LNP/LancasterOnline. June 11, 2023

Editorial: Lancaster County residents need to heed burn ban. And state Legislature needs to get serious about climate change.


Wildfires in the Quebec region in Canada sent plumes of smoke down into the U.S. Northeast last week, leading the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to issue a “code red” air quality alert in the commonwealth on Wednesday. Code red means air pollution in the area is unhealthy for the general population, and residents should refrain from going outdoors.

county public health department would have been useful last week, as our usually poor air quality took an even worse turn.

It would have been nice to have been able to consult with such a department about how to assess the risks of a local high school lacrosse game, for instance, played Wednesday even as the skies above the county were obscured by the smoke from the Canadian wildfires. Or about the hazards of lingering outside amid the gray haze and surreal orange glow.

Our hearts go out to our Canadian neighbors who have been displaced by the dangerous and out-of-control wildfires.

Sadly, this is the future we’re facing as our planet continues to warm and we continue to downplay the consequences of that warming.

Higher temperatures mean extended droughts and more extreme wildfires. Which mean worsened health conditions even in regions that are distant from those wildfires because borders are useless against smoke.

Francesca Dominici, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Washington Post that smoke particles from wildfires are particularly harmful, because they burn materials such as plastics that release toxins.

As WITF’s Ben Wasserstein reported Thursday, the smoke from Canada contained “several dangerous chemical compounds including formaldehyde, benzene and toluene, a chemical typically found in paint thinners.”

The small particles can be breathed into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, leading to coughing, difficulty breathing and worsened asthma, Dominici told the Post.

She co-authored a 2016 study that found that under future climate change, more than 82 million Americans will experience a 57% increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfire smoke waves.

She told the Boston Globe Media health news website Stat that we are “now starting to see” those predictions come to fruition. “I mean, it was very unusual to have this level of wildfire smoke in the eastern parts of the United States,” she noted.

The warming of our climate can seem to be so massive a problem that it’s hopeless to tackle it. But it’s not hopeless. We still have a chance to embrace solutions that will make a difference.

We’d like to see the Pennsylvania Legislature take the issue more seriously. Alas, last week, even as Lancaster County grappled with the effects of the wildfire-generated smoke, the state Senate was wasting time passing a bill along party lines that would rechristen the state Department of Environmental Protection as the “Department of Environmental Services.”

That bill’s prime sponsor, state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County, asserted that rather than “being a partner and an environmental steward, DEP has become known as an enforcer and an intimidator.”

Lancaster County state Sens. Ryan Aument and Scott Martin both voted in favor of the nonsensical bill.

It should be noted that the Pennsylvania constitution guarantees the right to clean air, pure water and the preservation of the environment — and sometimes enforcement is needed to ensure that right.

Fortunately, the Lancaster County commissioners were acting more prudently by passing a much-needed 30-day burn ban that went into effect Friday (similar bans are in effect in York and Lebanon counties). We strongly urge county residents to heed it.

As LNP ‘ LancasterOnline’s Tom Lisi reported Thursday, the ban applies to any outdoor fire, including screened or unscreened burn barrels, fire rings and pits and ground fires. “There are two notable exceptions: The ban has a carve-out for outdoor cooking and grilling, and fireworks.”

Fireworks fall under the purview of state law, so the commissioners couldn’t include them in the burn ban. But one walk across the nearest stretch of crispy grass should tell you why you should avoid lighting fireworks. An errant spark might set that dry grass ablaze.

As Lisi reported, Lancaster County was assessed last week by the U.S. Drought Monitor to be experiencing “moderate drought” conditions. That assessment isn’t as benign as it seems.

Kyle Elliott, director of Millersville University’s Weather Information Center, explained that even in moderate drought conditions, “one careless error could turn a forest into a tinderbox.”

Violations of the county’s fire ban could lead to a summary offense and $100 fine. Repeat offenders would be fined an additional $100.

But it shouldn’t take the threat of fines to adhere to the fire ban. Last Tuesday, the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for much of eastern Pennsylvania, including Lancaster County, “which denotes a high risk of wildfire,” Lisi reported.

