- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2020

Editorials from around New England:

CT right to reconsider future power needs

Connecticut Post

Jan. 30

It hasn’t emerged as a major issue in the pending state legislative session, but a speech this month from Katie Dykes, the state’s commissioner of energy and environmental protection, could be a precursor to a major change on how the state procures its power supply.

As in many states, Connecticut talks a good game when it comes to climate change, and has enacted policies that aim to limit emissions while preparing resilience plans for coastal communities that are likely to be the hardest hit by rising global temperatures. But the state also continues to follow old policies that exacerbate the problem, whether by encouraging suburban sprawl by focusing transit plans on highways or by continuing to build power plants that rely on fossil fuels.

This is a pressing issue. A recently opened power plant in Oxford can generate up to 800 megawatts of electricity, but it relies on burning natural gas. Another gas plant underway in Bridgeport will be smaller but also work against the state’s long-term goals of limiting greenhouse gas emissions. And an approved but as-yet-unbuilt natural gas plant in Killingly has drawn protests from around the state, with opponents saying the project is outdated and unnecessary.

Dykes appears to agree, which is striking given that DEEP, under previous leadership, approved the plant.

Natural gas has been held up by many officials as a necessary improvement from dirtier coal and oil, but while the emissions from newer plants are not as severe as the older facilities they are replacing, the overall impact of natural gas is far from benign. From the hydraulic fracturing that frees it from under the ground to inevitable leakage along the way, natural gas may on balance be just as harmful in the long term as coal and oil. Any real move forward on limiting emissions must reckon with the harms of natural gas power plants.

Dykes said a big part of the problem lies with ISO New England, which oversees the regional power grid and holds auctions for new power generation. The facilities still need to be approved by local and state governments.

ISO, for its part, says it’s only a small part of the process, adding in a statement in response to Dykes that “securing an obligation in our market does not mean that a resource will be built.” Dykes said Connecticut may look to leave the regional cooperative, but it’s unclear how such a step would take place.

Regardless, it’s important that Connecticut officials are asking these questions. The state has made a major move in the direction of emissions-free energy generation by approving a project to build in Bridgeport wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean to be transmitted via cable to Connecticut. More projects like this are necessary to fill the gaps left by retiring fossil-fuel plants.

What the state can’t do is replace problematic old generators with new facilities that present just as many problems. It needs to cancel the Killingly project and ensure that alternatives to natural gas are prioritized going forward. Whether or not that means leaving ISO, Connecticut is right to ask hard questions about the future of its energy production.

Online: https://bit.ly/37X54x7



An investment that can turn Vacationland into a tech hub

Bangor Daily News

Jan. 29

A $100 million investment in the future of Maine is, as Gov. Janet Mills said “a shot in the arm to stabilize our economy.” More important than the money, perhaps, is the huge stamp of approval the Roux Institute and its founders, David and Barbara Roux, have imprinted on Maine.

The institute, a branch of the Boston-based Northeastern University, will offer graduate-school education to thousands of students focused in the areas of artificial intelligence and life sciences. One goal is to educate a workforce that will help a small, but strong technology and biomedical sector grow in Maine’s largest city, with the potential to spread elsewhere in the state. Another is to foster research that can spin off new products and companies.

The team, which includes David Roux, a technology entrepreneur and Lewiston native, scoured the country looking for a home for the technology and education hub that they envisioned. They chose Portland because of its potential for growth, Northeastern President Joseph Aoun said Monday.

In a state that too often feels overlooked and left behind by global economic trends, this is a valuable reminder that Maine can lead, and succeed.

That has the potential to positively change perspectives of Maine, both inside and outside of the state.

The headline on a New York Times story about the new endeavor encapsulates this. “A $100 Million Bet That Vacationland Can Be a Tech Hub, Too,” it says. “A benefactor’s big gift will create a research center in Portland, Maine, testing a small city’s ability to prosper as a magnet for innovation,” a subhead adds.

“What is it that could be most catalytic to transform and support an economy that doesn’t fully participate in the modern, tech-led innovation economy?” Roux wondered in an interview with the Times. His answer, he said, is “to bring cutting-edge technology capabilities here to Maine and northern New England.”

Put simply, the idea is to educate a workforce that will spur economic growth in Portland and beyond. Some of these jobs are currently going unfilled, some have yet to be envisioned as technology changes existing industries and creates new ones.

“The Roux Institute will be an anchor and an attraction to people far and wide,” Mills said in a statement. “Not only will it prepare people for the jobs of the future in an era defined by rapid technological change, but it will bridge the workforce gap and attract new businesses to our state.”

Some in Maine may naturally wonder why this project is coming to Portland, which is already thriving. And why not start this institution in partnership with the university system or colleges here in the state?

