- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:

The Hartford Courant (Conn.), Feb. 19, 2016

Three federal agencies are teaming up to - finally, we hope - answer questions about the possible health risks of school playing fields made from recycled tires, thanks to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s lobbying of President Barack Obama.

That’s great news. There’s growing concern about the synthetic surfaces at many school grounds, and conclusive research is needed.

The question is whether the federal study - by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Consumer Product Safety Commission - will have something definitive to say on the subject. Over the past decade, many studies have been inconclusive.

At issue is crumb rubber - ground-up used tires - used as infill (the equivalent of soil) on synthetic turf fields. Alarms have been raised about an apparent increase in the cancer rate of student-athletes who played on such surfaces. Soccer goalies are thought to be particularly at risk because they frequently have whole-body contact with the artificial surface.

Former U.S. women’s soccer national team goalkeeper Amy Griffin has compiled a list of athletes who have played on artificial turf and who now have cancer. Of the 200 on her list last fall, half were goalies.

Still, the state Department of Public Health says on its website that “current information from a number of tire crumb studies does not show an elevated health risk from playing on fields with artificial turf or tire crumbs.” The department goes on to note that “there is still uncertainty and additional investigation is warranted.”

And that’s the problem with the research so far: Partisans on both sides have what they consider conclusive proof of safety or peril.

For example, a Yale study last year found that some of the chemicals in the crumb rubber samples it looked at are probable carcinogens. The study, however, was commissioned by an advocacy organization headed by a longtime gadfly on the topic, Nancy Alderman. She deserves great credit for keeping this issue before the public, but critics could question whether there was “funding bias” here.

Federal EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, formerly head of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, didn’t help matters when she declined last fall to answer a reporter’s question on whether crumb rubber turf is safe: “I have nothing to say about that right now,” she told “NBC Nightly News.”

Perhaps the project now being undertaken at the federal level with the EPA’s help will change that.

There are alternatives to artificial turf infill, but many are more expensive than crumb rubber. Coconut-based fiber, for example, is all natural, but it generally costs more than rubber and has a much shorter life span. The choices add financial complexity to the already difficult decision about whether to replace natural grass with something else.

In the meantime, dozens of crumb rubber fields have been installed in Connecticut. Communities that are debating whether to install even more fields need to do their homework: Hold public hearings, invite experts to testify, read what’s been written so far and explore alternatives.

It will be a difficult decision for them to make until the issue is definitively settled.

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Online:

https://cour.at/1oumbP8

The (Worcester) Telegram & Gazette (Mass.), Feb. 16, 2016

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia played a towering role in legal history during his three decades on the court, and in death will play an equally outsize role in political history in a precedent setting battle over his successor.

Like President Reagan, who nominated him, Justice Scalia’s contributions came not just in legal battles won and in his ringing dissents on the losing side but in also inspiring a new generation of conservative thinkers among lawyers and judges in his “Originalist” readings of the Constitution. And like Mr. Reagan, he was a larger than life personality, this son of Italian immigrants, whose positions and legal disagreements didn’t seem to affect his ability to forge friendships, such as with fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that transcended legal divides.

Justice Scalia’s death has reshaped the political battleground between Democrats and Republicans.

About an hour after his death was announced on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement that the president should not nominate anyone in his final year so that the American people could have a say through the election of a new president. Then, just minutes before Saturday night’s Republican debate, President Obama payed tribute to Justice Scalia and also added that he planned to nominate a successor in due time. All the Republican candidates on the debate stage said they supported blocking any nomination this year.

His death highlights the stakes in the presidential primaries. And it brings to the forefront November’s U.S. Senate races in which 34 of the 100 Senate seats are due to be contested. Republicans hold a four-seat majority, and have 24 seats in play in November’s election; while the Democrats only have 10. The leadership of both parties is developing ways to hold their own seats and eat into the opposing party’s counts. But a tight presidential race with short coattails is unlikely to shift the balance.

His death also directly impacts pending court decisions already made but not yet announced in which Justice Scalia’s vote represents a tie breaker. Four-to-four decisions do not carry precedent and allow the lower court decision to stand.

What follows is likely to be a subtle yet potentially brutal political process. President Obama has every right to nominate a successor, and could reach for someone who might appeal to Republicans. If so, do they still block it? Would an emerging Donald Trump candidacy be seen as viable by the Republican leadership? While still early, Mr. Trump, like Mr. Reagan in battling George H.W. Bush at this point in the year, also finished second in Iowa and then blew away the competition in New Hampshire. Mr. Reagan took South Carolina, the fifth state to vote that year, by 25 percentage points in building to the nomination.

