News from the Associated Press - February 20, 2014

Associated Press
February 21, 2014

NY village appeals ban on fracking water sales

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Environmental groups and a Steuben County village are headed to an appeals court over water sales to a Shell Oil Company subsidiary for shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

The state Conference of Mayors says a decision in favor of the environmental groups could endanger thousands of water sale contracts that help struggling towns raise revenue.

The Sierra Club and People for a Healthy Environment won a court injunction in March 2013 stopping the village of Painted Post from further water shipments under a 2012 contract with SWEPI LP, a Shell subsidiary drilling gas wells in Pennsylvania. The five-year contract is for up to a million gallons of water per day shipped by rail.

The trial-level state judge ruled that Painted Post officials improperly conducted the project's environmental impact review.


GOP Rep.: bar federal money for prison college

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - A Republican congressman from the Buffalo area says he will introduce legislation to prohibit the use of federal money to provide college courses for convicted criminals.

The promised legislation from U.S. Rep. Chris Collins comes days after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a program to offer associate's and bachelor's degree education at 10 state prisons. Cuomo says it will reduce the likelihood of inmates returning to crime.

Collins called the Cuomo plan "an insult to law abiding citizens." He is among a number of Republicans publicly criticizing the proposal.

Cuomo says the program would save taxpayers in the long run by reducing the prison population. The state would spend up to $5,000 per year to help a prisoner get a college degree, but it costs $60,000 a year to house a prisoner.


EPA removing tons of PCB-laden soil from NY site

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Federal officials report removing 335,000 tons of PCBs, contaminated soil and other material from the shuttered General Motors factory in northern New York, finding more waste than expected in the Superfund cleanup.

In its 2014 project update, the Environmental Protection Agency says that's more than four times the amount covered in the original settlement agreement.

Project manager Anne Kelly says they've spent about $77 million of the $121 million allocated and will need to tap other funds to complete their six-year cleanup as planned in 2016.

Among 89 polluted ex-GM industrial locations around the country, the 270-acre Massena site, next to the St. Lawrence River and the Mohawk Indians' Akwesasne Reservation, is getting the largest single share of the $773 million cleanup budget established in GM's 2011 bankruptcy.


Report says Pa. lost about 4K farm over 5 years

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A new federal report says Pennsylvania lost nearly 4,000 farms over a recent five-year period and the state's total farm acreage dropped by about 100,000.

The Census of Agriculture released Thursday found Pennsylvania had just over 59,000 farms that comprised 7.7 million acres in 2012.

The total annual market value of the state's agriculture products is about $7.4 billion. The average farm produces about $124,000 in products every year.

Most Pennsylvania farms are between 10 and 500 acres in size, but about 650 are at least 1,000 acres. The average farm size is 130 acres.

The survey says that about half of the state's 59,302 farm operators have another primary occupation outside of agriculture.

The average age of a Pennsylvania farmer is currently 56 years and getting older.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A federal survey shows the number of farms in New York declined slightly from 2007 through 2012, while the amount of farmland ticked up. The USDA report says the total number of farms dropped by about 800 to 35,500, but the amount of farmland increased to by nearly 10,000 acres to more than 7,183,000.

Ag census shows boom in farm sales

WASHINGTON (AP) — American agriculture has experienced a boom, with market values of crops, livestock and total agricultural products reaching record highs even as the amount of U.S. farmland declined.

A new government survey says the number of U.S. farms dropped to 2.1 million in 2012, about a 4 percent drop from five years earlier. But some of the bigger farms got bigger. The average farm grew from 418 to 434 acres.

The survey, taken every five years and released Thursday, shows some growth in nontraditional elements of agriculture. While the industry is still overwhelmingly white, there's a rise in the number of minority-operated farms.

And there are more farms in New England and many states in the Mountain West, while that number has declined in many states in traditional farm country.


Spiking electric bills eyed by Pa. regulators

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania utility regulators says they'll look into complaints about spiking electric bills, saying the affected people had signed variable-rate contracts with suppliers that then passed on wholesale prices driven up by cold weather.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to review the policies and rules around what regulators call electric generation suppliers that buy and sell electricity.

The utility commission doesn't regulate their rates, but it does regulate their conduct and marketing practices.

It says it's received more than 750 informal complaints from consumers about high bills.

The complaints are arriving as policymakers in Harrisburg consider legislation that would bring more business to the suppliers by auctioning off the accounts of millions of Pennsylvania households that are still served by traditional utilities. The AARP opposes the bill.


NY regulators approve Con Edison rate freeze

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York utility regulators have approved freezes on electricity, natural gas and steam delivery rates for Con Edison customers.

The state Public Service Commission says the decision covers the charges costumers pay for the delivery of electricity and gas, not the cost of the commodities themselves. Electric rates will be held flat for two years and gas and steam rates for three years.

Con Edison initially asked for an 8 percent increase in electricity delivery rates and a 2.5 percent increase for gas delivery.

The company is also investing $1 billion over four years to make its systems more resilient during extreme weather like Superstorm Sandy.

PSC Chairwoman Audrey Zibelman says Thursday that the combination of flat delivery rates and the infrastructure investment represents the best of two worlds.

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