- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Dec. 21

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on Medicaid expansion:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam finally has come up with a proposal to expand health care insurance to the state’s poorest citizens.

We have used this space to criticize the governor for not expanding the state’s Medicaid program - TennCare - under stipulations spelled out in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

So, it is only fair that we give him a pat on the back for working with federal officials to come up with a plan that we hope will be approved by the General Assembly during a special legislative session early next year.

Two things struck us about the deal Haslam worked out with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell:

A lot of Republican politicians, including many in the Tennessee General Assembly, have taken a rigid stance against Obamacare and expanding Medicaid under the law’s guidelines. (Some do not want to see any expansion.) In many cases, the opposition comes without an alternative plan. Haslam and other GOP governors who have worked out Medicaid expansion deals with HHS are setting what we think is a good example in a too-frequent no-compromise, partisan world.

The second thing that struck us came Thursday when Haslam met with The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board to talk about his plan. He said there is a moral obligation to expand health care coverage to the state’s poorest residents.

Under the ACA, the federal government will fully fund the expanded Medicaid coverage through 2016, then phase down its share of the costs to 90 percent by 2020. Tennessee missed at least a full year of funding by failing to enact an expansion program that was ready to start up in 2014. That has cost the state millions in federal funds.

On Monday, Haslam announced that he had negotiated a deal with HHS’s Burwell for a hybrid plan he’s calling Insure Tennessee. Tennesseans who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford their own health insurance could be eligible for the new health coverage plan if the state legislature approves it in early 2015 and if there are no hiccups with HHS before officials there give their final OK.

After two years, state officials will evaluate the program’s performance and costs, and decide whether to seek an extension from the federal government, which will pay most of its costs.

It is encouraging that Republican Sen. Ron Ramsey, who is speaker of the state Senate and lieutenant governor, has said publicly that he is willing to give the plan a fair hearing. For the sake of the state’s poorest citizens and for the financial health of the state’s hospitals - especially those like the Regional Medical Center, whose tight budgets are placed under more strain because of uncompensated care - the state’s legislators should do the same.




Dec. 22

News Sentinel, Knoxville, Tennessee, on the coal ash rule:

Recently, there was the sixth anniversary of the massive coal ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant, and the cleanup essentially is complete.

Its legacy, however, is not as transformational as it could have been. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s long-awaited rule on how to regulate coal ash, issued Friday, could have been a stouter shield for the public and the environment.

The Dec. 22, 2008, rupture of the Kingston plant’s ash impoundment dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emory River and the surrounding countryside. No one was killed or seriously injured, but homes were damaged or destroyed, the Emory’s channel clogged and confidence in the Tennessee Valley Authority shaken.

The EPA quickly stepped in to join TVA in an unprecedented cleanup effort that will end up costing about $1.1 billion. Except for environmental monitoring that will continue for three decades, the cleanup effort is, for all practical purposes, finished. All that remains is general site cleanup, paving walking trails and preparing 100 acres of land to transfer to Roane County next year for recreational purposes.

At a gathering last week at the Kingston site, TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson told reporters the federal utility is keeping its promise to restore the area around the plant.

The spill focused national attention on coal ash storage. Under a court-ordered deadline, the EPA announced Friday it would implement the less stringent of two options for regulating coal ash. Essentially, the agency’s choices were to treat coal ash as hazardous waste or as little more than municipal garbage. The EPA chose the latter, a keen disappointment.

Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, selenium, mercury and other toxic substances. When enclosed, experts say it poses little risk to public health or the environment. It often is safely re-used in products such as wallboard and concrete.

Regulating coal ash as hazardous material would have created a uniform regulatory process nationwide, which would have streamlined compliance for utilities operating in multiple states. The hazardous material option specifically allowed the continued beneficial re-use of coal ash in other products.

The adopted rule establishes minimum standards for impoundments but leaves regulation up to the states and citizen-initiated lawsuits. While it is much better than having no restrictions at all, the rule risks uneven enforcement between states and encourages costly and time-consuming court battles.

The new federal rule is a welcome alternative to the status quo, but the EPA missed an opportunity to provide the highest level of protection for communities where coal-fired power plants operate.




Dec. 18

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on North Korea being behind Sony hacking:

Finally, something is making sense out of the hacking episode at Sony Pictures.

Turns out it’s North Korea’s way of trying to stop showing of a comedy movie about a pair of journalists who manage to interview North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. In the film, the two are recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim.

And what do you know, it has worked - for the time being, anyway.

The movie, titled “The Interview,” was scheduled tor release to theaters on Dec. 25, but Sony has canceled the release and said it has “no further release plans” for the film.

Computer hackers, believed to be located outside of North Korea, stole a vast amount of Sony Pictures data and introduced destructive computer codes into the company’s files.

Now they have threatened a 9/11 style attack on movie theaters that show the film.

Probably the best possible outcome would be for theaters all over the country to show the movie at the same time.

That would be a heroic act by movie houses, making a lot of money for Sony and defying thugs who threaten to impose their will on others.



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