DEP: Water Wells Were Contaminated by Drilling 243 Times

gas-drillingPennsylvania’s environmental groups have been pushing for a long time to have the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) release the number of drilling incidents that have resulted in water contamination. Yesterday, they finally got their wish.

According to the Associated Press, there have been 243 cases of water wells being contaminated as a result of oil and natural gas drilling since 2008.

In addition to the environmental groups, the AP and various other new agencies also filed several open-record requests and even lawsuits in order to view the documents.

According to the documents, the problems included methane gas contaminating the wells as well as wastewater spilling into the supply. In some instances, the water wells just went completely dry.

The AP found that problems occurred in twenty-two counties throughout the state with most of them occurring in the Northeast.

“I guess this is a step in the right direction,” Thomas Au of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club chapter said of the public release of documents on drinking well problems. “But this is something that should have been made public a long time ago.”

Meanwhile, the Marcellus Shale Coalition blamed the state’s geology for the issues.

“[Pennsylvania] has longstanding water well-related challenges, a function of our region’s unique geology — where stray methane gas is frequently present in and around shallow aquifers,” MSC President Dave Spigelmyer responded in a statement. “Our industry works closely and tirelessly with regulators and others to ensure that we protect our environment, striving for zero incidents.”

SD-26: McGarrigle Announces Support for Severance Tax

Tom-McGarrigleIt’s not every day a Republican supports a tax, let alone a tax on natural gas drilling. Yet Tom McGarrigle is out to prove the conventional wisdom wrong.

The contest for the State Senate’s 26th district is one of the most competitive in the commonwealth and could very well determine control of the chamber.

GOP nominee Tom McGarrigle sought to illustrate his policy (and moderate) bona fides by calling for a 4% severance tax on natural gas drilling in an op-ed for the Delaware County Daily Times.

“This was a summer of missed opportunity in Harrisburg,” McGarrigle wrote. “That missed opportunity – the chance to impose a severance tax on corporations extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale – will hurt homeowners in the form of higher property taxes and Pennsylvania students in the form of less money in our classrooms.”

McGarrigle acknowledged that the concept of a severance tax was “taboo among Republicans in the Legislature.” He asserted that the revenue generated would go to funding schools, which would in turn reduce property taxes.

“We have a booming natural gas industry that is making billions of dollars annually,” the Delaware County Council Chairman explained. “Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s fee on Marcellus Shale natural-gas wells is the lowest among 11 states. The severance tax of 4 percent that I have proposed will put Pennsylvania in the middle of the pack compared to other states. Natural gas companies would pay their fair share, and it would not hinder the future development of the industry.”

McGarrigle is currently running against Democratic nominee John Kane, the head of Plumbers Local 690.

Reader Poll: Who Will Control the State Senate?

PA_State_Senate_districts_by_party_svgThe State Senate has been a Republican stronghold for years, but Democrats believe this could be their year to finally become the majority.

The current composition of the upper chamber gives the GOP a four seat advantage (27 to 23) but with Tom Wolf holding a solid lead in the Governor’s race, his party is hoping his coattails are long enough to drag in the sufficient number of Senators to hand the chamber to the Dems.

To accomplish this, though, the Democrats would have to prevail in a number of closely contested races. As broken down by Thomas Fitzgerald of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the current Democratic plan is to hold two seats in Western PA (which is becoming more conservative) and pick up three seats in Eastern PA (which is becoming more progressive).

This will be a tough task for Democrats, the equivalent of drawing a straight flush in poker. Still, the Dems believe a blue wave led by Wolf would provide enough momentum to pull off just such a feat.

Republicans counter that the incumbency advantage, as well as the tendency for midterm electorates to lean more conservative than presidential electorates, favors the GOP.

So, we ask you our dear readers, which party will control the State Senate after the November elections?

Which Party Will Control the State Senate After the November Elections?

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State Agencies Keep Deleted Emails for Only Five Days

email-logoAccording to an AP report, members of Pennsylvania state agencies are instructed on how to deal with managing their state email inbox. Deleted emails are kept for only five days before they are deleted permanently.

