Editorials from around New England:
Editorials from around New England:
The Providence Journal, March 8
Citizens in large numbers, including in Rhode Island, have protested President Trump’s plan to open the nation’s coastal waters to offshore drilling. We’re with them. An oil spill off the coast of Rhode Island would deal a terrible blow both to the state’s fragile ecosystems and its economy, which depends on tourism.
On top of that, such drilling is not even needed. The United States, thanks to ingenious advances in the ability to extract oil and gas from the ground through fracking, is already producing these fossil fuels at near-record levels, with far less risk and cost than offshore drilling requires. At the same time, the steady development of less polluting sources of energy should pay off in the not-too-distant future in requiring less extraction of fossil fuels.
All this makes the president’s proposed reversal of an Obama-era order that placed 94 percent of the outer continental shelf off-limits to drilling seem more symbolic than substantive.
To be sure, a strong energy industry benefits America’s workers and economy. Domestic production also means the U.S. is less dependent on other nations, including deeply corrupt regimes and geopolitical enemies.
History shows us that depending on other nations for energy needs is fraught with peril — witness the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, directed at nations that were seen as supporting Israel during that year’s Yom Kippur War; and more recently, Russia’s threat in 2014 to cut off oil and gas sales to Europe to mute criticism of its seizure of Crimea.
But that does not mean it makes any economic or political sense to find and extract oil along the nation’s outer continental shelf.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said the notion of drilling for fossil fuels on the Atlantic coast is unrealistic, especially given the furious opposition it would stir.
“When you get near coastal communities, people get very fierce about defending them,” he told The Providence Journal’s editorial board. “I can’t even imagine what would be touched off if they said they were going to drill off Rhode Island.”
Rhode Island got a taste of that on Feb. 28. At a public meeting to discuss the plan — one of many held around the country — opponents essentially took over the meeting, turning it into a public hearing for people to voice their concerns
Gov. Gina Raimondo said she finds the whole idea “quite alarming.”
“The greatest concern would be an oil spill,” Ms. Raimondo said. “I was in high school when Exxon Valdez happened so I still remember that very vividly. The BP oil spill seems like it was yesterday. That could happen here. I think Rhode Islanders need to know that.”
As The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, the United States is already poised to overtake Russia as the world’s top oil producer by 2023. By then, U.S crude production is expected to hit a record 12.1 million barrels a day, and exports are expected to be 4.9 million barrels a day, more than double the current level. That should significantly weaken Russia’s ability to cause trouble.
It’s all happening without any expansion of offshore drilling. Still, those who love the beauty of Rhode Island should make it loud and clear to the federal government that offshore drilling anywhere off the southern New England coast is a nonstarter.
The Berkshire Eagle, March 7
Massachusetts residents should be proud of the fact that their state was named first in the nation for energy efficiency in 2017 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit organization that advances national energy efficiency goals. Achieving such a status takes imagination, commitment and hard work. Most important, improving energy efficiency is a project that, while always striving for perfection, is never truly completed. In that spirit, it’s encouraging and not unexpected that a summit Monday to seek the holy grail of 100 percent renewable energy drew a capacity crowd; community leaders, politicians, nonprofits and state agencies were there to share ideas, suggestions and advice.
Energy costs in the Commonwealth are among the nation’s highest, which is an effective catalyst for converting good intentions into action. Since most electricity in Massachusetts is still generated in natural gas-fired plants, the summit’s stated goal of eventually generating all of it from renewable resources is boosted by real economic incentives.
Industries that rely on stable electricity rates for planning production and expansion, for example, have been buffeted by hikes related to the cost of fuel; the ramifications are real when it comes to having to trim jobs in order to absorb them and continue making a profit. Likewise, fuel-related rate hikes affect taxpayer-funded entities like public buildings, street illumination and schools, packing a double punch for property and business owners.
