Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

DAVE: I've been meaning to tell you that there has not been the pandemic of stink bugs this summer that had been predicted (and documented on my blog). I don't know what it's been like out in the boonies where you live, but I have not had more than a handful of them, and none of them lately. And it has been plenty hot here. I don't know what's going on. I wonder if the excessively rainy spring has something to do with it. Nature is so funny.

JIM: Yes, we have not had many stink bugs. I have noticed a lot of Japanese beetles very recently though.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I like clever activists . . .

Prank signs on rest area drinking fountains target gas drilling
Monday, June 27, 2011
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The professionally printed sign bearing the banner message "SAFE TO DRINK" and affixed to a drinking fountain in the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Midway Service Plaza looked official at first glance, even if it seemed to state the obvious.

But something didn't look quite right to Tonya Markiewicz, who stopped in for a drink June 8 while on a trip to Philadelphia and New York City, and it had nothing to do with the stream of cold water arching from the fountain.

The message of the sign, which bore what purported to be a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection logo in the upper left hand corner and has since been discovered in several other turnpike service plazas, was coyly equivocal. It read: "This water is most likely safe. If you have any concerns about contamination due to hydraulic fracturing, expose water to flame."

That procedure -- unsafe at best and potentially fatal at worst if the water contained ignitable concentrations of methane -- was depicted in a graphic that shows a hand holding a lit match under a water faucet.

That raised a big red flag for Ms. Markiewicz.

"I didn't want to try to drink the water after seeing that sign," said Ms. Markiewicz, a Braddock resident, who took a photograph of it. "After reading closely it occurred to me it was posted as part of an activist project, but it was so well done. It gets right at you when you're about to consume the water."

At the bottom of the sign, posted by an as yet unknown activist prankster, was a list of symptoms from drinking contaminated water, including "headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, hair loss, itchy skin and kidney failure," and a DEP phone number to call for more information.

Kevin Sunday, a DEP spokesman, confirmed that the not-so-subtly subversive sign was not posted by the department. He noted that its appearance at the Midway Service Plaza near Harrisburg roughly coincided with the June 7 rally in Harrisburg by hundreds of people protesting Marcellus Shale gas well drilling and development.

"That's not from DEP," Mr. Sunday said last week, noting that the "E" in the DEP logo on the sign was different from the DEP's real logo.

Bill Capone, a Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spokesman, said last week that after inquiries by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the bogus DEP signs were found on water fountains in "most of the service plazas west of Harrisburg." He said they were probably up on the drinking fountains for almost two weeks and viewed by hundreds of turnpike travelers and service plaza attendants who didn't raise questions about its message, which he termed, "odd, curious and somewhat alarming."

"We found them in Somerset and New Stanton and others, and we are having them removed," he said.

He said not only do the signs appear official but the contact number for more information is a working DEP phone line that belonged to Katy Gresh, the department's spokeswoman in its Southwest District office in Pittsburgh before her promotion to head the DEP's Harrisburg media office in March.

The signs' water contamination test, using a lighted flame, is a reference to problems caused by faulty well casing and drilling operations at Marcellus Shale gas wells in Dimock, Susquehanna County, that allowed high concentrations of methane gas from shallower formations to contaminate well water at several homes. A homeowner there was able to ignite his tap water, a dramatically explosive scene shown in the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary film "Gasland" by Josh Fox, who, coincidentally, spoke at the anti-drilling rally.

Myron Arnowitt, state director for Clean Water Action, one of the environmental organizations that helped organize the rally, said last week that he hadn't seen the prank signs and doesn't endorse them, but thought them "an amusing way to raise some public awareness."

"Of course it's not a good idea to give the public misleading information on water quality and we would want any signs to be clearly factual," he said. "And as far as I know, any of the activists I've been in touch with, no one is taking credit for it."

Monday, June 27, 2011

DAVE: Apparently, in the non-profit world, one Master's degree is not enough. You need two to get a job paying $40,000 a year. Ain't life grand?

Obviously, I'm exaggerating. But I need to go in a new direction. After careful thought and research, I think an MSW is my most expeditious route to where I want to get. Maybe.

