- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Times Herald-Record of Middletown on New York state’s energy issues.

May 13

The list of energy-related challenges in New York state is long, complicated and expensive.

The most immediate and dramatic concerns center on the transportation of crude oil in rail cars that might not hold in the case of a derailment and the various proposals to transport that oil, whether by pipeline or barge.

Following a winter of record-challenging cold and its accompanying record-challenging utility bills, customers are bracing for more of the same with a new pricing scheme that is supposed to encourage power production but seems more likely to encourage even higher utility bills.

And don’t forget Indian Point. Not that long ago, the nuclear plants were the signature issue when it came to the present and future of regional power. The state still wants to close them by opposing an extension of the federal license they would need to keep on operating beyond the original expiration date. The company that owns the nuclear plants and many industrial supporters feel that they have demonstrated their safety and reliability. Besides, they ask, where will the region and especially New York City get the power it needs now and in the immediate future if the Indian Point plants close?

It’s a good question and it is getting an intriguing answer in the form of a proposal now going before the state Public Service Commission that envisions a much more decentralized future for the production of power. In place of the big nuclear plants at Indian Point or the resurrection of the aging Danskammer plant, once worth more as scrap but now a potential profit center with more lucrative rates arriving, the PSC is looking at a visionary decentralized plan that would get power from many sources.

As a story Monday in Blooomberg Businessweek explained, the state is “pushing its utility industry to shift away from a century-old business model into a system that can accommodate more power from solar and wind.”

This would happen by turning the state’s electric utilities “into a new kind of entity that would buy electricity from hundreds or thousands of small generators and set prices for that electricity and for the costs of running the power grid,” The New York Times reported.

Details are sketchy and numbers vague at this point. But that’s where good ideas start, with concepts that stand a chance of changing the dynamic that has New York on the road to ever-higher bills for a system vulnerable to the massive storms that have become part of our planning and that will impose even higher costs in the future.

Instead of smokestacks or solar farms or turbine clusters, it envisions a decentralized grid producing power in as many ways as it is possible to produce it, then having utilities direct the product and do the accounting.

The idea is known as Utility 2.0 and the PSC needs to encourage work on the details to make this or Utility 2.1 or 2.2 a reality, because as every utility customer learned from both the interruptions from Sandy and her predecessors and the arrival of the bills this spring, Utility 1.0 is no longer sustainable.

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Online: http://bit.ly/RMNVhU

The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on tuition savings for students studying abroad.

May 13

Studying abroad has become an increasingly popular option for American college students, for somewhat obvious reasons: It offers students a nice change of scenery and a chance to travel, meet new people, experience different cultures and, depending where they go, maybe even work a little less hard. The problem is that it can come at a steep price.

The issue isn’t that students are being charged more to study abroad for a semester or two, or that living expenses are higher. It’s that in cases where their new school’s costs are lower - such as those in countries with lower living costs or heavily subsidized education costs - students aren’t being given a break. Rather than pass the savings along to the students, their home colleges and the companies or organizations that specialize in setting up these study-abroad programs for them are reaping the gain. That isn’t right.

The colleges aren’t even required to disclose how much they, or the companies they engage to set up such programs, might be profiteering, a recent Times Union report indicated. Likewise, they don’t have to say what, if any, incentives might be steering the choices the colleges are making.

In the past, schools got in trouble for receiving kickbacks of this sort for steering students to selected loan providers - in fact, it was then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who came down on them. Now Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is reportedly raising the same issue regarding these overseas study programs, and the Legislature is getting involved. Bills in both the Senate and Assembly would require colleges to at least disclose how they benefit financially when they send students abroad.

That’s an obvious place to start, but it might be fairer to ask why a college is allowed to make any money off students for a popular program like this. The savings should be passed on to them.

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Online: http://bit.ly/1liHaf0

The New York Daily News on climate change.

May 12

New York does everything bigger and better. Global warming is no exception.

An alarming White House report last week, aggregating the best evidence from top scientists, revealed that the region’s swell of sea levels, increasingly frequent torrents of rain and rising temperatures have outpaced the rest of the world’s.

Nobody knows for sure what comes next, but the most sophisticated models suggest the coming storms and floods will be worse than anything yet seen. But as hurricane season approaches, official urgency about protecting New York’s fragile shores appears in strikingly short supply.

New York City - which, last we checked, is the nation’s largest city, and right on the water - is still awaiting action on a half-billion dollars in requests to the feds . The cash is needed to fortify flood-prone structures, from new boilers for NYCHA towers to flood barriers for hospitals and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

The holdup is not FEMA but the state’s own Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, which is the gatekeeper that must pre-approve local applications.

Nearly 10 months after the Cuomo administration kicked off the program, the state has approved only two New York City requests, totaling about $60 million, out of three-quarters of a billion dollars expected to be available. Meanwhile, they’ve signed off on $382 million for two dozen non-New York City projects .

And while the de Blasio administration launched a new Office of Recovery and Resiliency - appointing a capable Bloomberg administration holdover, Dan Zarrilli, to engineer the mighty effort to fortify the city - that’s about the only sign the mayor is focused on climate change.