Wildfires can endanger lives, livelihoods, health and property. Please let’s all do our part to prevent them.


Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer. June 12, 2023

Editorial: Government must show it can act fast to repair I-95 collapse

Around 160,000 vehicles travel on the highway each day. Restoring access demands leadership and teamwork to ensure an expedited and safe response.

Add the I-95 bridge collapse to the string of disasters that have shaken the region, coming just days after smoke from Canadian wildfires made for unsafe air quality and the chemical spill in March that prompted a warning that sent residents scrambling for bottled water.

On Sunday, a tanker truck carrying gasoline burst into flames beneath an elevated section of I-95 in Northeast Philadelphia. The fire melted the steel girders supporting the roadway, prompting four northbound lanes to fall onto Cottman Avenue and forcing the interstate to close in both directions between Woodhaven Road and Aramingo Avenue.

The accident caused traffic jams and delays that could continue all summer. Gov. Josh Shapiro said it was likely to take “some number of months” to fully repair the collapsed structure. He added that Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials are exploring temporary solutions to reconnect I-95 within a few weeks.

Investigators determined the southbound bridge will need to be demolished. Crews planned to begin work on that Monday and work around the clock. That is a good start. This is a dire crisis that demands daily leadership and teamwork to ensure an expedited and safe rebuilding.

Indeed, other countries have shown it can be done. While every project is different, China replaced a section of a bridge overpass in 43 hours back in 2015. Last year, India built a 46-mile stretch of road in five days. Closer to home, a part of Interstate 85 in Atlanta collapsed because of a fire in 2017. Crews completed the repairs in 44 days.

So mountains can be moved — and quickly.

It was a welcome sign to see city, state, and federal leaders working together after the collapse. Shapiro issued a disaster declaration for the ruined section of I-95 that will allow the state to access federal funds for repairs.

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle spoke with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and representatives from the Biden administration and toured the accident scene with the head of the Federal Highway Administration. Boyle planned to explore legislative routes to ensure there is enough funding.

The Philadelphia-area representative struck the right tone when he said, “We’ve gotta get it fixed as soon as humanly possible.”

That’s exactly what residents who are often frustrated by the inability of government to act want to hear. That same sense of urgency is needed to see the repairs through quickly and safely.

I-95 is a major transportation artery for the region and the Northeast corridor. Around 160,000 vehicles travel the highway each day, making it one of the busiest roads in the commonwealth, according to Mike Carroll, Pennsylvania’s transportation secretary.

The highway closure disrupted many morning commutes. SEPTA added train cars to the Trenton, West Trenton, and Fox Chase Regional Rail lines to handle additional riders; the transit agency also allowed free parking at the Frankford Transportation Center, Fern Rock, Fox Chase, and Torresdale.

This is an opportunity for SEPTA to win over customers by providing safe, clean, and friendly service. It is also a reminder of how a Roosevelt Boulevard subway could provide a better transportation solution for many residents in the Northeast.

For now, the focus must be on swiftly restoring I-95. This is an opportunity for the Biden, Shapiro, and Kenney administrations to show they can work together to get things done — pronto.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 11, 2023

Editorial: Home delivery: Pennsylvania should license and regulate non-nurse midwives

In not recognizing non-nurse midwives, Pennsylvania is holding back the improvement of maternity care while unnecessarily putting the growing number of women who choose home births at risk. The commonwealth should join nearly 40 other states by bringing these practitioners, also known as direct-entry midwives, into the legitimate medical system.

Midwifery is an ancient practice whose effectiveness is confirmed by modern scientific methods. The state’s posture toward it is outdated, based in early-twentieth-century over-confidence in experts and institutions, and more deeply in suspicions of women’s wisdom and competence. It’s time to leave that behind.

Alternative birth experiences

Home birth is relatively rare in the United States, accounting for about 1.25% of all live births in 2020, but that makes the U.S. an outlier compared to the rest of the world. In the Netherlands, for instance, about 20% of births take place at home, and the U.K. National Health System has encouraged healthy women with normal pregnancies — about 85% of pregnancies — to consider out-of-hospital care, whether in a birthing center or at home.

