Weatherization Training Centers Receive $1.5 Million in Grants

Bucks County Community College and the  Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport have received over $1.5 million in ARRA (stimulus bill) funding to train workers in weatherization.  The Department of Energy announced the grants yesterday and hopefully this will lead both to new workers learning this trade and decreased energy costs for Pennsylvanians next winter.  While we’re enjoying the nice warm late spring weather we must plan and prepare for next winter.  Funds for LIHEAP were cut substantially last year and many of our neighbors went cold during the severe winter.  Tax credits are now available for insulation, doors and windows and other techniques to reduce our energy consumption and save lives.

“A well-trained workforce will be a crucial part of America’s clean energy economy in the years ahead,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman. “These investments in efficiency training programs will help build a foundation for long-term growth in America.  Energy efficiency improves the competitiveness of our economy, benefits the environment, and puts Americans back to work.”

Newtown’s $757,000 cost-shared project will bring entry-level workers into the workforce through weatherization training and other green initiatives in nine counties surrounding Philadelphia. The project seeks to train people for jobs in weatherization projects tailored to the unique characteristics of industrial suburbs. This weatherization training program will be offered through a local community college, preparing students with skills and knowledge leading to credentials and greater flexibility in the job market.

The $1.2 million cost-shared project in Williamsport will establish a center to pilot a national weatherization worker certification program, provide training to the region’s weatherization instructors on DOE curricula, provide technical expertise to develop labs for hands-on learning, and create a certification system for applicants from Pennsylvania and two other states. It will also feature an apprenticeship program and computer animation in its curriculum to increase comprehension of the underlying physics and building science concepts.

Using innovative approaches to weatherization training and standardized training curricula, the training projects across the country will help prepare weatherization workers, supervisors, and inspectors to maintain a high degree of quality in weatherization projects and to work in the growing field of energy efficiency retrofits. The centers and programs will offer training using a combination of classroom, online, and hands-on learning tools.

Gas Well Leaks For Hours: BP Comes Home to Pennsylvania

A gas well in Clearfield County spewed out for hours yesterday before it was noticed and repaired.  In the wake of the BP disaster I wrote an article a few days ago warning of the dangers of gas drilling to our waters, aquifers, streams and rivers.  Yesterday’s accident reminds us how real this is literally in our own back yard.  

The natural gas in our Marcellus Shale area is being extracted by forcing water into the wells so the gas comes up.  What is happening far too frequently is that gas is mixing with this water and polluting the ground water making it unusable.  Most rural Pennsylvanians use wells as our supply of water and many municipalities use wells as their source.  The others tap water from our many major rivers.  As gas drilling becomes more and more widespread we MUST regulate the drilling and insure accidents like the one yesterday cease to exist and that all drilling is done in a way which protects our water.  Your property will be worth nothing if you have no access to clean water.

The group “Protecting Our Waters” released this statement last evening:

Beginning at 8 pm on Thursday, June 3, a gas drilling operation in western Pennsylvania spewed a mixture of gas 75 feet into the air along with an estimated million gallons of toxic flowback fluid onto the ground.  The toxic spew continued uncontrolled for 16 hours, resulting in an evacuation of campers from Moshannon State Forest, where the accident occurred, within a one mile radius.  The FAA issued a flight warning for 3 nautical miles, forbidding any flights lower than 1000 feet.  The DEP did not learn of the incident for five hours.  The flowback contains both frack fluid, which includes acids, biocides, carcinogens, mutagens and endocrine disruptors (over 85 toxic substances have been documented by Delaware Riverkeeper Network), and contaminants from deep underground, including concentrated salinity, arsenic, and Radium 226.  The fluid, deadly to fish and wildlife as a well as humans, appeared headed towards Little Laurel Creek.

The incident began one day after the national advocacy group American Rivers designated the Upper Delaware River as the #1 Most Endangered River in the United States in a report released nationwide.  The Monongahela River shares the distinction of being designated as “endangered” due to the threat of gas drilling, according to American Rivers.

More of their statement:

On Wednesday, one day prior to the Clearfield incident, gas industry public relations spokespeople responded to American Rivers’ designation with statements affirming the industry’s long experience and clean record.

“I don’t know how they can conclude that, when hydraulic fracturing has never harmed a drop of drinking water,” said Jim Smith, spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York. “In 60 years of hydraulic fracturing across the country, more than a million wells have been fracked, including 14,000 in New York,” he said in a Times-Leader story by Mary Esch on June 2.

In fact, the Pennsylvania DEP slapped a $240,000 fine on Cabot Oil and Gas for contaminating drinking water in Dimock, PA, this spring.  Cabot was ordered to cap several wells and provide drinking water permanently for fourteen of the affected families, who had been forced to buy their own drinking water for over a year after unconventional gas drilling began.  The DEP action was one of the most punitive in Pennsylvania history.  An entire nine-mile square aquifer remains contaminated by methane migration in Dimock.

“There are hundreds of Dimocks, thousands of Dimocks… what we’re doing here is wrecking town after town; once you contaminate an aquifer, you can’t clean it up,” filmmaker Josh Fox said, speaking at a screening of his documentary, GASLANDS, in Bordentown, New Jersey Thursday evening.  Fox, who lives in the Delaware River watershed, traveled through 32 states documenting gas drilling’s impacts on water quality, air quality, mammal health, and human health.  His film, which won a Sundance jury award, premiers on HBO on June 21st.

Last year, a New York Times series documented hundreds of incidents of water contamination due to gas drilling.  ProPublica and Toxics Targeting have also reported on water contamination incidents.  Because the industry is exempt from major provisions of federal environmental regulations including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Superfund Law, Safe Drinking Water Act, and wastewater treatment laws, the EPA has had difficulty studying the safety of hydraulic fracturing.  The EPA has now launched a new two-year study of hydraulic fracturing, acknowledging that their 2004 study, which only looked at fracturing in shallow, or conventional, formations, was flawed.

