- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Times Union of Albany on the siting of wireless equipment for cellphone coverage.

Jan. 27

New rules governing the siting of wireless equipment for providers like Verizon could have a profound effect on rural areas, such as the Adirondacks. Whether that effect is good or bad will be up to the Federal Communications Commission.

The rules are meant to provide clarity to the broad congressional mandate in the 2012 Spectrum Act that a nationwide broadband network for public safety must be established.

Underscoring the need for such a network is the 2007 tragedy of a 63-year-old Brooklyn man who crashed on the Northway, couldn’t place a call due to a lack of wireless service and died of hypothermia while his wife’s feet froze.

But the FCC will have to balance the desirable outcome of ubiquitous service against the wireless industry’s apparent intention to run roughshod over state and local governments, who should still have a role in protecting local interests, such as the Adirondacks viewshed.

In 80-plus pages of rules and questions from the FCC, wireless providers have suggested that they be allowed to tack new equipment onto existing cell towers without having to go through the standard approval process. The FCC seems to agree this piggybacking should be exempt.

The FCC is clearly more skeptical of the industry’s exemption request for newer, smaller equipment that can be deployed on utility poles, rooftops and the like. The industry has been steering away from the big “Frankenpine” towers that captured attention in the Lake George area nearly a decade ago.

According to the FCC, providers are meeting demand with “large numbers” of smaller antennas at lower heights with more compact radio equipment in what are called distributed antenna systems, or small cells. They can even be used inside buildings to fill coverage gaps or enhance capacity.

The FCC acknowledges such systems may be desirable in areas that, like the Adirondacks, need stringent siting regulations. The agency stops short of embracing the industry’s blanket exemption request, but the Adirondack Council and nine other environmental and historic preservation groups still say the proposed loosening of the rules would go too far.

“Communications continue to improve in the park, and the Adirondack Park Agency has done an outstanding job of ensuring that new towers fit into the surrounding landscape,” Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway told the Times Union’s Brian Nearing.

Allowing providers to piggyback on existing towers is logical. But it would be unwise to give them a free pass to put up small cells wherever they can. The FCC needs to find sensible middle ground, and ensure that entities like the APA can continue to effectively manage the needed expansion of broadband in such sensitive areas as the Adirondack Park.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1njWxIm

The Post-Standard of Syracuse on the state’s Common Core standards.

Jan. 23

Gov. Andrew Cuomo got it right in Tuesday’s budget address when he said the Common Core state standards were worth supporting, but their implementation was fumbled by the state’s education bureaucracy.

Here’s what the governor said about it in his prepared remarks:

The way Common Core has been managed by the Board of Regents is flawed. There is too much uncertainty, confusion and anxiety. Parents, students, and teachers need the best education reforms - which include Common Core and teacher evaluations - but they also need a rational system that is well administered.

Many parents, teachers and students would have chosen less charitable adjectives than “flawed.” For months, critics have been hurling invective at Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. and the regents at stormy public hearings conducted across the state.

The governor doesn’t set education policy (the regents do) or hire the education commissioner (the regents do that, too). But he can exert tremendous influence by virtue of his office.

So it’s about time Cuomo put his thumb on the scale.

After first defending the education department’s rollout of the Common Core, then calling it “problematic,” the governor has come around to the idea that changes in implementation are necessary.

Whether his approach to fixing the Common Core is the right one is debatable. As he’s done with other thorny problems, Cuomo will throw this one into the lap of a panel of experts. Their charge will be “to make recommendations for corrective action by the end of this session on how Common Core should be implemented.” Window-dressing? We’ll see.

The regents also have a task force examining implementation of the Common Core curriculum, and various state legislators are weighing in with their course corrections. A Cuomo commission makes three entities trying to solve the same problem. Shouldn’t they all work together?

Meanwhile, adjustments already are being made. The state Education Department is retreating from some standardized testing. For example, eighth-graders in accelerated math will no longer be tested by the state twice. SED also said it is seeking more flexibility on testing English language learners and students with disabilities.