This means they can no longer be accessed by the public or the press through the Right-to-Know law. For instance, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette used the Right-to-Know law to discover only five emails sent by the Ron Tomalis, the special education adviser to Gov. Tom Corbett who will officially resign on Tuesday.

Emily Grannis, a legal fellow with the Committee for Freedom of the Press, summarises the problem with this practice of allowing public officials and employees to delete their own emails.

“You’re leaving it up to the person who created the record to determine whether or not it needs to be archived. That’s a problem,” Grannis said.

Dan Egan, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Office of Administration, disagrees. He explained that most of the emails are “chatter” and not the sort of emails that could be considered public records. Still, transparency advocates do not understand why the emails must be permanently removed after five days.

“That’s an amazing amount of discretion to give every public employee who may not have any legal training,” said Melissa Melewsky, media counsel with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association.

“We could keep it for longer,” Egan said. “But there would be an additional expense for storage.”

Open government advocates around the country certainly believe that would be a useful expense. Interestingly, school districts across the state utilize systems that retain deleted emails for months or longer according to Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Administrators Association.

These reports raise a number of questions concerning whether important public records are being destroyed and who exactly gets to decide what are public records.

SD-10: Rendell Endorses Cickay

cickay rendellSteve Cickay, the Democratic nominee for State Senate in PA’s 10th district, received the support of former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell last week.

“I heartily welcome Governor Rendell’s support,” said Cickay, “and am ready to go to the Senate to improve support for education, expand employment, and protect the environment for all Pennsylvanians. The people in District 10 have had enough of Corbett and McIlhinney. They’re tired of the incumbent Senator who has consistently voted to underfund education, against decent paying middle-class jobs, and to support Big Oil over the safety of our environment.”

While the support of Gov. Rendell is practically a Democratic ritual at this point, for Cickay it represents an important victory.

Just last month, Rendell was leading a group of influential Democrats who were urging Cickay to step aside under the theory that former PA-8 congressional candidate Shaughnessy Naughton would have a better chance of defeating GOP State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney.

Cickay, however, refused and pledged to fight on.

“I met with Steve Cickay and we discussed some ideas about his campaign,” Rendell told PoliticsPA. “He’s a Democrat, like I said he has every right to stay in. Tom Wolf is on the ballot and I think he’ll have a big effect in Bucks County and anything can happen.”

With all that drama behind him, the Democratic nominee is focusing on the contest ahead.

“Too often my opponent proposes studies with the purpose of delaying concrete action, or keeps important remedial legislation permanently bottled up in Senate committees,” Cickay stated. “I plan instead to get things done on a wide variety of issues where many of the people in District 10 clearly want action, not just talk.”

The 10th district comprises most of central and eastern Bucks County.

PA-165: GOP Rep. Adolph Gets Wealthy New Opponent

Bill-AdolphRepublican Bill Adolph’s re-election may be a bit more difficult than he and his staff had anticipated.

Slated to run against Jeremy Fearn, a Democrat with little funding until a month ago, Adolph may have even had his sights set on becoming the next Speaker of the House.

Adolph handily defeated Fearn in 2012, 63.2% to 36.8% and has served since 1998.

Fearn withdrew from the race on July 29th, and Hadley filed nominating petitions with the state’s election bureau this past Monday.

Until 75 days before an election, state election law permits parties to present nomination paperwork for another candidate. Hadley’s paperwork was filed 77 days before the November 4th election.

The Delaware County Republican Party thinks the last minute candidate switch was deliberate and sneaky.

“This was a backroom deal struck by Democrat party leaders looking to reward a major donor. The fact that they waited until hours before the deadline to file the paperwork indicates they were trying to do this in secret.  Many residents were unaware the Fearn had even withdrawn his name from the ballot –so there was no opportunity to for other potential Democrat candidates to throw their name in the ring for consideration,” stated Delaware County GOP Chairman Andy Reilly.

Hadley donated more than $150,000 to Democrats this year.

Between August 14 and 16, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party conducted phone surveys to search for Fearn’s replacement. Delaware County’s area code is 610, however the filed petitions display that people from both the 215 and 717 area codes were polled, according to Reilly.

Local voters may not have even known that Fearn withdrew from the race, due to the timing of his dropping out and Hadley’s subsequent filing of the petitions.

