Tag Archives: Amanda Gillooly

Did A Republican Candidate in Shale-Centric PA House Race Commit Voter Fraud?

Editor’s Note: Faithful readers of Marcellus Monitor likely have noticed the vast majority of stories I’ve published over this past year have originated from southwestern Pennsylvania, or, more specifically, from Pennsylvania’s 46th Legislative District.

The sitting representative in the district, which encompasses portions of Washington and Allegheny counties, is state Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Cecil Township. White has been called a “watchdog” on matters pertaining to Marcellus Shale. Because of his outspoken criticism of the Marcellus Shale industry and the state Department of Environmental Protection, which is tasked with regulating it, White has been painted as the “anti-shale” candidate by some.

His opponent, Republican Jason Ortitay (who owns Jason’s Cheesecake Company) is, by contrast, largely considered the “pro-shale” candidate (in fact, EQT’s political action committee is hosting an event to benefit the first-time state representative candidate this Thursday at the Cambria Suites in Washington.

IMG_1269

By way of background, DEP recently announced it is seeking a $4.5 million fine from the company for what the department called an impoundment leak. If assessed, it will be the largest such civil penalty in state history.

All that said, this story, while a bit different from the types of investigative reports I have published in the past, is pertinent, I believe, to all those who have been following this shale-centric race, and to all those who live  or work in the 46th District. -amanda

image

(This house on Maple Avenue in Burgettstown – the home of Pam Church – is where Jason Ortitay, Republican candidate for the 46th District state House seat, said he lived when he registered to vote in Burgettstown, Washington County. Ortitay registered to vote there on the very last day he could move into the district and still, under Pennsylvania statute, be eligible to run for office during this year’s election. Photo by Faith Cotter. Taken on Oct. 13, 2014)

By Faith Cotter

Despite admitting in a recent interview that he was in between apartments at the time, Republican candidate for the 46th state House seat, Jason Ortitay, registered to vote in Burgettstown, Washington County – an address that, on paper, moved him into the district on the very last day he could and still be eligible to run for office there in this November’s general election.

photo-2 Headshot
However, state election code dictates that, by registering, a prospective voter is stating – under penalty of perjury – that they will have lived at that residence for 30 days prior to the election in which they wish to vote. But according to documents, Ortitay signed a lease in South Fayette in Allegheny – which is also in the district – just a day after registering to vote in Burgettstown. And according to documents, Ortitay never even received mail at the Burgettstown addresss.

According to a change-of-address form filled out by Ortitay on Oct. 8, 2013 – just a day after he registered to vote in Burgettstown—he had his mail forwarded from his former Pittsburgh address to his new South Fayette Township address. The change of address was scheduled to take effect just days later on Oct. 11, 2013.

photo

Had Ortitay waited to register Oct. 8 at his South Fayette address, he may not have been eligible to run for office in the 46th District because he would not have lived in the district for the amount of time required by state statute.

When asked about when he moved in and out of Church’s Burgettstown home, and why he registered there when he signed a lease in South Fayette Township only a day later, Ortitay said:

“I changed my voter registration on the last day I could. Everything I did was completely legitimate. I asked if it was legitimate, and they said yes.”

But according to obtained documents, Ortitay, on paper, was still living in a Pittsburgh apartment until Oct. 31, 2013, when the lease expired. His former Pittsburgh address is not part of the 46th District.

He then signed the new lease for his South Fayette Township apartment (in which he currently resides) on Oct. 8, 2013, the day after he registered to vote in Burgettstown.

During an interview in a Panera parking lot on Oct. 13, 2014, Ortitay was unable to provide specific dates on which he moved in and out of the Burgettstown home – or why he registered there when he signed a lease elsewhere just a day later.

Although a car was in the driveway and a light was on in Church’s home the afternoon of Oct. 13, 2014, nobody answered the door to help clarify when Mr. Ortitay allegedly resided there.

While no one answered the door there after three attempts at knocking, a neighbor across the street answered hers. The neighbor, Carrie Ferris, has resided at her home for 16 years and said that she is “pretty familiar” with the neighborhood.

After being shown a photo of Ortitay, she said, “No, I’ve never seen him around.”

According to Pennsylvania election code, a person is committing voter fraud if they, “Declare as residence a place or address which the individual knows is not the individual’s legal residence.”