JIM: Education is always a good thing. Even if it doesn't get you where you want to go, it might open up new doors to go places you never even thought of before.

DAVE: How many Master's degrees do you have?

Just kidding. I think you're right.

JIM: Zero. I should get one though. At least one.

You don't want to pattern any part of your life after mine.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Corbett's Oil
Monday, 20 June 2011 09:58
Written by Rob Rogers

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is so in love with the Marcellus Shale drillers he refuses to see that he is hurting the people who elected him. He would rather gut schools and social programs than do what every other drilling state has done: tax the gas drillers. Now the big oil companies like Exxon, Shell and Chevron are investing in the Marcellus shale drilling operations in the state. Are we going to cut them a break too?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

JIM: Nice,

DAVE: She has it all. I forget how much I like her when I'm not watching Entourage.

JIM: We got rid of our HBO. I miss Entourage.

DAVE: That's what Netflix is for.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hey kids, meet "Talisman Terry, the Friendly Fracosaurus."

Color me fracked: Energy industry produces coloring book to make case for gas drilling to kids

Sunday, June 19, 2011
By Erich Schwartzel, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When the energy industry publishes a coloring book, there is no crayon needed to see the shades of gray.

Exhibit A: "Talisman Terry's Energy Adventure," a handout for children published by Talisman Energy that explains the natural gas industry with the help of a "friendly Fracosaurus" dinosaur named Terry.

Everyone smiles in Terry's world. Mom smiles, Dad smiles, the worker smiles, the dog smiles, the cat smiles, the deer smiles, the fish smiles, the sun smiles, the moon smiles, the flower smiles, the rock smiles. Even the helium balloon -- used to demonstrate how "natural gas is lighter than air" -- smiles.

The coloring book's overt message -- drilling is smart, safe and American -- is delivered in kid-friendly fashion, glossing over the environmental and economic controversies that have surrounded drillers tapping the Marcellus Shale rock formation for lucrative pockets of gas.

And like other early education efforts by the energy industry, the coloring book is called harmless fun by the industry and dishonest propaganda by critics.

The debate over such materials is expected to hit closer to home in the coming months as a new industry begins introducing itself to Western Pennsylvania's littlest citizens.

Talisman Terry was developed at Talisman Energy's Calgary headquarters and has been distributed at community picnics in northeastern Pennsylvania counties. It's available free as a PDF on the company's website.

The friendly dinosaur has a counterpart at Chesapeake Energy, named Chesapeake Charlie. Charlie is an orange-tinged beagle whose own coloring book takes youngsters through the entire life cycle of what the Oklahoma City company calls a "clean-burning, affordable, abundant and American fuel."

At last week's Chesapeake-hosted Day of Family Fun in Charleston, W.Va., the beagle mascot rode a horse (the video was uploaded to the company's "Ask Chesapeake" Facebook page). Charlie wears his patriotism literally on his sleeve, with an American flag patch on the side of his jumpsuit.

Talisman Terry maintains a patriotic motif, as well.

On one page, the height of a rig is compared to the Statue of Liberty, a space shuttle, a California Redwood tree and -- tallest of all -- a skyscraper.

"There's an emblem of America, an emblem of technology, an emblem of nature and an emblem of business," said Lori Campbell, a children's literature professor at the University of Pittsburgh who read "Talisman Terry" at the Post-Gazette's request. "It's sending the message that we should be free to do whatever."

In the coloring book, the same plot of land doesn't look much different in the "Before Drilling" and "After Drilling" illustrations. If anything, the "after" image seems more pastoral: new trees have been planted, a bald eagle soars over the hill, a rainbow has appeared.

The all-smiles delivery "undermines any of the negativity by making it all about fun and games," said Ms. Campbell.

"It's fairly innocuous," she said. "And a little bit subversive."

Then again, the dilemma of all English studies -- reading too much into things -- also applies here, she said.

"Sometimes a tree is just a tree," she said.

That seems to be Talisman's interpretation.

"Let's keep in mind our audience. If you're talking age 9 or younger, you can't get into the questions like, 'What is in fracking fluid?'" said Natalie Cox, the firm's head of U.S. communications.

"If we were making a presentation to the governor in Harrisburg, we'd get into technical details. But we wouldn't give him a coloring book, either."