The industry claim that “we’ve been fracturing for 60 years” is technically true but clearly designed to obfuscate a more important truth.  Fracturing in unconventional formations such as shale only began in 2002, and only began in earnest after the Halliburton Loophole of 2005 granted the industry multiple exemptions from federal environmental laws.  Compared to conventional drilling, unconventional gas drilling uses about 67 times more water and toxic chemicals, and the flowback waste from deep underground is much more dangerous and difficult to treat.  Unlike conventional brine, flowback contains, in addition to the original toxic fracturing chemicals, arsenic, Radium 226, and is five times saltier than the ocean due to ancient ocean deposits underground.

Because much of the toxic contamination comes from inevitable spills and accidents, creating fish kills and wildlife deaths as well as long-term contamination of streams and wetlands, the industry public relations spokespeople parrot the phrase, “hydraulic fracturing,” to mean the fracturing process itself rather than other aspects including fracking chemicals transportation, mixing, other stages of drilling, flaring, waste storage, flowback reuse, transportation, and disposal.  Aside from direct toxic chemical contamination and methane migration, there are cumulative negative environmental impacts to air, climate, land, and ecosystems as a whole.

The industry’s success in winning exemptions, delaying studies, and ensuring that permits are expedited at breakneck speed in Pennsylvania has puzzled some.   Common Cause released a study, “Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets,” on May 11, 2010, elaborating on the campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.  The report sheds light on the industry’s sheer might.

“This industry has an enormous financial incentive to exaggerate their confidence, minimize risk, and provide unrealistic assurances to the public,” commented Brady Russell, at a press conference in Philadelphia Wednesday regarding the “#1 Most Endangered designation of the Upper Delaware River.  Russell, Director of Clean Water Action’s southeastern Pennsylvania office, gave an anecdote of receiving a public rebuttal from a Chesapeake Energy spokesperson who said that Russel’s account of the 17 cows who died in Louisiana after drinking fracking fluid was wrong.  “That wasn’t fracking fluid, that was ethylene glycol,” the Chesapeake Energy spokesman claimed.

Brady Russell, being a fact-checker, went back and did his research.  Official Louisiana state documents showed that the cows died, bellowing and bleeding from the mouth, after drinking fracking fluid.

In Pennsylvania, farmers in Clearville and Hickory have reported losing over 100 head of cattle due to drilling operations (Weekly Press, April 2010: “Shale Shame.”  Out  West, veterinarians and ranchers report losses of goats, and mares have difficulty reproducing due to the endocrine disrupting impacts from gas drilling (Amy Mall, NRDC columnist; GASLANDS footage).  In Dimock, Norma Fiorentino reported that local wildlife disappeared after drilling started.  “They’ve all left, rabbits, deer, they’re all gone from here now,” she told a reporter last month, on May 15th.

More:

“Unacceptable Risk”:  Philadelphia Leaders Respond to Designation of Upper Delaware River as Most Endangered in U.S.

Councilwoman to DRBC: Cease Construction on Exploratory Wells; Deny Water Withdrawal, Drilling Permits

The Upper Delaware River, the drinking water source for 17 million people across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is at risk from shale fracking for natural gas, a process that poisons groundwater and creates toxic pollution.  This threat landed the Upper Delaware in the number one spot in America’s Most Endangered Rivers 2010, a report released Wednesday, June 2, by the national nonprofit group American Rivers.

In Philadelphia on Wednesday, American Rivers spokesperson Liz Garland opened a press conference at City Hall, “In shining the spotlight on gas drilling in the Upper Delaware River, we chose a time when preventive action is still possible.  The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is making major decisions right now which will affect the fate of this river, and the people who drink this water have a chance to weigh in on that decision.”

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, said, “The Delaware River is the longest free flowing river east of the Mississippi, much of it designated Wild and Scenic.  Many, many people have worked and billions of dollars have been spent to bring the Delaware back to life after decades of abuse.  As we face the advent of gas drilling in the Upper Delaware River Watershed, we face the possibility of losing everything.”

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who introduced a successful resolution earlier this spring calling on the DRBC to ban shale gas drilling until an Environmental Impact Statement is assessed for the Delaware River Watershed, drew parallels to the Gulf disaster. “The BP rig which blew up was an exploratory well.  It had special exemptions.  We have to learn something from this.  The DRBC is exempting exploratory wells right here in our watershed, which supplies our drinking water.  The have to stop letting companies drill without a DRBC permit, and they should deny the Stone Energy water withdrawal permit, and all drilling-related permits, until we have the Environmental Impact Statement.  We don’t need a disaster here.”

Albert Appleton, former Commissioner of New York City Department of Environmental Protection, asserted, “If the true environmental costs, including construction, extraction, and cleanup, were included in the cost of drilling, this fossil fuel would be unaffordable and drilling impractical.  This is not something we need, and it’s not something we want.  This stuff is not clean-burning at all.  This is not green, and if it goes forward, it will make it even harder to get to the green energy economy.  We can build that economy right now.  We are being asked to risk our clean water, environment, and public health, and for what?”

“If the Delaware River Basin Commission does not carry out its mandate to protect the waters of the Delaware River, New York and Pennsylvania will have an economic, social, and public health disaster of unprecedented dimension,” Appleton concluded.

and more:

Casey, Sestak, and more:  Federal, State and Local Voices for Clean Water

Senator Bob Casey, co-sponsor of the FRAC Act, a bill which would restore the Safe Drinking Water Act and require drilling companies to disclose exactly which chemicals they are using and injecting underground to fracture the shale, releasing natural gas, sent a representative, Kurt Imhof, to the Philadelphia press conference Wednesday.

Congressman Joe Sestak also issued a statement, which read in part:

“I would first like to commend the work of American Rivers, Protecting Our Waters, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability for their efforts to educate the public on this important issue.  The Commonwealth is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. We should never have to sacrifice our health and safety, clean air and water, natural lands, and communities to companies seeking access to our natural wealth. I applaud efforts, such as this, to bring to light the very real risks of underregulated development.  I am not convinced we currently have strong enough environmental, health, and property safeguards — and I am not satisfied that people will have the access to just compensation should even the best safeguards fail.”