While wind and solar are not constant sources, one of the advantages that green energy enjoys over more conventional forms of generation is that once the infrastructure investments have been made, systems can operate relatively free from the gyrations of market forces. In addition, recent groundbreaking advances in energy storage and batteries may ultimately smooth out green energy’s generating inconsistency, making it an even more practical alternative.
Present at the summit was a representative from the state Department of Energy Resources who spoke of financial incentives to help individual residents reduce home energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, reminding listeners that fuel we don’t use is as helpful in reaching the goal as green energy. As Jane Winn, executive director of the non-profit Berkshire Environmental Action Team told The Eagle, utility-sponsored programs like MassSave that help low-income people weatherize and insulate their homes is still reaching too few people. She mentioned other nuts-and-bolts ways to free energy users from fossil fuels, like electrifying municipal vehicles, converting all mass transit to electric, and converting home heating systems to solar electric. While electricity is not the greenest of energy sources at the present time, it is most adaptable to various uses and types of renewable power generation — helping to make the 100-percent goal more attainable in the long run.
Ultimately, the goal of fully renewable energy isn’t just beneficial for the planet, the state and the county in terms of reduction of greenhouse gases; inherent in its adoption is the need for more skilled and specialized jobs in the green energy field. Moreover, such jobs can’t be “offshored.” Summits like Monday’s are critical to bringing all parties together and coordinating their efforts into a coherent strategy, and the strong support shown by state government in particular is the grease that will help get the wheels of totally renewable energy production in Berkshire County rolling.
The (New London) Day, March 8
It has been a strange one, this winter. Seemingly more difficult than most. Or perhaps it is just human nature to think so, as the cold weather lingers, an unwelcome guest who won’t take the hint and head home.
This winter got off to a harsh start. Late December into the first half of January featured two weeks during which the temperatures refused to move above freezing, and spent much of the time well below it.
Pipes froze, batteries died and even taking Fido out for his morning constitutional became a frigid adventure (though it left dog owners happy they, unlike their pets, had heated bathrooms).
Things got more than inconvenient when it became difficult to get home heating fuel. Because temperatures stayed in the teens and single digits so long, and the cold spell was so widespread — the Northeast, Midwest and even deep into the Southeast — supply lines were not keeping up with fuel use.
The result was that some fuel oil companies were having difficulty meeting their automatic fill-up obligations. Customers calling for deliveries were told they had to wait a week, or more.
Eversource Energy, which serves almost 230,000 customers in Connecticut, set a company record for natural gas delivery on New Year’s Eve, sending 414,133 MMBtu (millions of British thermal units) of natural gas to residents dealing with the bitter cold.
A subsequent, if brief thaw, created its own problems. Ice, broken up in a rainstorm, formed massive ice jams on the Connecticut River, which refroze in other-worldly chunks, causing minor flooding in Haddam and other locations. Two Coast Guard ice cutters spent a couple of weeks breaking it all up.
Mid-winter proved temperate. The third week of February downright warm. Inland saw temperatures in the 60s and even 70s, though towns along the still-frigid waters of Long Island Sound had to settle for temperatures 20 degrees or so lower. When a 77-degree high at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks became the warmest winter temperature ever recorded in the state, it appeared spring had arrived early.
Now this, two nor’easters in a few days to start March, the first featuring downpours and fierce winds, the second a heavy wet snow, both causing widespread power outages.
Enough already, we’re sick of it. Winter, you’ve definitely worn out your welcome.
Portland Press Herald
Speaking publicly for the first time on the Feb. 25 beating death of a Stockton Springs girl, Gov. Paul LePage said there is a lot of blame to go around.
The departments of health and human services and education, caseworkers, local school districts and law enforcement all failed 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy, the governor told Newscenter Maine’s Don Carrigan. The problems are systemic, LePage said, reaching “all the way up to the Legislature.”
Not mentioned at all in the governor’s comments, however, was the governor himself. In a failure that reaches deep into state government, the chief executive for the last seven-plus years sees nothing he should have done differently.