Talisman has primarily operated in northeastern parts of Pennsylvania, but statewide education efforts are working their way through different age levels.

Community outreach efforts in shale communities target adults first, then high school students and finally the elementary set, said Larry Michael, the executive director for workforce and economic development at the Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport.

When the Marcellus Shale industry arrived, "The initial priority was to put in programs to get people off the unemployment rolls," he said.

Now, his team is working at the high school level, offering curriculum and training to teachers over the summer. It will begin the elementary-education rollout sometime after the summer.

The industry might provide materials for the professors but the presentations always present both sides of the drilling debate, Mr. Michael said.

Materials like the Talisman Terry coloring book would be distributed by the companies and not his instructors, said Mr. Michael. That kind of industry to school transaction has gotten energy companies in trouble before.

Children's book publisher Scholastic stopped publishing the "United States of Energy Lesson" plan for fourth-graders in May after critics pointed out that the material was funded with $300,000 from the American Coal Foundation.

Even a nice Fracosaurus like Talisman Terry has been the target of criticism. The book circulated among anti-drilling protesters last year, with the blog Fracking Underground labeling the effort an attempt to "brainwash the next generation of Pennsylvanians."

Ms. Campbell wouldn't go that far, but she sees Talisman Terry as part of "a long tradition of trying to create change in society by targeting children."

It clearly employs "the dual address" -- a narrative technique that intentionally targets both the child and the adult reading to the child. There are even echoes of literature like "Oliver Twist," which is ostensibly a story about a young orphan but also a commentary on pay disparity and the welfare of children, she said.

But while she wouldn't exactly place Talisman Terry in the same tier as Charles Dickens, Ms. Campbell said the company did make a smart choice with its narrator.

"Children seem to like dinosaurs," she said. "Like ... who's that guy? Barney."

Coloring book:

Monday, June 20, 2011

DAVE: I don't know if I have a job over the summer with this particular organization because they haven't told anyone what their summer program is going to be. Non-profits are screwy. At least the ones I've had dealings with.

JIM: You want to talk about screwy? Be glad you are not a Catholic school teacher.

DAVE: More information, please.

JIM: It is hard to explain in detail via email. But I have a friend who is a school teacher in the Philadelphia archdiocese and she recently got "laid off".

Here is how the system works (at last here):
Every year, the Catholic school teachers have to go to this big meeting like an NFL draft. They kind of put all of the jobs in the archdiocese on a board and start with the most senior to least senior teachers and everyone gets to pick what job they want. If someone more senior than you picks your job, then you are shit out of luck. Since my friend has only worked for one year so far, by they time they got to her, her job had already been picked by someone else and there were no jobs left that she qualified for.

They keep telling her not to worry and that by the time school starts on Sept. 1 there will probably be a job for her. But they probably won't be able to notify her about it until August 31.

DAVE: Interesting.

One of my first interviews once I got my teaching certification was at Central Catholic, a virtually perfect job for me as a teacher (not religiously). The Father who interviewed me was pulling the paperwork out of his desk, when he casually asked me, "You ARE Catholic, right?" And with a name like [Dave], I can understand the assumption. For a second, I considered my answer, and then I answered the truth. He put the papers back in his desk and explained to me that they only hire Catholics. I don't know if that is still their policy, but it was back in 1999 or so. If I had gotten that job, my life would have been SO different.

JIM: It is for the best that you told the truth. But you could always convert.

DAVE: I don't want to be Catholic.

JIM: But, by your own admission, think how different your life could be.

This is why I stopped emailing with Kengor.

JIM: Come on. You know I'm just messing with you.

DAVE: That's what I assumed. Hence, the Kengor reference. He's probably pulling for Santorum.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Brewed On Grant: End Times
Wednesday, 15 June 2011 09:04
Written by Rob Rogers

The Three Rivers Arts Festival is usually a rainfest, but not this year. Instead it was really sunny. Is this just a fluke ... or another example of all the crazy apocalyptic weather we've been having in 2011? This prompted me to try and think of other local signs of the apocalypse.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What happened to the "trickle-down" . . . ?

