Editorials from around New England
By The Associated Press
Feb. 23, 2018
Editorials from around New England:
Cape Cod Times, Feb. 22
The region's primary electrical provider, Eversource Energy, has filed a plan to deal with vegetation beneath its wires, and once again, it is generating the ire of local communities. As it has in the past, both as Eversource and as its previous incarnation, NStar, the utility company has proposed using herbicides to curtail the growth of brush below its power lines. But for an area that must work vigilantly to protect its water supply, many on the Cape and Islands would prefer to minimize how many chemicals enter our groundwater, regardless of how supposedly safe they are.
Eversource's five-year plan would run through 2022 and contains a mix of physical brush removal and chemical treatment options. Unlike previous years, however, the state's Department of Agricultural Resources has agreed to two public hearings next month to review Eversource's plan. The first will take place on March 1 in Sandwich Town Hall and the second will occur in the Chatham Town Hall Annex on March 6. Both meetings will run from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Written comments to the Department of Agricultural Resources must be received by March 16.
The electric utility has faced strong opposition to its brush removal operations in the past, but has regularly triumphed when it comes to defeating legal challenges to its efforts. Several towns have faced the company in court and won initial victories only to see their efforts overturned upon appeal. Brewster officials, for example, managed to postpone herbicide spraying along power lines in their town, but Eversource successfully fought to continue the practice.
State legislators have also worked to curtail Eversource's practices. State Sen. Julian Cyr and state Rep. Sarah Peake co-sponsored a bill that would have granted towns and water districts the power to reject spraying by the utility company, provided that the community performed equivalent brush removal services or paid to have them accomplished. That bill, however, languished in committee, and will therefore not make it to the floor in the current session.
Another effort — this one co-sponsored by state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester — would grant property owners the power to opt out of having pesticides sprayed on their land. Although this would not directly prohibit the use of herbicides, it could provide a mechanism or model that would allow for a similar ban.
Writing about Tarr's efforts, Cyr maintained that the state "needs to give more local control to municipalities regarding pesticide use and science needs to guide our regulatory oversight of these potent chemicals."
We agree. Eversource has a vested interest — as do we all — in the maintenance of its power lines. And anyone who measures his or her life in this region in decades rather than in years must acknowledge that the power supply has become ever more reliable than it was in the past. At the same time, although Eversource may truly believe that it is exercising control and restraint when it comes to the use of chemicals, the residents of the Cape and Islands are the ones who will live — or not — with the consequences should any of those same chemicals eventually turn out to be matters for concern.
As we have seen time and again, including here on the Cape and Islands, chemicals that were once thought to be safe have eventually turned out to be problematic at best. When you live in a region served by a sole-source aquifer, you must also live with the daily reality that what some might see as a superabundance of caution is really more an act of common sense than anything else. Hopefully, both town officials and residents will continue to fight for our collective right to fresh water, and will turn out in force next month to examine Eversource's plan, and to demand that this public utility also be held accountable for helping to maintain the public good.
The (Stamford) Advocate, Feb. 22
Much like the young people who gave momentum to the Civil Rights movement as Freedom Riders, much like those who questioned the government and protested the Vietnam War, now it is the youth who are finally piercing the hypocritical shield of politicians and getting attention on the epidemic of gun violence in our country.
The anguished pleas of teens who survived the Parkland, Florida mass shootings on Valentine's Day that killed 14 classmates and three instructors are amplified on social media and gaining clear-eyed support from youth across the country. They are planning marches on Washington, D.C., as well as New York City, Hartford and elsewhere on March 24. A nationwide walkout is being organized for March 14.
From this tide of outrage, a tiny glimmer could — possibly — lead to action. President Donald Trump, who for the past week has framed the massacre as a mental health problem, relented to the pressure and signaled he is willing to ban bump stock devices that enable semi-automatic machine guns to fire bullets with machine-gun rapidity.
"We must do more to protect our children," the president said, and he is absolutely right on that. Trump on Tuesday directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to finalize federal regulations, under review by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to ban bump stocks.
Although there is no evidence that the high school shooter in Parkland used a bump stock, in October the Las Vegas shooter was able to terrorize and kill 58 people at an outdoor concert with the aid of a bump stock. Clearly, there is no plausible — or moral — reason for a civilian to own one.
More than a regulation is needed, however; the ban must be a law. The Automatic Gun Fire Prevention Act was introduced by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut after the mass shooting of 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November.
Sessions also should contact Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy who proposed legislation to ban bump stocks and other "rate of fire enhancements" to semi-automatic weapons, such as trigger cranks, binary trigger systems or other modifications. Senate Bill 18 is before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Security and we urge its passage through the chambers and into law.
A federal ban of bump stocks is a good step, but not nearly enough.
