Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Health Professionals Urge Halt to Attacks on Clean-Air Protections

Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

Methane leaks can occur at every step, from the well to the consumer. (Tim Evanson/flickr.com)
Methane leaks can occur at every step, from the well to the consumer. (Tim Evanson/flickr.com)
PITTSBURGH – Forty-thousand doctors, nurses and public-health professionals have asked the oil and gas industry to stop opposing policies to reduce methane emissions.

In an open letter to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry lobbying group, the health advocates point out that opposing regulations that restrict methane emissions endangers public health. The gas developers are urging state legislators to support a bill that would prohibit the Department of Environmental Protection from having stricter regulations than those mandated by the federal government.

And as doctor Ned Ketyer, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health, notes, the Trump administration does not like regulations.

"The administration has made it very clear that as early as this week they're going to start rolling back and removing regulations that protect public health," he said.

The gas industry counters that burning natural gas is cleaner than burning coal or oil, and therefore helps clean the environment.

But Ketyer dismisses that argument. He compares it to saying that putting a filter on a cigarette makes the smoke cleaner.

"Technically, yeah, maybe it is," he conceded. "Practically, it's irrelevant because health-care providers know that smoke is toxic and it's going to hurt people, and it's going to hurt people badly."

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, and emissions also can contain particulate matter and volatile organic compounds that form smog.

While Ketyer stresses that, ultimately, the best public health solution is to end reliance on fossil fuels, the means to drastically reduce emissions from the well pad to the home are available now.

"We have the ability, we have the technology, and it's not terribly expensive for the industry to do everything they can to capture every cubic foot of methane," explained Ketyer.

He adds that regulations are particularly important in states such as Pennsylvania where natural gas is produced, leading to much higher emission levels.

Monday, February 13, 2017

State Senate Passes Bill to Punish PA Sanctuary Cities

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

The ACLU says it has seen cases in which U.S. citizens have been held in Pennsylvania jails on erroneous ICE detainers. (Neil Conway/Flickr)
The ACLU says it has seen cases in which U.S. citizens have been held in Pennsylvania jails on erroneous ICE detainers. (Neil Conway/Flickr)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - A bill that has passed in the state Senate would penalize sanctuary cities and counties in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 10 would withhold state money from municipalities that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities. According to Sara Rose, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, that could put places in a double bind for not complying with federal requests to hold a person in detention for possible immigration proceedings.

"If county jails hold people under these ICE detainers and it turns out that there's no probable cause to believe that the person is in the country without authorization," she said, "the county can be liable for damages to the person who's being held."

SB 10 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. Proponents of the legislation say it is about upholding the rule of law, but Rose pointed out that ICE detainers are only administrative requests and are not reviewed by a judge. She said the detainers often are issued by ICE field agents based solely on suspicion that a person may not have authorization to be in the country.

"In fact, we've had two cases here, just in Pennsylvania," she said, "on behalf of U.S. citizens who were held in jail on immigration detainers that had been issued erroneously."

Nineteen jurisdictions in Pennsylvania have announced their intentions to not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. If the bill becomes law, Rose said, the ACLU would look for ways to challenge it in court.

"We think it sets a dangerous precedent," she said, "and can really cause problems for municipalities and their relationship with immigrant communities."

Gov. Tom Wolf's office has expressed concerns about the legality of some aspects of the legislation.

The text of SB 10 is online at legis.state.pa.us.