Mother Nature doesn’t wait in line for her political moment. The administration says it will put its imprimatur on the Bloomberg administration’s solid climate plan , but not until its long-ago-scheduled 2015 refresh date.

The climate is changing; the seas are rising. New York’s sense of urgency needs to rise with it.

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Online: http://nydn.us/1gAaBI5

The Buffalo News on pilot training for regional airlines.

May 11

The regional airlines have no valid argument when it comes to their opposition to stricter pilot training requirements. Yet they continue to put up weak excuses as to why it is so difficult to operate under the new rules.

The industry just the other day blamed a key safety requirement stemming from the 2009 plane crash in Clarence Center, which killed 50. But the executives probably didn’t expect the resistance they got from members of Congress from both parties, who got it right when they criticized the industry for not paying its pilots enough.

As reported in The News, the regional airlines and the nation’s largest pilots union clashed at a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing that was supposed to be about air service to small communities. Instead the focus shifted to whether there is a pilot shortage and, if so, what caused it.

The regional airline industry would like the public to believe the shortage is due to recently implemented safety rules requiring newly hired co-pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight experience or its equivalent.

The suggestion is an insult to the hard work by the Families of Continental Flight 3407. Those family members devoted themselves to improving airline safety and lobbied Congress for that change and many others.

Bryan K. Bedford, president and CEO of Republic Airlines, testifying on behalf of the Regional Airline Association, put up an argument that contradicts common sense. Bedford said the requirement was leaving some regional airlines so thin on pilots that they have had to trim service. He added that the pilot experience rule may be forcing the airlines to hire pilots who have 1,500 hours of flight time but who otherwise aren’t the best aviators.

The argument makes little sense to the flying public, which would rather that pilots have more, not less, experience. Would you want your doctor to have performed many surgeries before turning the knife on you, or fewer?

What does make sense is the union’s argument that beginning pilots are being paid “near-poverty wages.” If the regional airlines wanted to get more pilots, including veteran pilots now sitting on the sidelines, they could do so by offering a decent or even competitive wage.

Kevin Kuwik, one of the Families of Flight 3407 leaders, said that without the experience requirement, the industry will continue to pay food stamp-level wages. He noted that the co-pilot of Flight 3407, who investigators said made critical errors in the cockpit, earned $16,000 a year and as a result lived with her family in Seattle even though her job was based in Newark, N.J.

The regional airline industry should not be allowed to use its low wages to derail the safety improvements mandated by Congress after the Flight 3407 crash. Instead, they should pony up on the wage front and then watch the line forming with experienced pilots.

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Online: http://bit.ly/1hJXiVL

The Oneonta Daily Star on Internet privacy.

May 12

“The Internet is forever, and people don’t realize that. … You think you can delete a tweet or a Facebook post, but it doesn’t go away.”

- Security expert Nico Sell

The mobile messaging service Snapchat is in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission for promising its users something that sounds virtually impossible: photos (or videos) that disappear after 10 seconds.

If you are thinking right now of the self-destructing recordings seen on the television show “Mission: Impossible,” don’t worry, you’re not alone.

With Snapchat, though, there is no explosion or ominous music as a cue; the image (or video) simply vanishes after the allotted time.

Well - sort of.

In a way, the company’s settlement with the FTC doesn’t tell us anything new. The federal inquiry dates back a year, to an article in Forbes magazine that revealed technical workarounds to retrieve the “disappeared” files.

Even before that, it doesn’t take a technical genius to realize that you could simply use another phone (or, gasp, an actual camera) to forever capture a Snapchat image, no matter how fleetingly it is displayed.

So the story a company wants us to believe about its product is perhaps not quite exactly entirely true.

Shocking. Absolutely shocking.

Sarcasm aside, Snapchat’s settlement of the six-count complaint against it is yet another reminder - as if we need one - that privacy and the Internet just don’t seem to go well together, especially when social media are involved.

We applaud the FTC for taking this company to task for not doing an adequate job to protect its users’ privacy and personal information.

As FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement, “If a company markets privacy and security as key selling points in pitching its service to consumers, it is critical that it keep those promises.”

But users, too, must be thoughtful - and perhaps a little wary - when sharing information online. Time and time again, we seem to be finding that the “private” information we share with companies, or with others online, is anything but.

Naturally, this makes services such as Snapchat - whose whole marketing platform is based on the idea of disappearing files - all the more appealing.

However, it need not have taken the FTC to tell us that this system is far from foolproof. In fact, you need only read the company’s own language about its product, which reads, “In most cases, once the recipient has viewed a message, it is automatically deleted from Snapchat’s servers and cannot be retrieved.”

Another way of reading this statement would be, “Not all Snapchat messages are automatically deleted from the company’s servers after they have been read.”

Never mind “caveat emptor”; after all, this is a free app. How about, “let the user beware”?

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Online: http://bit.ly/1mmUdQq

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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