“Let’s wait til the studies are in,” concluded speaker after speaker, responding to the American Rivers designation Wednesday.  State Representative Gregory S. Vitali, Philadelphia Water Department Director of Watersheds Howard Neukrug, Cliff Westfall of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Jim Black of Clean Air Council, and Robert J. Ryan, Ph.D, P.E., of Temple University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, also joined the impressive tapestry of voices.

After elected representative, officials, and professional environmentalists concluded their remarks, community leaders had their say.

“As we know from the coal mine and Gulf disasters, accidents happen, particularly when short cuts are taken to increase profits, and those accidents will endanger Philadelphia’s drinking water,” commented Gerry Kaufman, a spokesman for Protecting Our Waters.

“This industry’s behavior reminds me an awful lot of Big Tobacco.  For all those years, they publicly claimed there was no harm from cigarette smoking, even while they actively suppressed studies which demonstrated that harm,” commented Philadelphia labor leader Tom Paine Cronin.

Dennis Mulligan, a lawyer, commented, “BP said the environmental damage in the Gulf of Mexico would be ‘very, very modest,’ and the gas companies are giving us the same empty assurances.  We don’t want bottled water advisories telling us we might not want to drink our tap water, as already happened in Pittsburgh due to Marcellus Shale waste.”  Mulligan lives near the Delaware River in New Jersey and directs an agency serving immigrants and refugees in Philadelphia. “I count on clean Delaware River water in both states,” he said.

Reverend Jesse Brown, a longtime public health advocate, emphasized, “This gas drilling presents an unacceptable risk to public health, and it also puts us on exactly the wrong road: extracting even more fossil fuel instead of investing in renewable energy.”

News & Notes June 4, 2010

Between a short week and two Board meetings I haven’t had time to catch up so we’ll see about this morning.  Things are a bit slow this time of year any way with the lull after the primary and before the fall campaigns launch.

Democratic county parties will be electing leaders soon and then State Committee meets June 18-19 to elect a new Chair.  Traditionally the nominee for Governor gets his choice and the State Chair reports to him/her.  TJ Rooney was Ed Rendell’s guy and did the Governor’s bidding.  Dan Onorato is selecting Allegheny County Chair Jim Burns and Bob Brady has already lined Philadelphia County behind that selection.  Expect a reform minded challenge to Burns at the meeting.  Some Democrats, especially in western Pennsylvania which just saw a rigged selection process in the 12th CD, are fed up with the back room politics as usual and will attempt to elect someone else.

The fallout from news the Obama White House offered positions to two Senate primary challengers isn’t really news and there’s nothing wrong with it, these things happen all the time with both parties.  Some Republicans are still trying to make hay out of the Sestak offer but as they say in Pennsyltucky that dog won’t hunt.  What has people disapppointed is that Barack Obama promised to change how things were done but is doing the same old things.  I think I recall criticizing him for pandering to the voters that way.

BP continues trying to cap its gushing oil well and some experts say it might be December until the pollution is stopped.

Is it a requirement that to be a Republican you have to be stupid?  I suppose, at the least, it helps.  A South Carolinian Senator called President Obama a “raghead.”  Too many of the folks are stupid, ignorant racists but then, this is South Carolina.  

In New Mexico the successor to Bill Richardson will become the Land of Enchantment’s first woman Governor.  Both Parties have nominated women.

A recent poll has Congressman Joe “He’s the” Pitts ahead of challenger Lois Herr by only 9 points in a heavily GOP Congressional District.  Why is Pitts still running when he promised to abide by self imposed term limits when he first ran?  Is Joe Pitts a liar?

Israel claimed its military commandos were acting in self defense when they attacked six relief ships and killed ten humanitarian workers on the high seas this week.  How is it attackers can act in self defense?  Isn’t that reserved for those being attacked?

The Phillies continue in a bad funk where they can’t hit and score runs.  In light of the umpiring fiasco the other night where a Detroit pitcher was deprived of a perfect game the Phils will go to Detroit so Mr. Gallaragga can throw another one.  The only way a Phillies pitcher can win these days is by throwing a perfect game.

The Supreme Court gutted our rights again this week by watering down Miranda rights.  Why are conservatives so caught up in preserving the constitution then gutting its rights?  I’m thinking the only parts they like are the Second and Tenth Amendments because they are doing all they can to ignore the rest of the document.  This reminds me of their actions with the Bible also:  they are very selective about the parts they like and ignore the rest.  I say we begin executing all brides who aren’t virgins.  Has it occurred to Pat Robertson yet that the BP oil spill was god’s way of preventing sinners from eating shellfish?

AT&T (my Blackberry service provider) is changing its data plan to charge more to those who use lots of data.  Don’t you actually have to be able to use your phone that way to use lots of data?  Mine hardly works anywhere except for voice and SMS.  After having one break down a few months ago and not work at all the replacement is now doing the same thing (trackball won’t work).  If this is their idea of customer service these companies need more competition.

Protests around the state are calling on Tom Corbett to resign.  The AG has been making a sham out of his office by wasting tax dollars trying to make himself look good to the voters.  Wasting tax dollars in a tight economy is no way to convince Pennsylvanians you should be the next Governor.

Severance Tax Delay Costs Pennsylvania

( – promoted by John Morgan)

By not having a natural gas severance tax, Pennsylvania has lost more than $54 million since last October that could have funded vital state services including education and health care, as well as drilling-related environmental and local costs.

And that number is growing every day, as more energy companies flock to Pennsylvania to tap into the rich gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale.

Today, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center introduced an online Severance Tax Ticker, providing a real-time estimate of the total revenue lost by the Commonwealth since October 1, 2009 by not having a severance tax in place.

View the online Severance Tax Ticker

View the methodology used to create the Ticker.

Access additional severance tax resources from PBPC.

