Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 27, 2014 at 11:26 am •  Published: August 27, 2014
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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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NATURAL GAS: YOU KNOW THE DRILL

Imagine a vein of gold being discovered under the building of the Philadelphia School District. Even given the crushing budget shortfall of the schools, it's unlikely that the money from mining that gold would go directly to fill the district's coffers. More likely, it would be directed to the general public coffers, since the public coffers are what keep the district running. The gold, in effect, belongs to all of us.

That's why the windfall that Pittsburgh Airport is about to receive from gas drilling is so puzzling. Any day now, wells on the 9,000 acres surrounding the airport will begin drilling the stores of shale under the airport. The deal is expected to bring more than $20 million a year to prop up the struggling airport.

When the drilling deal was first discussed, proper questions were raised about where the money would go; the airport is owned by Allegheny County. A decline in flights and the consolidation of airlines has the airport, which derives its income from retail and airline leases, faltering financially. Enter the frackers, and then the Federal Aviation Administration, which claimed that income derived from the airport must stay at the airport. That ought to rankle the residents of the county, if not of the state.

This is just the latest in a series of dubious decisions and directions related to hydraulic fracturing in the state. Earlier in the year, Gov. Corbett moved to lift a moratorium on drilling on state lands, including game and park land.

One environmental group has sued to stop the drilling. Such drilling not only has the potential to alter the landscape, but nearly a million acres of state land is already subject to drilling and some claim it's already having a negative impact on wildlife populations.

The race to drill the state — Corbett says he also wants to drill under state prisons — is especially troubling given how little time is spent studying fracking's potential impact, and how little drillers pay the state for the privilege.

Just last week, a group of health professionals raised questions about the Corbett administration's handling of the health questions raised by fracking. They accuse the administration of directing state Health Department officials not to pay proper attention to calls from those with health problems or concerns.

Fracking shoots chemicals and water at extreme pressure into the ground, to fracture, or "frack," the shale and release the natural gas. Drillers pay only fees, not taxes, unlike all the other states in which fracking occurs. Public-health experts bemoan the lack of long-term health studies on the effects of fracking. And, most outrageously, a health registry that would record and analyze complaints that was part of recommendations of a governor's commission was abandoned because the $2 million it would cost was deemed too expensive.

When the state legalized gambling, it created a set of policies and regulations that involved high taxes for the gaming companies, with shares going to host cities and the bulk divided among a range of programs and tax deductions that benefited those throughout the state. Even more important, the Gaming Control Board was established to strictly monitor gambling as well as its impact.

Too bad the same approach wasn't adopted when the state went crazy for fracking — especially since there's potentially even more at stake. Corbett's fervor for drilling without proper controls is an increasingly bad gamble.

—Philadelphia Daily News

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FOUR REASONS TO OPPOSE PPL POWER LINE HERE:

Another year, another proposal that could result in ugly energy infrastructure running through York County's lush fields and forests.

In recent years, companies have proposed pipelines that would transport petroleum products through or near our community. Now PPL is planning a major electricity line that will carry power through south-central Pennsylvania to Maryland.

The company says the project will improve the regional power grid and reduce the cost of electricity.

That may well be (though we're not counting on those lower rates). The power line might be necessary. It might be an economic boon to the state or the country.

But we're going to put on our NIMBY hats now, before the actual route of the line is determined, and argue that it should not run through York County.

Why not?

1. York County already produces more than its fair share of energy.

We're a net exporter of electricity. Think about it, we have two nuclear power plants in our vicinity — Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island. We have a polluting coal-fired power plant at Brunner Island. We have an incinerator that burns trash and creates electricity. We have several hydroelectric dams along the river. We have a gas-fired power plant in southeastern York County.

2. The electricity isn't destined for us but for urban and out-of-state areas.

As Sierra Club officials have argued, this model of producing electricity in rural areas such as central Pennsylvania and shipping it to urban areas is not good for the environment. Let those areas build their own power infrastructure (preferably from greener and more renewable sources) closer to home.

3. Little economic benefit here.

The electricity would be created in the fracking fields of northern and western Pennsylvania -- and that's where most of the economic benefits will land. They get the revenue, we get the ugly power lines. No, let some other county get the infrastructure for a change.

4. Pollution.

Prevailing west-to-east winds carrying pollution from those Marcellus shale-fired power plants could pass right through York County. Our air quality is already bad, according to the American Lung Association. Granted, we'd get pollution from power plants in fracking areas whether the lines come through here or not, but as our world faces increasingly dire threats from global warming, we must be cautious about more fossil fuel-based electricity.

In the end, we're not against economic development, and we understand the importance of electricity to our modern world.

But enough is enough.

Run those lines somewhere else.

— York Daily Record

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APPEAL THIS RULING: MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES SERVE A PURPOSE

In the wake of a state Superior Court ruling last week, it would appear that the constitutionality of mandatory minimum sentences is, at the very least, headed to the state Supreme Court.

Last Wednesday, the nine-judge panel ruled that a mandatory minimum sentence given to a Montgomery County drug dealer was unconstitutional.

The case in question involves James Newman, convicted in Montgomery County in 2012 of selling drugs from his apartment. When police searched the apartment, they discovered a handgun and ammunition.

When Newman was sentenced, prosecutors, citing Criminal Code Section 9712.1, sought and received from the presiding judge a mandatory five-year sentence because the gun was found in the vicinity of the drugs.

However, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, should decide whether a defendant committed crimes that trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. In the case of Alleyne v. U.S., a judge handed down a mandatory sentence to a defendant for having "brandished" a gun. However, the jury did not find that he "brandished" the gun; only that he had it on him during a robbery.

Although the nine-judge Superior Court panel all agreed that the mandatory sentence in the Newman case was wrong because it wasn't decided by a jury, a concurring opinion written by Judge Sally Mundy of behalf of herself, President Judge Susan P. Gantman and Judge Judith F. Olson disputes that the Alleyne case applies to all mandatory minimum sentences.

Wrote Mundy: "Neither the federal nor the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits the General Assembly from enacting mandatory minimum sentences. ... Alleyne merely requires that the element for said offense be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt."

To void all of Section 9712.1, she argued, would be to deprive legislators of their objective of having those who possess a gun while trafficking in drugs serve a longer sentence.

Given the stakes, we can understand the concern of Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman. The ruling essentially does away with current mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

It is clear that the state Legislature intended to place stiffer penalties on drug traffickers who have guns. Such penalties are common throughout the United States.

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