New York should fix the way it implements the Common Core curriculum. It should not retreat from the Common Core curriculum.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1mXD7Ws

The New York Post on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

Jan. 28

President Obama made one thing clear in his State of the Union Address: This White House has run out of big ideas.

That may be a good thing for a man who heralded his win in the 2008 Democratic primary as the moment “the rise of oceans began to slow.” Once in the Oval Office, he used his lopsided majorities in Congress to ram through big initiatives, from the $787 billion stimulus that didn’t stimulate to the ObamaCare law built on a foundation of false promises.

Today the taste for the big is gone. For example, of all the big priorities he laid out in last year’s address (gun control, immigration reform, a new jobs program) not one made it through Congress.

Tuesday’s State of the Union speech was basically an admission of this failure. It was a litany of the small and the stale: universal pre-K, a minimum-wage hike, longer unemployment benefits and so on. While the tone may have changed - the president now speaks of “opportunity” as “the defining project of our generation” - the tune remains Big Government.

That’s a pity, because the GOP has used its years in the wilderness to come up with creative ideas to help those suffering most from our lackluster economy. In short, there are plenty of areas where the president could work with conservatives to fix programs so that they work better for both recipients and taxpayers.

One good example is Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal to tweak the Earned Income Tax Credit to subsidize wages of low-paid workers, including single men. The advantage over the minimum wage is threefold: It encourages work, it doesn’t make workers more expensive to hire and it might even help make some men marriageable.

Other GOP reforms range from Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s pitch for child tax credits to help low-and-middle-income families to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s bid to replace programs where the government trains people for jobs that don’t exist with ones where businesses train people for the real jobs employers are offering.

All these are things a president might embrace if he were truly interested in reaching across party lines (not to mention restoring science to its proper place). Of course, if all he’s really interested in is painting his opponents as uncaring .?.?.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/LolYtC

The Watertown Daily Times on federal regulations regarding wildlife and wind power developers.

Jan. 27

When it comes to protecting the population of some indigenous wildlife, the federal government has thrown the ball into the court of local activists.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, capitulating to wind power developers and ignoring environmentalists, relaxed its rules in December on issuing permits to wind farm operators. Whereas such permits had to be renewed every five years, they now can be extended for up to three decades.

The problem is that some wind farms are located near the nesting areas of raptors. By siting the turbines near bodies of water, they have the potential of intruding on the flyways of eagles, hawks and other birds as well as bats. This has implications for the eagles that nest along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.

The “eagle take permits” allow wind farm operators to unintentionally kill a limited number of eagles without penalty under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

“Before the rule change, wind turbine operators located within a 43-mile radius of bald eagle nesting areas, and within 140 miles of golden eagle nests, were required to obtain new permits every five years from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” according to a Friday story in the Watertown Daily Times. “The loosened law means operators now may hold permits without any major challenges for 30 years. Fish and Wildlife will review permits every five years to ensure they meet conditions, and operators are expected to report any problems.”

This situation pits different members of the conservation movement against each other.

Those determined to ensure the continued growth of the eagle populations in the north country are concerned that the federal government is taking a more hands-off approach to monitoring problems. But some proponents of renewable energy believe the law change was necessary to assure potential investors that wind farms can be relied upon as good places to put their money by limiting possible disruptions every few years.

Protecting birds in the north country, particularly eagles, is crucial. After falling precipitously in the 1950s and ‘60s, the local eagle population has steadily rebounded.

Lee H. Harper, a Massena ornithologist, said “the number of bald eagles that have established nesting sites in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties along the St. Lawrence River has grown in recent years. Within 15 miles of his Massena residence, for example, four nesting sites have been established in the past five to 10 years,” according to Friday’s story.

