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WESA Daily Briefing: June 15, 2020

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Erin Keane Scott
/
90.5 WESA

News on the coronavirus pandemic, protests, 2020 election and more from around Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Find all of the WESA Daily Briefing posts here

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.

 

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6:36 p.m. - Pennsylvania Attorney General files charges against Cabot Oil and Gas

The company faces counts for contaminating drinking water supplies in and around the town of Dimock in Susquehanna County.

It all began on New Year’s Day, 2009 when a Dimock resident's water well blew up.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro says years later, several residents testified about water contamination to a grand jury.

“Flames came flying out of the jug, he testified. The resident then turned on the kitchen faucet and found that he was able to set that water on fire as well," Shaprio said.

When the resident contacted Cabot, he was told to flee in case his house exploded.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found Cabot’s faulty drilling practices allowed methane to escape into water supplies. Shapiro says the company continues to deny responsibility. Cabot released a statement saying it is an “energy industry leader" and “values environmental compliance.”

5:06 p.m. - Penn State will return to on-campus classes this fall

The university said Sunday it is starting to outline the steps it will take to have tens of thousands of students on campus as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
 
In an email and video message, Penn State President Eric Barron emphasizes the priority the university is putting on health and safety even as it moves back to in-person classes.

“Things will be different on our campuses depending on how the pandemic unfolds across the commonwealth. This is complex. We will continue to make changes and work with our faculty, staff and students and evolve our plans over the summer.”

Classes will start on schedule in August, but move online after Nov. 20th. Students won’t return to campus after Thanksgiving.

Among the steps the university says it is taking is having a place to isolate and quarantine students who do get COVID-19 and having a testing and contact-tracing program in place. Classes with more than 250 students will be delivered online.

Still unclear is whether the Nittany Lions will be able to play with football fans in Beaver Stadium.

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Credit Matt Rourke / AP
A students walks in front of the Old Main building on the Penn State campus Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, in State College, Pa.

 
3:50 p.m. - Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspects gets a new director

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto appointed a new head of the city’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections on Monday. Sarah Kinter joined the department in 2017 and has been acting director since November. In a statement, Peduto says Kinter has been instrumental in implementing online permitting for the city. Her nomination must be approved by City Council. 

 
3:40 p.m. - Today is Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Mike Turzai's last day

The Allegheny County legislator has not yet announced his plans for the future. The next speaker could call a special election in Turzai's 28th House district north of Pittsburgh, but an election law expert says that's unlikely. Republican Rob Mercuri and Democrat Emily Skopov are running to replace him.
 
3:29 p.m. - Activists call for police reform at city, county level

In a presentation in front of the City County Building downtown, the group of activisits listed a dozen demands including: reduce spending on police and invest the money in black communities instead; demilitarize the police; remove all police from schools, make public all contract negotiations with police; release vulnerable individuals from jail; and create an independent, fully funded civilian review board. 

Read more about the demands. 

1:12 p.m. – Pennsylvania AG charges gas company featured in ‘Gasland’ documentary

Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced today that his office plans to charge natural gas company Cabot Oil and Gas with environmental crimes.

The company is one of the largest gas drillers in the state. Dimock, Pa. resident Ray Kemble and others have long accused the company of polluting their water, which was the basis of the 2010 documentary “Gasland.”

Cabot also sued Kemble in 2017, claiming he and his lawyers tried to extort the company through frivolous litigation. Cabot also claims Kemble violated a 2012 settlement agreement by repeatedly “spouting lies” about the company in public.  

10:58 a.m. - Downtown street where sinkhole swallowed bus to reopen this month

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Credit Jared Murphy / 90.5 WESA

Tenth Street, between Liberty and Penn avenues in downtown's Cultural District will reopen June 30, after a sinkhole opened up and partially swallowed a bus in October. 

A PWSA spokesperson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the sinkhole repairs are "about 50% done."

7:23 a.m. - Photographer barred from covering protests leaves Post-Gazette

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Santiago, one of two black Post-Gazette journalists who were barred from covering protests, accepted a buyout from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and plans to leave Pittsburgh, according to a release from the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation late Sunday night.

"This speaks to a larger issue," Pittsburgh Black Media Federation president Brian Cook said in a statement. "PBMF frequently fields calls from journalists of color who feel as though they ddon’t have a home' in Pittsburgh. This is also one representation of the high turnover of Black journalists who have aspirations of remaining in Pittsburgh, raising a family and/or building life-long relationships both personally and professionally within the “Number 2 most livable city in America.”