Every hour, the natural gas industry gets an $11,000 tax break because Pennsylvania does not have a severance tax.

Pennsylvania is one of the only energy-producing states in the nation without a severance tax. Across the country, 96% of natural gas is produced in states that have severance taxes. Severance taxes provide a stable source of revenue in many energy-producing states for critical services like education and health care. In 2010, Montana and North Dakota were among the only states to avoid budget shortfalls thanks in large part to energy taxes, including severance taxes.

While some policymakers in Pennsylvania worry about the impact of a severance tax, studies in Wyoming, Utah and other states have shown that tax rates have little effect on natural gas production. Rather, drilling decisions are made based on the location of reserves and the expected price of natural gas.

In Pennsylvania, the $54 million in uncollected severance tax revenue to date could be used to prevent cuts to education, hospitals and services for people affected by the recession,  as well as for the environmental and local costs of increased drilling.

In the 2009-10 budget, environmental protection and conservation were cut by $79 million. Some of the severance tax revenue could have offset cuts to state parks, environmental management and clean water programs.

A severance tax also could offset public safety costs and road repair in heavy drilling parts of the Commonwealth. State officials have documented road damage in Bradford and Tioga counties caused by drilling-related truck traffic. State police officials have shown increased policing costs due to the influx of out-of-state drilling crews. Local police are also having trouble with enforcing truck weight limits.

Rather than drillers paying for the services they use, we are. It’s time to end this tax break for a profitable industry.

The ticker can be embedded on outside web sites by copying and pasting the “Embed Code” from the upper-right-hand corner of the ticker.

President Obama Speaks at CMU

The President visited Pittsburgh today to give a prepared speech on economic policy at Carnegie Mellon University.  Seeing as the event was five hours away and I have Democratic Talk Radio tomorrow morning I wasn’t able to attend.  Here are the President’s remarks:

Remarks of President Barack Obama

Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Good afternoon.  It’s great to be back at Carnegie Mellon, and in the beautiful city of Pittsburgh.  I love visiting a good sports town.  Last year, I stole Dan Rooney to serve as my ambassador to Ireland.  But to make it up to you, I invited both the Steelers and the Penguins to the White House to celebrate their championships.  And seeing as how the Blackhawks are headed to Philly tonight with a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals, let’s just say I’m glad to be on this side of the state today.

Of course, we meet here at an incredibly difficult time for America – among other things, it’s a time when the worst environmental disaster of its kind in our nation’s history is threatening the Gulf Coast and the people who live there.  Right now, stopping this oil spill and containing its damage must be the top priority of my Administration, and we are waging this battle every minute of every day.

But at the same time, we are continuing our efforts to recover and rebuild from an economic disaster that has touched the lives of nearly every American.  And that’s what I want to talk about today – the state of our economy, the future we must seize, and the path we choose to get there.

It has now been a little over sixteen months since I took office amid one of the worst economic storms in our history.  And to navigate that storm, my administration was forced to take some dramatic and unpopular steps.

Those steps have succeeded in breaking the freefall.  We are again moving in the right direction.  An economy that was shrinking at an alarming rate when I became President has now been growing for three consecutive quarters.  After losing an average of 750,000 jobs a month during the winter of last year, we have now added jobs for five of the last six months, and we expect to see strong job growth in Friday’s report.  The taxpayer money it cost to shore up the financial sector and the auto industry is being repaid, and both GM and Chrysler are adding shifts and operating at a profit.  Despite temporary setbacks, uncertain world events, and the resulting ups and downs of the market, this economy is getting stronger by the day.

 

Of course, none of this means that the recession is over for the millions of Americans who are still looking for a job or a way to pay the bills.  Not by a long shot.  The devastation created by the deepest downturn since the Great Depression has hit people and communities across our country hard.  And it will not be a real recovery until people can feel it in their own lives.

In the immediate future, this means doing whatever is necessary to keep the recovery going and spur job growth.  But in the long-term, it means recognizing that for many middle-class families, a sense of economic security has been missing since long before this recession began.  Over the last decade, these families saw their income decline.  They saw the cost of things like health care and college tuition reach record highs.  They lived through a so-called economic “expansion” that generated slower job growth than any prior expansion since World War II.  No wonder some have called the last ten years “the lost decade.”

So the anxiety that’s out there today isn’t new.  The recession has certainly made it worse, but that feeling of not being in control of your own economic future – that sense that the American Dream is slowly slipping away – that’s been around for some time.

For better or worse, our generation of Americans has been buffeted by tremendous forces of economic change.  Long gone are the days when a high school diploma could guarantee a job at the local factory – not when so many of those factories have moved overseas.  Pittsburgh, a city that was once defined by the steel industry, knows this better than many.  And today, the ability of jobs and entire industries to relocate wherever there’s skilled workers and an internet connection has forced America to compete like never before.

From China to India to Europe, other nations have already realized this.  They’re putting a greater emphasis on math and science, and demanding more from their students.  Some countries are building high-speed railroads and expanding broadband access.  They’re making serious investments in technology and clean energy because they want to win the competition for those jobs.

So we cannot afford to stand pat while the world races by.  The United States of America did not become the most prosperous nation on Earth by sheer luck or happenstance.  We got here because each time a generation of Americans has faced a changing world, we have changed with it.  We have not feared our future, we have shaped it.

America does not stand still.  We move forward.  That is why I’ve said that as we emerge from this recession, we cannot return to the pre-crisis status quo.  We cannot go back to an economy that was too dependent on bubbles and debt and financial speculation.  We cannot accept economic growth that leaves the middle-class owing more and making less.  We must build a new, stronger foundation for growth and prosperity – and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the last sixteen months.  

It’s a foundation based on investments in our people and their future.  Investments in the skills and education we need to compete.  Investments in a 21st century infrastructure for America – from high-speed railroads to high-speed internet.  Investments in research and technology, like clean energy, that can lead to new jobs and new exports and new industries.

This new foundation is also based on reforms that will make our economy stronger and our businesses more competitive – reforms that will make health care cheaper, our financial system more secure, and our government less burdened with debt.

