Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 26, 2021.

Editorial: A fresh start for the State System of higher ed

Change can be hard and it can be scary. But, it also can be promising. Because with change comes opportunity.

That’s the spirit that must be tapped as the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education moves forward with seismic change: the merger of six of its member universities into two.

Amid contention and opposition, leaders of the state system agreed unanimously — and with the vocal support of the state system Chancellor Daniel Greenstein — to move forward with the plan that will combine three universities in the west and three in the northeast. Impacted on this side of the state are the universities of Clarion, Edinboro and California.

There will be a lot of work as well as consternation as the nuts and bolts are tightened on the integration initiatives that will culminate in the first class of students at the combined institutions in August 2022.

Everything, from coursework to marketing to sports, will be changed in some way. And it will be difficult. And necessary.

The state system is in an existential crisis. Enrollment has fallen. State financial support is weak, at best. Stronger schools have been pilfered to support the weaker among them. A makeover was necessary.

The new structure of the state system is an opportunity to build anew. Many particulars are unknown and have yet to be worked out. But, Mr. Greenstein said that students enrolled in the affected universities will be able to finish their degrees and that a full complement of sports will be maintained on all campuses. These are important promises — promises that must be kept.

The opportunity for a fresh start far from absolves Pennsylvania lawmakers of the duty to support a public higher education with adequate funding. Pennsylvania fares poorly in the ranking of public financial support for public higher education. The state system mergers constitute a necessary structural change. Now, lawmakers must follow with a serious assessment of its duty; loosen the purse strings. Some $200 million over three years in one-time help from the state for “redesign” is not enough.

State system leaders swallowed a bitter pill in making the decision to commence with consolidations. Lawmakers must take a hard look at themselves and their failure to prioritize public higher education and then they must do something about it. The ultimate goal is clear: a quality and affordable public higher education for Pennsylvania and its citizens.

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Erie Times-News. July 23, 2021.

Editorial: Take down your feeders and help fight mystery bird illness in Pa.

Birding social media channels crackle with concern and dismay.

Most people seem to have heard by now, but for those who somehow missed the sad news: A mystery songbird illness first spotted in April in Washington, D.C., now afflicts thousands of birds in the Southeast, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, including virtually all of Pennsylvania.

Witnesses report finding birds lifeless or displaying distressing symptoms — swollen, crusted eyes, lethargy and the inability to fly or walk.

It has been seen in a wide array of birds, including Northern cardinals, Eastern bluebirds, Carolina wrens and chickadees, house finches and sparrows, and red-bellied woodpeckers, but the Pennsylvania Game Commission said the malady appears to be targeting fledgling blue jays, common grackles, European starlings and American robins.

Suspected cases had been reported in all but four of the Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, according to the Game Commission’s July 8 update. Most had been reported in the southeastern corner of the state, the fewest in the northcentral region.

Testing is underway at federal and state agencies. Researchers don’t yet know the cause, but have ruled out a number of bird ailments including salmonella, chlamydia, avian influenza virus and West Nile virus. It also is not the conjunctivitis that has infected house finches in the past.

Some wonder whether a deadly fungus killing Brood X cicadas crossed into the bird population or whether pesticides absorbed by cicadas during their years-long underground stay are poisoning birds who eat the cicadas. We just don’t know yet and so must take whatever action we can to mitigate the harm.

The most common question songbird lovers ask is what they can do to help. That answer at least is clear: If you have not already, take down any feeders and birdbaths, the Game Commission and experts advise. Songbirds congregate at the feeders and water sources we provide. If a disease is causing their deaths, removing the feeders could help slow its spread from bird to bird. This strategy in the past helped reduce the incidents of the house finch eye disease, for example.

Experts also recommend Pennsylvanians scrub their idled bird feeder tubes, hoppers, trays and more with a 10% bleach solution before storing them away to ensure that if there is a contagion on them, it will be eliminated.

Since we don’t know what the illness is yet, it is best not to let pets come into contact with a dead or infected bird. And if you find a diseased bird or carcass, handle it with gloves. The Game Commission asks that suspected cases be reported online to the Wildlife Futures Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine at https://bit.ly/36QalYb.

This situation is a cruel blow to the birds, which already contend with habitat loss, pollution and predation, especially by feral and outdoor house cats. And it is tough on the many people who delight in the company of birds: their songs, their antics, their plumage and the epic, extraordinary migrations that bring them to roost in our backyards. What is not to like?

But in this relationship, especially in summer, it is important to remember we need them more than they need us. There is ample food this time of year to sustain them beyond our stocks of black oil sunflower, safflower and nyjer seeds, mealworms and nutty suet cakes.

We credit the Game Commission and researchers for their swift response to this alarming outbreak and hope answers are forthcoming soon.

In the meantime, rather than mourn, bird fans might eye this as an opportunity for positive action. Cultivate more native plants for birds to dine on or keep birding organizations and wildlife rescue operations top of mind for support. They are instrumental in this fight, too.

And remember, we always have the option to view birds on their own terms — not from our windows or back decks, but in their environs. Download an app or grab a guidebook, sling a pair of binoculars around your neck and take a stroll. You might be encouraged and delighted by what you find.

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Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. July 27, 2021.

Editorial: Expedite cleaner water

Multiple coal-fueled power plants in Pennsylvania and other states have rushed to lock into their operating permits some Trump-era regulatory rollbacks.