Geography is part of the answer. Proximity to Boston, one of a handful of U.S. cities where the innovation economy is centered, and Northeastern University, a school known for its experiential learning, is a given. In addition, the Portland area is already home to several companies that are based around technology and innovation. Several of them, including IDEXX, Tilson and WEX, have already joined the institute.

The other companies that are founding members of the institute are Bangor Savings Bank, L.L. Bean, PTC, Thornton Tomasetti, Unum, MaineHealth and The Jackson Laboratory. The institute hopes to partner with other companies that pledge to hire its graduates and pay for their education at a center that aims to enroll 4,000 graduate students within eight years.

“Often we have to look outside Maine for employees and educational opportunities for employees to transition to a new job,” Josh Broder, CEO of Tilson, a Portland-based technology company, said at Monday’s unveiling of the institute.

“Now we’ll be able to provide that opportunity in Portland,” he added.

The University of Maine System has already agreed to partner with the institute in both education and research, which could spread the benefits of the new institute to thousands of students and researchers, as well as the people of Maine through innovations in health care and other fields.

“The University of Maine is looking forward to the opportunities that the Roux Institute at Northeastern University will provide for our students to pursue advanced degrees in fields that are growing and changing rapidly through (artificial intelligence), and for our faculty to collaborate in research and education,” University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said in a statement.

These opportunities can include the potential for new ways to detect and treat cancer and substance use disorder, for example.

This investment has already changed the conversation about Maine and has the potential to reshape the state’s economic future. This is a time for excitement and gratitude.

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



Trump doesn’t want forgiveness. He wants approval.

The Boston Globe

Jan. 31

When they cast their votes at the end of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, senators won’t just be deciding whether the president’s brazen misconduct last year was bad enough to require his removal from office. At the insistence of the president and his lawyers, they will also be voting on what sort of country they will leave to future generations.

The president, after all, is not just asking for forgiveness for his misdeeds, the way Bill Clinton did in 1999. His defenders haven’t made the same pitch Clinton’s did - that while the president did something wrong, removal from office would have been too severe a punishment. Nor have they credibly contested any of the facts compiled by House Democrats, which show that Trump illegally withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country into announcing investigations into his political rivals and then stonewalled the congressional investigation.

If the president had made any of those defenses, Republican senators might have at least had a pretext to acquit Trump in a way that wouldn’t have meant smashing two centuries of democratic norms.

Instead, though, the president’s lawyers want the Senate to accept that Trump did nothing wrong at all. The president is not asking for leniency; he’s asking for exoneration, approval. He’s asking the Senate not just to acquit him, but to embrace a theory of presidential power that undermines the fundamental constitutional order. He’s asking senators to hobble their own power to oversee the executive branch and direct federal spending, and remove the presidency from nearly any accountability. The president is asking the Senate to dilute the democratic checks and balances that future generations will inherit.

No senator who took an oath to uphold the Constitution should swallow that. Trump’s wrongdoing and lack of remorse, combined with the breathtaking assertion of power he is making to justify it, leaves senators with only one honorable option. To protect the country from his abuses of power, Trump must be removed. To protect the Constitution, his assertions of uncheckable power must be rejected.

Simply on the basis of Trump’s actions last year, this shouldn’t be a tough call for senators. Abusing the power of the presidency to help himself, and colluding with a foreign power, is exactly what the Founders had in mind when they created the impeachment power. That power exists not to punish, but to protect. If a president bent on corrupting the election isn’t a threat against which Americans deserve to be protected, then what is?

Failing to convict Trump would also render future congressional military appropriations mere suggestions, and give any future president carte blanche to divert taxpayer money for their own political purposes. If a future Democratic president decides to withhold money unless a foreign country investigates Donald Trump Jr., or give favorable trade terms to countries that do, today’s Senate GOP will have only itself to blame.

If all that weren’t bad enough, the president’s own defense has upped the stakes far more. Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard Law School professor who is defending Trump, made the preposterous argument that if a president believes his own reelection to be in the public interest - and what politician doesn’t? - abuses of power in service of that goal aren’t impeachable. (Since Dershowitz later claimed to have been misunderstood, here are his exact words: “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”)

Constitutional guardrails have made America a country others try to emulate, where no man is above the law and politics isn’t practiced for personal enrichment. This country’s standing in the world is based on the perception that it has stood for ideals. To sacrifice that heritage just to keep Donald Trump in office would be a tragedy; the integrity of the country and the Constitution demands his removal.

Online: https://bit.ly/38WcFf9



Legislation worth exploring

Nashua Telegraph

Jan. 29

The New Hampshire House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee heard testimony on Tuesday on a bill that would allow children as young as 12 to get counseling without their parent’s knowledge.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Nicole Klein-Knight, D-Manchester. She says the proposal is aimed at young people who may not feel safe sharing their struggles with their parents or who have parents who do not offer their assistance.

“This bill is not for good parents. This bill is not for active parents. This bill is for the thousands of children that have addicts for parents or who have abusive parents or have a family they can not go to,” Klein-Knight said.

