Archive: February, 2010
Yesterday, as you might have heard, Governor Ed Rendell announced that he would, after all, support a tax on gas drilling in Pennsyvlania.
What you didn't hear was that he's also considering authorizing the third leasing of state forest for drilling in three years.
Yesterday, the Gov's press office confirmed to CP a rumor circulating Harrisburg that Governor Rendell is considering unilaterally directing the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to lease more state forest land for drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation covering much of PA and which contains billions of dollars worth of natural gas.
By law, the leasing of state forest for oil and/or gas activities has been at the sole discretion of the Secretary of DCNR. And, for more than fifty years, state law has required that the proceeds of any such leasing go directly to conservation â specifically to the Oil and Gas Lease Fund.
This year, for the first time in Pennsylvania history, the legislature and governor â hungry for a slice of the booming activity surrounding gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale â raided that pot and overrode the DCNR Secretary's authority to decide when, where, and how much to lease. They included in the 2009 budget that required DCNR to raise $60 million from leasing to drillers.
It was the first time DCNR been required to lease land to meet a set financial goal; and the first time forest lease proceeds been redirected wholesale to the state's general fund and away from conservation.
It also seemed to ignore warnings from former DCNR Secretary Michael DiBerardinis, who wrote in May that too much leasing would "scar the economic, scenic, ecological and recreational values of the forest," and that "a rush to drill threatens the certification of our state forests as sustainably managed."
This point â that further leasing could pose threats to the long-term stability and quality of our forests â will have to be explored further in later posts. But it's worth noting here that both former Secretary DiBerardinis and acting Secretary John Quigley have both voiced concerns over the possible impact of further leasing. In May, for example, Quigley wrote in a memo to the governor's office that
"This would likely be the last gas lease sales on State Forest land that we could manage within the context of our sustainable certification for the foreseeable future . . . DCNR remains very apprehensive about the leasing of additional forest land."
Fully one-third of state forest has already been leased for drilling â and while only four Marcellus Shale wells are currently active on that land, the state expects as many as a thousand or more over the next decade. We haven't, in other words, even begun to see how drilling on state forest may play out.
Today's news â that the Governor intends to do it again, and without bothering with the legislature â confirms environmentally-minded legislators recent fears.
For several weeks, rumor had been that legilsators were going to insert language into the coming 2010-2011 budget that would require the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to lease, for the third time in three years, more forest land for drilling â this time $180 million worth.
Environmentally-minded legislators (so-called Green Dogs) planned to fight this clause.
On Monday, though, a new rumor was afloat: the Governor would simply require DCNR to lease the land himself, without the legislature, and he might do it soon.
"He could do it tomorrow," Rep Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), who is sponsoring a bill that would impose a moratorium on further leasing of state forest for drilling, told CP on Monday.
Indeed. Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma confirmed yesterday that the Governor was considering authorizing another lease himself:
As things now stand, he would have the authority to do so in the 2010-11 budget year, and yes he would consider doing it because it was part of the two-year agreement with the legislature.
That last bit, the idea that further leasing "was part of the two-year agreement with the legislature," is disputed.
In fact, Mr. Tuma originally told City Paper that the $180 million sale had been written into law already. When CP pointed out this wasn't the case, Mr. Tuma wrote back that:
There was a very clear and very public agreement in October that the Governor and the legislature had jointly agreed on a plan to balance the budget for two years, and that $180 million from leasing in 2010-11 was part of that.
Tuma did not respond to CP's question of where, exactly, this "clear and very public agreement" had been publicized.
Rep. Vitali directly disputes this claim. "The opposite is true," he told CP today. He and several other Green Dogs, he said, had been aware of the legislature's and governor's intention to include more leasing in the budget but opposed it.
"We negotiated and the negotiated agreement was that for 2009-2010, there would be $60 million in leasing. There was no agreement with regard to 2010-2011, simply no agreement."
Representative David Levdansky (D-Allegheny, Washington) agrees:
"We insisted that they take year two off the table, and they did," he told CP today. "If the governor's claiming otherwise, it's not accurate and it's just an effort to double-cross us."