If the Government Oversight Committee needs another reason why they should open an independent investigation into the state’s handling of child abuse cases, then they’ve got it.
The committee will meet Friday to decide if the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability should examine child protective services under DHHS. We have said that they should in order to determine how the abuse against Kennedy was allowed to continue even though DHHS was involved in her case, and what that means for the thousands of other child abuse and neglect cases called into the state each year.
LePage’s comments show why an internal investigation, already underway, is not enough.
Everyone who came into contact with Kennedy failed her, the governor said Wednesday. But most of all it was a system backed by weak laws, he said, and that’s the fault of the Legislature.
LePage was apparently referring to a 2013 bill that would have required training for professionals mandated to report abuse and neglect while making failure to report a crime. The bill was altered, though, before it was passed and signed into law by the governor.
It’s unclear, however, whether mandatory reporting was the problem in Kennedy’s case. The superintendent of Bangor schools, where Kennedy attended in 2016-17, said concerns during that time were reported to DHHS. Police visited the home as well.
Meanwhile, there are other, more pertinent concerns that require further examination.
The state’s Child Welfare Ombudsman has included in her annual report each year since 2013 the need for DHHS to improve the assessments its conducts to determine whether a child is in danger. Those reports, which go to DHHS, the governor and the Legislature, do not appear to have been acted on.
And speaking to Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz this week, a former child-abuse caseworker said the people in that position are given such a heavy caseload that it is impossible to give each case the time it requires. Is more funding needed? If it is, will the governor say so.
The governor hears what he wants to hear, and what he hears in this case — as in so many others — is that the problem may have been fixed if only the Legislature had listened to him. Any report overseen by his office has been compromised, as have been any recommendations for reform.
Changes to law may be part of any reform, but it’s clearly only part of it. It’s not the whole story, and the whole story is what we need.
While there has been much debate in the state about a proposed amendment to the New Hampshire Constitution regarding crime victims’ rights, another proposed amendment sailed through the House yesterday in a near unanimous vote of 309-9.
CACR 15 provides that “taxpayers have standing to bring actions against the government.” It provides “that a taxpayer who is eligible to vote in the state has standing to petition the court to declare whether the state or the political subdivision in which the taxpayer resides has spent funds in violation of a law, ordinance or constitutional provision.”
In other words, being a taxpayer is enough. You don’t need to face damages or consequences greater than other taxpayers in order to sue.
We imagine most state residents already assumed they had a right to sue the government if they felt it was spending money illegally, both because it makes common sense and because that had been state precedent up until 2012. But a horrible recent Supreme Court decision, which ignored explicit instructions from the Legislature, makes this amendment necessary.
We applaud the House for giving it such a strong bipartisan vote of approval and urge the Senate to do the same. If the Senate also passes the amendment by a 60 percent margin it will go to voters in November, where it will require a supermajority of 66 percent approval in order to become part of the state constitution.
The Supreme Court made its erroneous ruling in the case Bill Duncan et al v. the State of New Hampshire. Local readers know Bill Duncan as a New Castle resident, educational advocate and former member of the New Hampshire Board of Education.
Back in 2012 the state Legislature, overriding Gov. John Lynch’s veto, passed its first school vouchers with The Education Tax Credit Program, which authorized the state to give tax credits to businesses that contributed to the voucher program. Duncan, the American Civil Liberties Union and others successfully sued the state, arguing the voucher program violates the New Hampshire Constitution Part II, Article 83, which reads in part: ”... no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of institutions of any religious sect or denomination.” (Remember that clause as it will be central to lawsuits surrounding SB 193, the school voucher bill currently before the Legislature).
Strafford County Superior Court agreed that the voucher program was unconstitutional, writing: “New Hampshire students, and their parents, certainly have the right to choose a religious education. However, the government is under no obligation to fund ‘religious’ education. Indeed the government is expressly forbidden from doing so by the very language of the New Hampshire Constitution.”