In a global economy, we cannot pursue this agenda in a vacuum.  At the height of the financial crisis, the coordinated action we took with the nations of the G20 prevented a global depression and helped restore worldwide growth.  And as we have recently witnessed in Europe, economic difficulties in one part of the world can affect everyone else.   That’s why we must keep working with the nations of the G20 to pursue more balanced growth.  It’s why we need to coordinate financial reform with other nations so that we avoid a global race to the bottom.  It’s why we need to open new markets and meet the goal of my National Export Initiative:  to double our exports over the next five years.  And it’s why we need to ensure that our competitors play fair and our agreements are enforced.  This too is part of building a new foundation.

Now, some of you may have noticed that we have been building this foundation without much help from our friends in the other party.  From our efforts to rescue the economy to health insurance reform to financial reform, most have sat on the sidelines and shouted from the bleachers.  They said no to tax cuts for small businesses; no to tax credits for college tuition; no to investments in clean energy.  They said no to protecting patients from insurance companies and consumers from big banks.

Some of this, of course, is just politics.  Before I was even inaugurated, the congressional leaders of the other party got together and made a calculation that if I failed, they’d win.  So when I went to meet with them about the need for a Recovery Act, they announced they were against it before I even arrived at the Capitol.  Before we even had a health care bill, a Republican Senator actually said, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo.  It will break him.”  So those weren’t hopeful signs.      

But to be fair, a good deal of the other party’s opposition to our agenda has also been rooted in their sincere and fundamental belief about government.  It’s a belief that government has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges.  It’s an agenda that basically offers two answers to every problem we face:  more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer rules for corporations.

The last administration called this recycled idea “The Ownership Society.”  But what it essentially means is that everyone is on their own.  If no matter how hard you work, your paycheck isn’t enough to pay for college or health care or child care, you’re on your own.  If misfortune causes you to lose your job or your home, you’re on your own.  And if you’re a Wall Street Bank or an insurance company or an oil company – you pretty much get to play by your own rules, regardless of the consequences for everyone else.

Now, I’ve never believed that government has all the answers.  Government cannot and should not replace businesses as the true engine of growth and job creation.  Government cannot instill good values and a sense of responsibility in our children like a parent can.  Too much government can deprive us of choice and burden us with debt.  Poorly designed regulations can choke off competition and the capital businesses need to thrive.

I understand this argument.  After all, one-third of the Recovery Act we designed was made up of tax cuts for families and small businesses.  Despite calls for a single-payer, government-run health care plan, we passed reform that maintains our system of private health insurance.

But I also understand that throughout our nation’s history, we have balanced the threat of overreaching government with the dangers of unfettered markets.  We’ve provided a basic safety net – because any one of us might experience hardship at some time in our lives, and may need some help getting back on our feet.  And we have recognized that there have been times when only government has been able to do what individuals couldn’t do and corporations wouldn’t do.  That’s how we have railroads and highways; public schools and police forces.  That’s how we’ve made possible scientific research that’s led to medical breakthroughs like the vaccine for hepatitis B and technological wonders like GPS.  That’s how we have Social Security, a minimum wage, and laws to protect the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.  That’s how we have rules to ensure that mines are safe and that oil companies pay for the spills they cause.    

There have always been those who’ve said no to such protections and investments.  There were accusations that Social Security would lead to socialism, and that Medicare was a government takeover.  There were bankers who claimed the creation of federal deposit insurance would destroy the industry, and automakers who argued that installing seat belts was unnecessary and unaffordable.  There were skeptics who thought the cleaning of our water and our air would bankrupt our economy.  

All of these claims proved false.  And all of these reforms led to greater security and prosperity for our people and our economy.

What was true then is true today.  As November approaches, leaders in the other party will campaign furiously on the same economic argument they’ve been making for decades.  Fortunately, we don’t have to look back too many years to see how it turns out.  For much of the last ten years, we tried it their way.  They gave tax cuts that weren’t paid for to millionaires who didn’t need them.  They gutted regulations, and put industry insiders in charge of industry oversight.  They shortchanged investments in clean energy and education; in research and technology.  And despite all their current moralizing about the need to curb spending, this is the same crowd who took the record $237 billion surplus that President Clinton left them and turned it into a record $1.3 trillion deficit.  

So we already know where their ideas led us.  And now we have a choice as a nation.  We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future.  We can go backward, or we can keep moving forward.

I don’t know about you, but I want to move forward.

Now, the first step in building a new foundation has been to address the costs and risks that have made our economy less competitive – outdated regulations, crushing health care costs, and a growing debt.

To start with, we cannot compete as a nation if the irresponsibility of a few Wall Street bankers and executives can bring our entire economy to its knees.  That’s why we’re on the verge of passing the most sweeping financial reform since the Great Depression.  It’s reform that will help prevent another AIG.  It will end taxpayer-funded bank bailouts.  And it contains the strongest consumer protections in history – protections that will empower Americans with the clear and concise information they need before signing up for a credit card or taking out a mortgage.

Financial reform will not guard against every instance of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street, but it will enshrine a new principle in our financial system:  from now on, instead of competing to see who can come up with the cleverest scheme to make the quickest buck, financial institutions will compete to see who can make the better product and the better service.  That’s a competition that benefits Wall Street and Main Street.  And it’s why we cannot afford to go back.  We must move forward.  

We also know we can’t compete in a global economy if our citizens are forced to spend more and more of their income on medical bills; if our businesses are forced to choose between health care and hiring; if state and federal budgets are weighed down with skyrocketing health care costs.

That’s why we finally passed health insurance reform.  Now, let’s be clear – costs will not come down overnight because health care passed, and in an ever-changing industry like health care, we will continuously need more cost-cutting measures as the years go by.

