Wednesday, January 18, 2023

York Daily Record Guest Essay: Low Blow By PA Lawmakers - Playing Politics With Kids Abused By Clergy, Harmed By Polluters

This guest essay originally appeared in the York Daily Record on January 17, 2023--

In what only can be described as a low blow (or, more likely, an immoral partisan backroom deal), the Pennsylvania State Legislature seems prepared to use the constitutional amendment dubbed “Marsy’s Law” — meant to guarantee the rights of crime victims’ rights — to also move two other highly contentious amendments related to voter identification and regulatory review. 

Even my hometown Blair County Republican Representative Jim Gregory said, “What they’re trying to do, in my opinion, is use victims as pawns in a political game, and I’m not going to play that.”

Pennsylvania’s Marsy’s Law Amendment, named after a California college student who was murdered, provides a two-year window for childhood sexual abuse victims to seek recourse even if a statute of limitations exists. 

Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly supported an earlier version of this constitutional amendment in 2019, only for it to be ruled as too broad by a 6-1 PA Supreme Court decision.

Yet, bundling these three unrelated amendments threatens to forestall the implementation of Marsy’s Law yet again by potentially running afoul of the legal requirements for passing amendments unchanged for two consecutive years. 

This unneeded complication may continue to prevent justice for so many victims. 

The right and moral thing to do is pass the victims’ rights amendment as a stand-alone bill, as House Speaker Mark Rozzi has suggested. 

It’s also what the Bible commands in Micah 6:8 (NIV)-- He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Acting justly and loving mercy demands that the legislature take up the victims’ rights amendment as a stand-alone bill, thereby avoiding any legal murkiness and simply doing the right thing. 

Justice would also be better served if the legislature were also concerned for the children whose lives are threatened by pollution rather than using one victim to deny another.

As a pro-life evangelical, I have a special concern for the unborn. All of us should want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution even before they take their first breath. 

The medical community has long known that unborn children are especially vulnerable to environmental impacts. Of these impacts, fossil fuels are the most serious threat to children’s health worldwide.

This dirty trick of putting the three constitutional amendments in one bill (Senate Bill 1) is simply another move by the friends of fossil fuels in the legislature to deny rights to our kids who are threatened by pollution. 

As just one example: 202,388 Pennsylvania children attend school within 0.5 miles of an oil or gas facility. 

The medical and scientific literature is clear – living within 0.5 miles of a methane extraction or production site harms our children, and newer research suggests that even those living within a 5-mile radius may also be at risk. 

Peer reviewed medical studies show that those living near methane development face a 25% increase in low-birth-weight infants; significant reductions in infant health; increased brain, spine, or spinal cord birth defects; increased congenital heart defects; and up to a 25% increase in childhood asthma.

If you believe that the General Assembly won’t use the regulatory review amendment to aid their friends, consider what happened in the July 2022 budget process. 

The Republican-led General Assembly held up budget negotiations to secure a massive win for oil and gas. 

For budget passage, they demanded and received ridiculous limits for well bonding — that is, how much money companies pay up front to ensure the land where they drill is later restored. 

Instead of holding industry to a fair and just bond to ensure these operators do the right thing, the General Assembly set the maximum bond at $2,500 per well. That’s only 3.2% of the average cost ($78,000) of fixing the wells. 

So, thanks to the legislature, these wells will continue to spread toxins into our air and water in perpetuity—further threatening our children. 

While you can’t put a price on health, the legislature gave the oil/gas industry over $38 million for their failure to plug and remediate the 490 wells they walked away from in 2022, leaving us the mess and the cost.

It's time for the legislature to stop pitting victims against other victims, and to stop playing partisan games over what should simply be the moral and just thing to do. 

God demands justice for sexual assault victims, and he demands that we defend our kids from fossil fuel pollution as well. 

It’s simply the right and moral thing to do.

Mitchell C. Hescox is President/CEO of Evangelical Environmental Network, based in New Freedom, York County.

PA DEP Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - Jan. 14  to 20  [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - Jan. 21  [PaEN]

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Sets Feb. 2 Hearing On A 4.5 MGD Out-Of-Basin Diversion For Ironwood Natural Gas Power Plant In Lebanon County, 6 Other Natural Gas Drilling Water Uses  [PaEN]

-- DEP Posted 34 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In Jan. 21 PA Bulletin  [PaEN]

PA Oil & Gas Industry Compliance Reports:

-- PA Oil & Gas Industry Has Record Year: Cost, Criminal Convictions Up; $3.1 Million In Penalties Collected; Record Number Of Violations Issued; Major Compliance Issues Uncovered; Evidence Of Health Impacts Mounts

-- DEP Report Finds: Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Routinely Abandon Wells; Fail To Report How Millions Of Gallons Of Waste Is Disposed; And Non-Compliance Is An ‘Acceptable Norm’

Related Articles This Week:

-- Feature: 60 Years Of Fracking, 20 Years Of Shale Gas: Pennsylvania’s Oil & Gas Infrastructure Is Hiding In Plain Sight  [PaEN]

-- DEP 2021 Oil & Gas Program Annual Report Shows Conventional Oil & Gas Operators Received A Record 610 Notices Of Violation For Abandoning Wells Without Plugging Them  [PaEN]

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Sets Feb. 2 Hearing On A 4.5 MGD Out-Of-Basin Diversion For Ironwood Natural Gas Power Plant In Lebanon County, 6 Other Natural Gas Drilling Water Uses  [PaEN]

-- FracTracker Alliance Webinar Exploring Oil & Gas Impacts On Watersheds Available On Demand

-- Better Path Coalition Hosts Jan. 26 Virtual Brown Bag Briefing On Environmental Impacts From Development Of Unconventional Shale Gas & Oil Reserves  [PaEN]

-- York Daily Record Guest Essay: Low Blow By PA Lawmakers - Playing Politics With Kids Abused By Clergy, Harmed By Polluters - By Mitchell Hescox, Evangelical Environmental Network  [PaEN]

-- Williamsport Sun Letter: Dance With The Dinosaurs - Taxpayers Picking Up $1.7 Billion Cost Of Plugging Conventional Oil & Gas Wells - By Barb Jarmoska, Keep It Wild PA  [Abandoned Oil, Gas Wells Can Cost PA Taxpayers $1.8 Billion ]

-- Senate Environmental Committee Reports Out Diesel Mining Equipment Bill, Postpones Resolution On Restart Of Keystone XL Pipeline  [PaEN]

-- Sen. Yaw Looks For Common Ground With New Governor On Energy, Environmental Issues  [PaEN]

-- What Can We Expect From Gov. Shapiro, Lt. Gov. Davis On Environmental, Energy Issues?  [PaEN]

[Posted: January 18, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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