- Associated Press - Friday, April 24, 2020

Editorials from around New England:

CONNECTICUT

Re-energize to fight for planet Earth

New Haven Register

April 22



The coronavirus pandemic underscores how utterly interconnected we are on this planet. Manmade borders, political beliefs, religion, gender, age, profession - none holds sway over an undiscriminating deadly virus.

And so in fighting the coronavirus we unite. The same sense of common purpose must be engaged - widespread - to fight for Earth’s future.

The altered environment is a slower-moving tragedy than the current pandemic, but every bit as deadly. Ultimately, even more so.

The alarm about climate change from global warming has been sounded for years as scientists document the melting of the polar ice caps, which has far-reaching implications for weather patterns, economics and health. But the response, despite the scientific evidence, has been mixed.

Some, even in high places, deny this is a manmade problem. Denial, however, will not stop the severe weather-related eruptions around the world, from powerful hurricanes and tornadoes to vast wildfires.

One would expect that 50 years after the first Earth Day was observed we would be in a much better place of stewardship.

On April 22, 1970, people rose up to do something about the polluted air and water in this country. Smog blanketed cities on hot days, rivers ran colors from rampant industrial waste, wildlife was imperiled, as Rachel Carson warned about the use of pesticides in her 1962 book “Silent Spring.”

As a result, the Clean Water Act was enacted and the federal Environmental Protection Agency was formed. Regulations worked for the betterment of all.

In Connecticut, we see the return of the bald eagle population as testament to a healthier environment. But in other regards the state is behind. An American Lung Association 2020 “State of the Air” report issued Tuesday gave Connecticut counties a failing grade for ozone pollution.

Small comfort that it’s better than last year. An F grade places “the health of its residents at risk, including those who are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution such as older adults, children and those with a lung disease,” an association director said. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, drives home the fragility of lung health.

We are concerned that any progress since the first Earth Day is unraveling before our eyes. The director of the EPA, a former lobbyist for the coal industry, has acted on administration goals to reduce helpful regulations, some under the mantle of dealing with the pandemic.

In March the EPA announced that power plants and factories could determine for themselves whether they could meet legal requirements for reporting air and water pollution. They could monitor themselves, no fines. The same month the EPA aggressively rolled back emission standards for vehicles. The list goes on.

Earth Day 2020 was celebrated virtually as social distancing prevents large gatherings. The theme of “climate action” is a rallying call for when we can reemerge.

We must re-energize and get active about fighting for the environment and saving Earth, for all its interconnected inhabitants.

Online: https://bit.ly/2XZQnqR

___

MASSACHUSETTS

Congress acts, at least for now, passing $484 billion coronavirus relief package

The Republican of Springfield

April 24

When the going got tough, the Congress got going. Thanks to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

After an emergency fund established to assist businesses hit hard by the novel coronavirus pandemic ran dry soon after it was created late last month, some Republicans in the Senate hatched a plan to replenish the loan pool quickly, and to do nothing else while so doing. Not so fast, said House Democratic leadership. If we are going to do that, we need, at a minimum, to add badly needed funds for hospitals and to help set up additional testing.

Though the architects of the initial plan barked over the delay, the partisan dustup quickly died down, and Congress wisely passed a bill not only to refill the fund, but also to do some more of what needed to be done.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously on Tuesday, and the House followed suit, passing the $484 billion coronavirus relief package with a vote of 388-5, on Thursday. Now, members of Congress head home, and the appropriated money, one hopes, gets to the businesses that need it most. And their employees.

This means actual small businesses, not the well-connected chains that know how to game the system. Which is not to suggest that big is bad, or that employees of chain restaurants aren’t hurting. But what’s undeniable is this: A big corporation is much better positioned to weather this storm than is an actual small business, such as a corner restaurant with just a small handful of employees and the owners working seemingly all day, every day.

That’s the sort of place that the Paycheck Protection Program was established to help, and that will be aided by the money in the newly replenished fund.

That’s the good news, for now, anyway. But for Congress and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has been doing much of the negotiating for the White House, with the president little involved in the day-to-day, it’s also yesterday’s news. Because everyone knows that there’s much, much more work ahead. And very likely some brewing disagreements, too.

In just the past few weeks, Congress, which in recent times has been best at partisan bickering over substance and needless fights over nothing, has come together to pass nearly $3 trillion in emergency spending. How long such concord will last, especially in an election year, is anyone’s guess.

Online: https://bit.ly/2KzKIQl

___

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Slow and steady

Nashua Telegraph

April 24

On Thursday, Mike Somers, the president of the New Hampshire Restaurant and Lodging Association recommended reopening the food and hotel industry in four stages, starting with outdoor dining as the weather warms up.

Somers, who was the first industry representative to address the Governor’s Economic Re-Opening Task Force, said he’d love to see phase 1 as early as May 5, the day after the state’s stay-at-home order is set to expire.

“As we get into warm weather here, I think if we don’t start to give customers and consumers some things to do, whether it’s dining outdoors, visiting retail, whatever it might be, we’re gonna lose control of this,” he said.

However, Gov. Chris Sununu has said the stay-at-home order likely will be extended beyond May 4 to prevent the continued spread of the coronavirus.