The politics of Supreme Court nominations can be ugly, including the Democratic assault on Robert H. Bork, another brilliant conservative who served with Judge Scalia on the same U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., who was nominated by President Reagan the year after Justice Scalia. Judge Bork was rejected following a Democratic campaign so rancorous that “to Bork” someone came into the political lexicon of the period.

The outcome of this battle will reshape the court for another generation. Would it be a more strategic position for Republicans to accept a moderate nominee from President Obama with the potential to dictate the court’s makeup during the term of the next president? As if stakes couldn’t be higher, Justice Ginsberg, nearly 83, is older than Justice Scalia, who was 79, while Justice Kennedy is the same age, and Justice Stephen Breyer, at 77, is just two years younger.

In this case, the long game may be the smarter game.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1oAH6AH

(Dover) Foster’s Daily Democrat (N.H.), Feb. 19, 2016

The Great Thicket sounds like an area travelers want to avoid. However, if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to create a new national wildlife refuge with this name succeeds, we could one day view it with pride, and a lot of outdoors enthusiasts will have yet another reason to visit the Seacoast.

As described in a recent Fish and Wildlife proposal, this refuge would encompass 15,000 acres in six states. Included are sections of southern York County, Maine, and the Dover-Durham-Rollinsford area of New Hampshire.

The idea behind establishing a Great Thicket wildlife refuge is that New England is losing its shrublands and young tree thickets to development and mature forests. This means a loss of habitat for lots of valuable and diverse wildlife species that depend on such places.

New England’s now-rare cottontail rabbit is one of those. So are more than 60 other species of animals and birds we may not even know about because they stay hidden in low vegetation or fly through at night on migratory journeys. These species include the American woodcock, golden-winged warbler, Monarch butterfly, bog turtle and more.

Not only is Fish and Wildlife’s plan ambitious because of its scope, it’s unique because it foresees a wide, scattered area of protected acreage spread over six states. Most national wildlife refuges are in one location.

Talk of the federal government controlling land is a hot button issue following the latest news out of Oregon, where a standoff between federal marshals and ranchers over land use just ended. There also has been opposition to a proposed national park in northern Maine whenever talk about that surfaces.

What is intriguing about the Great Thicket idea is the land won’t all be owned and controlled by the government. Instead, wildlife experts will oversee the protection and management of scattered parcels that in many cases will continue to be privately owned.

The Great Thicket will be open for use by the public. Angling, hunting, birdwatching and other activities will be encouraged. It should be an asset to the area, especially as our superb quality of life continues to attract population growth and increased development.

Fish and Wildlife says its acquisitions for the Great Thicket will only involve willing landowners and could be ongoing for a generation.

Fish and Wildlife proposes to protect lands within the Great Thicket by buying parcels when landowners want to sell or by acquiring conservation easements. These would allow landowners to continue to own and use their land, but have areas protected and managed for wildlife value.

“Service police is to work with willing sellers as funds become available,” explains Fish and Wildlife in a press release.

The primary sources for funding will be the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. The money for these funds comes from royalties paid by firms drilling for offshore oil and gas, and the sale of federal Duck Stamps and import duties. So no one can complain our income tax dollars are being used to protect rabbits and birds.

Although some of us would argue this would be a better use of tax dollars than some other things Washington does.

It is important to recognize that Great Thicket is only an idea at this point, and public comment is needed and wanted.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1SYi8YJ

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Feb. 20, 2016

In an unusual move this month, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a central piece of President Obama’s initiative to combat climate change. The 5-to-4 vote halted implementation of the Clean Power Plan, aimed at restraining greenhouse gas emissions from electricity producers, until all legal challenges against it could be heard. However, the unexpected death this past weekend of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has thrown the decision into doubt.

The Clean Power Plan is at the heart of a broad administration effort to address climate change in the United States. At last December’s climate-change summit in Paris, the president used it to set an example, and help convince other nations to pledge action. Overwhelmingly they did so, in a historic global accord that hinges largely on trust.

Back in the United States, some two dozen states sued to block the president’s plan, arguing that the Environmental Protection Agency has overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has taken aim, in particular, at coal-fired power plants, a major source of carbon emissions. By pledging to limit U.S. coal burning, Mr. Obama was able to get India and China, both significant coal users, to go along with the Paris accord.

What made the Supreme Court’s action surprising is that the high court does not usually intervene in a case before a lower court has ruled. In January, a unanimous panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, had refused to stop the Clean Power Plan from proceeding. It set up an expedited schedule so that the case could be heard by the full appellate court in early June. That left the Supreme Court with little reason to jump the gun, yet it did so anyway. Justice Scalia was in the five-member majority that approved the stay.

Should the D.C. circuit court uphold the EPA regulations, as many expect it to do, routine appeals would send the case on to the Supreme Court. In that event, a tied 4-to-4 ruling from the high court would leave the circuit court’s ruling intact. Implementation of the Clean Power Plan could proceed. Alternatively, the court could wait, and re-hear the case with a new ninth member.