Big Foot
Tuesday, 14 June 2011 09:48
Written by Rob Rogers

The Bush Tax cuts recently celebrated their tenth birthday. No birthday wishes from me. After ten years, I think we can all agree that the promised panacea of new jobs and a wildly prosperous economy hasn't materialized. Instead, we've lost trillions of dollars of revenue that would've helped save schools and medicare.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Parking Horror
Monday, 13 June 2011 09:16
Written by Rob Rogers

The Pittsburgh Parking Authority (at the request of City Council) raised the parking meter rates downtown and extended the hours that meters are required to be fed. This sends one message to those who are already reluctant to come down town. Stay at home, we don't want you. I realize we have a big pension fund to finance but nickel-and-diming people who want to come into the city is not the way to do it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Talking on your cell phone using speaker phone when you're outside is in bad taste. Talking on your cell phone using speaker phone when you're inside is just plain obnoxious. Seriously. Who are you people?
Drinking hot tea instead of coffee has proven to be a failed lifestyle change. The tea so badly stained my teeth in the four weeks I had been drinking it that I had to go see my dentist. He forbid me to drink tea again. He said that it's worse than coffee and causes more permanent stainage over time in lifetime tea drinkers. Tea is done.

Monday, June 13, 2011

JIM: Peduto

There, I said it.

And yeah. I did giggle a little.

If you were more familiar with our city government, you would find those cartoons even more amusing.

JIM: What makes you think Pittsburgh is any different than any other big city when it comes to things like that? That's the problem with you Pittsburghers. You think you're special and no one else is like you.

That's not true of me.

JIM: You are not the average Joe.

True dat. I'm more of a . . . quiet observer.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Drilling lobbying group antes up freebies to get folks to public meeting
Saturday, June 11, 2011

How's this for a package: a night in Pittsburgh with free airfare, free lodging and free food. All you need to do is spend two minutes telling the Department of Energy how much you love the natural gas industry.

That's the deal struck up by Energy in Depth, a lobbying firm that's paying for pro-drilling landowners to travel from northeastern Pennsylvania to Washington & Jefferson College on Monday night for a public meeting on the industry.

It's all laid out in an email that was sent Thursday to gas industry supporters by Thomas Shepstone, a consultant for Energy in Depth, which represents independent oil and gas producers. The email offers all-expense-paid accommodations for landowners and industry supporters willing to travel to Washington County from Scranton and Williamsport to tell the federal board how natural gas drilling has improved their lives.

Energy in Depth will even have a bus pickup in Binghamton, N.Y., where legislators have issued a moratorium on the controversial hydraulic fracturing process under debate at Monday's meeting in Washington.

The Department of Energy is looking to hear "directly from community members," according to the event description.

About 25 people had expressed interest in traveling, said Mr. Shepstone, who on Friday afternoon was still trying to find flights out of the Binghamton airport. Most will travel the seven hours by bus, he said, but his email offers flights "for older folks, especially ... and for heads of landowner groups."

He refuted allegations that the perks were an attempt to choreograph an open public meeting.

"We're going to do what it takes to have our voices heard," said Mr. Shepstone. And his goal is to make sure northeastern Pennsylvania isn't left out of the debate, even if the meeting is held across the state.

"It's a federal task force. They're supposed to be looking across the entire Marcellus [Shale] region," he said.

The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board is part of an Obama administration-wide look at lowering the country's dependence on foreign oil. The board's Natural Gas Subcommittee has been charged with examining the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," process that creates mini fissures in the shale that cause gas to seep out.

The subcommittee's fact-finding tour begins with the Washington & Jefferson meeting, which will run from 7 to 9 p.m. Community members will have two minutes each to talk.

Funding trips like this is relatively new priority for Mr. Shepstone and his team across 10 counties in northeastern Pennsylvania, he said. He called it a "grass-roots" effort.

At one time, the travel package included tickets to Monday's game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Mets, but "we decided they needed better baseball," said Mr. Shepstone jokingly. (It was actually a scheduling conflict.)

Anti-industry activists attending the meeting still see Energy in Depth's trip as purchased support, and statements from environmental groups Food & Water Watch and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network criticized the practice Friday afternoon.