As of Thursday, more than 1,600 people in New Hampshire had tested positive for the virus and 51 had died. Thirty of the deaths have been associated with institutional outbreaks.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

The plan Somers outlined included a heavy emphasis on screening workers for illness, sanitation and social distancing. He suggested restaurants could add outdoor picnic tables initially, and then gradually resume regular indoor dining. At-risk populations would be encouraged to remain home for the first two, maybe three, phases, he said.

While this would be great for restarting the Granite State’s economy, in practice it likely is too soon to even think of allowing outdoor dining, especially since we are seeing more than two dozen new cases, on average, per day in the Granite State.

The last thing that should be done is to jump the gun and put people at risk of contracting the disease. Slow and steady is the best approach.

Online: https://bit.ly/2S6H9Fh

___

RHODE ISLAND

Time to save R.I. businesses

The Providence Journal

April 19

Rhode Island is a state highly dependent on small businesses and the service economy. It has relatively little manufacturing. Small business is the lifeblood of Rhode Island, essential to its future.

Thus, the decision of state officials to shut down much of the economy has dealt a brutal blow to the people. A staggering 144,000 people have been thrown out of work and have applied for unemployment benefits.

Many small businesses - built through years of sweat and sacrifice - are at imminent risk of collapse and bankruptcy because they dutifully followed government dictates designed to protect the public’s health.

To try to keep small businesses going until the coronavirus panic passes and government permits economic activity again, Congress passed the Payroll Protection Program.

Obviously, it did not aim high enough. In only 14 days, its $349 billion had been assigned, leaving countless businesses - and their employees - frozen out.

Without a bridge, many of these businesses - employing multiple people - will vanish. Permanently.

Congress should have given this program a new infusion already. But House Democrats are blocking that, saying they will go along only if a laundry list of partisan goodies is attached. As we write this, negotiations are dragging on.

Rhode Island’s representatives - David Cicilline and James Langevin - ought to be insisting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drop these conditions and get relief out immediately.

Their job is to help Rhode Island small businesses survive this crisis.

It is understandable, perhaps, that legislators who have never run businesses fail to grasp how dire this situation is. Many House members are millionaires, or close to it, their paychecks have been uninterrupted, and they do not have to worry about survival.

Underscoring the point was a remote interview last week with Speaker Pelosi, one of the richest members of Congress. Jovially, she pointed to her $12-a-pint gourmet ice cream, pulled out of a top-dollar refrigerator.

In Rhode Island, meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are desperate to stay afloat and return to work. Through no fault of their own, they have been ordered by the governor to the sidelines. They include working-class whites, African Americans and Latinos, constituents who should matter to Messrs. Cicilline and Langevin.

This is not a traditional welfare program. This is designed to keep small businesses - as we say, the lifeblood of Rhode Island - from perishing. This is designed to keep jobs alive.

If people cannot work, they will lose their homes. They and their children will go hungry and get sick. Crime will explode.

This is a time when we look for representatives to rise above partisanship.

Each day of inaction is doing permanent harm to Rhode Islanders. This is not representation.

Congress must return to work and replenish the Payroll Protection Program.

Online: https://bit.ly/2KB4mLy

___

VERMONT

Another solution

The Rutland Herald

April 20

Vermonters should be upset about a proposal on the table to close two crucial college campuses.

On Friday, Chancellor Jeb Spaulding recommended that three of the system’s residential campuses be closed as result in large part to the economic shock produced by the COVID-19 epidemic.

He said the long-struggling system faces a deficit this school year of between $7 million and $10 million, including $5.6 million for refunds of room and board fees and moving to online learning. This year’s deficit includes the expected $3 million in federal assistance. Next year’s deficit could reach $12 million.

The proposal would close the Lyndon, Johnson and Randolph campuses. Liberal arts programs in Johnson and Lyndon would be moved to Castleton University.

The Community College “will maintain its key role providing a statewide network of access to academic programs, workforce development and student advising,” Spaulding said.

In a statement, Spaulding said the decisions are necessary to preserve the Vermont State College system for generations to come.

“We are in truly unprecedented times like nothing we have ever experienced before in our lifetimes and we know the impacts of COVID-19 will linger for months, maybe years,” Spaulding said. “We cannot wait and hope for recovery, we must act decisively to chart a course toward long-term viability.”

His proposal drew the ire of Vermonters, ranging from Republican Gov. Phil Scott to the Democratic legislative leadership - House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, as well as former Minority Leader, Don Turner and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. Even candidates running for governor against Scott, including the former secretary of the Agency of Education, urged a delay in the vote and a rethinking of the state’s priorities.

We could not agree more. On the heels of several Vermont colleges closing in the last year, what message does it send to potential students - not just in Vermont but from away. It says, “Don’t invest in Vermont colleges. Don’t come here.”

Spaulding, a former secretary of administration under former Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, knows full well what the stakes were for Vermont before the pandemic chewed apart the global economy. Potentially sacrificing a part of our college system - one of the very greatest assets Vermont has to offer - is foolhardy and reckless. And the decision would be devastating to the Northeast Kingdom, a region of the state already struggling economically, as well as in Randolph, which has seen a resurgence in recent years.

