Canned Pleasure: The Thrill of the Kill

by Walter Brasch

     Would you like to go to Zimbabwe, kill and behead a lion, just like that dentist from Minnesota or the physician from Pittsburgh recently did? They paid about $50,000 each for that experience.

     How about a black rhino, an endangered species? A professional hunter from Dallas, Texas, won a $350,000 lottery to stalk and kill that animal in southern Namibia. In the 1950s, there were about 70,000 black rhinos. There are now fewer than 2,400, most of them killed off by the human predators.

     If giraffes are your thing, you can go to South Africa and, like a woman from Idaho, kill the world’s tallest animal, pose with it, and post it onto your Facebook page.

     But, let’s say your anemic bank account can’t provide you with the funds for a two-week safari, because that rebel flag you just bought to mount on your broken-down pick-up cost too much.

     For a few thousand dollars, Great White Hunters-complete with rented guides, dogs, and guns or bows-can go into a fenced-in area and shoot an exotic species. In most canned hunts, the animals have been bred to be killed, have little fear of humans, and are often lured to a feeding station or herded toward the hunter to allow a close-range kill. In some of the preserves, animals are drugged or tied to stakes. Some of the “big cats,” recorded in investigative undercover videos by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Fund for Animals were declawed, placed in cages, and then released; the terrified and non-aggressive animals were then killed within a few yards of their prisons; some were killed while in their cages.

     For less than $3,000 you can go to Snyder County, Pa., and kill an elk, a deer, or a wild boar. You don’t even need a hunting license or worry about hunting out of season. The animals are fenced in on a private preserve.

     The club recently placed full-page ads in local newspapers, and promises that for your $1,000 to $3,000 thrill, you get a guaranteed success, lodging, meals, and even a color photo of you and what is euphemistically known as a trophy.

     If pheasants are your thing, you can head out to the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, Pa. This is where Dick Cheney and some of his shooting buddies stood and killed more than 400 just-released birds, which they blasted onto their dinner plates for a lead-scented meal. In the afternoon, having hardly raised a bead of sweat, the good ole boys slaughtered dozens of equally tame mallards that had been hand-raised and shoved in front of waiting shotguns for the massacre. By the time Cheney flew out of the area, the mallards were plucked and vacuum-packed, ready for flight aboard the taxpayer-funded Air Force 2.

     The pheasant hunt was a year after the Mighty Dick sent shotgun pellets into the face of a 78-year-old hunting companion, whom he thought was a quail.

     Prefer pigeons? Although they’re not a “canned hunt,” there are still a half-dozen target shoots in southeastern Pennsylvania, where club officials release the birds within 20 yards of contestants, making a kill even easier than hitting metal ducks at a carnival’s shooting gallery. You can’t even eat the pigeons-by the time you pick the shotgun pellets from the bird, there’s no meat left.

     Many of the animals on canned hunts are surplus animals bought from dealers who buy cast-off animals from zoos and circuses; the animals sold to the preserves are often aged and arthritic. Dozens of preserves have bought black bears, zebras, giraffes, lions, boars, and just about any species of animal the client could want, solely to be killed, photographed, and then skinned, stuffed, and mounted.

     Most “kills” on the “farms” are from animals bleeding out. Animals suffer from minutes to hours, says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States. Canned hunting, says Prescott, “is about as sporting as shooting a puppy in pet store window.” Most sportsmen agree with her.

     The concept of the “fair chase” is embedded into hunter culture. The Boone & Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club (bowhunters), two of the three primary organizations that rate trophy kills, refuse to accept applications from persons who bagged their “trophy” on a canned hunt. The Safari Club does allow persons to seek recognition, but only under limitations that most preserves can’t meet.

     These pretend-hunters have dozens of reasons why they do what they do. The word “conservation” often appears dripping from their meat-filled lips. Some claim they are doing it to conserve wildlife by eliminating the weakest among the species. But, since animals have done rather well at preserving the balance of nature, why would humans want to alter it?

     The big-game safari killers, who can afford a southern African hunt that costs more than the yearly wages of most Americans, say that the fees go to conservation efforts to save the animals. If that’s the reason, why not just take that huge roll of 100s, donate it to the preserves, take a tax deduction and get a suitable-for-framing color photo of a living animal?

     Whatever their reasons to mask their recreation, there is only one reason why they do what they do. They enjoy massaging a phallic symbol and taking a life.

     [Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is the author of 20 books; the most recent one is Fracking Pennsylvania. He also believes in shooting only inanimate objects, especially clay pigeons, which he misses more than he hits.]

 

ObamaCare Is Helping Pennsylvanians

The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as ObamaCare, is helping Pennsylvanians as the Supreme Court readies a major decision which could eviscerate the health program.  Congressional Republicans filed suit and SCOTUS is prepared to rule on that litigation before the end of this month.  If it rules that subsidies are illegal millions of people could lose the coverage they’ve now had for a year and a half.

This is such a stupid lawsuit even GOP Sen. John Thune saw fit to condemn and end to the subsidies as he condemned the ACA.  He got pilloried on Twitter for his stupidity but stupidity hasn’t prevented millions of Americans from voting these morons into office.  Perhaps what we really need is a plan which prohibits stupid people from running for office.  With all this talk of bringing literacy tests back for voters we should require one for office seekers.

The White House sent this fact sheet today showing how ObamaCare has helped Pennsylvania:

After Health Reform: Improved Access to Care

·         Gallup recently estimated that the uninsured rate in Pennsylvania in 2014 was 10.3 percent, down from 11.0 percent in 2013.

·         Prohibits coverage denials and reduced benefits, protecting as many as 5,489,162 Pennsylvanians who have some type of pre-existing health condition, including 656,877 children.

·         Eliminates lifetime and annual limits on insurance coverage and establishes annual limits on out-of-pocket spending on essential health benefits, benefiting 4,582,000 people in Pennsylvania, including 1,769,000 women and 1,136,000 children.

·         Expands Medicaid to all non-eligible adults with incomes under 133% of the federal poverty level.  153,468 more people in Pennsylvania have gained Medicaid or CHIP coverage since the beginning of the Health Insurance Marketplace first open enrollment period.

·         Establishes a system of state and federal health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, to make it easier for individuals and small-business employees to purchase health plans at affordable prices through which 427,454 people in Pennsylvania were covered in March 2015.

·         Created a temporary high-risk pool program to cover uninsured people with pre-existing conditions prior to 2014 reforms which helped more than 7,106 people in Pennsylvania.

·         Creates health plan disclosure requirements and simple, standardized summaries so 7,586,200 people in Pennsylvania can better understand coverage information and compare benefits.

After Health Reform: More Affordable Care


·         Creates a tax credit to help 348,823 people in Pennsylvania who otherwise cannot afford it purchase health coverage through health insurance marketplaces.

·         Requires health insurers to provide consumers with rebates if the amount they spend on health benefits and quality of care, as opposed to advertising and marketing, is too low.  Last year, 90,485 consumers in Pennsylvania received $5,198,874 in rebates.

·         Eliminates out-of-pocket costs for preventive services like immunizations, certain cancer screenings, contraception, reproductive counseling, obesity screening, and behavioral assessments for children.  This coverage is guaranteed for more than 6,127,383 people in Pennsylvania including 2,511,285 women.

·         Eliminates out-of-pocket costs for 1,801,768 Medicare beneficiaries in Pennsylvania for preventive services like cancer screenings, bone-mass measurements, annual physicals, and smoking cessation.

·         Phases out the “donut hole” coverage gap for 297,058 Medicare prescription drug beneficiaries in Pennsylvania, who have saved an average of $948 per beneficiary.

·         Creates Accountable Care Organizations consisting of doctors and other health-care providers who share in savings from keeping patients well while improving quality, helping 289,927 Medicare beneficiaries in Pennsylvania.

·         Phases out overpayments through the Medicare Advantage system, while requiring Medicare Advantage plans to spend at least 85 percent of Medicare revenue on patient care.  Medicare Advantage enrollment has grown by 152,265 to 1,009,759 in Pennsylvania since 2009.

After Health Reform: Improved Quality and Accountability to You

·         Provides incentives to hospitals in Medicare to reduce hospital-acquired infections and avoidable readmissions.  Creates a collaborative health-safety learning network, the Partnership for Patients, that includes 157 hospitals in Pennsylvania to promote best quality practices.

We’re not done.  Other legislation and executive actions are continuing to advance the cause of effective, accountable and affordable health care.
This includes:

·         Incentive payments for doctors, hospitals, and other providers to adopt and use certified electronic health records (EHR).  In Pennsylvania more than 53.2 percent of hospitals and 41.8 percent of providers have electronic health records systems.

·         A new funding pool for Community Health Centers to build, expand and operate health-care facilities in underserved communities.  Health Center grantees in Pennsylvania now serve 680,017 patients and received $189,115,545 under the health care law to offer a broader array of primary care services, extend their hours of operations, hire more providers, and renovate or build new clinical spaces.

·         Health provider training opportunities, with an emphasis on primary care, including a significant expansion of the National Health Service Corps.  As of September 30, 2014, there were 208 Corps clinicians providing primary care services in Pennsylvania, compared to 62 clinicians in 2008.

 

The Fracking Boom is a Fracking Bubble

by Walter Brasch

Gas prices have plunged to the low $2 range-except in Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, the prices at the pump are in the mid-$2 range.

That’s because Gov. Tom Corbett and the legislature imposed a 28-cent per gallon surcharge tax. Until 2019, Pennsylvanians will be paying an additional $2.3 billion a year in taxes and fees-$11.5 billion total-to improve the state’s infrastructure. In addition to the increased tax on gas at the pumps, Pennsylvania motorists will also be spending more for license registrations, renewals, and title certificates.

For far too many years, the state’s politicians of both major parties, preaching fiscal austerity-and hoping to be re-elected by taxpayers upset with government spending-neglected the roads, bridges, and other critical problems.

What the state government doesn’t readily acknowledge is that much of the damage to roads and bridges has come from increased truck traffic from the fracking industry.  

The state roads, especially the section of I-80 that bisects the northern and southern halves of the state, were already in disrepair, as any long-haul trucker can attest. The addition of 40-ton fracking trucks on two-lane roads, highways and the Interstates, has added to the problem.

“The damage caused by this additional truck traffic rapidly deteriorates from minor surface damage to completely undermining the roadway base [and] caused deterioration of several of our weaker bridge structures,” Scott Christie, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation, told a legislative committee in 2010. Since then, the damage has increased in proportion to the number of wells drilled into the state.  There are about 7,100 active gas wells in the state, with the cost of road repair estimated at about $13,000 to $25,000 per well.  The fracking truck traffic to each well is the equivalent of about 3.5 million cars on the road, says Christie.

Although corporations drilling into Pennsylvania have agreed to fund repairs of roads they travel that have less than two inches depth of asphalt on them, the fees don’t cover the full cost of repair.  Had the state imposed an extraction tax on each well, instead of a much-lower impact tax, there would have been enough money to fund road and bridge repair without additional taxes for motorists. Every state with shale oil but Pennsylvania has an extraction tax.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, who supports fracking, says he wants the state to begin to impose those extraction taxes. The politicians, who benefitted from campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, claim the industry-and all its jobs-will leave the state if the taxes are too high.

There are several realities the oil/gas industry knows, but the politicians, chambers of commerce, and those who believe everything politicians and corporations tell them don’t know or won’t publicly admit knowing.

First-As long as it’s economical to mine the gas, the industry won’t leave the state, even if they have to pay a 5 percent extraction tax, which is at the low end of taxes charged by other states.

Second-Tthe expected $1 billion in extraction tax per year, even if the legislature approves, should not be expected. The industry has already found most of the “sweet spots,” and production will likely fall off in 2015, leading to less income to the state and to leaseholders.

Third-Like a five-year-old in a candy shop, the industry salivated at the newly-found technology and gas availability and overdrilled the past four years, leading to a glut and falling prices. End of the year prices are about $3.17 per million cubic feet, down almost 30 percent from November.

Fourth-Falling prices have led to drilling not being as profitable as it could be.

Fifth-The OPEC countries have not lowered their own production of oil, and the reason for the lower  gas prices at the pumps is not because of the shale gas boom, but because of the plunging price of oil per barrel, which has declined by about 40 percent since Summer. Once oil prices fell beneath about $70-73 per barrel, American shale frackers found themselves unable to compete economically.

Sixth-To compensate for lower prices in the United States, the megacorporate drilling corporations have begun to find alternative ways to make money. One way is to build a massive maze of pipelines, and send natural gas to refineries in Philadelphia and the Gulf Coast, changing the gas into the extremely volatile liquefied natural gas (LNG), putting it onto ships, and exporting it to countries that are willing to pay more than three times what Americans are paying for natural gas. However, there is an unexpected twist. The OPEC low-cost oil has led to a severe drop in Russia’s economy and value of the ruble. Gazprom, the Russian-owned world’s largest gas supplier, is now forced to drop its own prices to be competitive, and has been developing plans to provide gas to Europe and Asia, especially China where American gas is headed, at a price that makes it uneconomical to do long-term contracts.

Seventh-The banks and investment lenders are getting testy. Because of overdrilling, combined with inflated estimates of how much gas really is in the Marcellus Shale, corporations have found themselves in trouble. Many corporations have begun cutting their drilling operations; others have already left the state, burdened by debt to the lending institutions; some corporations have sold parts of their operations or declared bankruptcy.

Eighth-The jobs promised by the politicians, the various chambers of commerce, and the industry never met the expectations. Gov. Tom Corbett claimed 240,000 additional jobs. The reality is the increase in jobs is about one-tenth of that; more important, most of the full-time jobs on the rigs and well pads are taken by workers  from Texas and Oklahoma who have extensive experience in drilling; most of the other jobs are temporary, and layoffs have already begun.

Ninth-The fracking boom for Pennsylvania is more like the housing bubble.  At first, the availability of mortgages looked like a boom. However, a combination of greedy investors and lending institutions with almost no governmental oversight, combined by a client base of ordinary people who were lured into buying houses with inflated prices they couldn’t afford, led to the Great Recession.  Those who didn’t learn from the housing bubble guaranteed the fracking boom would become a fracking bubble.

Tenth-The continued push for fossil fuel development, and more than $4 billion in governmental subsidies, slows the development of renewable energy, while escalating the problems associated with climate change and brings the world closer to a time when global warming is irreversible.

Finally, but most important-The fracking industry doesn’t acknowledge that this newer process to extract gas, which has been viable less than a decade, is destroying the environment, leading to increased climate change, and putting public health at risk, something that dozens of independent scientific studies are starting to reveal. It was a 154-page analysis of public health implications, conducted by the New York Department of Health, and based upon scientific and medical studies, that led New York this month to ban all drilling-and infuriate many politicians and some landowners who were expecting to make extraordinary wealth by leasing mineral rights beneath their land to the gas companies. Of course, they didn’t look to their neighbor to the south to learn the wealth promised was never as much as the royalties delivered and that many landowners now say they should never have given up their mineral rights and the destruction of the land and farms that came with it.

Until prices stabilize, Americans are paying lower prices for gas at the pump; Pennsylvanians are also paying lower prices, but not as low as the rest of the country.

And the politicians and industry front groups continue to foolishly claim there are no environmental or health effects from horizontal fracking, only blue sky and rainbows of riches.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and the author of 20 books, is a specialist on the effects of fracking. His critically-acclaimed book, Fracking Pennsylvania, is now in its second edition. The book is available from Greeley & Stone Publishers; Amazon; Barnes & Noble; or local independent bookstores.]

   

The Politics of Animal Cruelty

by Walter Brasch

Pennsylvanians can still butcher, braise, and broil their pet cats and dogs because a murky mixture of politics has left a critical bill on the table in the state senate.

Residents may also continue to use cats, dogs, and other animals as targets for what some erroneously call “sporting events.”

Although there are no documented cases of cats and dogs being thrown into the air at these shoots, there is a long history in Pennsylvania of pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state where such shoots occur legally. The remaining shoots are in the southeastern part of the state, in Berks and Bucks counties near Philadelphia. However, this past week, an undercover investigator for SHARK, an animal rights group, documented a pigeon shoot in Oklahoma to provide campaign funds for Sen. James Inhofe (R). About 1,000 pigeons, according to SHARK, were thrown into the air a few yards from the shooters.

In Pennsylvania, scared and undernourished birds are placed into cages, and then launched about 30 yards in front of people with 12-gauge shotguns. Most birds, as many as 5,000 at an all-day shoot, are hit standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from the people who pretend to be sportsmen. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who for 25 years has been documenting and leading the effort to pass legislation to end pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. Birds that fall outside the shooting club’s property are left to die long and horrible deaths. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission says pigeon shoots are not “fair chase hunting.” The International Olympic Committee declared pigeon shoots aren’t a sport, and banned it after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals.

But, the Pennsylvania Senate still hasn’t taken HB1750 off the table for discussion. Any senator may request the Senate to suspend the rules to allow a bill come off the table; none have.

The House passed the original bill, sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R), 201-0, in November 2013.

It was amended in the Senate, with Maher’s approval, to ban pigeon shoots under Title 18, which includes animal cruelty statutes.  Although butchering and selling cats and dogs would be a first degree misdemeanor, carrying a fine of $1,000-$10,000 and a maximum prison term of five years, pigeon shoot violations would be only a summary offense, carrying a maximum $300 fine and/or three months jail sentence, and only for those operating the shoot. That bill was approved in the Republican-led Judiciary Committee, 10-4, on June 26. In the next two days, it passed two of the required three readings in the full Senate, but was tabled, July 8, when the Senate recessed for more than two months. The bill was not placed on the voting calendar when the Senate reconvened for five days between Sept. 15 and Sept. 24. The Senate is again in recess and will reconvene for two to four days, beginning Oct. 6 before going on recess until after the Nov. 4 election.

One of the four who voted against the bill in the judiciary committee was Joseph B. Scarnati III (R), the Senate president pro tempore. In his past two elections, Scranati received $5,275 from the NRA PAC, and $1,000 from the Flyers Victory Fund; the Victory Fund was established to support pigeon shoots. However, Scarnati didn’t influence if the bill was to be voted upon by the full Senate, says Kate Eckhart, Scarnati’s communications and legislative affairs assistant. The senator who does influence what bills go on the calendar is Dominic Pileggi (R), the majority leader. Pileggi had voted for the bill when it was in Judiciary Committee. However, Pileggi doesn’t put a bill on the calendar until the Republican caucus discusses it.

Republican caucus leader is Sen. John Gordner (R), who also voted against the bill in committee. However, Gorder says he voted against the bill on procedural grounds. The amendment, says Todd Roup, Gordner’s chief of staff, “was slipped onto the committee’s calendar at the last minute without required notice.”

Gregg Warner, the Judiciary Committee’s legal counsel, disagrees. “We notify members of the committee what bills will be on the agenda on Thursdays or Fridays the week before [a Tuesday meeting],” says Warner, “and then distribute summaries of the bills a day before.” Amendments are often distributed on Mondays before scheduled Tuesday meetings.

“Once there is enough support in the caucus,” says Roup, the bill will go back to Pileggi. The person responsible for counting votes is Sen. Patrick Browne, Republican minority whip. Because caucus discussions are secret, neither Browne nor Gordner will reveal if the bill was discussed. Gordner, however, will vote for the bill if it gets to the floor for a third reading, says Roup.

Josh Funk, deputy general counsel of the Senate Republican caucus, says there are two tests as to whether a bill is placed onto the calendar to be voted upon by the full Senate. The first test is if a majority in the caucus wants it. The second test, says Funk, is that, “It is not Sen. Pileggi’s policy to put bills up for a vote if the end result will be that they fail to receive 26 votes,” a Senate majority.” However, in the final two days before the Senate recessed this past week, Pileggi did place two bills onto the calendar that failed, by wide margins, to get 26 votes. Nevertheless, a policy that severely restricts open debate, with most discussions and decisions made in secret, significantly reduces the rights of the public to learn how their elected representatives think about a particular issue; the policy could violate Section 702 of the state’s Sunshine Act that declares, “The General Assembly finds that the right  of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decision making of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process and that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society.”

Although there may not be enough votes in the Republican caucus, there are more than enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate. In addition to 24 co-sponsors, an informal tally shows at least a half-dozen other senators will support the bill.

This is also bill the public supports. A statewide survey by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research a year ago revealed not only do more than three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see legislation to ban live pigeon shoots, only 16 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose such a ban. More than four-fifths of all Pennsylvanians say live pigeon shoots are animal cruelty. The bill is supported by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, and the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies. Most Pennsylvania newspapers have editorialized against pigeon shoots.

So, why wasn’t the bill brought up for a third reading before the Senate adjourned in July? And why is it still on the table?

The answer is enmeshed in a web of politics. Fearing an NRA backlash, and perhaps not wishing to alienate any voters less than six weeks before an election, the Senate may have stalled the vote because of an intense lobbying effort by the NRA. On the day before the Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hear the bill for the first time, the Institute for Legislative Action, NRA’s lobbying arm, sent urgent alerts to Pennsylvania members and the legislature. The NRA leadership opposes bans on pigeon shoots, believing that to ban animal cruelty is the “slippery slope” to banning guns.

“That’s completely nonsense,” says Roy Afflerbach, a lifelong hunter, and former state senator and Allentown mayor.

Many in the Legislature cower in fear at receiving less than an “A+” rating from the NRA. In the Senate Judiciary committee, Sen. Richard Alloway (R), a long-time hunter and a vigorous gun-rights advocate, called pigeon shooting a “blood sport.” After an attack by the NRA, he said, “I find it laughable that my friends [at the NRA] would somehow label me anti-Second Amendment.” Sen. Daylin Leach (D), vice-chair of the judiciary committee, doesn’t worry about the NRA rating. “Pigeon shoots, says Leach, “are a barbaric relic of a long-ago past. Hunters are ashamed of it, and it’s time to stop the gratuitous cruelty that pigeon shoots represent.”

The NRA alert called pigeon shooters “law-abiding, ethical shooting enthusiasts.” However, undercover investigators have observed a large part of the lure of pigeon shoots is illegal gambling on how many birds each shooter will wound or kill. The alert also told legislators that opposition “does not come from within the Commonwealth, but from the outside,” targeting the Humane Society of the United States as the leader of the “animal ‘rights’ extremist groups.” However, the NRA is as much an “outside organization as HSUS; its headquarters is in Fairfax, Va.. Both NRA and HSUS have Pennsylvania field offices. All Pennsylvania humane organizations support HB1750. Humane PA PAC, which opposes the pigeon shoot, has 32,000 members, most of them Pennsylvanians.

There is another political land mine for the bill. Even if the Senate passes the bill, the House of Representatives, which had passed the bill without the pigeon shoot amendment, is a far more conservative body, and could likely hold up passage of the bill.

The last free-standing vote in the House occurred in 1994. Although the vote was 99-93 to ban the shoots, a majority of 102 votes was required. Later bills were scuttled, usually by leadership of both political parties.

Four years after the House failed to pass legislation to ban pigeon shoots, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Hegins Pigeon Shoot, held on public property, was not only cruel “but moronic.” The organizers grudgingly disbanded the annual Labor Day event, held from 1934 to 1998. The Court’s opinion did not extend to shoots at private clubs, all of which draw many of the participants and spectators from New Jersey, and are held in secret.

“The tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who have contacted their legislators, year after year, for decades, deserve a vote,” says Heidi Prescott. If the bill is brought to a vote, “it will pass,” she says.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, has been covering Pennsylvania pigeon shoots for more than 20 years. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and the author of 20 books. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the politics and economics behind fracking, and its impact on health, agriculture, and the environment. The book also investigates fracking’s effects upon animals.]

 

Pennsylvania Needs A Hate Crimes Law

As a victim of gay bashing violence I know how important a hate crimes law is needed in Pennsylvania.  One was passed years ago after much effort to get it passed but it was overturned by the PA Supreme Court on a technicality.  Since then our LGBT population has not had the additional legal protection a hate crimes law establishes.  We saw what happens last week when people think it is OK to bash and assault gays.  A couple walking down a street in Philadelphia encountered a group of twelve young people in their mid-twenties and a brawl broke out.  The two gay men wound up hospitalized with serious injuries.  Three people from Bucks County, all in their mid-twenties, have been arrested.

Kevin Harrigan of Warrington, 24-year-old Kathryn Knott of Southampton, and 24-year-old Philip Williams of Warminster turned themselves in after an investigation by the City District Attorney’s office.  While media reports have been saying this wasn’t a hate crime an examination of Knott’s Twitter feed shows a clear disgust towards gays.  Witnesses have said some in their group asked the men if they were boyfriends and uttered gay slurs during the attack.  That makes this a hate crime.  Pennsylvania’s gay population needs the additional legal protections such a law would provide to dissuade such bigots from engaging in reckless behavior towards us.

 

Arsenic-Laced Coffee Good for You

by Walter Brasch

You’re sitting in your favorite restaurant one balmy September morning.

Your waitress brings a pot of coffee and a standard 5-ounce cup.

“Would you like cream and sugar with it?” she asks.

You drink your coffee black. And hot. You decline her offer.

“Would you like arsenic with it?” she asks.

Arsenic? You’re baffled. And more than a little suspicious.

“It enhances the flavor,” says your waitress.

“I really don’t think I want arsenic,” you say, now wondering why she’s so cheerful.

“It really does enhance the flavor-and there’s absolutely no harm in it,” she says.

“But it’s arsenic!” you reply. “That’s rat poison. It can kill you.”

“Only in large doses,” she says. “I’ll add just 150 drops to your coffee. It tastes good and won’t harm you,” she says, still as cheery as ever.

“But 150 drops is deadly!” you reply, looking around to see if you’re on “Candid Camera.” You’re not, and she’s serious.

“It’s really nothing,” she says, explaining that 150 drops, when mixed with five ounces of coffee is only 0.5 percent of the total. She explains that 99.5 percent of the coffee-about 2,800 drops-is still freshly-brewed coffee.

Ridiculous?

Of course it’s ridiculous.

But the oil and gas industry want you to believe that 99.5 percent of all the fluids they shove into the earth to do horizontal fracturing, also known as fracking, is harmless. Just fresh river water. Move along. Nothing to see here.

As to the other half of one-percent? They tell you it’s just food products. Table salt. Guar gum (used in ice cream and baked goods). Lemon juice. Nothing to worry about, they assure you.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in 2013, identified about 1,000 chemicals that the oil and gas industry uses in fracking operations, most of them carcinogens at the strengths they shove into the earth. Depending upon the geology of the area and other factors, the driller uses a combination of fluids-perhaps a couple of dozen at one well, a different couple of dozen at another well. But, because state legislatures have allowed the companies to invoke “trade secrets” protection, they don’t have to identify which chemicals and in what strengths they use at each well. Even health professionals and those in emergency management aren’t allowed to know the composition of the fluids-unless they sign non-disclosure statements. Patients and the public are still kept from the information.

What is known is that among the most common chemicals in fracking fluids, in addition to arsenic, are benzene, which can lead to leukemia and several cancers, reduce white blood cell production in bones, and cause genetic mutation; formaldehyde, which can cause leukemia and genetic and birth defects; hydrofluoric acid, which can cause genetic mutation and chronic lung disease, cause third degree burns, affect bone structure, the central nervous system, and cause cardiac arrest; nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, which can cause pulmonary edema and heart disease; radon, which has strong links to lung cancer; and toluene, which in higher doses can produce nausea, muscle weakness, and memory and hearing loss.

Each well requires an average of three to eight million gallons of water for the first frack, depending upon the geology of the area. Energy companies drilling in the Pennsylvania part of the Marcellus Shale, the most productive of the nation’s shales, use an average of 4.0-5.6 million gallons of water per frack. That’s only an average. Seneca Resources needed almost 19 million gallons of water to frack a well in northeastern Pennsylvania in 2012; Encana Oil & Gas USA used more than 21 million gallons of water to frack one well in Michigan the following year. A well may be fracked several times (known as “restimulation”), but most fracking after the first one is usually not economical.

After the water, chemicals, and proppants (usually about 10,000 tons of silica sand) are shoved deep into the earth, most have to be brought back up. Flowback water, also known as wastewater, contains not just chemicals and elements that went into the earth, but elements that were undisturbed in the earth until the fracking process had begun. Among the elements that are often present in the flowback water are Uranium-238, Thorium-232, and Radium, which decays into Radon, one of the most radioactive and toxic of all gases.

Wastewater is often stored in plastic-lined pits, some as large as an acre. These pits can leak, spilling the wastewater onto the ground and into streams. The waste water can also evaporate, eventually causing health problems of those living near the pits who can be exposed by inhaling the invisible toxic clouds or from absorbing it through their skin. In the eight years since drilling began in the Marcellus Shale, about 6.5 billion gallons of wastewater have been produced.

Many of the pits are now closed systems. But that doesn’t prevent health problems. Trucks pick up the wastewater and transport it to injection wells that can be several hundred miles away. At any point in that journey, there can be leaks, especially if the truck is involved in a highway accident.

