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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

November 20, 2013
Associated Press

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



State Department of Labor and Industry reports that the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry supports more than 200,000 jobs.

That's the ad that Gov. Tom Corbett's online site uses to show the positive economic impact of the industry on Pennsylvania.

Count on both the numbers and impact being questioned heavily during the coming year of gubernatorial campaigning.

Detractors will say that the 36 different lines of work that have a relationship to the Marcellus Shale exploration were already employing people before the exploration started. That's true.

They will question how many of the people in those businesses are actually working in the Marcellus Shale area. That's a fair debate.

For people living outside the region, skepticism of the industry's economic impact comes naturally.

But if you live within the Marcellus Shale hotbed, your eyes tell you so much.

There are countless businesses in this region that existed before the industry arrived but they are thriving and growing now. The jobs increases in many cases are five or 10, not 50 or 100, but that matters a lot on a small business scale.

There has been an undeniable increase in the restaurant and lodging business volume, much of it resulting in heavy construction employment.

There has been an undeniable increase in the business activity involving trucking and gas industry supplies.

Moreover, all of this has been happening while the country was going through a tough economic recession and a painfully slow recovery.

We don't want to know what this region's economy would have been like in the past five years without the flourishing of the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry.

— Williamsport Sun-Gazette



You can't abbreviate Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission without "P.U.," which seems fitting in light of the smelly situation surrounding its recent actions — or, to be more precise — its troubling inaction.

The Harrisburg-based commission has so far steadfastly refused to turn over a document to The Times Leader that, by the commission's own rules, belongs to the public. The paperwork should be accessible to not only this newspaper, but also to you, your neighbors and the growing cadre of newspapers statewide that have followed the path of Times Leader reporter Andrew M. Seder and also filed a formal request to see it.

Even the state's Office of Open Records — the arbiters of disputes involving whether government papers and such can be kept confidential — has ruled the document should not be withheld. The Office reviewed arguments on both sides and last week gave the PUC a 30-day deadline to file an appeal or turn over the sought-after document, which in this case is a letter.

So, what's the letter say?

Only certain people, including the tightfisted folks at the PUC, know for sure. But it's believed the document is an anonymous letter written by a PPL electric utility employee who blew the whistle on some unlawful behavior the company committed during cleanup from a massive October 2011 snowstorm. The nor'easter pounded parts of Pennsylvania and the Northeast, resulting in widespread blackouts.

As its crews feverishly worked to restore power to businesses and homes, including some in Luzerne and neighboring counties, PPL allegedly transferred one of its teams from a high-priority job to a low-priority job — a violation of both its internal guidelines and state law. The Allentown-based utility agreed last month to pay a $60,000 fine to resolve the matter, while admitting no guilt.

As part of the settlement between PPL and the PUC, the regulatory commission foolishly agreed to keep a lid on the "tip letter."

A PUC attorney has argued that the letter's contents offer clues about the whistle blower, and his or her identity should be protected.

We concur. But any revealing words or phrases about the unnamed letter writer, who presumably is protected from retaliation by whistle blower laws, can be redacted while the remaining text is made available for public inspection.

By refusing to comply with that simple fix, it appears the PUC has another, more pressing motive. Perhaps it doesn't want to further embarrass the utility company, the region's largest electric provider. Or maybe it seeks to avoid being part of revealing the electric customer who in the midst of a weather emergency received preferential treatment.

Too bad. Those shouldn't be the PUC's main concerns. It should — according to its own mission statement — "balance the needs of consumers and utilities" and "protect the public interest."

The public has every right to better understand what went wrong during that snowstorm and why the PUC saw fit to settle the case. The longer Pennsylvanians are kept in the dark on this matter, the more the whole thing stinks.

— Times Leader



When plans were first unveiled for Erie Together in late 2009, organizers faced a monumental task: to talk about and then devise workable plans to reduce Erie's high poverty rate.

Judging by the presentations at Erie Together's community forum on Tuesday, people from all walks of life have found specific ways to help Erie's needy with their immediate day-to-day needs and to guide them on a path toward eventual self-sufficiency.

Forum participants heard from the McDowell Senior High School Exposure Club, which donated $1,700 to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, to provide free books to Erie County children from birth to age 5. John Rushe, co-owner of a local insurance agency, talked about educating first-time homebuyers, and Dave Nerthling, owner of Nerthling's Heating & Air Conditioning, talked about installing free furnaces for low-income residents.

You can't get on your feet, work your way out of poverty and become self-sufficient if you are illiterate, hungry or freezing. And if you have a prison record and want to land a job? Good luck even getting an interview.

Paul Gambill, community resource specialist for the U.S. Probation Office's Erie bureau, spoke at the Erie Together Forum about an initiative he developed with the Erie County Adult Probation Office and the Pennsylvania Probation and Parole Office to help ex-offenders find jobs and re-enter society.

