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Friday, March 22, 2013

Heads Up: Morning headlines for March 22

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 8:36 AM

The court battle over UPMC's tax-exempt status -- challenged by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl -- is a long way off. But in the meantime, here's a primer on some of the legal questions, and a discussion of how a Supreme Court decision last year really helps the city's cause. Meanwhile, plans to basically nullify that decision are making headway in Harrisburg, where Republicans are leading the charge for an amendment to the state constitution. The amendment process is time-consuming -- it involves two separate bills passing the legislature, and a public referendum -- and the earliest such a measure could pass is 2015. But I don't think UPMC would have too much trouble dragging out a court battle to that point, do you? (Still, it's kind of funny to see UPMC's cause being championed by Republicans, who also oppose a state Medicaid expansion that would help hospitals tremendously.)

Remember how just yesterday I was saying what a nice change-of-pace it was not to have include any police-related headlines in this feature? Alas. The Tribune-Review claims that an indictment of former police chief Nate Harper is in the offing. The Trib also follows up on a KDKA story previously noted here: The lawyer for Edward Lojack Jr., who claims to have been roughed up by Pittsburgh police on St. Patrick's Day is pointing to a similar incident involving the same officer three years ago. Oh, and the jury has that trial involving former detective Bradley Walker, so one way or the other there's another headline coming down the pike.

Earlier this week, there was a flurry of reports about a strange-bedfellow partnership between environmental groups and the natural-gas drilling industry: Representatives from both sides had hashed out a certification process for trying to elevate environmental standards at drilling sites. Well, turns out the Sierra Club is not amused. "The majority of natural gas must stay in the ground if we want any chance of avoiding climate disaster," says a spokesperson for one of the nation's most prominent environmental groups. And somewhere, a gas company executive is smiling.

In other drilling news, you probably don't recall, but some time ago a Washington County property owner and a gas driller settled a lawsuit alleging environmental problems on the site. But the settlement, and other court documents, were sealed -- over media objections. Now that material has been unsealed, and -- surprise! -- the papers suggest lax DEP oversight ... carried out in part by a DEP employee who then went on to work for Range Resources, the very company who was operating the well in question. (Hundreds of court documents are unveiled for your reading pleasure here.)

Oh, and maybe you heard that the state House passed a bill privatizing liquor stores? Now it goes to the Senate, where the troubles really begin. But in the meantime, enjoy this story, complete with a somewhat disconcerting close-up photo of Republican House leader Mike Turzai.

Oh, and my condolences to Pitt fans everywhere.

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