"I supported Ed Rendell when he ran against the real Bob Casey in 1986. I supported him when he ran against young Bob Casey. I've been his legislative ally on every major policy. But the governor is dead wrong on this. He's a city slicker â he doesn't understand that a century-old state forest system is a treasure of the Commonwealth."
Stay tuned for updates on the Clog. Tips are always welcome.
I live in south philly and theres a part of my roof that's flat, and it has leaked in the past a tiny bit when it absolutely pours. With all this snow, should I go out and shovel the roof? Nobody else seems to be doing it, but then again, my neighbors are slobs. What say ye?
Yes, we're snow-bound and going a little stir crazy and channeling Arlo Guthrie when we tell you that, as per the Inky's Angela Couloumbis and Paul Nussbaum, the state is shutting down 76, 676 and 476.
SEPTA stopped running most of its bus routes starting at 1 p.m. and the state is closing the Schuylkill Expressway, the Vine Street Expressway and the Blue Route at 2 p.m.
Gov. Rendell said I-95 and the Pennslvania Turnpike will remain open with restrictions for some vehicles on the Turnpike.
In other words, hunker down, there is no escape!
|cover illustration | Thomas Pitilli|
Back in January, when City Paper published its annual writing contest issue featuring the fiction of Jessica Penzias ("Death by Oboe") and poetry of Sean Webb ("The Bridge"), we set Feb. 10 as the date for our winners reading, figuring blizzard season was over. How silly we were.
It should come as no surprise that this evening's scheduled reading with Penzias, Webb, fiction judge Elise Juska, poetry judge Thomas Devaney and CP senior editor Patrick Rapa at the Tin Angel in Old City, has been POSTPONED.
City Paper, Tin Angel and the readers are working to reschedule for an upcoming Tuesday evening, so please stay tuned here and to the event's Facebook page for updates.
Throughout the day, The Clog has been told that nearly everything in the city that was going to take place today and tomorrow school, flights, concerts has been canceled. Except the Tea Party Candidates Forum, that is. According to the folks over at the Crystal Tea Room (100 E. Penn Square, ninth floor, 215-627-5100), "the Republican thing" (their words, not ours) is still going on tonight.
It's free and open to the public.
This morning the Pew Charitable Trust released its second annual megasurvey of Philadelphians. You can read the DN's account of it here, or just download the survey for yourself here. The top lines, of course, are the headline-grabbers:
Nutter's approve/disapprove is at 53/32, up from 47/39 last April. 60 percent say they have a very or somewhat favorable impression of him, which, all in all, is a pretty good place for an incumbent mayor who just weathered the Great Recession and skyrocketing unemployment to be in. At the very least, it should be enough to give second thoughts to any potential challengers. (Pew didn't do a partisan breakdown, however; if he does get a viable challenge in 2011, it will almost certainly be from a Democrat in the May primary; his weakness as the Pew people tell me it's always been is among African-Americans and the less educated, two demographic groups that are well represented among Dems. Also, it's worth noting that, because Pew does not consider this a political poll, this poll questions Philadelphians at large, rather than registered or likely voters.)
City Council scores pretty well, too: A 42/34 approve/disapprove, again up a bit from last year. Police Commissioner Ramsey may well be the most popular guy in the city. He banks a 69/11 spread apparently, he's getting the credit for the declining murder rate. Nobody knows much about school superintendent Arlene Ackerman: her approve/disapprove/don't know is 29/20/51. I'm surprised that her handling of the racially charged South Philly High School incidents, in which black kids were beating up Asian kids, hasn't hurt her more, considering how unknown of a quantity she is.
Much to my colleague Isaiah Thompson's dismay, I'm sure, casinos and table games both score well. 51 percent approve of casinos, to 34 percent opposed; 54 percent approve of table games, to 32 percent opposed (you read that right: more people support table games than casinos). So, backroom deals and all, it looks like most people are resigned to, if not excited by, the casinos' presence. I'm on a conference call with the Pew people now, and a DN guy just asked about this: "What's been going down is the number of people who disapprove," one of the Pew reps responded. In other words, the approval numbers have stayed steady, but the opposition has softened.