A former juvenile counselor at the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Center, Gambill said he often met young people with one or both parents in prison. "They were behind educationally -- way behind," he said. After the parent was released, the youngster would witness an idle parent hanging out on a porch or a street corner, unable to provide for the family because he or she couldn't land a job due to a criminal record.

"What I found is that over time, they just give up," he said. "Now they're applying for benefits ... overburdening our social service agencies. We've got to put people to work, to give them hope. That's where you get your self-esteem, your self-respect."

Gambill said he's been told that just within the city of Erie, about three-quarters of employers won't hire applicants with an arrest record or a criminal conviction. "Do the simple math. We have a huge problem," Gambill said. Conversely, "If we can get offenders working, we're going to have parents who are now going to actually parent their children. We're going to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods and restore productive members back into law-abiding, taxpaying members (of the community)."

Not all ex-offenders will succeed. But many know they made a mistake. They've paid their debt to society. "They are willing to get back into the workforce. They just need a chance," Gambill said.

— Erie Times-News



Coyotes aren't called "wily" for nothing. Their unique survival strategies pretty much render legislative efforts to control them moot.

State Rep. Mike Peifer, R-139, has introduced a bill that would allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission to offer a bounty on coyotes. Peifer, says coyotes have "infested" his district, which includes part of Monroe County. His bill would allow, though not require, the commission to offer hunters a $25 bounty for each coyote killed.

Peifer reported that when he hunted bear last year, his party shot four coyotes. He said constituents have complained about the rising population. The PGC confirms a population explosion; a decade ago there were possibly 20,000 coyotes in Pennsylvania, while last year hunters, who can hunt coyotes year-round, killed twice that many. But the commission also has done some homework, concluding that the bounty system does not work. The PGC website notes that western states offered coyote bounties for decades but did not significantly reduce the coyote population. Apparently, hunters have to kill about 70 percent of the overall population to achieve a long-term decline. Coyotes simply offset smaller population declines by increasing the size of their litters. "No measurable good ever resulted" from PGC predator bounties in the 1990s, the website states. "They truly were a waste of money."

Pennsylvania is a great hunting state with a long tradition of small game and deer seasons. Pennsylvania's public schools even close on the first day of firearm deer season — the Monday after Thanksgiving — to honor that tradition. As to coyotes, the PGC already allows hunting and trapping year-round with no limits. So it's not aversion to hunting that causes the PGC to balk at bounties. Their experts are telling them it doesn't work. Meanwhile, coyotes play an important role in the ecosystem. They are opportunistic carnivores that devour anything from mice to raccoons to small dear. Their diet helps keep rodent and tick populations in check and helps protect species like ducks and songbirds from overpredation by other predators.

Peifer may be trying to satisfy key constituents through his bill, but even if it eventually passes into law, the PGC should opt not to offer the bounty. If hunters want to shoot these clever canines, they can have at them. But their own enthusiasm should drive them. Other hunters whose license fees fuel the PGC budget shouldn't have to pay for others to kill Wile E. Coyote.

— Pocono Record



How bad is Pennsylvania's charter school law? So bad that it required the destitute Philadelphia district to pay $305,000 to a dysfunctional charter that has been shut down. The state Senate may vote this week to replace the 1997 act, but the legislation has flaws that must be corrected.

It's clear that the charters need better oversight. Too many misspend funds and do no better academically than regular schools. Instead of providing oversight, too many local districts get caught up in the competition for students and the public funds that follow the schoolchildren.

Senate Bill 1085 could make the lack of effective oversight worse by allowing colleges and universities to autonomously authorize and operate charters without providing clear incentives for them to cooperate with the local districts that are required to help pay the charters' bills.

Reform is needed, but the legislature must get this right. The new law shouldn't include the current provision that is forcing Philadelphia to shell out $305,000 in tuition payments to the operators of a cyber charter that enrolled students it knew it wasn't authorized to enroll.

Solomon Charter School was authorized only for students in the sixth through 11th grades, but it enrolled 200 elementary students. The district has balked at paying those students' tuition, but current law allows a charter to petition the state for disputed funds, which then deducts that amount from the district's state allocation.

The experience with Solomon is a good example of the need for better oversight. Not only did Solomon enroll ineligible students, but the cyber charter improperly operated as a brick-and-mortar institution, taking up residence in a building that also included a sex-offender clinic.

Solomon suspended operations last month in part because of safety concerns. Officials said they didn't know about the treatment center until a patient informed them. Apparently, the district, though charged with oversight of the charter, wasn't monitoring its location.

In addition to the disputed $305,000, the district says it had previously overpaid Solomon $437,000 for the unauthorized elementary students. Meanwhile, Solomon officials contend the district owes it another $297,000 for the days it operated in October.

The lure of so much money screams for better oversight. Without it, there will be more cases like the one playing out this month in federal court, where charter operator Dorothy June Brown is accused of fraudulently collecting $6.7 million in a scheme that included phantom school board members, faked documents, and insider deals.

Publicly funded charters should be alternatives for students in poorly performing regular schools. But the charters must be better regulated than they are now.

—The Philadelphia Inquirer



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