Tuesday, August 23, 2016

On the Road With EnviroPolitics - Day 2

Today we visit Tarrytown, NY, made famous by early American writer Washington Irving, and get a look at how construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge is coming along.

Next stop: Beacon, NY, where folk singer and environmentalist Pete Seeger lived and sailed the Hudson River, calling public attention to its pollution. Did you know that legendary Notre Dame University basketball coach Digger Phelps coached junior varsity basketball in Beacon? We didn't until we visited the town.

Final stop on Day 2: Peekskill, NY, where a nuclear power plant is leaking radioactive material into the Hudson but another environmental story is making bigger headlines.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

On the Road with EnviroPolitics - Day 1

As summer dwindles down, and the news-flow dwindles with it, we offer something a bit different.

Editor Frank Brill is headed north, by trusty 188,000-mile SUV, and will be reporting on sights and conversations with an environmental and political flavor. At least, that's the plan.

Catch Frank's takeoff video below.

We will continue to publish our daily EnvirPolitics paid-subscription news editions this week but will take a one-week break starting next Monday.


Friday, August 19, 2016

A first step toward a beach-access solution in New Jersey?

The environmental committees of the Senate and Assembly met at the Jersey Shore yesterday for a hearing on a new beach-access bill designed to fix a roadblock raised by a court ruling. Senate Committee Chairman Bob Smith (above) was pleased with turnout and testimony from a number of interested parties and says he will be working to address some of those concerns with bill amendments.

Assemblyman John McKeon
is optimistic about the adoption and enactment of some form of the beach-access legislation but says that a number of thorny issues involving waterfront access away from the shoreline (saved for a second bill) likely will prove more challenging.

In the videos below, representatives of the environment and business committees--Jeff Tittel of the NJ Sierra Club and Michael Egenton of the State Chamber of Commerce--offer their views.

 Also see links below to other coverage of the hearing.


Related news stories:
Beach access debate examines rights of property owners and public
Beach access bill goes too far, says the NJDEP

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A look at Pennsy's third attorney general in a week?

Bruce Beemer likely to become PA's interim Attorney General  
BillyPenn's Anna Orso offers five things you should know about Bruce Beemer:
Pennsylvania is now on track to have its third attorney general in less than a week.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced today that he’s nominated Pennsylvania Inspector General Bruce Beemer to serve as the attorney general of Pennsylvania until January, when a new leader takes office after November’s election. Beemer, who is a former employee of the Office of the Attorney General and a well-respected figure in Harrisburg, must be confirmed by the state Senate. With top Senate leaders on both sides of aisle already supporting Beemer’s nomination, that confirmation is likely to come soon.
.@JakeCorman & @senatorscarnati: They support@GovernorTomWolf's picking Bruce Beemer for Attny Gen &will schedule confirmation vote soon

This nomination comes after now-former Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s Tuesday resignation after being convicted on charges of perjury, obstruction and abuse of office. Her first deputy Bruce Castor took over as acting attorney general on Wednesday. And now, his time could already be close to up.
Here’s five things to know about Beemer:

1. He’s been around

Before Wolf appointed Beemer to be Pennsylvania’s first inspector general, he was the first deputy attorney general under Kane and essentially oversaw the day-to-day operations of the Office of the Attorney General. He’s been with the office since 2011, when then-acting Attorney General Linda Kelly named him chief of staff. In 2013, Kane promoted him to Chief of Criminal Prosecutions.
But before he made his way to Harrisburg, Beemer was an experienced prosecutor in the Pittsburgh area. He became an assistant district attorney at the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office in 1996. According to his official bio, “he worked in the Crimes Persons, Narcotics and Homicide Trial Units where he tried more than 100 jury trials and prosecuted more than 75 homicide cases.”
He made his way through the ranks to become a supervisor, and then left the office in 2010 for private practice where he was focused on plaintiff environmental toxic tort cases and white-collar criminal defense.

2. Beemer’s been in his current job for a month

Beemer slid into the Inspector General slot in July and replaced Grayling Williams, who left the cabinet-level position for a job in another state. Maybe Beemer got the job because he really wanted out of the Office of the Attorney General.
In March, Kane apparently wanted a new No. 2, but she didn’t need any more bad press for retaliating against people who were prepared to testify against her (more on that later). So in a huge slight to Beemer, Kane brought in former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor to fill the made-up position of “Solicitor General.”
Castor was granted a higher salary than Beemer and was given the opportunity to made all the legal decisions while Kane was operated on a suspended law license. And Beemer answered to Castor.