A majority of Americans, 90 percent, support closing loopholes on background checks required for the sale of firearms. Also, the bipartisan Fix NICS ACT, co-authored by Murphy, would ensure criminal history records are accurately reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
These are common sense measures to strengthen the existing systems, for which there should be no disagreement.
Now the expressed fury of surviving students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is sparking action by youth across the country and may finally force this country to face the truth about rampant gun violence — and do more to stop it.
The Providence Journal, Feb. 20
It's a routine we see every year: Rather than present an honest state budget, our elected officials "scoop" money from quasi-public state agencies and other sources to fill the gap between revenues and expenses. But one of the most glaring examples has the potential to endanger the public.
Each year, the state collects millions of dollars through 911 fees that are added to telephone bills. The money is supposed to pay for the state's 911 emergency call system. But Rhode Island politicians take a large portion and put it into the general fund, to be used for purposes that have nothing to do with 911.
According to a Federal Communications Commission report released this month, Rhode Island is one of just a handful of states that do this. It is also one of the worst offenders. During calendar year 2016 — the last year for which nationwide data has been compiled — Rhode Island collected $14 million in 911 fees, of which $5.6 million went to the 911 system. The rest — 60 percent of the amount collected — went into the general fund. Only one state — New Jersey — diverted a greater share of its 911 fees to other uses.
As in past years, the FCC has taken notice.
"On our individual phone bills a line item is typically included for 9-1-1 service. It's a relatively small fee that states and localities charge to support emergency calling services. But too many states are stealing these funds and using them for other purposes, like filling budget gaps," wrote FCC commissioners Michael O'Reilly and Jessica Rosenworcel in a Feb. 9 opinion piece in The Hill ("States are stealing funds from 9-1-1 emergency services — now they'll be punished"). "This is deceptive. After all, consumers are paying to support 9-1-1 calling."
As the commissioners noted, this is more than just a matter of deceptive budgeting. "(T)he results of 9-1-1 fee diversion can be tragic," they wrote. "It can lead to understaffed call centers, longer wait times in an emergency, and sluggish dispatch for public safety personnel."
Mr. O'Reilly and Ms. Rosenworcel say the "punishment" for states that divert 911 fees includes the loss of federal dollars that help pay for 911 upgrades. Rhode Island was already hit with that. Other measures are still being considered.
According to a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island State Police, which oversees the state's 911 call center operations, 95.5 percent of the 460,817 911 calls received last year were answered immediately. That also meant, of course, that 20,833 calls that were placed "in queue" after four or five rings. Those callers waited an average of 17.6 seconds, with the longest wait running 2 minutes and 47 seconds.
While the longest wait strikes us as unacceptable, the state police insist that the 911 operation is adequately staffed, and it would gain two people under the budget Gov. Gina Raimondo has proposed for the coming year. But if the operation is adequately staffed, or will be with two more people, the 911 fee should be reduced. On a per capita basis, Rhode Island's fee is one of the highest in the country. The money collected for 911 services should be calibrated to need, rather than provide a pot of money for politicians to grab on spurious grounds.
If the state government runs into deficits, it can either cut spending or hike taxes honestly.
The Portland Press Herald, Feb. 22
One of the most disturbing things coming out of the multiple investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 election is the number of people who refuse to believe anything ever happened.
In a visit Wednesday with the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram editorial board, Maine Sen. Angus King said he still hears from Mainers who are convinced that reports of Russian interests interfering with the election are just a big batch of fake news.
And where do they get their ideas? From President Trump himself. Through tweets and public statements, Trump has denied, deflected and mocked the growing mountain of evidence that shows how Russian operatives set up shop in America intending to disrupt our democracy.
Trump supporters in Maine and elsewhere "follow the president," King said. "He sees it as an attempt to delegitimize his election . and they view this as a threat to him."
But King is concerned about a different threat, and it's the one to which America is exposing itself if we don't take these actions more seriously.
King complained to the leaders of the intelligence agencies last week that the country still doesn't have a working definition of cyberwarfare, or a clearly communicated response that would deter other countries that might be thinking of attacking. That was the strategy that kept the world out of a nuclear war for 70 years, King said, and it's what's needed now.
The intelligence committee is still gathering evidence, and King does not expect it to issue a report before next summer. Special counsel Robert Mueller's criminal investigation is still in its early stages, but enough has been revealed in court to show that this is more than just a typical partisan brawl.
Four people, including Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, have pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI or otherwise trying to cover up the investigation. One-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates have been indicted for money laundering. And 13 Russian nationals have been indicted for conspiring to commit fraud and violation of American election laws among other charges.
What should concern even the most ardent Trump supporter in that indictment is the detailed description of the disinformation campaign that operated throughout the primaries and general election campaigns, illegally spending as much as $1.2 million a month to push fake news on social media.
