- Associated Press - Monday, July 20, 2015

The Detroit News. July 15, 2015

Pipeline plan should keep Great Lakes safer

Task force bans the more dangerous tar sands crude from Mackinac Strait’s conduit, explores other measures for guarding against spills

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette took a prudent step to protect the Great Lakes from an environmental disaster stemming from a break in the underwater pipelines carrying petroleum across the Straits of Mackinac.

The task force the attorney general heads recommends keeping the most dangerous crude oil out of the twin pipelines while allowing them to stay open for other products.

The Enbridge Energy Line 5 pipeline will not be permitted to move the heavy Alberta Tar Sands crude from Canada into the United States because that oil is so heavy it sinks in open water, making it very difficult to clean up.

None of the tar sands oil currently is in the pipelines, Schuette said, but inquiries have been made about using the conduit for that purpose.

Line 5 will continue to deliver other petroleum products crucial to the nation’s economy, including light oils and liquified natural gas.

Environmental activists wanted the pipeline shut off altogether, a move that could have placed the Great Lakes at even greater danger.

Taking the pipeline out of service would have required suppliers to find other means of transport. The most likely alternatives would be tanker ships, trucks and rail cars. Replacing Line 5’s capacity would take 50 to 75 tanker ships, 2,000 trucks and a couple of hundred additional rail cars. Spills from mobile delivery options are far more likely than from the 60-year-old pipeline, which has never had a leak.

Schuette is correct in saying that given today’s heightened environmental awareness, the pipeline would not be built today under the straits. But it is there, and serves an important function, so keeping it safe is essential.

To that end, the task force recommends requiring Enbridge to provide full liability coverage in the case of a spill. When the pipelines were built in 1953, they were required to carry $1 million in insurance. Schuette wants an independent assessment of what that amount should be today.

In addition, the task force is asking for additional documentation on the safety inspections Enbridge conducts of the lines. That information is provided to the federal government, and the state should have it, too.

Finally, Enbridge will be asked to fund an assessment of alternatives to the pipelines. If there are indeed safer, cost effective methods of getting the products to refineries, they should be employed.

More than 500,000 barrels a day of oil and liquified gas products move through Line 5. The volume represents both a significant risk to the lakes and a vital economic resource for the nation.

It is essential to keep the oil out of the Great Lakes. The task force recommendations are a recognition of the importance of achieving that goal.


Detroit Free Press. July 14, 2015

To cut prison costs, reform sentencing and parole

So it’s welcome news that the state is ending the three-year, $145-million contract early.

But here’s the kicker. The state’s not canning Aramark because of the copious, well-documented problems with its performance, but because the company wanted more money.

And here’s the moral we hope Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature take from this debacle: Be very, very wary of privatization aimed at cutting costs.

The Aramark contract was supposed to pare $14 million each year from the Michigan Department of Corrections’ annual $2-billion budget, eliminating about 370 state jobs. Aramark’s first bid didn’t meet the threshold for privatization - outside vendors must promise a 5% cost savings. But a re-review of the contract, prompted by Republican state lawmakers, found “errors” in the analysis, and Aramark got its contract. Earlier this year, Aramark asked the state to up the value of its contract. Michigan Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington said the sides couldn’t come to mutually agreeable terms.

Prison food will now be supplied by Trinity Services Group, the first runner-up in the bid process that landed Aramark the gig back in 2013, but at a slightly higher cost. Trinity works in 44 states, and provides about 300,000 prisoners food daily.

It’s also been the subject of controversy. Prisoners at the 278-bed jail Gordon County, Ga., say Trinity didn’t provide enough food, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this year. Some reported eating toothpaste to stave off hunger pangs. The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights used the state’s Open Records Act to discover 85 food-related grievances made within a five-month period, all marked “unfounded” by prison staff. In Fayetteville, Ark., Trinity abruptly terminated its contract with the prison, reportedly after a contractor and a corrections employee were involved in a kitchen altercation.

Washington said Monday that she wasn’t aware of those claims, but that she had checked the company’s bona fides and was confident that Trinity would perform well in Michigan.

For a certain kind of lawmaker, there’s tremendous allure in the idea that private companies can eliminate bloated bureaucracy, circumvent inefficient unionized workers and provide the same service at a substantial savings. But that’s not always reality.