If an individual is found guilty of violating this section of Pennsylvania law, which is a first-degree misdemeanor, the penalty could include a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years. Additionally, individuals who are found guilty of violating the statute may lose their right to vote for a period of 10 years.

According to the Criminal Law Division of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, if there is evidence of an individual committing voter fraud, the case would be investigated by the district attorney’s office in the county the individual voted in, unless there is a conflict of interest. In that case, the state Attorney General would have jurisdiction to investigate.

A phone message left with the Washington County District Attorney’s office last week was not immediately returned.

Ortitay did not return two voice mail messages left on his cell phone seeking comment on this story. He hung up on a reporter without answering during a third attempt to make contact prior to publication.

Author’s Note: Faith Cotter is an award-winning writer and editor based in Pittsburgh, PA. Her background includes working as an investigative reporter for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University. She is currently working toward a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Chatham University. She can be reached by email at faithc3865@gmail.com, or via her website: http://faithc3865.wix.com/faithcotter

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

DEP Issues Notice of Violation to Range Resources for Leaking Cecil Township Impoundment

worstell

The state Department of Environmental Protection has issued a notice of violation to Marcellus Shale drilling company Range Resources for groundwater contamination at the former Worstell centralized waste water impoundment in Cecil Township.

News of the NOV was given to Cecil Township officials at a private meeting with DEP Monday night, board Chairman Andy Schrader said Tuesday morning.

Schrader said the NOV was issued to Range Resources because liquid from the frack pit, now known as Cecil 23 Impoundment, “escaped containment.”

“Since the DEP issued the notice of violation, this confirmed that the Cecil Township 23 is leaking. For the safety of our residents this was the township’s concern from the beginning,” Schrader.

He said DEP will arrange for further testing to be done at the site to determine the extent of the soil and water contamination.

Three officials from DEP met with all five Cecil supervisors and township Manager Don Gennusso at the municipal building for about two hours Monday to discuss ongoing concerns over possible groundwater contamination stemming from what is now confirmed to have been a leak.

The Monday meeting was requested by township officials after news that, on July 11 Range Resources notified the DEP that there were elevated chloride levels detected by the ground water monitoring wells at the Cecil 23 waste water impoundment.

“Range has until September 24 to respond.  It is our expectation that Range would perform a full characterization of the extent of the plume of contamination and to implement an appropriate remedial response to address the release,” DEP spokesman John Poister said in an email. “Still to be determined would be any civil penalty for Range.”

In response to repeated inquiries by Cecil Township officials, the DEP said last month that it would conduct a limited investigation. Cecil officials in turn sent letters to about 50 nearby residents letting them know about the potential for groundwater contamination.

The Worstell impoundment made headlines in 2013, when Cecil Township supervisors sought to meet publicly with DEP regarding concerns over the frack pit.

DEP refused to meet in public, and documents obtained through a state Right to Know request showed high-ranking officials making a joke about using a provision in the open records law to keep the gathering in private.

News of possible groundwater and soil contamination at the Cecil 23 Impoundment comes in the wake of a “significant” leak at another Range Resources impoundment in Amwell Township, Washington County. That leak necessitated the removal of at least 15,000 tons of soil. DEP issued notices of violation for the leak.

A third frack pit in Amwell run by Range Resources known as the Yeager impoundment – which was the subject of lawsuits and a federal probe – is reportedly in the process of being closed.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella did not immediately return an email seeking more information.

Editor’s Note: It should be acknowledged that the former Worstell impoundment was the subject of industry PR spin. Check out this story and feel free to leave a comment asking for a correction.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

UPDATED: PA Supreme Court Denies Request to Reconsider Act 13 Decision

Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan

Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 6:03 p.m. Friday to add quotes from two lead attorneys who challenged Act 13.

By Amanda Gillooly
Editor

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Friday announced that it will not reconsider its decision that Act 13 – the state’s set of laws regulating the Marcellus Shale gas drilling activities – is unconstitutional.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Public Utility Commission last month requested the court reconsider the case following its Dec. 19 decision, which declared key provisions of Act 13 as unconstitutional, including portions that would have taken zoning control out of the hands of local government bodies.

The DEP and PUC hired an outside law firm, Conrad O’Brien, P.C., to handle the filing. One of the partners of the firm is Christopher Carusone, who joined the firm after leaving his position as Gov. Tom Corbett’s chief of staff in July.

