- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Post-Standard of Syracuse on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on air pollution.

May 6

The Adirondack Park got good news last week from the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-2 decision, the high court upheld rules curbing air pollution that blows into New York from upwind states. That pollution is a major cause of acid rain, which over the decades turned hundreds of Adirondack lakes into dead zones for fish and wildlife.

In 1977, Congress enacted a “good neighbor policy” to make states responsible for the pollution they foisted upon their neighbors. New York cleaned up its own power plants in the 1980s. Coal-burning power plants in the Midwest simply built taller smokestacks so the pollution wouldn’t fall on their own states. It fell on ours instead.

In 1990, Congress directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get a better handle on this cross-state pollution. It’s been a long process, as opponents of stricter pollution standards repeatedly went to court to block them. We’ll cut to recent developments.

Rules developed during the George W. Bush administration were struck down by the courts. The Obama administration came up with a complex formula to account for the vagaries of the wind. EPA interpreted the law to allow “several factors to be considered, including what it would cost and how much the state has done to cut pollution,” the Washington Post reported. This rule also was struck down by the courts.

Our lakes and forests, already scarred by acid rain, should not be further harmed. Curbing cross-state pollution also will improve human health.

Last week, the Supreme Court spoke. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan voted to uphold the EPA rule as a permissible interpretation of the law. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, arguing that EPA overstepped its bounds. Justice Samuel Alito recused himself.

EPA estimated the rule would cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent from 2005 levels within three years.

New York led a coalition of nine states, the District of Columbia and five cities in filing briefs supporting EPA. “The court’s decision recognizes that each state has the responsibility to prevent pollution from harming the air quality of its neighbors, and that the EPA must step in if necessary to ensure that obligation is met,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.

Schneiderman is right. Our lakes and forests, already scarred by acid rain, should not be further harmed. But more than fish and trees will benefit from curbing cross-state pollution. Smog and soot can harm human health. In New York, over 4 million people experience smog pollution that endangers their health.

Congress may yet respond to cries of regulatory overreach and change the clean air rules again. In the meantime, New Yorkers may be able to breathe a little bit easier and the Adirondacks may have more time to recover.



The Times Union of Albany on the state’s Scaffold Law.

May 6

Opponents in the debate over New York’s controversial Scaffold Law have become skilled in presenting their positions: It’s either an antiquated, 129-year-old statute that needs amending, or it must be preserved to protect the workers who risk their lives daily on extremely dangerous job sites.

The battle over the measure officially known as Labor Law 240 picked up pace this year after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signaled his willingness to discuss amending it.

Groups representing contractors argue the law costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually on public projects because of outrageously escalating insurance premiums. The law is unfair, they argue, because it holds contractors and property owners fully liable for injury or death of workers while essentially exempting employees of any responsibility for their own actions. The groups support amending the law to allow juries or an arbiter to consider the injured worker’s behavior in determining any monetary awards.

Labor unions, with support from trial lawyers, defend the law’s rigidity. Without it, they say, tough workplace safety standards would quickly become lax, resulting in an increase in falls and other gravity-related injuries and deaths at construction sites.

The latest salvo is this highly charged battle of words is over a study by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, an arm of the State University of New York, in association with Cornell University. It included data from the state of Illinois that concluded nonfatal construction injuries actually dropped there after the repeal in 1995 of its Scaffold Law.

To fund its study, the Rockefeller Institute study received $82,800 from the state Civil Justice Institute, part of a pro-business group that has sought to amend New York’s Scaffold Law. After pro-labor organizations complained, the director of the Rockefeller Institute acknowledged some legitimate questions about the weight and value of the Illinois data.

Now there is debate over whether the flaws render the entire analysis invalid, with some suggesting the institute was pressured to back off.

This back-and-forth brings little to the legitimate discussion about the Scaffold Law. Questioning the integrity of the Rockefeller Institute obscures the real issue. Founded in 1981, the Albany-based institute has earned a reputation of independence in providing insight into a multitude of public policy and related issues.

Any legitimate discussion about the Scaffold Law must get beyond the blistering rhetoric that has characterized the issue. The focus needs to be fact-based, which is what a bill proposed by Assemblyman Francisco P. Moya, a Queens Democrat, seeks to achieve. Moya wants to require insurance companies to reveal data that would clarify the true impact of the Scaffold Law on insurance rates.

Without such data, the battle of rhetoric will only drag on, offering no path to determine whether New York’s Scaffold Law is due for an update.



The New York Post on the U.S. Supreme Court on opening public meetings with prayers.

