- Associated Press - Monday, March 13, 2017

Detroit News. March 7, 2017

Automakers should get review of mileage rule

If President Donald Trump orders a review of automotive fuel economy standards as he reportedly will do, he will be affirming an important principle: Government should keep its promises. The president is expected as early as this week to grant a request made by 18 automakers, including Detroit’s Big Three, to review the mileage mandates the companies and President Barack Obama agreed to in 2011.

That current pact seeks to double fuel economy of the car and light truck fleet to 54.5 miles per gallon. It originally contained the commitment to a mid-term review to determine whether the standards could be met.

Obama blew away that promise on his way out the door. The Environmental Protection Agency announced in January that it had completed its review and determined there was no need to change the standards.

A comprehensive review was to come later this year or early next that would have allowed vehicle manufacturers to present evidence on the state of both technology and the marketplace.

Technically, the automakers could meet the 2025 standard - if they made and sold mostly electric and hybrid vehicles. But that would require a major shift in consumer preference.

Low gasoline prices, which neither state nor federal lawmakers have shown the willingness to boost through higher taxes, continue to fuel the demand for larger cars and pickups.

Light trucks in 2016 outsold cars for the fourth straight year, posting a 7 percent sales increase to capture 60 percent of the market, according to Auto Alliance, an industry group.

Meanwhile, plug-in vehicles made up less than 1 percent of sales last year, and when combined with hybrids are just under 3 percent of the total market.

The weak consumer response comes despite intense marketing efforts by the manufacturers and heavy subsidies from taxpayers.

Automakers can’t be accused of ignoring the fuel economy mandates. Bloomberg reports that in 2014 top automakers spent roughly $100 billion on product development, much of it on increasing mileage and reducing emissions.

But technology - estimated to add nearly $4,000 to the average vehicle price - will not be enough on its own to get to the 2025 target. Consumer demand for hybrids and electric vehicles must increase sharply.

That’s what federal regulators predicted would happen in 2011 when the timetable for raising fuel economy was put in place. The government’s marketplace projections were way off base, and that alone should justify a review.

Environmentalists are protesting that a decision to withdraw the EPA’s denial of a formal evaluation process signals a gutting of protections put in place by the Obama administration.

Reinstating the review does not mean the standards will be rolled back. After hearing from the automakers and examining the data, the EPA may reach the same conclusion it did in January.

But automakers agreed to the mandates only after being guaranteed a thorough mid-term review. Fairness demands they get what was promised.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). March 9, 2017

Overhead electric lines not a bright idea

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” There is some debate, however, whether he actually said it. The people who obsess over such things argue whether credit is due Benjamin Franklin, French philosopher Voltaire, and American psychologist George Kelly.

Whoever invented it, you have to know that the idea came to him while he was sitting in his dark house waiting for his local electrical utility to restore power after the latest storm.

The definition of insanity begins with taking our most fragile infrastructure and hanging it from poles where it is can be torn down by snow and ice storms, Wednesday’s record-setting winds, random falling tree branches, squirrels that don’t know any better and texting drivers who are worse than the squirrels.

Then after those predictable and inevitable mishaps rip apart our electrical grid - leaving people freezing in their homes, their groceries spoiling in the freezer and, sometimes, their neighborhoods on fire - we haul the wires back to the top of the poles and where we hope widespread crippling power outages will never happen again.

Of course it will happen again.

We wonder how many there have been since 2007, when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm directed the Michigan Public Service Commission to expand requirements for burying electric utility cables. At the time, underground electric mains are required in new residential subdivisions in the Lower Peninsula, for certain industrial and commercial applications, in congested central business districts or at the utility’s choice.

Despite Granholm’s request, that hasn’t changed. And the lines keep falling down - enough that a million electrical customers were left in the dark by Wednesday’s wind.

DTE Energy told the state in 2007 that its overhead lines fail five times as often as underground cables. But underground wires are more expensive to install and although they fail far less often, repairs are slower and more costly. But unlike today, it is not likely every line in the state would require repair at the same time.

Moving our vulnerable electrical utilities underground is another vital infrastructure need we cannot afford to ignore and cannot afford to pay for.

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Midland Daily News. March 9, 2017

The town hall debate

Midland Republican U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar has been criticized of late for not having had a town hall meeting at which he and constituents could communicate in an open forum.

Having watched similar Republican town hall meetings across the country blow up into shouting media events featuring anti-President Trump and anti-GOP protesters, one can hardly blame Moolenaar for being hesitant about conducting such a meeting.

Instead, Moolenaar has preferred meeting with smaller groups of people, where communication can occur in an open and nonconfrontational manner and both he and his constituents can better understand each other’s positions on issues.

In a meeting with a Daily News reporter and two editors, Moolenaar talked about his attempts to communicate with constituents.

“I’m going to keep doing listening sessions and meet with people one-on-one and in small groups. When I talk to people they are worried about our future of our country. They want to know that Democrats and Republicans are going to work together to do something good for our country,” he said.

Moolenaar recently met with four representatives from the Women of Michigan Action Network (WOMAN), who are among those locally seeking a town hall with the congressman. After that meeting, Moolenaar said he would make plans for a listening session (town hall meeting) in a centralized location for his district.

“I meet with constituents in all 15 counties and what I would envision is a place central to the 4th Congressional District and have a listening session and have people come from all over the district to participate,” he said.

While a great deal can be gained from these town hall meetings, from the public gaining insight into the reasons behind decisions made by their representative to the elected official receiving valuable feedback from constituents, they also can become unproductive shouting sessions filled with anger and divisiveness.

Our hope is that when Moolenaar takes the stage, the town hall is conducted in a manner that is beneficial to residents of the 4th Congressional District.

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Petoskey News-Review. March 9, 2017

Chatfield leads charge on FOIA reform

State legislators in Lansing can be an easy target for criticism, but in this case they deserve recognition for getting it right.

This week, the Michigan House of Representatives’ competitiveness committee approved legislation that would subject state lawmakers and the governor’s office to the same open-records laws that are imposed on all other governmental agencies and elected officials in Michigan.

When the Michigan Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1976, legislators for whatever reason exempted themselves and the governor’s office from its provisions.

It’s remained that way in the more than 40 years since. Last year, a package of bills was introduced to remove that blanket exemption afforded to lawmakers and the governor. The bills were passed by House members at the end of last year’s legislative session, but Republican leadership in the state Senate never brought the bills to a vote.

The proposal was put forth again this year, with Emmet County-area state Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, among the legislative leaders introducing it. The bills were passed out of the House’s committee on Thursday and appear headed to a floor vote next week. Then, they’ll be turned over to the Senate for another shot at approval next week.

The timing is appropriate. March 12-18 is “Sunshine Week,” a nationwide celebration of the public’s right to access information about the government. The hope is to draw people’s attention to the process through which any citizen may obtain public information.

Often times it feels like government agencies and officials are too big and distant to reach. Even if the idea is that they work for us, it frequently seems like they exist above us.

This policy provides an example of that. For years, by not changing this policy, legislators have implicitly endorsed a policy that allows them to operate outside of the laws they impose on other elected leaders in our state.

This is wrong. Along with many of his colleagues, Chatfield is working to change that and we applaud him for it.

We agree that there should be some information withheld from public view, especially as it relates to lawmakers helping constituents with their problems. But a policy that exempts legislators from any public scrutiny of this kind is a breeding ground for mistrust.

We hope the state Senate takes up this bill package quickly and passes it so that Gov. Rick Snyder can sign it and then move on to the next order of business. This is not a change that requires much more debate. It makes sense.

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