But once this reform is in full effect, middle-class families will pay less for their health care, and the worst practices of the insurance companies will end.  People with pre-existing medical conditions will no longer be excluded from coverage.  People who become seriously ill will no longer be thrown off their coverage for reasons contrived by their insurance companies.  Taxpayers will no longer have to pay – in the form of higher premiums – for trips to the ER by uninsured Americans.  Businesses will get help with their health care costs – in fact, small businesses are already learning they’re eligible for tax credits to cover their workers.  And with less waste and greater efficiency in the system, this reform will do more to bring down the deficit than any step we’ve taken in more than a decade.

The other party has staked their claim this November on repealing these health insurance reforms instead of making them work.  They want to go back.  I say we move forward.

Making health care more cost efficient is critical, because it’s also true that we cannot be competitive as a nation if we remain dragged down by our growing debt.

By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade.  Most of this was the result of not paying for two major tax cuts skewed to the wealthy and a worthy but expensive prescription drug program.  And I always find it interesting that the same people who participated in these decisions are the ones who now charge our administration with fiscal irresponsibility.

The truth is, if I had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficits they created.  But we took office amid a crisis, and the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget before I even walked in the door.  Additionally, the steps we took to save the economy from depression temporarily added more to the deficit – and if we had spiraled into a depression, our deficits and debt levels would be far worse.  

Now, the economy is still fragile, so we cannot put on the brakes too quickly.  We have to do what it takes to ensure a strong recovery.  A growing economy will unquestionably improve our fiscal health, as will the steps we take in the short-term to put Americans back to work.  

That’s why I signed a bill that will provide tax cuts for small businesses that hire unemployed workers, and why I’ve urged Congress to pass a Small Business Lending Fund, so that small businesses can get the credit they need to create jobs and grow.  I also believe it’s critical that we extend unemployment insurance for several more months, so that Americans who’ve been laid off through no fault of their own get the support they need to provide for their families and can maintain their health insurance until they’re rehired.  And we’re working to give state and local governments the resources they need to prevent the likely layoff of hundreds of thousands of public school teachers over the next few months.

But as we look ahead, we cannot lose sight of the urgent need to get our fiscal house in order. And I believe there are four key components to putting our budget on a sustainable path.  Maintaining economic growth is the first, and health care reform is the second.

The third component is the belt-tightening steps I’ve outlined to reduce our deficit by $1 trillion.  Starting in 2011, we will enact a three-year freeze on all discretionary spending outside of national security – something that was never enacted in the last administration.  We will allow the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire.  We have gone through the budget, line by line, and identified more than 120 programs for elimination.  We have restored a simple budgeting rule that every family and business understands: Pay-as-you-go.  And we will charge the largest Wall Street firms a fee to repay the American people for rescuing them during the financial crisis – a fee that will bring down the deficit by $90 billion over the next decade.  This is only one-eighth of the amount these banks will pay out in bonuses over the same time period.

Finally, the fourth component in improving our fiscal health is the bipartisan Fiscal Commission I’ve established that will provide a specific set of solutions by fall to deal with our medium and long-term deficit.  This won’t be easy.  I know that some like to make the argument that if only we eliminated pork and foreign aid, we could eliminate our deficit.  But such spending makes up just three percent of our deficit.  Three percent.  So meeting this challenge will require some very difficult decisions about the largely popular programs that make up the other 97%.

It means we’ll have to sort through our priorities and figure out what programs that we can do without.  On this point I strongly agree with my friends in the other party.  What I don’t agree with is the notion that we should also sacrifice critical investments in our people and our future.  If you’re a family who’s tightening your belt, you may sacrifice going out to dinner, but not saving for your child’s college education.  It is precisely our investments in education and innovation that will make America more competitive in the 21st century.  We cannot go back.  We must move forward.  

That’s why I’ve made education reform a top priority – because countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.  And so we want every citizen to have the skills and training they need in a global economy – from the day you’re born through whatever career you may choose.

Last year, we launched a national competition to improve our schools based on a simple idea:  instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans.  And to achieve my goal of ensuring America once more has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, we passed a law that will make college more affordable by ending the unnecessary taxpayer-subsidies that go to financial institutions for student loans.  It’s a bill that will also revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families.

In addition to training our workers for the jobs of the future, we’re also investing in the innovation that will create those jobs in America – the research, technology, and infrastructure that will secure our economic future.

Right now, the Recovery Act is putting Americans to work building a 21st century America – because there’s no reason that China should have the fastest trains or that rural Pennsylvania should be without high-speed internet access.  From the first railroads to the interstate highway system, this nation has always been built to compete.  So we’re investing in new infrastructure – expanded broadband, health information technology, advanced manufacturing facilities, and America’s first high-speed rail network.

We’re also investing in the ideas and technologies that will lead to new jobs and entire new industries.  Consider what we’ve done with clean energy.  The tax credits and loan guarantees in the Recovery Act alone will lead to 720,000 clean energy jobs in America by 2012.  To take just one example, the United States used to make less than 2% of the world’s advanced batteries for hybrid cars.  By 2015, we’ll have enough capacity to make up to 40% of these batteries.  

And this brings me to an issue that’s on everyone’s mind right now – namely, what kind of energy future can insure our long-term prosperity.

The catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf right now may prove to be a result of human error – or of corporations taking dangerous short-cuts that compromised safety, or a combination of both.  And I’ve launched a National Commission so that the American people will have answers on exactly what happened.

But we have to also acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth – risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes.  Just like we have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and grandchildren.

We consume more than 20% of the world’s oil, but have less than 2% of the world’s oil reserves.  So without a major change in our energy policy, our dependence on oil means that we will continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned wealth to other countries every month – including countries in dangerous and unstable regions.  In other words, our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security.  It will smother our planet.  And it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk.

Now, I understand that we cannot end our dependence on fossil fuels overnight.  That’s why I’ve supported offshore oil production as one part of our overall energy strategy.  But we can pursue such production only if it’s safe; and only if it’s used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy.

The time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition.  The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future.  That means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy efficient.  It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants.  And it means rolling back billions of dollars in tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development.  