John Smith, one of the lead attorneys representing the handful of municipalities such as Cecil and Peters township, a non-profit and medical doctor, said he was pleased with the decision.
Reached Friday, Smith said:
“We are extremely pleased the court acted as justly and swiftly in denying this unprecedented request to reconsider. We look forward to litigating the injustices that the Supreme Court remanded back to the Commonwealth Court.”
One of those issues, he said, relates to gag orders on medical doctors.

Jordan Yeager, one of the lead attorneys on the case stated, “The Corbett Administration wanted a ‘do-over.’ The Supreme Court said ‘no.’ Act 13 violated our fundamental constitutional rights. The court’s landmark ruling stands and we are all safer as a result.”

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and one of the original petitioners in the case said, “The State has heard the final word on Act 13 from the highest authority. Once again the primary rights of clean air, water, and a healthy environment for the people of the Commonwealth have been reiterated. We hope the Governor and his administration can now finally accept that they were wrong in their attempt to undo the Court’s deliberations. The governor should listen to what the Court has said and realize that the Court’s thoughtful, extensive set of opinions instructs all levels of government to fully adhere to their ruling. This is a great day for Pennsylvania”.

Tagged , , , , , ,

UPDATED: How Does Chevron Say Sorry for Gas Explosion? $1,200 Worth of Pizzas

Photo courtesy of nofrackingway.us

Photo courtesy of nofrackingway.us

Editor’s Note: What follows is not satire. I telephoned Bobtown Pizza Monday after reading about the issue on two other blogs. On Tuesday, Raging Chicken Press confirmed the letter and gift certificates with Chevron. You can read about that here: http://www.ragingchickenpress.org/2014/02/18/breaking-chevron-confirms-that-it-is-responsible-for-pizza-and-soda-party/

The gentleman who answered the phone at Bobtown Pizza in Greene County on Monday said he was surprised how quick word got out about gift certificates Chevron bought from the shop and distributed locally.

Word got out so quickly, he said, that the pop that goes along with the one-large-pizza deal hasn’t even gotten a chance to chill.

That was reportedly how Chevron, the operator of the gas well in Greene County that exploded, killing a man, apologized to local folks.

A form letter, and a gift certificate for a pizza and pop combo.

The cost of the “hey, we’re a good neighbor and we’re trying to prove it” effort? $1200.

Yes, you read that right. The company that earned $21.4 billion in profit last year (that’s billion with a “b”) bought 100 of the gift certificates – each with a retail value of $12.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Act 13 Challengers: DEP, PUC Have No Basis for Supreme Court Reconsideration

Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan

Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan

By Amanda Gillooly

Editor

The law firm that led the legal challenge against a Pennsylvania law governing Marcellus Shale drilling activities this week filed a response to a motion two state agencies made earlier this month petitioning the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision that some of those regulations, collectively known as Act 13, were unconstitutional.

Attorneys for Smith Butz, the Southpointe-based firm that represented a handful of municipalities such as Cecil, Peters and Robinson townships, as well as a nonprofit and medical doctor in the challenge, filed the answer Tuesday, writing that, “Citizens respectfully request that this honorable court deny (their) request.”

In the 19-page filing, Smith Butz argues that the state Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Commission failed to demonstrate a compelling reason for the court to reconsider its position.

Attorneys wrote:

Reargument before an appellant court is not a matter of right, but of sound judicial discretion, and reargument will be allowed only when there are compelling reasons.”

(The DEP and PUC) presented no compelling reasons for extraordinary relief.

Attorneys from Smith Butz also wrote that the state agencies’ argument for reconsideration revolved around the standard the Supreme Court used to make its determination that portions of Act 13 violated the Pennsylvania Constitution – they specifically allege the court applied a “new” standard.

Smith Butz attorneys disagreed with this logic, writing:

(The standard used by the Supreme Court) follows the plain language of Section 27, which has been a part of the Pennsylvania Constitution for (more than) 40 years.

Agencies clearly recognized this standard, conceding that the Commonwealth…has a duty under Section 27 to conserve and maintain public natural resources.

Agencies also previously recognized that government agencies must ‘balance environmental and social concerns’ and even argued that the General Assembly did the appropriate balancing when it enacted Act 13.’

Yet now, agencies claim that they did not have an opportunity to show how Act 13 satisfies Section 27, and even argue ignorance of a balance test.

To the extent (the DEP and PUC) failed to raise argument in defense of Act 13, they cannot do so now.