Fortunately, the Biden administration moved Monday to change the regulation that allows the plants to discharge large amounts of heavy metals in waste generated by coal combustion, including arsenic, lead and mercury.

Unfortunately, the change is on a schedule that would allow the major polluters to continue doing so into 2024.

On its way out the door in 2020, the Trump administration weakened EPA rules requiring power generators to heavily treat wastewater with modern filtration equipment before discharging into any waterway that provides any drinking water downstream. That prompted many generators to try to take advantage of the gift in their permit renewals this year.

But Monday, the EPA announced that it will establish stricter requirements — the beginning of a regulatory process that will last at least two years.

Environmentalists welcomed the change but urged the administration to simply rescind the Trump-era rule, and restore the earlier, more stringent regulations.

The EPA countered that rescinding the rule, rather than restarting the regulatory process, ran the risk of reinstating regulations dating to 1982, which are even less stringent than those established last year.

The unduly lax regulations illustrate how, in 2021, the government continues to subsidize the coal industry by allowing it to pollute for free.

Technology exists to make the plants compatible with the higher standard. It is folly to not make the polluters use it as soon as possible.

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York Dispatch. July 26, 2021.

Editorial: Hali Flickinger gives York County a once-in-a-generation opportunity

Over the next couple days, folks here in York County have a one-in-a-generation opportunity.

They may get to witness one of their own capture an Olympic gold medal.

How unusual is that?

Well, the last York County gold medalist came nearly three decades ago, when Dover’s Scott Strausbaugh triumphed in the two-man canoe slalom with partner Joe Jacobi at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona.

Now Spring Grove High School graduate Hali Flickinger will try to duplicate Strausbaugh’s feat during the Tokyo Summer Games in the 200-meter butterfly.

Favored to win: Flickinger is favored to win the event, according to The Associated Press projections, but there is, of course, no guarantee that Flickinger will emerge victorious, especially in a sport where the world’s top competitors are often separated by just hundredths of a second.

In fact, Flickinger has some work to do Tuesday just to get to Wednesday night’s final. A slip-up anywhere along the line could derail her gold-medal hopes.

Flickinger will first compete in a heat race at 6:28 a.m. Tuesday (televised by USA). If she performs as expected, she’ll move on to a semifinal race at 9:57 p.m. Tuesday (on NBC). If she again performs as expected and posts one of the top eight times in the semifinals, she’ll move to the final at 10:28 p.m. Wednesday (again on NBC).

It will be a grueling couple of days for the former University of Georgia standout who now trains in Arizona under legendary swim coach Bob Bowman – the man who helped mold Michael Phelps into an Olympic legend.

Reaching a whole new level: With Bowman’s help, and some mentoring from Phelps, as well, the late-blooming 27-year-old Flickinger has taken her swimming abilities to a whole new level. In the 2016 Olympics in Rio, she finished seventh in the 200 butterfly. Now she is favored to win the competition in 2021.

She is also coming off a bronze-medal performance in the 400-meter individual medley on Saturday night.

Dozens of her friends and family watched that medal-winning performance during a watch party at Spring Grove Middle School. Assuming she makes the 200 butterfly final, even more folks will likely show up for another watch party at the same location on Wednesday night for the final of Flickinger’s best event.

Thousands more in York County, and millions across the world, will be glued to their televisions at home on Wednesday night to see if she can achieve one of the few goals that has eluded her in her storied swimming career: an Olympic gold medal.

Added pressure: Being favored to win Olympic gold is something new for Flickinger. The pressure on her will be enormous. Still, she’s already proven, with her bronze-medal effort on Saturday night, that she’s ready to cope with the stress that comes with competing on the biggest stage in her sport.

She should also swim secure in the knowledge that she has the full support of her friends, family and supporters here in York County. She should also be buoyed by the fact that she is serving as an inspiration to our area’s young swimmers – especially the young girls.

Hopefully, a little after 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, folks here in York County will be celebrating our own gold-medal champion.

No matter what happens, Flickinger will forever be a champion in the hearts and minds of the folks here in York County.

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Altoona Mirror. July 21, 2021.

Editorial: Sound idea to rename expressway

Few American cities have the distinction of being a U.S. president’s birthplace.

Scranton would be foolish not to memorialize its place in history as President Joe Biden’s place of birth — on Nov. 20, 1942, in the former St. Mary’s Hospital — all the more so because the president wears his affinity for his native city on his sleeve.

Soon after Biden’s inauguration, an early proposal called for renaming Wyoming Avenue between downtown Scranton and Biden’s childhood neighborhood in Green Ridge.

City council appointed a committee to consider the matter and it has come up with a better recommendation: rename the Central Scranton Expressway and Spruce Street, in downtown Scranton, for Biden.

The change would be in keeping with recognition that the region has bestowed upon other major political figures, including the McDade Expressway for the late Rep. Joseph M. McDade, and the Casey Highway for the late Gov. Robert P. Casey.

It also would enhance recognition of Biden’s tie to Scranton, in that millions of people each year would see signage on Interstate 81 for the Joe Biden Expressway.

Some people objected to the Wyoming Avenue idea because it would require 20 blocks’ worth of residential and business address changes.

But Spruce Street is just six blocks long, with several full blocks occupied by buildings that have addresses on cross-streets — for example the Lackawanna County Courthouse on North Washington Avenue and the Scranton Times Building on Penn Avenue.

The recommendation is well-considered.

Council and the Cognetti administration should approve it and begin the process of formalizing the recognition for the 46th president’s deepest tie to Scranton.

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