3. Beemer testified last week against Kane

He testified against Kane first in 2014 when a grand jury was investigating whether or not Kane orchestrated an illegal leak of grand jury information to the Philadelphia Daily News. He testified against her again last week — that is, before Kane was found guilty — about Kane’s demeanor in the office and where he thought the grand jury leak came from.
In late July 2014, a few weeks after raising concern over Daily Newsarticle containing information about a halted 2009 grand jury investigation, Bruce Beemer received a phone call from Attorney General Kathleen Kane. He knew the call was coming. They had spoken earlier in the morning. But the responses he heard from Kane, he said, made his heart sink “a little.”
Beemer, second-in-command under Kane at the time, recounted details of the call this morning in court as he continued to express confidence the leak of grand jury material to the Daily News at issue in Kane’s perjury and obstruction case came from the Office of the Attorney General.
He also testified that Kane tried to divert him from investigating where the leak came from:
He also explained the first time he spoke with Kane about the Daily News article, when it ran on June 6, 2014. He said he asked if he could look into it because he thought the leak had come from the AG’s Norristown office.
“She said, ‘don’t worry about it,’” Beemer said. “‘It’s not a big deal. We have more important things to do.’”

4. He helped build the case against Jerry Sandusky and Penn State

Among Beemer’s most high-profile cases was the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case and the corresponding charges filed against top Penn State University officials.
While Beemer was still at the Office of the Attorney General, he was leading the case against Graham Spanier, the former Penn State president accused of conspiring to cover up Sandusky’s crimes. He also led the 2013 preliminary hearing against Spanier and two of his top associates — former Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley — calling their alleged cover-up “a conspiracy of silence.”

5. Beemer’s well-respected in the legal community

Top officials in Pennsylvania’s judicial system haven’t gotten along with Kane over the last year or so. And when Castor took over for her Wednesday, the legal community… wasn’t exactly thrilled.
It’s different with Beemer. Because he’s a career prosecutor, some have already come out to say he’s the right man for the job:
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Thursday, August 18, 2016

NJ Senate enviro panels to hear beach-access bill today

A simple walk along an ocean beach has been a basic right that can be traced back to old English law and the Roman Empire. But in New Jersey – between marinas, dune reconstruction, endangered species and homeland security sites – things get a little complicated.

The Record's John C. Ensslin reports:

That’s one reason why lawmakers plan to hold a hearing in Toms River Thursday on a beach access bill, the latest in a series of beach and shore related bills.

Lawmakers for years have tried to fix perennial shore issues by posting bills on beach replenishment and property easements as well as bills that would address beach fees charged by towns and shore protection funds. But many of those measures have met with limited success.

For example, a search of keywords “beach” or “shore” turned up 19 bills posted in the current session. All were carryovers from the last legislative session and none had a hearing so far. That list doesn’t include a ban on smoking on the beach, which passed the Legislature but was conditionally vetoed by Governor Christie.

Assemblyman David Wolfe, R-Ocean, said he was surprised to hear that other shore legislation had stalled. He noted that some significant bills such as increased “blue acres” funds for chronic flooding are meaningful to shore communities even if they are not labeled as “shore” legislation.

Wolfe also noted that lawmakers who represent shore communities tried to form their own caucus a few years ago. “But that kind of fizzled out,” he said.
The beach access bill - co-sponsored by Senators Bob Smith, D-Middlesex and Christopher “Kip” Bateman, R-Somerset – may prove to be the exception when it gets a hearing before the joint environmental committees of the Senate and Assembly at the Toms River Town Hall.

No vote is planned Thursday on the measure, which does not address some of the more controversial issues involved in public access to beachfront, such as how and where to provide access ramps and restrooms, who pays for those improvements and what rules should apply to marinas.

Smith, chairman of the Senate Environmental Committee, said the beach access bill stems from an Appellate Court ruling in December that declared the Department of Environmental Protection had overstepped its authority in 2012 when it adopted a rule that gave more power to local municipalities to determine how to provide access.

“We have an Appellate Division...that had some difficulty in recognizing the public trust doctrine,” Smith said, referring to a concept that dates back to the Roman Empire and English Law.

That doctrine upheld the common law rights of the public to fish, hike and swim along the state’s tidal shorelines. Smith said the bill is an attempt to clarify the situation by explicitly putting that doctrine into state law.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Kathleen Kane to resign Attorney General post tomorrow

Philly.com staffers report:

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who was convicted Monday of perjury and other crimes, will resign Wednesday, ending a once-promising career in state politics.


In announcing her intention to step down, Kane, 50, the state's first woman and first Democrat elected to the office, said only: "I have been honored to serve the people of Pennsylvania and I wish them health and safety in all their days."

Her decision to resign capped a spectacular fall from grace for an attorney general once touted as a rising star in Democratic politics.

On Monday, after 4 1/2 hours of deliberation, a jury of six men and six women found Kane guilty of two counts of perjury and seven misdemeanor counts of abusing the powers of her office.

Prosecutors persuaded jurors that Kane orchestrated an illegal leak of secret grand jury documents to plant a newspaper story critical of a former state prosecutor whom she considered her nemesis, Frank Fina. Kane then lied about her actions under oath, the jury found.

Her sentencing has been scheduled for Oct. 24 at 10 a.m. in Norristown.