The voucher’s champions and the state appealed the ruling and that’s where the Supreme Court got itself all fouled up. Instead of ruling on the merits of the case the state Supreme Court instead decided that Duncan and the others did not have the right to sue because they lacked standing.
The precedent set by the Supreme Court in that case has now impacted cases involving alleged charter violations in Manchester and alleged tax-cap violations in Nashua, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported. These rulings, which essentially block taxpayers from having a voice in local spending, contribute to Republican support for the amendment.
This amendment is needed because the Supreme Court has not followed the instructions of the Legislature, is ignoring more than a century of precedent, and because taxpayers should have a legal right to question government spending. Taxpayers can and should be empowered to fight city hall.
The amendment states: “The taxpayer shall not have to demonstrate that his or her personal rights were impaired or prejudiced beyond his or her status as a taxpayer.”
That seems right to us, it clearly seemed right to nearly the entire New Hampshire House, which is normally a House bitterly divided. We encourage the state Senate to pass this amendment and send it along to voters for final approval in November.
Once again communities around Vermont were unabashed in their efforts to send strong messages to local and state officials, as well as leaders in the Trump administration.
On Tuesday, Vermont residents from 35 towns voted overwhelmingly in favor of nonbinding resolutions seeking climate solutions.
What was unique was that while the overall message was the same, each community that took up the cause put their own touch on the wording to either single out recipients (including President Trump) or highlighting local efforts toward reducing the carbon footprint.
The exact wording of each resolution varied, but all the resolutions acknowledged the severity of climate change.
The common threat was the charge to the state: meet the goals for 90 percent renewable energy. It also urged “a fair and equitable transit ion off fossil fuels.”
The majority of the resolutions also demanded a ban on any new fossil fuel infrastructure, such as natural gas pipelines. In many towns the resolutions passed unanimously, and every resolution passed where it was on the agenda or ballot. In Montpelier, the resolution passed via Australian ballot, 1,715 to 500. In Brattleboro, the margin was even larger, 910 in favor, 180 opposed.
The towns include: Arlington, Bennington, Bethel, Brattleboro, Bristol, Burlington, Calais, Cornwall, Dorset, Dummerston, East Montpelier, Greensboro, Guilford, Huntington, Lincoln, Manchester, Marlboro, Marshfield, Monkton, Montpelier, Peacham, Peru, Plainfield, Putney, Sharon, Stowe, Shaftsbury, Strafford, Thetford, Tunbridge, Wardsboro, Weston, Williston, Woodbury and Worcester.
It was a very Vermont mandate.
“There was literally no debate about the resolution and it passed overwhelmingly, 116 to 1,” said Stuart Blood of Thetford. “That’s probably because the thread of climate change was woven throughout the meeting. Thetford suffered the most damage of any community in the state from the July 1, 2017, flooding. We got hit with almost $ 5 million in damage to our public infrastructure, not counting damage to private property.”
Beginning last November, organizers with 350Vermont and other groups drafted resolutions town by town and collected the required signatures to get their resolutions warned for Town Meeting Day.
Not surprisingly, Vermont youth were involved in the efforts to pass the resolution in many towns. Social media and Front Porch Forum were used to spread the word about the initiative, and people interested in the resolution were not just urged to sign petitions but also to understand the process by which act iv ism works, and understand better the success stories that have accrued over the years.
This resolution, like many resolutions that get introduced on Town Meeting Day, is advisory and non-binding, but historically town resolutions have influenced the Legislature and can even have an impact on the national level.
According to 350Vermont organizers, several towns are already planning their next steps.
Climate change and the goals associated with living better and with having less of an impact by migrating away from fossil fuels are issues worthy of our attention — and our collective voice. The votes of these 35 towns is yet another demonstration of Vermonters’ concerns about the environment and our role in it.
We should continue to be mindful of our footprint, and how — at any level — our activism can play a role to that end. They are decisions not just for today, but for many generations to come.