But the only way the transition to clean energy will succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future – if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed.  And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.  

Many businesses have already embraced this idea because it provides a level of certainty about the future.  And for those that face transition costs, we can help them adjust.  But if we refuse to take into account the full cost of our fossil fuel addiction – if we don’t factor in the environmental costs and national security costs and true economic costs – we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future.

The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill, and there is currently a plan in the Senate – a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans – that would achieve the same goals.  The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.  I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can, and I will work with anyone from either party to get this done.  But we will get this done.  The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century.  We will not move backwards.  America will move forward.

This overarching principle – that we must invest in, and embrace, the innovation and technology of the future and not the past – applies beyond our energy policy.  That’s why we’ve decided to devote more than three percent of our GDP to research and development – to spur the discovery of services, products, and businesses we have yet to imagine.  We’ve also proposed making the research and experimentation tax credit permanent – a tax credit that helps businesses afford the high costs of developing new technologies and new products.  And last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history.

The possibilities of where this research might lead us are endless.  Imagine a new treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched, or regenerative medicine that ends the agonizing wait for an organ transplant.  Imagine a lightweight vest for soldiers and police officers that can stop armor-piercing bullets, or educational software that’s as effective and engaging as a personal tutor, or intelligent prosthetics that can enable a wounded veteran to play piano again.  And now imagine all the workers and small business owners and consumers who would benefit from these discoveries.

We can’t know for certain what the future will bring.  We can’t guess with one hundred percent accuracy what industries and innovations will next shape our world.   I’m sure there were times when this city couldn’t imagine life without steel mills and the heavy smog that filled these streets.  And when that industry shrank and so many jobs were lost, who could’ve guessed that Pittsburgh would fare better than many other Rust Belt cities, and reemerge as a center for technology, green jobs, health care, and education?  Who would’ve thought that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s logo would one day adorn the U.S. Steel Tower, or that this institute of higher education would be the region’s largest employer?

All of this came to be because as a community, you prepared and adapted and invested in a better future – even if you weren’t sure of what that future would look like.

That’s what America does.  That’s what we’ve always done.  The interests of the status quo will always have the most vocal and powerful defenders.  There will always be lobbyists for the bank or the insurance industry that doesn’t want more regulation; or the corporation that would prefer to see more tax breaks instead of more investments in infrastructure or education.  And let’s face it – a lot of us find the prospect of change scary, even when we know the status quo isn’t working for us.

But there’s no natural lobby for the clean energy company that may start a few years from now; or the research that may lead to a life-saving medical breakthrough; or the student who may not be able to afford a college education.

It’s our job as a nation to advocate on behalf of the America we hope for – to make decisions that will benefit the next generation.  Even if it’s not always popular.  Even if we can’t always see those benefits in the short-term.  We make decisions like this on behalf of our own children every day.  And while it’s harder to do with an entire country as large and diverse as ours, it’s no less important.

The role of government has never been to plan every detail or dictate every outcome.  At its best, government has simply knocked away barriers to opportunity and laid the foundation for a better future.  Our people – with all their drive and ingenuity – always end up building the rest.  If we can do that again – if we can continue building that foundation and making those hard decisions on behalf of the next generation, I have no doubt that we will leave our children the America we hope for.  Thank you.

 

Gas Extraction Threatens Pennsylvania Waterways, Aquifers

Environmental groups dedicated to preserving our rivers and streams held press conferences at both the head of the Delaware River (Narrowsburg, NY) and near the foot (Philadelphia) to draw attention to the threat posed by gas extraction drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region.  The area covers much of our Commonwealth and natural gas drilling could conceivably make us the Texas of natural gas extraction.  The threats are real as underground aquifers upstate are already contaminated by substances forced into the gas wells to bring the gas to the surface.

Our readers know I’m an avid kayaker who enjoys getting outdoors on our rivers and lakes, especially the Delaware River.  I also enjoy having clean, clear, healthy water.  Our environment also supports all wildlife on which we depend for our existence.  No species survives on this orb alone, we all need one another in a clean, healthy, vibrant ecosystem.  Polluting our oceans, lakes, streams, rivers and bays threatens our way of life and our existence.  What we’re presently witnessing with the BP fiasco could happen on a smaller but equally lethal scale here.

As we begin allowing gas extraction throughout the Marcellus Shale region we must enact tough laws governing its removal, transportation and insure the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has the authority, means and will to enforce laws protecting our environment.  In the past DEP has been a joke.  Those willfully breaking laws were given slaps on the wrist if anything and this must change.  The legislature must enact strict oversight laws and regulations on the energy companies pouring into our beautiful state and must pass taxes on their operations so as to finance DEP so they can adequately monitor and enforce our laws.  DEP must be completely overhauled and made a non political department so no Governor can opt to simply ignore and refuse to enforce laws and regulations as George W. Bush did as president.  

DEP’s budget was cut last year in the face of a tough environment for revenues but not as tough as our actual environment might become if we do not provide it with adequate resources to do its job protecting us.  DEP must become a hard edged organization where violators are not tolerated and polluters not coddled.  This will be a major transformation of DEp and might require dismantling an agency whose culture is broken and replacing it with something new.

If you drink water, use it for cooking, cleaning, recreation and a million other uses then this issue affects you and your family.  We must not allow Pennsylvania to be held hostage to polluting energy companies as we now have in the Gulf region.  The time to act is now.

Sarah Palin Needs To Act Like An Adult (along with the Media)

by Stephen Crockett

I know this will be very difficult for Sarah Palin but she really needs to start acting like an adult instead of a spoiled, hateful child. The media needs to stop enabling her very public temper tantrums!

A writer moves in next door to her Alaskan home and Palin loses it. She riles up her very nasty national following and thousands of hate emails along with a number of death threats follow. The national media largely sided with Palin.  The writer is the good guy here not Palin.

As a writer myself, I think it is a very good idea to move next door to any subject of a book you might be writing. You get a real feel for the community where the public figure lives, maybe meet people who know them, learn personal stories and understand the values shaping the person. It is responsible journalism of the highest standard.

