How states like Pa. are using Hurricane Ida to push infrastructure bill | Friday Morning Coffee

Governors of both parties are lobbying Congress to ensure resilience measures are included in the bipartisan infrastructure deal, according to a published report

September 24, 2021 7:14 am

Storm damaged houses after Hurricane Ida on Sept. 3, 2021 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images/Louisiana Illuminator)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Governors in states hit hard by Hurricane Ida this summer are hoping that the images of devastation in members of Congress’ backyards will help get a $1 trillion infrastructure bill off of Capitol Hill, and onto President Joe Biden’s desk.

The titanic damage inflicted by the storm, which also cut a swath through Pennsylvania, “makes it clear that the bill is important, particularly the resilience aspects of the bill, which are urgent,” Cornell University economics professor Rick Geddestold, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Geddes, the director of Cornell’s Program in Infrastructure Policy, mentioned flood mitigation, fire prevention and water conservation, all of which are included in the “resilience” portion of the bill, according to Stateline.

“If you keep rebuilding and Mother Nature keeps tearing it down, you might say you should rebuild in a different way,” he told Stateline.

On Tuesday, lawmakers in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, using newly bestowed authority, unanimously voted to extend Gov. Tom Wolf’s disaster declaration for the storm, the Capital-Star previously reported.

In a letter he sent to lawmakers last week, the Democratic governor argued that extending the declaration was critical so survivors could access federal financial disaster aid in six heavily impacted counties, including Philadelphia and its four suburban counties.

Governors of both parties, across the country, are pressing Congress to also bolster the electrical grid, including placing some wires underground. They also want lawmakers to take steps to reduce the number and intensity of wildfires, an issue of particular importance to western governors, Stateline reported.

In Pennsylvania, Ida infiicted $100 million worth of infrastructure damage, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Sept. 8.

Touring a neighborhood along the Schuylkill River, where nearly every home was heavily damaged or gutted, Wolf called the damage “devastating,” according to the Inquirer.

“People have lost so much,” he said, according to the newspaper.

(Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts)

A 2021 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which annually conducts a survey of  the nation’s roads, bridges and other transportation fixtures, gave the United States a C- grade on infrastructure overall, an improvement from 2017’s D+, Stateline reported.

The group said the improvement is because of, among other factors, 37 states raising their gas tax to fund critical transportation investments since 2010, and 98% of local infrastructure ballot initiatives passing in November 2020, Stateline reported.

Pennsylvania notched an overall C- in the engineers society’s report. But the state’s handling of wastewater earned it a dismal D-minus. And the state got a D for its stormwater management practices.

“Drinking water, wastewater and stormwater grades were some of the lowest in the 2018 Report Card, yet are critical to protecting our public health and safety,” the report reads. “Building, replacing and updating water infrastructure will require leadership to plan to tackle new developments and improve upon existing conditions. We should encourage and support the passage of legislation that allows localities to reflect the true cost of treating, delivering, and managing water in their user fees.”

In July, Wolf’s office announced the state was spending $97 million for “clean, lead-free water infrastructure projects” in 19 of the state’s 67 counties. That came on top of the $178 million the administration said in January that it planned to spend on water infrastructure projects in 11 counties.

“This continued focus on improving and investing in our infrastructure is vital for strong communities,” Wolf said in a statement at the time.

Next door to Pennsylvania, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, told Stateline, that the damage in his state “opened a lot of eyes” to the devastating effects of stronger storms brought on by climate change.

“You don’t have this many [climate change] deniers anymore. The West Coast is burning, and the East Coast is drowning. I don’t even hear many of my Republican friends denying what’s going on,” Sweeney told Stateline.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday afternoon, Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor challenged 17 subpoenas issued by Senate Republicans, for voter’s identifying information, as part of the GOP-backed investigation into the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections, Stephen Caruso and Marley Parish report.

Pennsylvania educators told a state Senate panel on Thursday that they want a seat at the table when it comes to the commonwealth’s K-12 mask mandate and its COVID-19 mitigation efforts, Marley Parish also reports.

As they try to craft, and advance, what they’re describing as a “thoughtful” fall agenda, Republican leaders in the state House are facing pressure from conservative activists trying to push the caucus further to the right, Stephen Caruso also reports.

Pennsylvania Senate Democrats have asked a state appellate court to extend the deadline for Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to answer to 17 subpoenas requesting identifying information on all 9 million registered Pennsylvania voters, Stephen Caruso further reports.

Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson details the heartbreaking toll that the pandemic has taken on America’s children. Through Sept. 16, more than 5.5 million children have been infected by the virus since the start of the pandemic. That represents more than 15% of the total cases, Olson writes.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 5,489 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. Hospitalizations due to the virus also continued to climb, with 2,553 people hospitalized, I report.

A bill before Pittsburgh City Council is seeking to ban city residents from getting their cats declawed, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page, Joseph Otis Minott, of the Clean Air Council, warns that damage from storms such as Ida will only get worse if state officials fail to move substantially on climate change. And a memo from a top Trump lawyer hows how close Georgia’s GOP chair came to enabling a Trump-led coupJay Bookman, of our sibling site, the Georgia Recorder, writes.

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)


The Philly school calendar is changing – without school board approval, the Inquirer reports.

Pennsylvania State Police trooper has been suspended for allegedly harassing a 15-year-old boy, the Tribune-Review reports.

PennLive explains how school choice advocates have been taking advantage of parents’ desire for in-person instruction to advance their priorities.

The Morning Call introduces readers to Allentown’s new school superintendent.

Luzerne County’s fall election for district attorney will proceed — for now, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

The USA Today network explains how reductions in executive power have impacted states’ ability to fight the pandemic (via the York Daily Record).

Nurses talk to WHYY-FM about their unsafe working conditions.

Five years after the fact, unemployment refunds are finally going out to people who were overchargedSpotlight PA reports (via WITF-FM).

City & State PA runs down this week’s winners and losers in state politics.

President Joe Biden is the ‘heir’ to Donald Trump’s racism at the border, NYMag’s Intelligencer reports.

Is Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine running for mayor? A speech he gave Thursday appeared to lay the groundworkWashington City Paper reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


What Goes On
The desk is clear. Enjoy the silence.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8 a.m.: Golf outing for Rep. Rob Matzie. Admission runs $100 to $5,000.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Chris Lilienthal, at the Pennsylvania State Education Association, who celebrates today. Congratulations, and enjoy the day, sir.

Heavy Rotation
I’ve been working my way through ‘This Thing Called Life,’ veteran music scribe Neal Karlen’s memoir of his decades-long professional relationship and friendship with Prince. And I have been reminded all over again of the Purple One’s towering genius, and of the massive gap left by his death. So, rather than pick just one song, here’s a whole darn list of Princely goodness to power you through your Friday morning.

Friday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link
It’s Friday, and another weekend of Premier League play is upon us. As ever, the Guardian has 10 things to look for over the next 48 hours.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.