Last week’s Pittsburgh news, today #31: smoke on the water

For people who may not read the news everyday, but would still like to know what's going on in Pittsburgh.

photo by brian conway

Pittsburgh Media Partnership intern Caitlyn Scott contributed to this report.

PA climate action blocked: “The oil and gas industry, labor, they seem to win at every turn,” said Pennsylvania State Rep. Greg Vitali, after two pieces of climate legislation remain stalled in the PA House. Audrey Carleton for Capital & Main.

SPIN RTKs expose injuries: In a follow-up investigation pertaining to Spin scooters injuries, documents obtained via right-to-know request indicate previously unreported injuries from riders, including broken bones, severe head injuries, and in one case, a lacerated liver. Ann Belser for NEXTPittsburgh reports.  RELATED: “Pittsburgh’s e-scooters will have to put on the brakes unless state legislators add them permanently to Pennsylvania’s vehicle code by July 9,” writes Margaret Krauss for WESA.

Pitt’s premium price tag: The University of Pittsburgh has become one of the highest costing public universities in the country, partly due to a downward investment in public higher education in the state, causing many college students to consider whether the cost is worth it. Emma Folts and Betul Tuncer for PublicSource. 

Fitz sues over pay raises: Allegheny County City Council voted in favor of a new pay floor that would increase the minimum wage for county employees. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who vetoed the plan, had his veto overturned by a council supermajority, resulting in workers being paid “at least $18 per hour” starting in 2024. Charles Wolfson for PublicSource. FITZ REACTS: Fitzgerald has since sued Council over the pay hike. LEST WE FORGET: Fitz approved major, pension-boosting pay raises for his own inner circle far beyond anything the minimum wage workers will ever see.

Free ACs for Pennsylvanians: Thousands of Pennsylvanians could qualify to receive free air conditioners this summer with federal utility assistance money generally used toward heating. Due to climate change increasing temperatures, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program has stepped up to fund air conditioning units for residents. Sophia Schmidt for WESA. 

Shapiro recruits TikTok influencersGov. Josh Shapiro’s team coordinated with a popular Philadelphia-area TikTok personality after the recent I-95 bridge collapse. The governor also hosted background calls with local influencers and experts in an effort to combat misinformation following the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on access to mifepristone. Emily Bloch for The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

EPA assures E. Palestine farmers: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assured farmers in the area around East Palestine, Ohio that it is safe to plant and grow crops four months after the burn off of hazardous chemicals following a train derailment. Julie Grant for Allegheny Front. 

State seeks SCI Pittsburgh input: Pennsylvania officials have invited residents to comment on the transformation of the former Western Penitentiary site at Woods run, asking them how officials should best utilize the property. Lauren Talotta for WPXI. 

ACJ CO’s allege mistreatment: Allegheny County Corrections officers have voiced dissatisfaction following a survey asking for officer insight into the jail’s operation. Reports of “inadequate staffing, forced overtime, dangerous working conditions, and unsympathetic management” were among the complaints filed, with roughly 98 officers calling for action. Matt Glover for Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. 

Update on housing lawsuit: As the Independent reported last year, a major lawsuit is brewing in Pittsburgh regarding the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. Now, “Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC has asked a Pennsylvania federal judge to allow it to duck out of [the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh’s challenge], saying it hasn’t been paid by BAMP since February 2022. Grace Dixon for Law360.

Mortgage relief in limbo: Thousands of homeowners waiting for help from the state’s mortgage relief program continue to remain in limbo as officials fix internal flaws within the program. The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the program, announced earlier this year that it would take over from the company previously hired. The program launched in February 2022 with “$350 million in federal pandemic aid” to help those catch up on missed payments. Charlotte Keith for SpotlightPA. 

Pols push transit tax: A new proposed bill could levy new funding for public transportation within Allegheny County. Selected counties under the bill, including Allegheny, would be granted permission to collect “three additional taxes to properly fund transportation” and to choose how to collect them. August Stephens for City Paper.

Proposed bus routes unveiled: Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT) is expected to release final recommendations for simplified bus routes within Downtown Pittsburgh following two online meetings. The plans were prompted by the upcoming installation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which will use exclusive lanes between Oakland and the Golden Triangle. Ed Blazina for PUP. 

PA pot docs push to advertise: A proposal to eliminated a ban that restricts doctors from advertising their ability to approve patients for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program is being considered after gaining support by lawmakers, doctors and supporters of medical marijuana. Ed Mahon for SpotlightPA. 

Children’s Hospital plans expansion: Hospital leaders from UPMC’s Children’s Hospital presented plans to the City of Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission showcasing a “50,000-square-foot addition” to a pre-existing parking structure. Julia Felton for TribLive. 

Pittsburgh’s “best new music”: With an album full of “fuzzy melodic hooks” and “textured shoegaze guitars,” local noise-pop band Feeble Little Horse’s second studio album, Girl With Fish, earned Pitchfork’s vaunted “best new music” label. Shortly after, however, the band announced the they were postponing their much-anticipated summer tour. Quinn Moreland reviews for Pitchfork. MORE: MichiTapes presents FLH live at Club Cafe on New Year’s Day.

Note: In solidarity with striking Newspaper Guild workers, the Pittsburgh Independent will not share news from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Follow striking workers’ news coverage at the Pittsburgh Union Progress.

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He is a 2x 2023 Western PA Press Club Golden Quill award winner, in feature and business reporting. And a 3x finalist in the investigative reporting category.

He is a 2018 first prize winner in environmental reporting from the Keystone Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for reporting on lead in Pittsburgh’s drinking water.

In 2022 and 2021, he was awarded a grant from The Gumshoe Group to support his investigative reporting.