“The bald eagle population in the north country and across the state has climbed steadily over the past three decades, according to statistics from the state Department of Environmental Conservation,” the story reported. “Today, about 100 bald eagles migrate south from Canada to winter along the St. Lawrence River and surrounding area, where the population is stable, said Stephen W. Litwhiler, DEC spokesman for Region 6. A 2010 study conducted by DEC found nine nesting territories in St. Lawrence County, three in Jefferson County, none in Lewis County and 10 in Franklin County.”

At the same time, creating renewable, affordable sources of energy is important to slow concerns of global warming. The problem, however, is that neither wind nor solar energy can be developed in a cost-effective manner. Each require significant federal and local tax subsidies to keep these projects going.

Granted, the oil industry has had plenty of assistance from the federal government over the years - financial and otherwise. And renewable energy proponents want a level playing field.

But they have to show that energy from these sources can be sold at costs that can sustain the development of the necessary equipment, all the while competing with the price of oil and gas. So far, that hasn’t happened.

It’s now up to local activists to press the case for preserving the local bird populations and keep the accidental deaths of eagles to a minimum. Under these new rules, the federal government may amend wind farm permits if the kill numbers are high. We all have a stake in seeing our eagle population increase, so we all need to be vigilant in reviewing how many deaths are being caused by wind turbines and raising our voices in protest when it’s obvious that some farms have exceeded their limit.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1hN8t1e

The Buffalo News on the recent federal budget agreement.

Jan. 27

The federal budget agreement hammered out earlier this month is hopeful for a number of reasons. Locally and nationally, it solves some of the problems caused by sequestration, that foolish onslaught of automatic budget cuts. More hopefully - especially for Republicans with dreams of recapturing the White House - it appears to signal an end to the tea party’s destructive influence on the party, the Congress and the country.

The vote on the budget was 64-36 in the Democratic-controlled Senate and 332-94 in the Republican House. Freed, at least temporarily, from tea party kookery, a solid majority of Republicans joined in supporting the compromise bill.

Around Western New York, that offers reason to cheer.

For one thing, lines at the Peace Bridge are likely to shorten. The budget increases funding for Customs and Border Protection by $220 million through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. More than half that money will go toward hiring and training 2,000 new border agents.

That will be a relief for anyone crossing into the United States at the Peace Bridge, which has been woefully understaffed, causing sometimes severe backups for commercial traffic, Canadians coming to Buffalo to shop or attend events, and Western New Yorkers returning home. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, put his finger on the problem: sequestration. “How can it not be that?” he asked. “We’re seeing backups and empty booths.”

The funding will also boost a pilot project to preclear U.S.-bound cargo on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge, while also prohibiting a proposed economic disaster: a border-crossing fee.

Also of benefit to Western New York is the budget’s increased funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That will rise to $300 million, from $284 million under sequestration, helping, among other things, to remove toxic sediments from the Buffalo River.

The Department of the Interior will get $3.5 million to fund its efforts to combat the Asian carp, an invasive species upsetting the ecology of the Great Lakes, while the Army Corps of Engineers will get authorization to take emergency measures to stop the fish from entering the lakes ecosystem.

This is what Congress should have been looking to do all along, instead of relying on the needlessly painful and undirected across-the-board sequestration. It couldn’t do that when Republicans in the Senate were willing to filibuster every issue that came before the chamber while, in the House, Republican leaders quaked at the amplified squeak of the tea party.

This was a start, but more needs to be done. Foremost is the need to restore jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, thinks those people have had enough time to get a job, but it’s a position that ignores the fundamental fact that this was the worst economic collapse in 80 years.

That its impact wasn’t worse was due, in part, to unemployment insurance. The economy is getting better, finally, but it’s too soon to pull the rug out from under those who were battered by this recession.

Congress and the White House also still need to come to grips with the cost of entitlements, especially Medicare but also Social Security. Those programs, as currently configured, will crack under the accumulating weight of retiring baby boomers. That, too will require both sides to give up something.

Still, this budget deal is a hopeful sign. It could even be considered a turning point if this wasn’t just a one-off event, and both Republicans and Democrats will commit to compromise, as the Founding Fathers anticipated.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1fdHZ8x

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