May 5

In upholding the right of a New York town to open its council meetings with sectarian prayer, the US Supreme Court reaffirmed the First Amendment’s understanding of religion in American life.

William O. Douglas, arguably the most liberal justice in American history, once wrote, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”

The town of Greece, near Rochester, was sued because nearly all the clergy who offered opening prayers were Christian, and many included explicit references to Jesus.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected the argument that prayers offered at public meetings must be generic. “The First Amendment,” he wrote, “is not a majority rule, and government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech.”

He further noted that having the government decide which prayers to censor “would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice.”

In so ruling, the court helped return the understanding of the Establishment Clause back to its original meaning. As the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty noted in its brief, the Founders never considered legislative prayer an establishment of religion.

“Ceremonial prayer,” said the court, “is but a recognition that since this nation was founded .?.?. many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define.”

Wise words. And a reminder that America has never insisted prayer be bland - or restricted to behind closed doors.



The New York Times on the indictment of Congressman Michael Grimm of New York City.

May 5

Representative Michael Grimm, the only Republican in New York City’s congressional delegation, was indicted last week on charges of tax fraud. He insists he is innocent, but these charges come at a particularly bad time for his fellow Republicans. A former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Mr. Grimm was already in trouble with many voters after he was shown on television threatening to throw a NY1 reporter off a balcony. Now he is accused of operating a restaurant illegally.

Normally, that would be enough to encourage better Republican candidates to challenge Mr. Grimm. Unfortunately, the deadline for entering New York’s federal primary on June 24 has passed. As things stand now, Mr. Grimm’s name is almost certain to appear on the ballot - unless Republicans can pull off a convoluted maneuver that would get him out of the race while remaining consistent with state law.

The scheme would need Mr. Grimm’s concurrence (itself unlikely) at every step of the way. Under state law, a new candidate for Congress can be placed on the ballot when the existing candidate dies or decides to seek another office. Mr. Grimm would first have to agree to step aside, then announce his intention to run for, say, a judicial position in the Bronx, where his chances of being elected are next to nil. Since state law says he can’t run for two offices simultaneously, he would have to withdraw from the congressional race and Republican insiders would choose another candidate to run in his place.

The law should be amended to make it far easier for candidates to remove themselves from the ballot on their own initiative. Absent that option, Mr. Grimm should agree to lose one for his party.



The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh on the NBA’s banning team owner Donald Sterling.

May 2

The edifying aspect of the Los Angeles Clippers controversy was America’s reaction.

Even non-sports fans must have heard about what’s going on with what has always been regarded as the city’s second-class team, living in the shadow of the revered Lakers.

The Clippers’ obscenely rich owner, Donald Sterling, was recorded making racist remarks, chastising his girlfriend for hanging around with black people. (Not to mention the little-mentioned sexism of him telling her it would sully her image as a “delicate … woman.”)

His long-suspected bigotry, the subject of past lawsuits, was on full display in the conversation that she recorded.

It was released to the world right as the Clippers were in the playoffs for only the third time since Sterling bought the team in 1981 and at the end of their best regular season in history.

The irony of his beliefs was not lost on anyone. Most of the Clippers players - and in fact the predominant number of players on all NBA teams - are African American, meaning Sterling showed prejudice toward the very people who made him most of his money.

The outcry was immediate and overwhelming: Sterling didn’t deserve to own the team, and something had to be done. The heartening part of the nationwide reaction was how many people, of all races, were outraged.

But the scenario was rife with sticky situations, among them: Could a private conversation legally be used against someone? Did anyone have the power to force an NBA owner to sell his team? Should the Clippers players reject championship dreams and fan hopes and refuse to play, to make a statement?

Led with dignity and restraint by veteran coach Doc Rivers, the players handled the tumultuous situation with class, turning their warmup jerseys inside out to hide the Clippers logo and wearing black socks, shoes and armbands as a silent protest while they awaited the ruling by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

His announcement Tuesday was harsh and satisfyingly appropriate: Sterling was banned for life from the Clippers organization and the NBA and fined $2.5 million. And Silver called for the other NBA team owners to force him to sell the Clippers.

At the Clippers-Warriors game that night in Staples Center in LA, fans didn’t boycott the game, as some people had suggested. They did something far better.

Most of them shucked their red Clippers playoff T-shirts and instead wore black to show solidarity with the team against racism. They carried signs exhorting bigotry and calling for Sterling’s removal. They held banners proclaiming the new Clippers motto, “We Are One.”

It was moving to see America’s reaction to the entire scandal. The message rang loud and clear: on television, on radio talk shows, across social media and in so many homes across the country.

Racism won’t be tolerated.



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