On today's program: GOP leadership is changing in Harrisburg; some U.S. waterways might lose federal protection; a new report reveals companies did not report hospitalizations of those with intellectual disabilities; and Pitt’s Department of Africana Studies celebrates 50 years.
PA House Speaker Mike Turzai to retire
(00:00 — 08:57)
Speaker of the state House Mike Turzai, a key figure in western Pennsylvania Republican politics for the past two decades, has announced that he will not run for re-election this year and hopes to find work in the private sector. 90.5 WESA’s Chris Potter reports that Turzai’s announcement was limited to his decision to retire from politics, and that he would continue to serve as speaker and representative for his North Hills district.
Turzai is endorsing a successor already. Rob Mercuri, a West Point graduate who headed a military intelligence unit in Iraq, lives in Pine Township and is a relative newcomer to politics. Democratic hopeful Emily Skopov is already running in that district. She challenged Turzai previously in 2018.
Protections for streams and wetlands changed under Trump rule
(10:16 — 16:12)
The Trump administration announced it’s finalizing a rollback of a major Obama era rule that clarified which waterways can be regulated by the Clean Water Act. The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier reports that the new rules were cheered by farming, oil and gas and construction industries, but panned by environmentalists and even the EPA’s own science advisory board.
The new rule, called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, replaces the Obama administration’s 2015 Waters of the United States Rule, or WOTUS. This could mean companies or landowners will now be able to alter the course of ephemeral streams without first getting a federal permit.
Audit shows deaths of intellectually disabled went unreported in PA
(16:15 — 25:10)
Companies that help Pennsylvanians living with intellectual disabilities failed to report two deaths and thousands of other “critical incidents” in 2015 and 2016, according to an audit by a federal inspector general. The same audit concluded that state officials failed to ensure those companies followed the rules.
A spokesperson for the Office of Inspector General tells WITF’s Brett Sholtis that they have made recommendations on how to improve services and will follow up with the state.
Pitt marks the evolution of its Africana Studies program
(25:13 — 37:20)
It’s been 50 years since students took over the University of Pittsburgh’s main computer center to demand more scholarships and a department dedicated to studying the African Diaspora. That demonstration led to the creation of Pitt’s Department of Africana Studies, which centers its social sciences and humanities coursework on African, African-American and Caribbean cultures, traditions and values.
Cultural anthropologist and department chair Yolanda Covington-Ward says her passion for the field derailed a would-be career in medicine after studying abroad at the University of Ghana. But, she adds, she was first inspired by a grade school teacher who opened a mental door for her when she learned that the earliest homo sapiens evolved in Africa.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I had never heard anything positive about being black in my community in terms of especially its relationship to Africa. So Miss Jackson completely opened our eyes to the contributions that people of African descent have made to the world.”
90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque and Caldwell Holden contributed to this program.
The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.