Oh, and the Streets Department sucks: While respondents seemed OK with library service (58 percent gave the library high marks) and the cops (52/45 in favor), the question of "street repair and maintenance" elicited a bit of ire: Only 28 percent rated Streets' services as "excellent or good," to 72 percent who think they are fair or poor. This degree of unhappiness is matched only on the question of whether the city has enough programs for teens: By a 28/54 margin, the respondents said no.
The cross-tabs yield some interesting results, too. At first blush, the fact that Nutter, who is black, does better among the city's whites than among blacks would seem counter-intuitive: Among whites, he gets a 65/21 approval; among blacks, however, he breaks even, 43/43. That said, Nutter has improved his position among blacks considerably since Pew's last survey, in April 2009 at the height of the city's budget war. Then, only 36 percent of blacks approved of his job performance, versus 54 percent who didn't.
Since Day One, Nutter's strength la largely with well-educated whites, and that's where he performs best now. He gets 62 percent support of those with a college degree, as well as 62 percent support from those making more than $100,000. Curiously, Nutter gets his best marks (59 percent) from the northeast, as well as those over 65 years old (65 percent). That said, except for the black cohort, he gets positive approval ratings across all income, demographic and regional groups.
People like Nutter. His economic policies, not quite so much. Overall, only 47 percent express confidence in his ability to handle the budget, to 46 percent who aren't confident. There's a 47/49 disapproval of his sales tax increase, which, statistically, is a tie. Here again, whites, better educated and wealthier people tend to favor the tax hike; blacks and Hispanics, those with less education and poorer people disapprove, which isn't terribly surprising, given that sales taxes are the most regressive taxes imaginable. At the same time, however, blacks tend to favor a more tax-and-spend approach to city governance, by a 45/39 margin. Whites (39/43) and Hispanics (32/49) lean toward lower taxes and service cuts.
So what does it all mean? With a broad brush, I'd say Nutter weathered the storm. His base among educated whites has held, and his standing among blacks is getting better. To be honest, any tax hike that breaks-even in these polls is a rare thing; people always hate tax hikes, even when they want more services. And given the economic shitstorm of the last year, the fact that he's close to even on any budget-related matters has to be a win. If Nutter survives the next round of budget wars, and the pending union negotiations, politically intact, I'd say he's a pretty solid bet for reelection. The caveat is how differently the people who will show up to vote next May will see things from those who answered their phone for Pew.
Pew says another batch of survey data is coming out later this month, on crime and the general mood of the city. We'll update then.
|Taylor Swift is a friend of CP Honor boxes. Now you can be, too!|
Hey City Paper readers,
We up here at the 123 are hunkering down as are you, likely for Snowpocalypse III: The Re-Re-Reckoning. But before we do, we're putting a paper out so you've got something hot and fresh to read over your snow-day French Toast.
Of course, Mark Burkert and our team of incredibly intrepid drivers, can only get the papers into your local honor box if they can get to the honor boxes. To this end, we're equipping them with shovels, but we ask that, if you have the time and elbow grease to spare, you help them and us as you dig out and rescue your local honor box. We're calling it our "adopt-a-box" program and it essentially goes like this: If you can find it in your heart to dig out a City Paper orange box, take a picture of it, e-mail it with your name and the box location to bhoward (at) citypaper (dot) net, and we'll post it on The Clog with your name and a digital gold star, and we'll invite you to the next CP happy hour (or, y 'know, show up at the Khyber at 5:30 on a Friday).
|Courtesy of Accuweather|
Meanwhile, blizzard metaphors become more and more awesome.
It's a long story, but I have some jewelry, some vases, and some other stuff. I want to go sell them at a dealer and be rid of them. Any of you worked with a dealer you liked who gave what you felt were honest prices?
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