Delaware County is the 5th most populous PA county and three of its last four PA House Representatives have been Republican.

The GOP controls most offices in the county, however the area has become increasingly Democratic in recent years, as its communities border Philadelphia.

Rep. Adolph raised $463,492 during his 2012 campaign, and has raised a total of $1,934,238 since 1998. This money will surely help as Charles Hadley prepares to make a run for his seat this November.

Update: Barry Caro, Hadley’s campaign manager, contested the notion that his candidate is a hedge fund manager. He asserted that Hadley is a venture capitalist who works with small medical device companies. Caro also made clear that his candidate has the support of the local party and county chairs as well as Jeremy Fearn himself.

“We’re excited for the upcoming campaign,” Caro told PoliticsPA “because it provides a contrast between a leader of failed politics, the guy that actually wrote the Corbett budgets, and a local businessman who’s worked with small town entrepreneurs to create new technology that’s in place in pretty much every operating room across the U.S. today”

FBI Investigating Organization Linked with State Rep. Dwight Evans

wolf-ad-evans“What do you not understand about the word no?”

That’s what State Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) said in response to requests for comments about the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp., or OARC. Evans, who founded the nonprofit organization designed to help the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, said he was not aware of any investigation by the FBI.

According to four individuals with adverse dealings with OARC, however, the FBI is snooping around OARC, focusing particularly on the organization’s finances.

“They indicated they were investigating multiple things, but they did not reveal what those were,” Peter Meadow, who was interviewed by the FBI about OARC, said. Meadow is a lawyer who represented Sadiki Travick, who co-owned a restaurant with OARC.

“They don’t give you much information,” Germantown publisher Foster said of the FBI agents “But I have to say I got the feeling there was activity going on. They focused a lot on nonprofits and certainly on OARC and their operations.” Foster’s neighborhood newspapers published articles critical of OARC.

Evans, a powerful state representative and a close Wolf ally, does not run OARC; in fact, he is not even a board member. What he has done as a legislator is help deliver tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to the nonprofit based in his 203rd district–$29 million in state funds since 2000.

Major questions have arisen, and perhaps prompted an FBI investigation, about the use of that money. A state investigation into OARC ended with the nonprofit giving $1.2 million back to the state government and forgoing an addition $1.8 million that would have gone to OARC. The organization admitted no wrongdoing as a part of the settlement. The City of Philadelphia claims that OARC still owes them $256,000 for jazz festivals held in 2010 and 2011. According to one confidential report submitted to the state Inspector General’s Office, OARC improperly used $12 million in state grants between 2006 and 2011.

One incident pointed out by the state investigators was state money used to promote Wine Down Wednesdays at OARC’s and Travick’s restaurant. In total, $110,000 over two years to sponsor this event at the restaurant.

“They asked questions about OARC and the money OARC allocated to the restaurant,” Travick said. “They wanted to know how the money was spent.”

The FBI may continue to ask questions about OARC; voters, meanwhile, may begin to ask questions about State Rep. Dwight Evans’ use of state money. Evans was Democratic Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee but was voted out in 2010 because his colleagues felt he was granting too much money to his own district.

SD-10: Second Poll Shows McIlhinney with Big Lead

McIlhinneyOne poll can be an outlier, but two point to a trend.

A day after we reported on a poll in the race for the State Senate’s 10th district, PoliticsPA obtained a second survey – this time from a Republican operative – that confirms the incumbent holds the advantage.

A survey from GOP pollster Susquehanna Polling and Research Polling found incumbent Republican State Senator Chuck McIlhinney with a 55% to 27% lead. When respondents were told more about the candidates, it widened to a 56% to 24% margin. These numbers are strikingly similar to the toplines from Democratic pollster Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies poll, which had McIlhinney at a similar level but Cickay with about ten more points.

Meanwhile, the Senator has a 36% favorability rating against a 10% unfavorability rating. 37% know of him but have no opinion, meaning just 17% of respondents don’t know him.

Cickay, on the other hand, was not known by 60% of respondents. 18% knew him but had no opinion, while 9% of those polled had a favorable view towards the Democrat and 11% had an unfavorable view.