"The Marcellus industry keeps saying they've been creating these great jobs for people," said Gloria Forouzan, a member of Marcellus Protest who is carpooling to the event with friends. "You'd think that they didn't have to bribe them to come to their meeting."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Brewed On Grant: Juice Box Radio
Wednesday, 08 June 2011 09:41
Written by Rob Rogers

Boy Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is planning to launch a weekly radio address. He says he wants to "speak directly to citizens on topics that are important to them." I can just imagine what he might do with his own radio show.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The big oil companies are getting pretty interested in all of this Marcellus Shale natural gas that Pennsylvania is giving away for free. Minor incidents are already happening all over the state. With big oil getting involved, what could go wrong?

ExxonMobil buys local Marcellus firm for $1.69 billion
Thursday, June 09, 2011

ExxonMobil Corp. has bolstered its position in the Marcellus Shale play with a billion-dollar acquisition, paying $1.69 billion for Warrendale-based Philips Resources and TWP Inc.

The acquisitions add 317,000 acres to the Texas-based company's Marcellus portfolio. The energy company had paid $41 billion in December 2009 for Houston-based XTO Energy for an initial foray into the natural gas reserve that underlies much of Western Pennsylvania.

Philips Resources and TWP Inc. have around 200 employees and have participated in the drilling of more than 50 Marcellus wells.

The acquisition is yet another example of major energy companies entering the Marcellus play through major acquisitions. In May 2010, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Europe's largest oil company, paid $4.7 billion for East Resources, a Marshall-based energy producer. And in February, Chevron of San Ramon, Calif., paid $4.3 billion for Atlas Energy of Moon

Over the years I have developed a quick litmus test for how to determine if a guy is a republican or a democrat. Here it is: If he wears pleated khakis, then he is a republican. If he wears plain-front khakis, then he is a democrat. Go ahead. Test it for yourself.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Paul Revere
Tuesday, 07 June 2011 09:00
Written by Rob Rogers

Good political satire relies heavily on exaggeration. It is hard to satirize Sarah Palin because she's already so exaggerated! Read what she said about Paul Revere. It's mind-boggling.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How about some shared sacrifice, Uncle Tom . . . ?

Corbett's new vehicle sparks controversy
State also bought SUVs for first lady, lieutenant governor and his wife
Tuesday, June 07, 2011

HARRISBURG -- Gov. Tom Corbett has a new ride. So does his first lady. And his lieutenant governor. And the lieutenant governor's wife.

The taxpayer tab: $186,000.

Even as his administration is proposing dramatic cuts in the state's next budget, Mr. Corbett, first lady Susan Corbett, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and his wife Suzanne are riding in new sport utility vehicles.

The men got 2011 Chevy Suburbans, each at a cost of $53,000, according to state records. The women received 2011 Chevy Traverses, at a cost of about $40,000 each.

Mr. Corbett, who before the purchase was driven around in cars that former Gov. Rendell had used, said Monday that he did not ask for the new vehicles. In an interview, the governor said the state police made the decision to buy the cars after assessing how many miles were on the older cars and the safety of the passengers in them.

The new cars, first reported by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, spiraled into a mini-controversy for Mr. Corbett on Monday, more so when it became known that the governor's new car was picked up for use on March 30.

That happened to be the same day Corbett told reporters he was driving around in a hand-me-down from the Rendell era.

Corbett apparently didn't take his inaugural ride in the new car until April 1, according to State Police spokesman Jack Lewis.

"I don't think [Corbett] knew he was getting a new car until he actually got it" on April 1, spokesman Kevin Harley explained Monday.

Mr. Harley said the governor remains committed to reducing the state's auto fleet -- a vow made often in his fall campaign -- and that, with one exception, he has directed his executive staff to drive their own cars rather than state cars. The exception is the chief of staff, Bill Ward, Mr. Harley said.

"This huge cost-cutting, the likes of which we have not seen in 40 years anyway, is driving the scrutiny," said political analyst and pollster G. Terry Madonna. "I don't fault [Corbett] for the type of vehicle or the need to be safe, but I think in this day and age, it has to be about shared sacrifice. Public officials cannot ask voters to accept cuts and reduction of services without themselves leading the way."

In his budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, Mr. Corbett has proposed axing more than half the funding for state-supported universities.