During the weekend, signs in support of the schools appeared on roads and highways leading to the schools from all directions. And on Monday, a long, loud parade of protesters - all socially distancing from their vehicles but making their point loud and clear - clogged the streets of the Capital City.

As of the writing of this editorial, the Vermont State College board of trustees and Chancellor Spaulding were getting an earful from angry Vermonters, who were insisting the proposal be thrown out and cutbacks be sought elsewhere.

Spaulding is in a pickle, for sure. Even with everyone hating on him right now, he is out of options as far as making the finances of the Vermont State College system work.

VSCS has been plagued for years with declining enrollment because of the aging of Vermont’s population and other challenges. The system has about 11,000 degree-seeking students and 9,000 adults participating in continuing education programs. It includes the two campuses of Northern Vermont University in Johnson and Lyndon; Vermont Technical College, which is based in Randolph but has a campus in Williston; Castleton University and the Community College of Vermont.

We see why he thought it could be done. His proposal is described as a whole system transformation that would eliminate duplication of programs, reduce overhead and invest in programs that are in high demand, economically viable and that provide high-demand career opportunities for Vermont students.

The closure of the three residential campuses, expected by the start of the 2020-21 academic year, would cost about 500 people their jobs. The chancellor’s office will be restructured and downsized as well.

“We know this represents more unwelcome change for students, employees and community members in an already stressful environment, but now more than ever, we urge people to recognize this transformation is critical to a sustainable future for public higher education in Vermont,” Spaulding said.

That is proving to be an understatement, and one that Spaulding is going to have to bear. He has drawn the ire of an entire state, top to bottom, from the leadership to the resident, from Alburgh to Bennington.

Hopefully, with counsel from lawmakers and the administration, a different solution can be found.

Online: https://bit.ly/3eQBLA4

___

Little to celebrate this Earth Day, but innovation and cooperation offer hope

Bangor Daily News

April 21

Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a day set aside beginning in 1970 to bring attention to environmental concerns. To say that Earth Day this year is different is a huge understatement.

With more than 2 million cases of the novel coronavirus confirmed around the world and more than 171,000 deaths attributed to the illness, many countries are essentially in lockdown. Most people, other than essential workers, don’t venture far from their homes. Stores and other businesses are shuttered, putting more than 20 million Americans out of work.

Many hospitals, especially in densely populated urban areas, are overwhelmed. It is a grim time.

Yet, around the world, skies are freer from pollution - allowing clear views of the Los Angeles skyline, and the Himalayan Mountains can be seen in parts of India for the first time in generations. Waterways in Italy are flowing clear. Carbon dioxide pollution over China has been dramatically reduced as factories around the world are shuttered or slowed down and far fewer vehicles are on roadways.

We would in no way suggest that this is a good tradeoff, but the cleaner skies and healthier rivers are a reminder that when shuttered factories restart, when more people resume commuting to offices and other workplaces, when grounded passenger planes return the skies, we must continue the work to improve the health of our planet, and its inhabitants.

The coronavirus pandemic also shows the power of innovation and global cooperation.

New tests to detect coronavirus were developed quickly. Vaccine research is advancing at blazing speeds. Maine companies pivoted from making shoes, sails and dog beds to producing face masks and other protective equipment for health care personnel and first responders. Maine distilleries and breweries quickly converted from producing alcohol to making and bottling hand sanitizer. Restaurants and brew pubs went from serving meals indoors to providing food and beverages curbside and by delivery. Hundreds of companies have donated time and goods to helping others.

Once COVID-19 is vanquished, we must harness this power of innovation to tackle climate change, which also threatens our wellbeing, just on a much slower timetable than a global pandemic.

“As we move to restart these economies, we need to use this moment to think about what we value,” Jacqueline Klopp, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University in New York City told NBC News. “Do we want to go back to the status quo, or do we want to tackle these big structural problems and restructure our economy and reduce emissions and pollution?”

We should also not accept using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to roll back environmental protections. Yet, that is what the Trump administration is doing.

In late March, the Environmental Protection Agency told companies they are exempt from reporting and compliance requirements “if compliance is not reasonably practicable” because of the pandemic.

“This is an open license to pollute. Plain and simple,” Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former EPA Administrator under President Barack Obama, said in a press release. “The administration should be giving its all toward making our country healthier right now. … We can all appreciate the need for additional caution and flexibility in a time of crisis, but this brazen directive is an abdication of the EPA’s responsibility to protect our health.”

While much of American was focused on the spread of coronavirus, the Trump administration also rolled back fuel economy standards, which it had long said it planned to do. Lowering gas mileage standards will cost Americans money, worsen the health of many and stall reductions in pollution from vehicles. Several automakers said last year that they would continue with more stringent standards set by California and followed by more than a dozen states, including Maine. The Trump administration has revoked California’s authority to set higher standards, but the state has challenged that move in court.

There isn’t much to celebrate this Earth Day. But, there is some hope in seeing what is possible when Americans - and others around the world - work together to overcome huge challenges.

Online: https://bit.ly/3eRyQa2

___

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide