Pennsylvania coal companies ramping up production

Brian Bowling | Thursday, August 17, 2017, Tribune Review

Pennsylvania coal companies had mined about 20.2 percent more bituminous coal as of Saturday than they did over the same period in 2016, according to the Energy Information Administration’s weekly coal production report.

The state’s bituminous coal fields produced 30.9 million short tons compared to 25.7 million tons produced by Aug. 12, 2016.

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Pa. treasurer warns legislature short-term loans can’t continue

Liz Navratil | Wednesday, August 16, 2017, Philadelphia Inquirer

HARRISBURG — State Treasurer Joe Torsella warned legislators Wednesday that the state’s primary bank account will likely run out of money again later this month despite a new cash infusion — and that he’ll be reluctant to approve a second loan unless legislators quickly pass a responsible revenue package to balance the budget.

The Treasury on Tuesday released a $750 million short-term loan to the state’s general fund, which was expected to dip below zero. That loan must be paid back with about $141,000 in interest by Wednesday.

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UPMC, ‘a heavyweight’ with ‘fresh legs,’ continues its expansion in Pennsylvania

Kris B. Mamula | Tuesday, August 15, 2017, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

With the stroke of a pen, UPMC has acquired seven hospitals in Central Pennsylvania, with plans to buy an eighth hospital in York and build a 90-bed hospital in South Fayette Township — fueling the biggest expansion in the Pittsburgh health care giant’s 27-year history.

The deal to acquire Harrisburg-based Pinnacle Health System comes within a week of UPMC getting municipal approval to build a $211.2 million hospital in South Fayette. The health system already operates about 20 hospitals, mostly in Western Pennsylvania.

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Pennsylvania’s lawmakers look to streamline replacement of lead utility service lines

Liz Navratil and Adam Smeltz | Monday, August 14, 2017, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Amid the budget impasse enveloping Harrisburg this summer, legislators slipped into state spending bills language that would empower the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to help homeowners replace their lead service lines.

The provision, tucked into a document called the fiscal code, would allow PWSA and similar agencies across the state to replace or repair privately owned segments of select utility lines — but only if the work would “benefit the public health, public water supply system or public sewer system.” Municipal authorities would have to consider the “availability of public funds, equipment, personnel and facilities” before starting.

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Pa. House leader signals budget impasse likely to linger

Liv Navratil | Wednesday, August 10, 2017, Philadelphia Inquirer

HARRISBURG — House Majority Leader Dave Reed said Thursday that Republicans have serious concerns about some taxes included in budget bills passed by the Senate, the latest signal that their impasse could linger for at least a few more weeks.

“We respect the fact that they sent it over to us. We respect the fact that this is where the Senate is,” Reed, a Republican from Indiana County, told Capitol reporters. “It’s not where we are.”

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Pennsylvania lawmakers want you to help pay for $2 billion budget gap

Laura McCrystal | Wednesday, August 9, 2017, Philadelphia Inquirer

If you have electricity in your house or a phone, Pennsylvania lawmakers want you to help plug the budget’s $2 billion gap.

Along with the controversial, highly publicized tax on natural-gas bills, in a vote last month the Senate also approved levies on telephone and electric utilities, which typically pass such costs onto customers.

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Driller files $5M suit against ‘Gasland’ resident, lawyers

Tuesday, August 8, 2017, Associated Press

A gas driller that was targeted with allegations that it polluted residential water wells in Pennsylvania has filed a $5 million lawsuit against a resident and his lawyers, asserting they tried to extort the company through a frivolous lawsuit.

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. said Dimock resident Ray Kemble and his lawyers sought to harass and extort the Houston-based driller, attract media attention and “poison” the community by recycling “stale, settled claims” against the company.

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Sustainability, innovation key to developer’s plans for former Hazelwood LTV site

Mark Belko | Monday, August 7, 2017, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Take one look around the Mill 19 building at the 178-acre Almono site in Hazelwood, and it’s easy to see why Gov. Tom Wolf found the vision for its future to be audacious.

Far from the high-tech hub envisioned by its developer, Mill 19 remains very much a dark, musty remnant of a former steel mill with dirt floors and a rusting shell.

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Lawmakers move to protect own funds during budget stalemates

Mark Scolforo | Sunday, August 6, 2017, Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Tax increase proposals drew most of the attention when the state Senate approved a package of legislation late last month designed to bring Pennsylvania’s budget stalemate to an end, but lawmakers also tacked on a provision that would give them more leverage during any future standoff with the governor.

The bill that passed comfortably and was sent over to the House would enshrine into law the power to take the type of actions made by lawmakers during a standoff two years ago, by giving them explicit power to borrow money to pay salary, benefits and bills if their reserves run dry during drawn-out budget negotiations.