Assuming there are no accidents or spills, the trucks will unload flowback water into injection pits, shoving the toxic waste back into the ground, disturbing the earth and leading to what geologists now identify as human-induced earthquakes.

Now, let’s go back to the industry’s claim of innocence-that 99.5 percent of all fluids shoved into the earth are completely harmless. Assuming only five million gallons of pure river water are necessary for one frack at one well, that means at least 25,000 gallons are toxic.

Would you like cream and sugar with that?

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning social-issues journalist, is the author of 20 books. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster, an overall look at the economics, politics, health, and environmental effects of fracking.]

   

Scientists Predict Increased Rain, Floods for Pennsylvania

by Walter Brasch

Pennsylvanians will experience increased rainfall and floods if data analysis by a Penn State meteorologist and long-term projections by a fisheries biologist, with a specialty in surface water pollution, are accurate.

Paul Knight, senior lecturer in meteorology at Penn State, compiled rainfall data for Pennsylvania from 1895-when recordings were first made-to this year. He says there has been an increase of 10 percent of rainfall during the past century. Until the 1970s, the average rainfall throughout the state was about 42 inches. Beginning in the 1970s, the average began creeping up. “By the 1990s, the increase was noticeable,” he says.  The three wettest years on record since 1895 were 2003, 2004, and 2011. The statewide average was 61.5 inches in 2011, the year of Tropical Storm Lee, which caused 18 deaths and about $1.6 billion in damage in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and devastating flooding in New York and Pennsylvania, especially along the Susquehanna River basin.

Dr. Harvey Katz, of Montoursville, Pa., extended Knight’s data analysis for five decades. Dr. Katz predicts an average annual rainfall of about 55 inches, about 13 inches more than the period of 1895 to 1975. The increased rainfall isn’t limited to Pennsylvania, but extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

Both Knight and Dr. Katz say floods will be more frequent. The industrialization and urbanization of America has led to more trees being cut down; the consequences are greater erosion and more open areas to allow rainwater to flow into streams and rivers. Waterway hazards, because of flooding and increased river flow, will cause additional problems. Heavy rains will cause increased pollution, washing off fertilizer on farmlands into the surface water supply, extending into the Chesapeake Bay. Sprays on plants and agricultural crops to reduce attacks by numerous insects, which would normally stay localized, will now be washed into streams and rivers, says Knight.

Pollution will also disrupt the aquatic ecosystem, likely leading to a decrease in the fishing industry because of increased disease and death among fish and other marine mammals, says Dr. Katz.

Another consequence of increased rainfall is a wider spread of pollution from fracking operations, especially in the Marcellus Shale.

Most of the 1,000 chemicals that can be used in drilling operations, in the concentrations used, are toxic carcinogens; because of various geological factors, each company using horizontal fracturing can use a mixture of dozens of those chemicals at any one well site to drill as much as two miles deep into the earth.

Last year, drilling companies created more than 300 billion gallons of flowback from fracking operations in the United States. (Each well requires an average of 3-5 million gallons of water, up to 100,000 gallons of chemicals, and as much as 10 tons of silica sand. Flowback is what is brought up after the initial destruction of the shale.) Most of that flowback, which once was placed in open air pits lined with plastic that can tear and leak, are now primarily placed into 22,000 gallon steel trailers, which can leak. In Pennsylvania, drillers are still allowed to mix up to 10 percent of the volume of large freshwater pits with flowback water.

In March 2013, Carizo Oil and Gas was responsible for an accidental spill of 227,000 gallons of wastewater, leading to the evacuation of four homes in Wyoming County, Pa. Two months later, a malfunction at a well, also in Wyoming County, sent 9,000 gallons of flowback onto the farm and into the basement of a nearby resident.

Rain, snow, and wind in the case of a spill can move that toxic soup into groundwater, streams, and rivers. In addition to any of dozens of toxic salts, metals, and dissolvable organic chemicals, flowback contains radioactive elements brought up from deep in the earth; among them are Uranium-238, Thorium-232, and radium, which decays into radon, one of the most radioactive and toxic gases. Radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, after cigarettes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A U.S. Geological Survey analysis of well samples collected in Pennsylvania and New York between 2009 and 2011 revealed that 37 of the 52 samples had Radium-226 and Radium-228 levels that were 242 times higher than the standard for drinking water. One sample, from Tioga County, Pa., was 3,609 times the federal standard for safe drinking water, and 300 times the federal industrial standard.

Radium-226, 200 times higher than acceptable background levels, was detected in Blacklick Creek, a 30-mile long tributary of the Conemaugh River near Johnstown, Pa. The radium, which had been embedded deep in the earth but was brought up in flowback waters, was part of a discharge from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility, according to research published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Increased rainfall also increases the probability of pollution from spills from the nation’s decaying pipeline systems. About half of all oil and gas pipelines are at least a half-century old. There were more than 6,000 spills from pipelines last year. Among those spills were almost 300,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil from a pipe in Arkansas, and 100,000 gallons of oil and other chemicals in Colorado.

Increased truck and train traffic to move oil and gas from the drilling fields to refineries along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts has led to increased accidents. Railroad accidents in the United States last year accounted for about 1.15 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Many of the spills were in wetlands or into groundwater and streams.

A primary reason for increased rainfall (as well as increases in hurricanes, tornadoes, ocean water rises, and other long-term weather phenomenon) is because of man-made climate change, the result of increased carbon dioxide from fossil fuel extraction and burning. It’s not a myth. It’s not a far-fetched liberal hoax invented by Al Gore. About 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree we are experiencing climate change, and that the world is at a critical change; if the steady and predictable increase in climate change, which affects the protection of the ozone layer, is not reduced within two decades, it will not be reversible. Increased rainfall and pollution will be only a part of the global meltdown.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and emeritus professor. He is a syndicated columnist, radio commentator, and the author of 20 books, the latest of which is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the effects of horizontal fracturing. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor and multimedia writer-producer.]