Research has consistently demonstrated that home birth is at least as safe as hospital birth for uncomplicated pregnancies, with maternal outcomes in particular being better at home. For this reason, among others, the practice is growing in the U.S., including a 22% increase from 2019 to 2020 alone.

In Pennsylvania, the number of births that took place in neither a hospital nor a freestanding birthing center increased from 2,478 to 3,639, or nearly 50%, from 2010 to 2020. (There were 130,693 live births in the state in 2020.) Pennsylvania has an unusually high number of home births due to the prevalence of Plain communities, such as Amish and Mennonite, in the state. The demand is almost certain to continue growing.

Midwifery in Pennsylvania

There are two different kinds of midwives: certified nurse midwives (CNMs) and midwives who do not seek education as nurses, whether due to the cost in time and money or because they’d prefer to avoid the institutional medical system. While CNMs are permitted to assist at home births in Pennsylvania, the regulations that attach to the practice make it uncommon. Almost all home births are assisted by non-nurse midwives.

The Midwife Regulation Law of 1929 was part of a nationwide professionalization and institutionalization of medicine, and specifically requires midwives to be licensed by a state board. However, the law has been enforced very infrequently over the years — only twice, according to one review — and some analysts have argued that the state implicitly permits uncertified midwifery.

Even so, the 1929 law hangs like a Sword of Damocles over the state’s unlicensed midwives. Their lack of recognition in state law also freezes them out of the medical establishment, forcing them to develop workarounds, such as allying with a compliant physician who will prescribe basic medicines for their clients. It prevents them from getting malpractice insurance.

This makes their work riskier than it should be. In addition, the fear generated by their uncertain legal status, and their lack of malpractice insurance, can incentivize them to discourage their clients from seeking necessary care in order to cover their own possible mistakes.

Legitimizing an ancient practice

Even in this uncertain environment, home births assisted by unlicensed midwives remain generally safe and are growing in popularity. In response, most states have introduced a new license for non-nurse midwives that allows them to practice openly and without fear.

There are two accredited credentialing agencies for non-nurse midwives. The American Midwifery Certification Board offers the certified midwife (CM) credential, and the North American Registry of Midwives the certified professional midwife (CPM) credential. The first only credentials midwives who have completed a graduate-level degree in midwifery, while the second requires only a high school diploma or equivalent, plus an apprenticeship and demonstration of knowledge and skills. Twelve states license midwives with the CM credential, and 31 with the CPM credential.

Licensed midwife deliveries are safe, increasingly popular and expand the freedom of Pennsylvania’s mothers to bring their children into the world the way they want to. Pennsylvania should accept either credential to be licensed to practice midwifery in the commonwealth. The new status would come with regulations to ensure the quality of care, something that’s lacking in the state’s current, uncertain legal environment. It would also allow these newly licensed midwives to be able to prescribe medicines and other procedures, such as ultrasounds.

Legitimizing more of the state’s midwives would also expand access to home births for people who currently can’t afford to pay out of pocket for unlicensed midwives. As the practice grows in popularity, it should not be available only to women with money to spare.

Over the last 12 years, at least 22 states have expanded their recognition of competent and knowledgeable non-nurse midwives. And in 2020, during the worst of the COVID pandemic, several Democratic state representatives, including Allegheny County Executive candidate Sara Innamorato, sponsored a bill to offer temporary licensure for existing CPMs in the commonwealth. There’s every reason to bring the issue back to the table, while making the licensure permanent.


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. June 10, 2023

Editorial: Electric vehicle fee for road use is only fair — but is there a better path forward?

Changing technology doesn’t just affect business or industry.

It also affects government, sometimes in how it regulates and sometimes in how it taxes.

We are seeing that now with electric vehicles.

In Pennsylvania, roads and bridges are funded, in large part, through gas tax. The Keystone State has some of the highest fuel taxes in the country at 61.1 cents per gallon. Only California, at 88 cents, is higher.