On its surface, the effort was to help Trump and hurt Clinton, but underneath was a secondary goal — sowing division among Americans.
"A witness to our committee said, 'They take a crack in our society and turn it into a chasm.' "
By the time King saw evidence of these attacks, he had already become familiar with the techniques that were employed.
Several weeks before the election, King met with a group of diplomats from the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who described how their elections had been disrupted by Russian interference in exactly the same way. As Election Day approached, their candidates and had to fend off false charges that were flooding nontraditional media channels.
The best defense, they suggested, is to make sure the people know what's happening so they won't be taken in so easily.
And that's why Trump's dismissal of the evidence is so dangerous. The country is easier to manipulate when too many of us refuse to understand what the game is.
King is right when he says that we need an all-government response to attacks on our election system. The logical person to lead that effort would be the president.
But before that can happen, he would first need to tell his supporters that he believes we have a problem.
The Concord Monitor Feb. 21
Everyone, or one might even say every living thing, benefits from the transition away from fossil fuels in favor of electric vehicles. The federal government considers the shift important enough that it grants a hefty tax credit to buyers of electric vehicles. Last fall, during National Drive Electric Week, electric vehicles were displayed in front of the State House. Now people inside the State House are considering legislation to levy a tax on the owners of fuel-efficient vehicles and charge those who get the best mileage the most. Something's wrong with that plan, not to mention that it's a dead end.
The goal of what the bill's sponsors call a fee, to be paid when a vehicle is registered, is to offset the loss of road maintenance revenue that occurs when vehicles burn less, or in the case of all-electric vehicles, no gas or diesel fuel. Roads and bridges of course need maintenance and haven't been getting enough of it. New Hampshire's transportation department says about one-third of the state's roads are in poor to very poor shape.
The gas tax no longer raises enough money to keep the roads in good repair. As more and more motorists switch to hybrid gas-electric or all-electric vehicles, the problem will worsen. Estimates of the growth in the rate at which electric vehicles and hybrids - some now get 80 to 100 miles per gallon - will replace gas burners are just that, estimates. The rate will be influenced by improvements in battery cost and technology, an increase in charging stations, the fate of federal subsidies and other factors. One estimate from the International Monetary Fund predicted that by 2040 more than 90 percent of the world's vehicles would be electric. That estimate seems wildly optimistic to us, but then Norway announced that it plans to ban the sale of gas or diesel cars by 2025.
No fee, not even the $100 to $200 the bill calls for adding to current vehicle registration fees, will offset lost gas tax revenue when the percentage of electric vehicles on the road hits double digits. Raise the fuel-efficiency fee too high and add it to already sky-high auto registration fees, and paycheck-to-paycheck vehicle owners won't be able to pay it. Lawmakers should scrap the misguided effort to fill the potholes with fuel-efficiency fees in favor of a system based on miles traveled, a statistic the state receives every time a vehicle is inspected. It would be fairer, both to drivers doing less to pollute the planet and to the many people in an aging state who need a vehicle but log fewer miles behind the wheel.
Burlington Free Press, Feb. 19
The raising of the Black Lives Matter flag at Burlington High School should serve as a banner of hope in a time when our society seems so divided over race.
The BLM flag should be seen as a call to recognize the everyday racism, big and small, faced by people of color in the community, and as a call to have the honest discussion about race that needs happen throughout the state.
Those who shout back, "all lives matter" in response to the Black Lives Matter banner deny the very real racism that is the daily reality of many black and other people of color, even in Vermont.
Those who smear Black Lives Matter as a movement of racists and terrorists are merely reflecting their own hate triggered by having to confront their privilege.
The Black Lives Matter has never been about placing black lives above all others.
Violence against police has never been a part of the mainstream movement.
Stray calls to "kill cops" recorded at a few massive rallies hardly represent the vast majority who seek justice and an end to racial violence.
The Black Lives Matter movement is a plea in the face of evidence that the dominant culture in this country continues to devalue the lives of black people.
Burlington is flying the Black Lives Matter flag as part of an observance of Black History Month, joining Montpelier High School, which began flying the flag on Feb. 1.
At both schools, flying the flag was the result of student-led efforts. Students at Burlington High School said they were inspired to petition the School Board for permission to fly the banner after attending the flag-raising ceremony in Montpelier.
The Burlington High School student resolution reads, in part, "By raising the BLM flag, we are asking the board to support all of its students. This is an opportunity for the Burlington community to unite to show where our moral compass points: toward progress."
This is a time when people feel emboldened to display their racism publicly and without apology. They call it by various names - white nationalism, white pride, white supremacy, even patriotism.
The students at Burlington and Montpelier high schools know better. In the face of open hate, they understand the importance of saying out loud something as basic as a public school being a place where every student is valued and respected.
The student-led efforts to raise the Black Lives Matter flag give hope that youth will continue to lead the way.