PA Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

I can now legally marry in Pennsylvania.  Of course that would require having a partner but, theoretically, I now have equal marriage rights with straight Pennsylvanians thanks to Federal Judge John Jones.  The state’s constitutional ban on same sex marriages was declared a violation of the U.S. constitution’s Equal Protection clause and struck down.  The ACLU of PA led this fight and must be congratulated.

After the Supreme Court’s Windsor ruling I predicted it would cause a cascade of individual state rulings and that’s exactly what has been happening.  No Federal judge can ignore the findings of that case and uphold these discriminatory laws.  Is there any news out of Butler County yet about Rep. Daryl Metcalf’s head exploding?

Pending a stay on appeal marriages should begin immediately and all those couples in the state who have wed elsewhere now have those marriages recognized under Pennsylvania law.  The case essentially wasn’t defended and Judge Jones granted a summary judgement based on the case briefs filed in his court.  Also, recall that this is a Republican Federal Judge.  Because there was no essential legal case made defending the old law the likelihood of a stay pending appeal is small.

It is a great day for equality in the Keystone State.

Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay person elected to the state legislature issued this statement:

“I join millions of Pennsylvanians today in supporting the federal court’s decision,” Sims said. “When Rep. Stephen McCarter, D-Montgomery, and I introduced the Pennsylvania Marriage Equality Act last fall, we recognized that numerous legal challenges throughout the Commonwealth had the potential to bring marriage equality much faster to the state, while our legislators sat on the sidelines. Today, a federal court in Pennsylvania has affirmed what a majority of Pennsylvanians already support: the fundamental right to marry the person they love.”

“I’m thankful for all of the hard work that has gotten us to this point. I’m proud to live in a state where I am one step closer to being an equal citizen. And I am empowered to ensure that we continue the effort to bring equality in the form of an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination law to the Commonwealth.”

Rep. Erin Molchany issued this:

“Today is a great day for equality.”

“Today’s decision to strike down Pennsylvania’s unconstitutional ban on marriage is a celebration of  human dignity and another step toward greater equality for all. Our friends and neighbors should not be denied basic rights because of who they love, and this decision is a great step forward for our commonwealth.”

The Fracking Prostitutes of American Colleges

(part 2 of 3)

[Part 1: Lackawanna College, a two-year college in Scranton, Pa., accepted a $2.5 million endowment from Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to strengthen that college’s programs and ties to the oil and gas industry.]

by Walter Brasch

Two of the reasons Pennsylvania has no severance tax and one of the lowest taxes upon shale gas drilling are because of an overtly corporate-friendly legislature and a research report from Penn State, a private state-related university that receives about $300 million a year in public funds.

Opponents of the tax cited a Penn State study that claimed a 30 percent decline in drilling if the fees were assessed, while also touting the economic benefits of drilling in the Marcellus Shale. What wasn’t widely known is that the lead author of the study, Dr. Timothy Considine, “had a history of producing industry-friendly research on economic and energy issues,” according to reporting by Jim Efsathioi Jr. of Bloomberg News. The Penn State study was sponsored by a $100,000 grant from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an oil and gas lobbying group that represents more than 300 energy companies. Dr. William Easterling, dean of Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, said the study may have “crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy.”

The Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR), a part of Penn State, announced that with funding provided by General Electric and ExxonMobil, it would offer a “Shale Gas Regulators Training Program.” The Center had previously said it wasn’t taking funding from private industry. However, the Center’s objectivity may have already been influenced by two people. Gov. Tom Corbett, who accepted more than $2 million in campaign funds from oil and gas company personnel, sits on the university’s board of trustees; billionaire Terrence (Terry) Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, was CEO of East Resources, which he had sold to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion in July 2010. Pegula and his wife had also contributed about $380,000 to Corbett’s political campaign. On the day Pegula donated $88 million to Penn State to fund a world-class ice hockey arena and support the men’s and women’s intercollegiate ice hockey team, he said, “[T]his contribution could be just the tip of the iceberg, the first of many such gifts, if the development of the Marcellus Shale is allowed to proceed.” At the groundbreaking in April 2012, Pegula announced he increased the donation to $102 million.

The Shale Technology and Education Center (ShaleTEC) program at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, a branch of Penn State, was established “to serve as the central resource for workforce development and education needs of the community and the oil and natural gas industry,” according to its website.

With an initial $15,000 grant from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) planned to establish certificate and academic programs for workers either already employed by or intending to enter jobs that provide services to Marcellus Shale companies. In a news release loaded with pro-Corbett and pro-industry appeal, college president Stephen M. Curtis announced in November 2012, “The goal is to support the supply chain now serving energy companies and offer specialized career training that connects residents to the high-pay, high-demand career paths.” John Braxton, assistant professor of biology and an ecologist, said CCP “must not be used as a PR puppet for shale gas fracking companies,” accurately noting that the fracking industry “got a free publicity ride” by the administration’s hasty decisions. Within two weeks of CCP’s announcement, the faculty union (AFT Local 2026), which represents the college’s 1,050 faculty and 200 staff, condemned the decision to establish the Center “without the consideration or approval of the faculty, and with total disregard for established College procedures for instituting new academic curricula.” In a unanimous vote by the Representative Council, the faculty declared, “the natural gas drilling . . . industry and peripheral and related industries present unacceptable dangers and risks to public health, worker safety, the natural environment, and quality of life.” Curtis left CCP in Summer 2013; the proposed program was never developed, and remains unfunded.

In April 2011, Gov. Corbett had suggested that the 14 universities of the State System of Higher Education (SSHE) could allow natural gas drilling on the campuses that sit on top of the Marcellus Shale. The ensuing Act, passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, includes clauses to compromise the universities’ academic integrity. In exchange for supporting fracking, the new act allows the university where the gas is extracted to retain one-half of all royalties; 35 percent would go to the other state universities; 15 percent would be used for tuition assistance at the 14 state universities. California and Mansfield universities have already begun to profit from fracking.