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Gov. Wolf keeps low profile on Pa. budget

Angela Couloumbis | Thursday, August 3, 2017, Philadelphia Inquirer

HARRISBURG — Over the last six weeks, Gov. Wolf has cut a pair of ribbons; hosted nearly a dozen round-table meetings and discussions on everything from tech jobs to protecting senior citizens from fraud; toured businesses; and signed a half-dozen bills, his public schedule shows.

None of the events dealt with balancing the state budget.

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Draft of Pa.’s plan for measuring school performance released

Jan Murphy | Wednesday, August 2, 2017, Harrisburg Patriot News

A draft of Pennsylvania’s new report card for school performance released on Wednesday proposes moving away from generating a single aggregated score for school and replacing it with a dashboard of indicators to show how it is measuring up.

Called the Future Ready PA Index, the latest version of a school report card would put emphasis on academic growth of students, school climate through a robust chronic absenteeism measure, attention to four-year and extended-year graduation rates, and assessments of postsecondary readiness. It also calls for having students spend less time taking standardized tests.

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Pennsylvania liquor stores to increase prices on 422 items

Wednesday, August 2, 2017, Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s system of state-owned liquor stores said Wednesday it will deploy its new authority to decide what prices to charge by increasing the cost of 422 items at the end of this month.

The Liquor Control Board said 393 of the increases will amount to $1 per bottle, and the vast majority will be less than 10 percent.

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State begins registering doctors for medical marijuana program

Tuesday, August 1, 2017, Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Physicians who want to be registered to prescribe medical marijuana in Pennsylvania can now sign up through the state Health Department.

Officials say the first step for doctors is to complete a practitioner registry , an online process available on the health department’s website.

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Marcellus shale puts Pennsylvania in top tier of states that export energy

Brian Bowling | Monday, July 31, 2017, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Development of the Marcellus shale has turned Pennsylvania from a net importer to a net exporter of natural gas and has made the state one of the top five energy exporters in the country, the Energy Information Administration said Monday.

Pennsylvania’s natural gas production went from 573 billion cubic feet in 2010 to 5,264 billion cubic feet in 2016. The boom has led to pipelines being reconfigured to send gas out of the state instead of bringing it in.

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Pa. Senate approves plan to close $2.2B budget hole

Michael Rubinkam | Thursday, July 27, 2017, Associated Press

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Senate on Thursday approved a plan to eliminate a $2.2 billion budget deficit that includes heavy borrowing and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax increases, including on Marcellus Shale gas drilling, consumers’ utility bills and online purchases.

Floor votes came barely 14 hours after Republicans who control the chamber first unveiled their plan to balance the $32 billion state budget late Wednesday. It includes a proposal to borrow $1.3 billion against Pennsylvania’s annual share of the 1998 multistate settlement with tobacco companies, an approach rejected by their GOP counterparts in the House just last week. States typically borrow to prop up current spending only as a last resort.

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Pennsylvania treasurer wants to establish retirement options for workers who have none

Kevin Zwick | Wednesday, July 26, 2017, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

State Treasurer Joe Torsella says he wants to create a “culture of financial empowerment” in Pennsylvania and believes state government should play a role.

Torsella, a Democrat elected in 2016, wants to encourage Pennsylvanians to start saving for their future by establishing state-sponsored individual retirement accounts (IRAs) as well as savings accounts for every child born in the state.

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Pa. doctors on board with medical marijuana, survey says

Ben Schmitt | Wednesday, July 26, 2017, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Pennsylvania doctors appear to be onboard with the state’s developing medical marijuana program.

About 75 percent of 191 physicians said in a survey they would register in the program in order to prescribe medical marijuana, the state Department of Health announced Wednesday.

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Controller again gives failing grades to county health department’s effort to address lead levels in water

Don Hopey | Tuesday, July 25, 2017, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

An audit by Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner says the county health department should be doing more to proactively warn, educate and protect Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority customers about elevated lead in drinking water.

The health department disagrees, as it did with Ms. Wagner’s last audit of the department in December, calling this audit’s findings “misleading,” “biased” and deeply flawed.

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Judge puts hold on statewide Sunoco pipeline drilling

Jeff Himler | Tuesday, July 25, 2017, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

A ruling Tuesday by the state Environmental Hearing Board halted all drilling for the Mariner East II natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania.

Administrative Judge Bernard A. Labuskes Jr. ordered a temporary stay of Sunoco Pipeline’s permit to conduct horizontal drilling for the pipeline construction, based on an appeal by the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, Mountain Watershed Association Inc. and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

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New Jersey raises legal smoking age to 21. Could Pennsylvania be next?

Kevin Zwick | Monday, July 24, 2017, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

The minimum age for buying tobacco products and electronic cigarettes in New Jersey is going up from 19 to 21 starting this fall, but don’t expect Pennsylvania to follow anytime soon.

New Jersey became the third state — behind Hawaii and California — to increase the buying age for tobacco products, according to

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