Privatization of government services can work, but there must be clear performance benchmarks and oversight to avoid repeated problems - something that was clearly missing in the case of Aramark. Privatization can’t be grounded solely in dollars. The 5% savings threshold doesn’t take quality into account, much less the complex cultural and social waters providers of public services must navigate, concerns that can’t be quantified on a balance sheet.

Despite Aramark’s egregious performance, neither the Legislature nor Snyder have drawn much public ire, comparatively, for their roles in this disaster.

There can also be a certain visceral pleasure in imagining the suffering of prisoners. They’ve broken the social contract by which we all must abide, and for some people, larding petty discomforts - rotten food, for example - atop court-given sentences can seem satisfying, a cautionary tale for those contemplating a life of crime.

It’s an uncompromising view. It’s not realistic, and it betrays the maxim that a society should be judged by how it treats its least.

To truly reduce the cost of running our prison system, the state should change the way it sentences and paroles prisoners. Reforms proposed last year by former state Rep. Joe Haveman, a Republican, would have offered more prisoners (except the most serious offenders) opportunity for parole, stepped up post-incarceration supervision, and created alternate penalties for non-criminal probation and parole violations. The bills didn’t make it through the Legislature’s lame-duck session. The state should also invest in drug courts, which offer treatment and supervision to offenders whose crimes are related to addiction.

Reducing the number of Michiganders in prison is the best way to cut the corrections budget, while maintaining the state’s side of the social contract: To provide humane incarceration, a chance to pay one’s debt to society, and move on.

We know how to do it. But will we? Not so far.


Midland Daily News. July 14, 2015

Ballot drive supports paid sick leave

Monday, worker advocates launched a ballot drive to require that all Michigan employees earn paid sick days.

Those behind the drive say the Legislature is ignoring the issue so it is up to the people to bring it to light.

The petition initiative, for which organizers must collect around 253,000 valid signatures, would ensure that workers receive one hour of paid leave for every 30 worked.

They could use a maximum of 72 hours of paid sick time a year, or about nine days, unless an employer allows more. Workers in a small business with less than 10 employees could use up to 40 hours of paid sick leave, or five days.

The petition wording was filed by Raise Michigan, the same ballot committee of labor interests and community organizers that collected signatures last year to raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour

It is an interesting issue. When people do not have access to sick days, they either lose out on wages or come to work ill, worsening the issue. It seems to be something that hits those on the lower end of the wage spectrum the hardest.

If this is an issue that interests you, sign a petition and bring the issue to the forefront.

If enough signatures are gathered for the sick leave initiative, it would go to the state Legislature. If legislators do not act, the bill would receive a statewide vote in November 2016.

We have a government that is supposed to be by the people and for the people. These type of grass-roots efforts are truly by the people.


The Mining Journal(Marquette). July 15, 2015

State contract with Aramark comes to end

People might have seen this coming: Michigan’s termination of a three-year, $145 million contract with Aramark Correctional Services.

The end of Aramark’s prison food contract was announced Monday.

The company has come under fire for lack of cleanliness, food shortages and prisoner unrest. In fact, Michigan fined Aramark $200,000 in 2014 for unapproved menu changes, inadequate staffing and employee misconduct.

Also, a maggot recently was found in the preparation room of the kitchen at the Alger Correctional Facility in Munising.

Gov. Rick Snyder said the state was supposed to save $14 million annually through privatization using the Philadelphia-based Aramark, which began its three-year contract in December 2013, replacing state workers.

However, the state and Aramark weren’t able to resolve contract changes related to billing and meal changes.

The Aramark contract, which was supposed to run through September 2016, has been a source of trouble and embarrassment for the state.

Last year there were reports of maggot-infested potatoes, again at the Alger Correctional Facility and the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson.

There also were complaints of high turnover and lower pay for private workers who replaced the roughly 370 state employees who lost their jobs when Aramark took over.

Even if the state were to save millions through privatization, the number of problems of which Aramark seemed to be the source were too many and too serious.

In fact, a public poll released earlier this month showed three-fifths of Michiganders wanted the state’s contract with Aramark to be canceled.

We hope the new vendor that takes over will improve the conditions at corrections facilities in the state.

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