In a secret negotiation revealed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Student Association of California University signed over mineral rights on 67 acres. The lease includes a confidentiality clause.

The Marcellus Institute at Mansfield University is “an academic/shale gas partnership,” designed to educate the people about the issues of natural gas production. The university holds summer classes for teachers and week-long camps for high school students to allow them to “Learn about the development of shale gas resources in our region and the career and educational opportunities available to you after high school!”

The university’s associate in applied sciences (A.A.S.) degree in natural gas production and services, begun in Fall semester 2012, was fast-tracked, submitted and approved in less than six months rather than the 12-18 months normally required for approval. The university “will take as many students as we can,” said Lindsey Sikorski, the Institute’s director, although only one new faculty position was approved. The SSHE administration encourages larger class sizes and fewer permanent professors. The program, Sikorski says, “is not one of advocacy for the industry, and all sides will be considered.” The program has not received any grants from the industry; Sikorski said she “doesn’t want there to be any conflicts of interest” that would “compromise the integrity of the program.” However, the reality is that energy companies and their lobbying groups may eventually fill a financial hole created by Corbett cutting higher education funding and the system’s chancellor refusing to protect academic integrity in the state-owned universities. (Neither Chancellor John Cavanaugh nor his successor, Frank Brogan, responded to repeated calls.)

The union that represents the state system’s 6,000 faculty passed a resolution in September 2013 opposing drilling on campuses, stating that the campuses “are not appropriate locations for [fracking] given the environmental and health hazards of the fracking process.”

[Next week: Compromising academic integrity at other American universities.]

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. He is author of 20 books, including Fracking Pennsylvania, a critically-acclaimed in-depth investigation of the process and effects of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing throughout the country.]

 

The Fracking Prostitutes of American Colleges

(part 1 of 2)

by Walter Brasch

Lackawanna College, a two-year college in Scranton, Pa., has become a prostitute.

The administration doesn’t think of themselves or their college as a prostitute. They believe they are doing a public service. Of course, streetwalkers and call-girls also believe they are doing a public service.

Lackawanna College’s price is $2.5 million.

That’s how much Cabot Oil & Gas paid to the School of Petroleum and Natural Gas, whose own nine building campus is in New Milford in northeastern Pennsylvania.  On the School’s logo are now the words, “Endowed by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.”

That would be the same Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation that has racked up more than 500 violations since it first used horizontal fracking to extract gas in the Marcellus Shale almost six years ago.

That would be the same company that was found to be responsible for significant environmental and health damages in Dimock, Pa.

It’s the same company, fronted by four lawyers, that managed to keep a peaceful grandmother anti-fracking activist not only off its property, but away from Susquehanna County’s recycling center, a hospital, grocery stores, restaurants and 40 percent of the county where Cabot has mineral rights leases.

Several major gas and oil companies and suppliers-including Anadarko, BakerHughes, Chesapeake Energy, Halliburton, Noble Energy, Southwestern Energy, Williams Midstream, and others-have also contributed scholarships, equipment, and funding to the School. The School’s mission includes creating “a campus that is focused and dedicated to the oil and gas industry.”

Lackawanna College proudly claims its Cabot-endowed School is “focused on its vision of becoming a nationally-recognized, first in class program in the field of petroleum and natural gas technology.” There is no question the School is fulfilling its promise. A $500,000 outdoor field laboratory simulates a working gas field; all students are required to complete internships.

Richard Marquardt, the School’s executive director, has B.S. degrees in petroleum engineering and business management, as well as a long history of work in the industry. The eight other full-time faculty also have engineering degrees and significant industry experience. Fifteen adjunct faculty also have significant industry experience.

By Fall semester, the School will have about 150 full-time students. Students major in one of four programs-petroleum and natural gas technology, natural gas compression technology, petroleum and natural gas measurement, and petroleum and natural gas business administration.

Admission to the School’s rigorous academic programs “is highly competitive,” with students needing a strong science and math background prior to acceptance, says Marquardt. The students earn an associate in science degree upon completion of the two-year program. “It is focused on a very specific market,” says Marquardt, providing personnel at a level between the vocational training programs and the B.S. engineering programs. The placement rate is over 90 percent, says Marquardt.

In their fourth semester, students take a course in “Leadership, Ethics, & Regulations,” which explores “the holistic environment in which the Petroleum and Natural Gas industry operates, including the effect of corporate leadership on the company’s credibility and reputation; real world ethical issues  . . . and the relationship of the industry to federal, state, and local governments, including regulatory agencies.”

The development of the process of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing (commonly known as fracking) was the result of brilliant engineering by Mitchell Energy during the 1990s. Less than a decade ago, it became the most prevalent way to extract oil and gas. But, with the new technology has come significant problems.

An associate’s degree doesn’t mean the students, no matter how prepared they are to work in the shale gas industry, will be exposed to the issues, reports, and scientific studies that suggest fracking causes significant environmental and health problems, major concerns of those who oppose the process of horizontal fracking. After all, Cabot wasn’t going to invest in a college program that presented all sides of the issues. Nor is Cabot likely to invest anything more if the college expands its program to require that students also take classes in renewable energy, and the health and environmental effects of fracking.

But, that really doesn’t matter. Cabot paid $2.5 million, and other gas supplier, extraction, and development companies donated scholarships, funds, and equipment to make sure the students receive what may be one of the nation’s best possible educations to be prepared to work in the gas fields. They didn’t put money and resources into a program that would ask some of the most important questions-“What are the major effects to the health and environment from what we are doing?” “What should we be doing to develop new technology that doesn’t threaten the health and safety of the people?” and “Is fossil fuel really the best way to assure the production of energy.

[Next week: Other colleges that may have been compromised by accepting corporate donations.)

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. He is author of 20 books, including Fracking Pennsylvania, a critically-acclaimed in-depth investigation of the process and effects of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing throughout the country.]