As in the 39th Street Strategies poll, this survey leaned towards Republicans (they made up 46% of those polled compared to the 40% who were Democrats). Yet Tom Wolf still led Tom Corbett the gubernatorial race by a four-point margin, 47% to 43%.

As we mentioned last time, so far at least Wolf’s coattails don’t seem to be working in the 10th Senate district.

The poll was conducted by landline and mobile phones and surveyed 300 respondents from July 21st to 23rd. The margin of error is +/- 5.65%.

SD-10: Poll: McIlhinney Holds Large Lead over Cickay

Chuck-McIlhinneyWith Tom Wolf holding a substantial lead and Democrats potentially just two seats away from securing a majority, the State Senate has become an enticing target for Dems.

Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, though, a new poll suggests one of their prime opportunities in SEPA is a steep uphill climb.

According to a survey obtained by PoliticsPA from Democratic polling firm Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies, Republican Senator Chuck McIlhinney holds a 56% to 32% advantage over Democratic nominee Steve Cickay.

Additionally, when given a full bio of each candidate, the numbers barely move with McIlhinney still on top 55% to 36%.

The incumbent appears to be benefitting greatly from higher name ID. State Sen. McIlhinney has a favorability rating of 38%, an unfavorable rating of 12% and is unknown by 50% of respondents.

While McIlhinney’s name ID may seem low, Cickay ratings are 7% and 5% favorable/unfavorable while a whopping 88% of those surveyed did not know him.

State Senate races are down ballot affairs that usually attract little attention, so the results are not shocking, though they may be disheartening to Cickay supporters.

Last month we wrote about efforts from state Democratic leaders to urge Cickay to drop out in favor of former PA-8 congressional candidate Shaughnessy Naughton. The State Senate’s 10th district comprises much of northern and eastern Bucks County, those areas where Naughton ran best against her opponent (and current PA-8 Democratic nominee) Kevin Strouse.

Also of note, while the district and the poll respondents lean Republican (48% of them identified as members of the GOP compared to 41% of Democrats) Tom Wolf led Gov. Corbett by a 48% to 44% margin.

This would seem to suggest that even if Wolf has the electoral victory Democrats dream he will have come November, it doesn’t mean the gubernatorial nominee can drag the State Senate with him on his coattails.

This poll was conducted by landline and mobile phones and surveyed 400 respondents over the period from July 22nd to 25th. Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies has done surveys for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

BREAKING: SD-10: Democratic Heavyweights Lean on Cickay to Drop Out

Cickay Naughton

Naughton and Cickay

A surprising and intriguing development has occurred in the race for Pennsylvania State Senate seat in the 10th district.

In the wake of what has been perceived to be a poor performance so far by Democratic nominee Steve Cickay, a number of prominent Democrats have urged him to step aside. They would rather another Democrat take on Republican incumbent State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney.

The Democrat they want is former PA-8 congressional candidate Shaughnessy Naughton.

According to party insiders, among those that have called on Naughton to step in and replace Cickay include former Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Bob Casey, Gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf and FreshStartPA chair Katie McGinty.

Cickay’s detractors point to his poor fundraising performance. According to James McGinnis of the Intelligencer, Cickay raised only $6,490 compared to McIlhinney’s $112,895.

Furthermore, when the Senate Democrats polled the race they found McIlhinney holding a 50% to 34% lead over Cickay.

Naughton, meanwhile, ran a very competitive race against DCCC-backed Kevin Strouse in the PA-8 congressional primary. The first-time candidate fell just about 800 votes short of the upset and may have an unusual advantage if Cickay were to step aside.

The 10th State Senate district is comprised of central and eastern Bucks County, areas where Naughton performed well in her primary with Strouse.

As a result, Naughton would have a larger advantage than a typical candidate who entered the race just four months out. Many of these voters will have seen her and may well have voted for her (albeit in another race) just a few months before. This is because a congressional contest, especially a close one, draws much more attention than an uncontested State Senate primary.

Nevertheless Cickay seems content to stay in the race.

“I start something, I finish it,” he told the Inquirer’s Chris Palmer. “I feel an obligation to these people that voted for me. . . . I feel I owe it to them to finish.”

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