It’s the kind of painful dig at the pump that has caused a lot of grumbling as prices have climbed higher and higher amid inflation as well as supply issues in recent years.

At the same time, the increasing popularity of electric vehicles can make people wonder why the taxes on gasoline are driving projects despite more electric vehicles using the roads.

PennDOT shows a steadily growing number of fully electric and hybrid vehicles in the state since 2015. In 2015, there were 2,773 fully electric vehicles and 24,053 hybrids registered in Pennsylvania. In 2022, there were 43,785 fully electric vehicles and 100,717 hybrids registered with the state.

That’s an increase from .26% of the more than 10 million vehicles registered in the state to about 1.44%. The total number of registered vehicles has fallen by about 3,000 over that period.

It isn’t a sharp increase in electrical vehicles, but it’s an upward trend that doesn’t show signs of stopping. The state is encouraging it. Gas stations are putting in electric fueling stations, as are other locations like parks and parking lots. Electric vehicles are here to stay.

So what about paying their way for using the roads? The state Senate Transportation Committee wants to address that, according to a Pennlive.com article.

“It’s time for electric vehicles to pay a portion of (infrastructure projects) as well,” said committee Chairman Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria County. “Each day that we wait to tackle this issue it’s a day that we leave money on the table.”

He estimates the fee would generate approximately $20 million annually, although if the number of electric vehicles continues to grow at the same rate, it would only become a larger piece of the state’s transportation pie.

On Wednesday, the committee approved a bill to charge non-commercial passenger electric vehicles an annual fee of $290. It passed by a broadly bipartisan vote of 13 to 1 and now heads to the full Senate. A similar bill is being considered in the House of Representatives.

State Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny County, was the lone vote against the Senate bill, claiming she thought it did not “strike a balance” on making electric vehicle owners pay their fair share while keeping the vehicles affordable.

The fee boils down to $24.17 per month. Gas vehicle drivers pay that much if they use 64 gallons — about three tanks — of gas per month. That’s comparable.

But maybe Williams is right. Maybe there is a better way, a more creative approach that would stop leaning so heavily on taxation of both gas and electric users.

If so, it’s incumbent on lawmakers like her who want to find those paths to fuel more outside-the-tax conversation.


Scranton Times-Tribune. June 8, 2023

Editorial: Property taxes fund charter school ads

As always, public education funding will be a centerpiece of the impending state budget battle. And, as always, many legislators will lament the negative impact of rising school property taxes, and then decline to do anything about it.

One element of school financing they should and easily could address was rendered obvious this week in a report by Education Voters of PA, a public school advocacy organization. Using data gleaned from Right-to-Know requests, it found that online charter schools alone used at least $16.8 million in public funds during the 2021-2022 school year for advertising and promotion.

Charter schools are public schools, funded with public money. They do not charge tuition directly to students. But their claims in their advertising that they are “free” are misleading, at best. Each public school district pays tuition for each of district resident who attends a charter school, based on its own cost-per-student rather than the cyber school’s actual cost-per-student, which typically is less than the school district’s.

The Scranton School District this year pays charter schools $12,805 for each student, and $28,149 for each special education student. The Lower Merion School District in Montgomery County pays $22,608 per student, and $60,000 per special education student. Since cyber charter accept students statewide, the two districts illustrate the wide range of tuition payments cyber charters collect, regardless of their actual costs.

According to the state Department of Education, school districts pay 90% of charter school funding — about $2.5 billion statewide.

The new study found the Commonwealth Charter Academy, a statewide cyber charter, spent $3.4 million on advertising in the first quarter of 2022, and another $150,000 on Major League Baseball tickets and various events. Reach Cyber Charter School spent $125,308 on Target gift cards for students.

Numerous bills have been introduced to reform charter financing, including for a requirement to include in charter ads a notice the ads are funded with tax money. The most effective reform would be to fund charter schools according to their own costs, thus forcing them to use their public funds for education rather than for ads, sports events and gift cards for students.



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