A majority of the court recognized that Act 13 reflected that the General Assembly made no effort to account for local concerns or to mitigate localized impact of shale gas on the people ad their public natural resources.

…(the Supreme Court opinion) explained that Act 13’s primarily stated purpose is not to effectuate the constitutional obligation to protect and preserve Pennsylvania’s natural environment. Rather, the purpose of the statute is to provide a maximally favorable environment for industry operators.”

SmithButz attorneys also argue that the request should “be rejected because it would compromise the finality of court’s decision.”

They wrote:

“The court should not sanction an approach to the resolution of cases that does not comport with basic fairness and ultimately erodes finality and judicial economy. Because no compelling reason exists to justify reconsideration, (the DEP and PUC’s) current request fosters undue delay and creates the specter of uncertainty regarding the outcome and effect of this landmark case.”

Editor’s Note: I am having some issues with Scribd at the moment – will get a copy of this thing online ASAP. Sorry for the inconvenience! -amanda

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

UPDATED: Shale Lecture at Washington & Jefferson Explores “Social License” to Drill

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 5:22 p.m. to include information provided by W&J College about the event. -amanda

I wanted to pass along some information on a lecture happening TONIGHT at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, PA regarding Marcellus Shale drilling.

The lecture, titled “Obtaining a Social License to Operate in the Unconventional Shale Domain,” will take place at 7 p.m. in the Yost Auditorium.

Here’s how the W&J website describes the event:

The new Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), formed by a coalition of natural gas producing companies, philanthropies, and environmental groups, is a center of excellence for shale gas development. Its goal is to support continuous improvement in industrial practices through performance standards and voluntary certification. Join Andrew G. Place, Corporate Director, Energy and Environmental Policy, EQT Corporation, and Acting Interim Director of the CSSD, and Davitt Woodwell, Senior Vice President, Western Region, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, as they discuss the goals and plans of the CSSD and the challenges it faces.

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development is a nonprofit organization based n Pittsburgh. Here is a little bit of info about its mission from its website, which can be accessed here:

Focused on shale development in the Appalachian Basin, the Center provides a forum for a diverse group of stakeholders to share expertise with the common objective of developing solutions and serving as a center of excellence for shale gas development.

Funded by philanthropic foundations and participating energy companies, CSSD is intended to promote collaborative efforts by industry and its stakeholders called for by the Shale Gas Production Subcommittee of the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board.

A news release from the nonprofit indicates that it was formed this past March. Here’s what Robert Vagt, president of The Heinz Endowments, had to say in the release:

“CSSD is the result of an unprecedented effort that brought together a group of stakeholders with diverse perspectives, working to create responsible performance standards and a rigorous, third-party evaluation process for shale gas operations.This process has demonstrated for us that industry and environmental organizations, working together, can identify shared values and find common ground on standards that are environmentally protective.”

While companies such as Chevron, EQT, Shell are strategic partners in this newly formed nonprofit, it appears from the website that Range Resources and MarkWest, which conduct much drilling activity in Washington County, are not among those participating.

Need more info on the nonprofit? A fact sheet can be found here.

Thinking of attending? Here’s what you need to know about getting there.

The lecture, part of an ongoing energy program at the college, is free and open to the public.

Here’s what a W&J release indicated about tonight’s event:

This evening’s lecture looks at the important issue of how natural gas producers in the Appalachian Basin achieve a social license to operate. In other words, how do they develop trust –based relationships with all of their stakeholders and with the communities within which they operate so that the communities accept or approve the producers’ ongoing presence? Recently, a coalition of natural gas producers, environmental groups and philanthropies formed the CSSD as a center of excellence for shale gas development with the ultimate goal of achieving a social license for operators in the Appalachian Basin.  The CSSD’s mission is to support continuous improvement and innovative practices through collaboratively developed performance standards and a third party certification to those standards. Representatives of the CSSD will discuss the goals of the CSSD and the challenges it faces in achieving those goals,” said Diana Stares, director for the CEPM.

Registration is suggested. Please register at http://www.washjeff.edu/center-energy-policy-management

Upcoming lectures of the Energy Lecture Series:

·         Feb. 27, 2014, 6:30 p.m.: “Thirst for Power: The Nexus of Energy & Water”

·         March 26, 2014, 6:30 p.m.: “A Vision for Coal” 

-amanda

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,