He also wants to reduce state aid to public schools by more than $1 billion.

In speech after speech, he has said he believes everyone must sacrifice as the state seeks to resolve an estimated $4 billion deficit next year.

"The sacrifice must be collective," Mr. Corbett said in his March 8 budget address, "as will be the ultimate rewards."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer Laura Olson contributed to this report.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A sign of the times . . .

Photo: Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette
Members of the Sykesville Hunting Club in Clearfield County posted this sign near the natural spring on their hunting camp property in Moshannon State Forest. The spring was contaminated by leaks from Marcellus Shale drilling operations.

Hunting club contends with spring contaminations from drilling
Sunday, June 05, 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

Did you read yesterday's post about the teacher academy being closed and 38 teacher recruits losing their jobs for next year? Well, I found out when I got to work yesterday that one of the teachers with whom I work is one of the teacher recruits who lost his job. He had been planning on becoming a math teacher at Brashear High School. He told me that the number of recruits who lost jobs is more like 60 than 38. And he was not happy. I mean, REALLY not happy.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

City teacher academy eliminated
Groundbreaking program would have groomed 38 for classroom
Thursday, June 02, 2011
By Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

They touted it as a ground-breaking program designed to attract new and enthusiastic teachers to work in the city schools.

But now, just five weeks before it was to start, the Pittsburgh Teacher Academy -- which would pair the district's best teachers with competitive recruits to mentor them and prepare them for an urban classroom -- has been eliminated.

District administrators spent weeks in discussions with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers to come up with a way to protect the new hires from any potential furloughs, expected because of cuts to public education in Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal.

The discussions were not productive, and late Wednesday the district began notifying the academy's 38 recruits that they no longer had jobs.

"Had we moved forward, we would have spent precious time and resources on a strategy we knew wouldn't have effect because we couldn't protect the new teachers," said Chief of Staff Lisa Fischetti. "It would have been a misuse of resources."

John Tarka, president of the teachers union, said the collective bargaining agreement is clear regarding the impact on experienced teachers. The contract would not allow new teachers to work while more senior teachers were furloughed.

Mr. Tarka was clear in saying that the decision to cancel the $26 million academy was the administration's. "The federation did not propose to cancel the academy," he said.

District administrators felt that they had no choice, Ms. Fischetti said.

"We've tried in good faith to resolve this, and we haven't arrived at a solution. We're five weeks away from people who are going to change their lives for the teacher academy," she said. "You can't continue to discuss this without knowing that each day that goes by has an impact on these people's lives."

Many of the 38 teachers hired for the academy live outside the area and were moving here.

One, Jon Farinelli, said he turned down jobs in New York and Chicago to return to his hometown to teach. He found out about the elimination of the program Wednesday evening. There was no warning.

"I'm upset and mad because they actually sent us an email a while ago that we didn't have to worry about the budget because it wouldn't affect us," said Mr. Farinelli, who taught English in South Korea for two years and spent the last year studying Spanish in Guatemala. "Our positions were guaranteed."

Mr. Tarka said the elimination of the academy is just another example of the impact of funding issues in the state and district.

Ms. Fischetti agreed.

"We never contemplated a furlough situation," she said.

But when the governor's budget proposal came out in March, it left the city with a $68 million shortfall, which likely means programs will be cut, schools will be closed and teachers will be furloughed, she continued.

There are other initiatives built into the Empowering Effective Teachers Program -- of which the academy was a part -- funded by a $40 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and matching federal grants. The Promise Readiness Corps and Learning Environment Specialists will be unaffected by the decision to cut the academy.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers had worked hand-in-hand with district officials to develop the teacher academy.

School Board President Sherry Hazuda said she was hopeful. "I think something will be salvaged, but it will look different. I think both sides want what's best for our kids, and I think they'll come up with a really good Plan B."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Just what winter in Pittsburgh needs: smog . . .

Wyoming plagued by big-city problem: smog
By MEAD GRUVER, Associated Press – Tue Mar 8, 4:48 pm ET

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Wyoming, famous for its crisp mountain air and breathtaking, far-as-the-eye-can-see vistas, is looking a little bit like smoggy Los Angeles these days because of a boom in natural gas drilling.