Proponents of the bill noted several objections, including worries about the Granite State’s mental health system being able to keep up and provide such care, the payment for treatments and the involvement of parents who are active in their children’s lives.

While these concerns are valid, the real concern should be for the well-being of the children who are seeking treatment.

Let’s face it, all families have different dynamics. Some are extremely tight-knit, others are engaged but disconnected in some areas and some are absentee or cope with substance abuse or other mental health issues.

Whatever can be done to facilitate potentially needed counseling should be done. In today’s complex world, children may not feel comfortable bringing certain issues to their parents. It’s just a fact of life. It’s not being deceitful. It’s not lying. It’s not even trying to circumvent the family dynamic.

Whether true or not, some kid feel they cannot relate to their parents on certain issues and problems. This is why the Legislature should take a long, hard look at this legislation, tweak it if necessary, and implement it, as it could make a huge difference in the lives of New Hampshire’s youth.

Online: https://bit.ly/3b4lFRA



$50 million is a lot of money

Providence Journal

Jan. 29

In businesses across America, $50 million is considered a lot of money. Even some people in government take that big a pile seriously.

But the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, under Peter Alviti, essentially shrugged off its egregious failure to build gantries for truck tolls according to schedule. That failure cost the state $50 million in expected toll revenue - revenue that was supposed to help pay off bonds and rapidly repair Rhode Island’s deteriorating bridges.

That is money that Rhode Island will never recoup.

Various explanations have been offered. The department ran into “weather conditions beyond our control.” (Has the weather been excessively bad in Rhode Island?) Testing of license plate readers took longer than expected. (How much longer?) Metal for gantries became hard to come by. (There are numerous companies that build gantries; they must be getting metal somewhere.)

None of this makes much sense. In any event, isn’t it the duty of strong leaders to deal with problems that inevitably arise and look for ways to get the work done?

“Do your job,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick is fond of saying. Mr. Alviti’s job was to get the gantries up. Certainly, this argues for serious skepticism about the governor’s bid to hand him control of the Rhode Island Public Transit and the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge authorities as well as RIDOT.

The spin from Mr. Alviti is that Rhode Island is awash in money so nobody will even notice the loss. He and his aides insist losing $50 million in projected revenue will have no effect on road projects. (Does that make sense to anyone?)

“RIDOT’s leadership did not sit on their hands accepting the setbacks. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves and found innovative solutions that more than compensate for the tolling revenue shortfalls caused by the delays,” Mr. Alviti said in an emailed statement.

“During the last four years, as a result of completely overhauling RIDOT’s management and planning, the department successfully acquired over $300 million in additional federal funds - over and above our traditional federal funding levels - by becoming highly skilled in securing competitive federal grants.”

Well, it’s certainly nice that more of the taxpayers’ money is coming back to the state through federal grants and aid.

But that is beside the point. Additional federal funds do not obviate the need for truck tolls. Or do they?

Certainly, this is not how Gov. Gina Raimondo sold these tolls to taxpayers. She insisted that Rhode Island - which at last count had the highest percentage of deficient bridges in America - needed these gantries up as quickly as possible lest bridges collapse, killing someone, or repairs grow exponentially more expensive.

The governor’s closest political ally may be the Laborers Union, which benefits directly from bridge construction. Even so, citizens - including The Providence Journal editorial board, which argued strongly for truck tolls - trusted that she was telling the truth.

Now we are told there was no need to rush to put up the gantries and that we have more than enough money to make up for the delays.

We are admittedly not experts in construction financing. But common sense suggests $50 million is a lot of money to a state the size of Rhode Island. Somebody, including the legislature through its oversight responsibilities, should be looking into what is going on at RIDOT.

Online: https://bit.ly/2S5B8rD



Healthy Signs

Caledonian Record

Jan. 30

On Monday Littleton Regional Healthcare CEO Bob Nutter unveiled plans to invest $10 to $11 million into the expansion of its emergency department and in-patient care units. He also discussed the hospital’s commitment to growing telemedicine services to meet more patients where they are.

According to Nutter, LRH had 136,000 patient visits in 2019. During the year the hospital grew its medical staff by 25-percent, to 262, and its overall staff by 11 percent, to 557.

Unfortunately the healthcare center also finished the year with a $3.8 million net operating loss, reflecting the challenges of providing top-quality to an aging and rural population.

Despite the challenges, we remain optimistic about the future of LRH and regional healthcare in general. We’re blessed with great medical centers in the NEK and North Country. Our area hospitals (NVRH, LRH, NCH, Cottage, Weeks, UCVH) not only provide high quality care when we’re sick or suffering medical crisis, they also sustain the economic health of our region and attract terrific doctors, nurses, researchers, and lab workers to be our neighbors and community leaders.

It’s not an overstatement to say the overall health of our region wholly depends on them.

Online: https://bit.ly/392XvFf

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