Under the state Constitution, Kane would have been required to resign on the day of her sentencing. But the Republican-controlled legislature made it clear Monday night that if she did not step down before then, they would take steps to remove her from office.

In a statement, Gov. Wolf, who for months has urged Kane to leave office, said: "What has transpired with Attorney General Kane is unfortunate. Her decision to resign is the right one, and will allow the people of Pennsylvania to finally move on from this situation."

The governor also said he would work with the state Senate "regarding any potential appointment of an Attorney General."

Officials at the Attorney General's Office said that once Kane's resignation takes effect Wednesday, Bruce Castor, her second-in-command, will become Acting Attorney General. Castor is the former district attorney in Montgomery County and a former Montgomery County commissioner.

Kane hired him earlier this year as her office's solicitor general, giving him broad powers. She later promoted him to first deputy attorney general.

As her legal troubles mounted over the last year, Kane announced that she would not be seeking another four-year term once her current one ends in January.  

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Fattah seeks to have corruption conviction overturned

Ex-Congressman Chaka Fattah wants his corruption  conviction overturned

Philly.com staff writer Jeremy Roebuck reports:
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah leaned heavily on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that narrowed the definition of political bribery in asking a federal court in Philadelphia on Monday to overturn his conviction on corruption charges.

The ex-congressman's lawyers had telegraphed the move after the high court vacated the conviction of ex-Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell in June - a decision that came days after a federal jury found Fattah guilty on 22 counts in a case with some parallels.

In overturning the McDonnell verdict, the justices sketched out more precise guidelines for prosecutors building cases under the law that bars public officials from taking gifts in exchange for official actions. That standard should be applied to Fattah's case, his attorney Bruce Merenstein said in court filings late Monday before U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III.

"The Supreme Court's McDonnell decision undercuts every one of the arguments the government made here that Congressman Fattah committed or agreed to commit an 'official act,' " Merenstein wrote. "Indeed, the government's arguments in this case as to what constituted an 'official act' tracked precisely the arguments rejected by the Supreme Court in McDonnell."

Prosecutors have not yet responded to the congressman's new legal arguments, but previously dismissed the idea that the McDonnell decision would have a significant impact on Fattah's case.

Bartle, who presided over the trial of Fattah and four co-defendants in June, has not signaled whether he intends to hold a hearing on the arguments.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane guilty on all counts

Attorney General Kathleen Kane guilty on all counts (Inquirer photo Jessica Griffin) 

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane was convicted Monday of perjury, obstruction and other crimes after squandering her once bright political future on an illegal vendetta against an enemy.

Four years after Kane's election in a landslide as the first Democrat and first woman elected attorney general, a jury of six men and six women found her guilty of all charges: two counts of perjury and seven misdemeanor counts of abusing the powers of her office.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele persuaded the jurors that Kane orchestrated the illegal leak of secret grand jury documents to plant a June 2014 story critical of her nemesis, former state prosecutor Frank Fina. Kane then lied about her actions under oath, the jury found.

Kane, 50, who rose from a hard-scrabble upbringing in Scranton to win a statewide post in her first bid for office, showed little emotion as the verdict was read. Her twin sister Ellen Granahan was with her in court.

The jury deliberated for 4 1/2 hours before pronouncing Kane's guilt in a verdict that her lawyer Gerald Shargel called "a crushing blow." He vowed to appeal. Shargel said no decision had been made about whether Kane would resign from office. Gov. Wolf, who had called for Kane to resign after her arrest, said Monday night that she should now do so immediately.

Kane, for her part, left the courtroom without addressing reporters. Steele called the jury's decision just. "We had somebody who felt that she was above the law," he the attorney general.

Montgomery County Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy ordered Kane to surrender her passport by noon Tuesday. The judge barred her from retaliating against witnesses in the case and said if she did so, she would be jailed.

Kane sought revenge agains Fina because she believed he was the source for a March 2014 Inquirer story reporting that she had secretly shut down an undercover sting operation that had caught Philadelphia officials on tape accepting cash. Fina, for many years the head of corruption cases for the Attorney General's Office, launched the sting before Kane took office.

Michelle Henry, who joined Steele in presenting the prosecution case, painted Kane as heedless of the law as she carried out her crimes.

"She knew it was wrong, she knew it was against the law, and she didn't care," Henry told the jury. "She did it for revenge. And after that happened, she covered it up with lies."

As Kane fought with Fina, their war kept spreading to new fronts. In a feud that riveted the state's legal and political communities, Kane and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams - both Democrats and the state's two top law enforcement officials - became enemies.

Williams, who hired Fina as a city proseutor after he left the state payroll, ended up resurrecting the sting investigation. At last count, five defendants - four former state legislators and a former president judge of Philadelphia Traffic Court - had pleaded guilty or no-contest to corruption charges.

Williams accused Kane of erroneously suggesting that race played a role in the selection of targets in the investigation.

Read the full story here

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