Palin’s reaction was extreme and shows clearly why she should never hold high public office. It makes an objective observer wonder what skeletons in her closet she is trying to cover-up. Why is Palin so insecure? Why does Palin think she has the right to select her neighbors? None of the rest of us get to decide who lives in the private property of other people. Does Palin not respect private property rights of others?

Why does Palin think she has the right to intimidate writers and journalists? I realize she is not the brightest bulb in politics but she is a public figure by choice. She ran for Vice President of the United States and has a national cable talk show on Fox News. She is certainly a natural and reasonable subject for a book. As a public figure, she has no right to control what an author writes about her.

Palin’s attempt to intimidate the book author should be condemned by every journalist. However, the media has always been very soft of Palin in my opinion because they do not want to be publicly attacked by her. She has a following that is the nastiest and craziest in American politics.

They first showed up during the 2008 elections at Palin rallies around the nation, shouting some of the vilest things ever in modern American political settings. With the backing of Fox News, they formed the radical core of the Tea Party Movement . They started showing up with guns and Palin never condemned the blatant attempts at physical intimidation of political opponents.

Palin has taken herself and her followers outside the political mainstream of American politics. She does not seem to want writers to look deeply into her life or her following. Considering what a force for darkness and evil in American politics she represents, I understand her desire. What this writer does not understand is why the national media seems to helping her conceal the truth about the political movement she leads.

It is time to stand firmly against the growing political extremism of the Far Right in America. Make no mistake about it. Sarah Palin is not a mainstream politician and is most prominent Far Right leader in America. She is more like Lester Maddox than like Ronald Reagan. Of course, she does not want any writers getting close to her roots in radical Right Alaskan politics and she may have personal scandals she wants concealed.

However, she has no right as a public figure to get her wishes on these matters. It is not unseemly for a writer to get to know the subject of their book even when the subject wants to conceal things. Palin always misuses her family to advance her career and conceal her darker side. Journalists should condemn this pattern instead of condemning their colleagues for doing their job.

Writers should not be getting harassed by Palin’s followers. Death threats have no place in American politics. While saying something is Nazi-like in American politics is usually uncalled for but death threats are Nazi-like. Palin needs to apologize for her actions and statements. She needs to condemn intimidation and death threats from her followers.

Written by Stephen Crockett (Host of Democratic Talk Radio http://www.DemocraticTalkRadio… . Mail: 698 Old Baltimore Pike, Newark, Delaware 19702. Email: demlabor@aol.com.  

News & Notes June 1, 2010

I apologize for the delay in writing today.  I had a Planned Parenthood PA PAC Board meeting so I was preparing for that part of this morning.  Thursday evening I have a Planned Parenthood Advocates of Northeast PA Board meeting so please bear with me as an already short week proceeds.

BP’s attempt to cap their runaway gusher in the Gulf failed.  What can be done to end this disaster is a great question and one which should have been answered before drilling ever began.  I saw a protester on TV recite a little ditty:  drill baby, drill, spill baby spill, kill baby kill.  That sort of wraps it up doesn’t it?

One of those bills George W. Bush passed with little fanfare during his reign empowers the President to declare martial law in the case of a national crisis.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if something Republicans buried in the Defense Appropriations Act of 2007 comes back to haunt them.  President Obama could, conceivably, invoke that clause during this Gulf crisis.  Of course he wouldn’t but there are legal provisions where he could seize BP America and have the government completely take over the operation.  It couldn’t be worse could it?  I’m still in favor of the death penalty for BP.  Since the Supreme Court says corporations are persons lets kill this company once and for all.

Congressman Mark Kirk, the GOP candidate for Barack Obama’s Senate seat got caught being a closet case.  Oops, voting against your own rights is cause for outing and he was outed.

Israel seems to have been caught lying about their illegal raid on unarmed humanitarian workers yesterday.  Its time we revisit our financial support for Israel’s military.  Maybe we should escort the next aid convoy with U.S. Navy ships.  I dare them to mess with that!

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Al Qaeda’s number 3 was killed by a missile strike.  Didn’t all the wing nuts claim we’d be weaker without Dick Cheney torturing everyone?  That’s already more success than Bush and Darth Vader had in seven years.

Also in Afghanistan operators of a drone were reprimanded in s strike which killed 23 Afghan civilians.  There is a lot of outrage about this but shouldn’t these Afghans have considered such fallout when they harbored and protected Osama Bin Laden?  I’m having trouble stirring much sympathy.

An Administration proposal to use $23 billion to preserve 300,000 teacher’s jobs seems dead.  Lawmakers are fearful of Tea Party backlash from any new spending.  The result will be larger classrooms, declining quality of education, a less capable work force and long term harm to our nation.  Hmmm, $23 billion seems a small price to pay.  Now we’ll simply wind up with more stupid, ignorant Tea baggers unable to do cognitive thinking.  Of course that may be the idea.

Mexico has come up with a unique solution to the mess in Arizona.  They will annex their former territory so it once again is part of Mexico.  Then they will use the new law against white Americans.  Just kidding.  Before you start knee jerk reactions however consider where you would be if the shoe were on the other foot.  It easily could be in Arizona.  How soon we forget history.  I’m waiting for some idiot tea bagger to begin insisting Arizonans all learn English “because that is their native language.”  No it isn’t, that would be Spanish.

Gov Rendell ended his quixotic quest to expand the regressive sales tax.  I couldn’t believe a Republican concept like that came from a Democrat’s mouth until I remembered how Fast Eddie also wanted to privatize the turnpike and fudge the state’s number of uninsured in order to defeat real health care reform.

Economic news continues being positive.  Home sales were up due tot he now expired tax credit and new construction is beginning to tick upward.  Construction creates scads of good paying jobs and these are jobs which cannot be outsourced.  Now we need to be sure those building materials from China aren’t toxic.  If China ever wants to destroy us all the y have to do is keep poisoning all those products they export here.