Folks who live near the gas fields in the western part of this outdoorsy state are complaining of watery eyes, shortness of breath and bloody noses because of ozone levels that have exceeded what people in L.A. and other major cities wheeze through on their worst pollution days.

"It is scary to me personally. I never would have guessed in a million years you would have that kind of danger here," Debbee Miller, a manager at a Pinedale snowmobile dealership, said Monday.

In many ways, it's a haze of prosperity: Gas drilling is going strong again, and as a result, so is the Cowboy State's economy. Wyoming enjoys one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates, 6.4 percent. And while many other states are running up monumental deficits, lawmakers are projecting a budget surplus of more than $1 billion over the coming year in this state of a half-million people.

Still, in the Upper Green River Basin, where at least one daycare center called off outdoor recess and state officials have urged the elderly to avoid strenuous outdoor activity, some wonder if they've made a bargain with the devil. Two days last week, ozone levels in the gas-rich basin rose above the highest levels recorded in the biggest U.S. cities last year.

"They're trading off health for profit. It's outrageous. We're not a Third World country," said Elaine Crumpley, a retired science teacher who lives just outside Pinedale.

Preliminary data show ozone levels last Wednesday got as high as 124 parts per billion. That's two-thirds higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's maximum healthy limit of 75 parts per billion and above the worst day in Los Angeles all last year, 114 parts per billion, according to EPA records. Ozone levels in the basin reached 116 on March 1 and 104 on Saturday.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality urged the elderly, children and people with respiratory conditions to avoid strenuous or extended activity outdoors.

The Children's Discovery Center in Pinedale set up indoor obstacle courses and turned kids loose on computers instead of letting them out on the playground in the afternoon.

High levels of ozone happen in the Upper Green River Basin only during the winter. They result from a combination of gas industry emissions, snow on the ground, bright sunshine and temperature inversions, in which cool air near the ground is trapped by a layer of warmer air. Pollution builds up during the day and becomes visible above the horizon as a thin layer of brown smudge — smog — by midafternoon.

It's not the kind of smog that clouds and chokes the air at ground level. Even so, people have noticed that details of nearby mountains don't appear as razor-sharp as they used to.

"It's like maybe when you're not wearing your glasses when you ought to be," said Miller, whose daily commute from her log home includes an eight-mile snowmobile ride just to get to a plowed road.

The gas industry has drilled hundreds of wells in the basin over the past decade and made the basin one of the top gas-producing areas in the U.S.

"Ultimately it comes down to accountability," said Linda Baker, director of the Upper Green River Alliance. "It doesn't seem to me the companies are being very accountable to the residents here." High ozone, she said, gave her a constant nosebleed three days last week.

Crumpley, 68, reported having difficulty on walks and showshoe trips. "You feel a tightness in your chest. You seem to be less able to hold in air. My eyes burn and water constantly, and I've had nosebleed problems," she said.

Drilling of new wells, routine maintenance and gas-field equipment release substances that contribute to ozone pollution, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. Last week's ozone alerts weren't the first in the basin — they also occurred in 2008 and 2009 — but they were the first in more than two years.

Gas industry officials say they are working hard to curb smog by reducing truck traffic and switching to drilling rigs with pollution control equipment. They have also postponed well completions and routine maintenance until the ozone advisories have passed, said Shell spokeswoman Darci Sinclair.

"Shell has taken some meaningful measures to really reduce our measures. Some were voluntary and some were mandatory, but they've resulted in some significant reductions," Sinclair said.

Indeed, gas industry emissions that contribute to ozone pollution, as reported by the petroleum companies themselves, are down by as much as 25 percent in the Upper Green River Basin since 2008, said Keith Guille, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality. Gas production in the basin is up 8 percent over that time.

Gov. Matt Mead, state regulators and industry representatives met on Monday to talk about what else companies can do to control pollution.

"We talked about the effectiveness of these contingency plans. We've seen them, they are good. However, we haven't been able to prevent these exceedances," Guille said.

Crumpley said the warnings to stay indoors are hard to take.

"We're all outdoor people here. We don't live inside," she said. "That's why we chose to be here."