Unfortunately, Congress has shown no will to pass the kind of restrictions President Obama mandated through regulation. Past court rulings suggest that the president has authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases, but confusions within the law leave room for doubt. Though the chances of succeeding seem discouragingly remote, environmentalists should keep trying to make a case to the American people for action through law.

Delay, of course, has a cost, leaving less time to mitigate the worst effects of pollution here at home. Moreover, if the United States fails to honor its Paris commitment, other nations will have an excellent excuse to bow out as well. The global climate-change agreement could disintegrate. The survival of this historic accord - vital to blunt the dangers of greenhouse gases - could well depend on who is elected president in November.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1UehIMW

The Brattleboro Reformer (Vt.), Feb. 18, 2016

The pharmaceutical industry has been asked by President Obama to put up or shut up about its claims that high research and development costs justify the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs. Not surprising, the industry doesn’t want to do either.

Last week’s White House budget proposal contains a provision requiring Big Pharma to publicly reveal its research and development costs. The Legislature in Massachusetts, home of several pharmaceutical companies, has a similar bill before it.

Predictably, the pharmaceutical industry is aggressively fighting these initiatives on the state level and is now digging in against the president’s provision. It knows that its Republican allies in Congress will do their best to undermine the president’s initiative.

The weakness in Big Pharma’s argument that it shouldn’t have to release propriety information is that it brought up the argument of high research and development costs. The industry cannot expect government officials or citizens, especially those burdened with escalating prescription prices, to simply accept its assertions about high R&D; costs on good faith.

Surprisingly, at least one Big Pharma executive agrees. The Boston Globe reports that Ron Cohen, chief executive of New York state’s Acorda Therapeutics, told an industry conference last week that “It is absolutely right that, because we made an argument, society is coming back now and very rightfully holding us to account for that argument… (W)e made our own bed and people are asking us to lie in it.”

And that they must do. State and federal elected officials ostensibly on the side of those who put them in office must insist upon it.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/214WDKj

The (Lebanon) Valley News (N.H.), Feb. 18, 2016

When technology and tradition collide, tradition generally gets the worst of it. That appeared to be the case recently in England, where the House of Lords announced that archive copies of Acts of Parliament would no longer be inscribed on parchment but rather printed on archival paper. Granted, the use of paper might not strike most of our readers as a late-breaking innovation, but context is important: We’re talking about an ancient institution in a land where tradition is revered far more widely and deeply than here across the pond.

As is so often the case, the motive to abandon a long-standing practice - a 500-year-old one in this instance - was economic. The Lords determined that switching to paper would save the equivalent of about $116,000 a year. Not surprisingly, the reaction was swift and furious both inside and outside of Parliament.

According to The New York Times, James Gray, a Conservative member of the House of Commons, “called the move a reckless breach of tradition and argued that inscribing laws on vellum conferred on them the dignity they deserved.”

Paul Wright, general manager of William Cowley, parchment supplier to Parliament, put the case succinctly: “If the Magna Carta had been on paper, it would long ago have been a bag of dust.” Indeed, the fact that the Magna Carta - “the Great Charter” of English democracy and the rule of law - has survived in physical form for 800 years reinforces the enduring value of its content.

Parchment proponents assert that vellum lasts 5,000 years, compared with a life expectancy for high-quality archival paper of 250 years. (Parchment is a general term for an animal skin, usually calf, goat or sheep, that has been prepared for writing or printing; vellum refers specifically to parchment made from calf skin, according to the U.S. National Archives.)

The Cowley company, which dates from 1870, still makes parchment the old-fashioned way: by hand, stretching and scraping the animal skin to prepare it, and eschewing harsh chemicals. That does not mean, however, that the firm is hidebound. Its website notes that the skins used in the process come from animals raised for other purposes, and are a renewable natural resource. “William Cowley believes in environmentally sound business practices, including responsible production methods,” the website declares, perhaps partly to pre-empt objections from animal rights activists.

Anyway, just when it appeared that the handwriting was on the wall for parchment, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron offered a reprieve. It said it would cover the extra cost of printing on parchment out of the budget of the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General. “While the world around us constantly changes, we should safeguard some of our great traditions and not let the use of vellum die out,” said Matthew Hancock, the minister responsible for that department.

Hear, Hear. In a world where so much is fleeting, it is more than refreshing that permanence, or as close to it as can be attained, forcefully states its case. Moreover, the fact that a nation thinks enough of the work its legislative body does to want to continue to record it in lasting fashion, as it has since 1497, also says something about the enduring value of traditional forms.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/214Xvyx


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