.
Groups representing the business community, school districts and nonprofit groups have opposed the amendment and Senate Bill 76 (Argall-R-Schuylkill) it was based on.
Bigger Property Tax Cuts, Sales Tax Dropped From Budget Talks

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