News Article | December 15, 2016
Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump’s apparent choice to become U.S. Department of Energy secretary, was known for backing oil and gas development during his 14 years as Texas governor. But Perry also championed efforts to have his state store nuclear waste—an issue that will likely occupy a big part of his agenda if he is nominated and confirmed. The department—which Perry as a 2012 presidential candidate promised to abolish, although he famously forgot its name during a debate—is charged with the politically volatile process of developing an underground repository for highly radioactive spent fuel from commercial power plants at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The agency has also opened a smaller underground dump in southeastern New Mexico for radioactive materials leftover from atomic bomb– making. That site has suspended storage since two 2014 accidents, irritating states such as Idaho that want their toxic trash shipped to the facility. And under Pres . Barack Obama the department has been moving ahead with developing a “consent-based” waste storage policy that does not force states to accept any waste against their residents’ wishes, and if they do accept it, their residents will have a say over how it is done. The year “2017 will be a very big year when it comes to nuclear waste policy,” predicted Samuel Brinton, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center think tank in Washington, D.C. During Perry’s governorship a Dallas company, Waste Control Specialists (WCS), won state backing to run one of a handful of U.S. facilities to dispose of low-level radioactive materials from hospitals and shut-down reactors. The site opened in 2012 in west Texas. In addition to raising concerns about groundwater contamination and whether the state’s approval process was above board, watchdog groups questioned whether sizeable campaign donations to Perry from the company’s late founder, billionaire Harold Simmons, influenced the decision. Those debates arose during Perry’s 2012 presidential bid; Perry denied any special rewarding of contributors. In 2014 Perry asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to examine letting the state store higher-level commercial waste that—as in the other states hosting privately run reactors—now sits at the plants where it is generated. Citing the continual delays with the Yucca Mountain project, which the Obama administration mothballed in the face of Nevadans’ opposition, Perry said in a letter to state lawmakers, “The citizens of Texas—and every other state currently storing radioactive waste—have been betrayed by their federal government … because a federal solution still does not exist.” He cited potential competition from neighboring New Mexico and added: “I believe it is time for Texas to act.” Perry did not mention WCS . But the company in April sent the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission an application to store high-level reactor waste for 40 years, pending final disposal. The NRC announced last month it would start seeking public comments to be covered in an environmental review of the company’s request. Environmental groups have argued that the application should be dismissed because Congress never intended a private facility to be in the waste storage business when it passed the 1982 law governing how to deal with commercial high-level waste. Meanwhile the incoming Trump administration is reportedly examining whether to revive Yucca Mountain as the permanent storage solution. At a 2011 presidential debate, Perry opposed opening the project over Nevadans’ vehement objections, saying that states—not the feds—should decide whether accepting any radioactive refuse is worth the money and jobs that come with it. “Some state out there will see the economic issue, and they will have [waste] in their state,” he predicted. But energy experts say he would likely face pressure from Republicans and the utility industry to take a hard look at Nevada—and his potential new boss, who during the campaign declined to take a public position on the project, could still overrule him.
News Article | November 8, 2016
The candidates have been chosen, you've filled in the circles and dropped the envelope in the mailbox or ballot box, and you are now one of the millions of Americans who have cast a vote for president. But from those millions of single votes, how do election officials determine who will be the next president of the United States of America? It turns out, there may be nearly as many ways to count votes as there are voting precincts — and there are 8,000 precincts, said Edward Foley, an election expert at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. [Election Day 2016: A Guide to the When, Why, What and How] "It's important to stress just how much variation there is," Foley told Live Science. However, despite the many variations, one commonality is that the vote count is incredibly meticulous and has multiple layers of oversight, said Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. The process of counting votes is a Herculean effort that may involve about 1 million people across the country, Stewart said. About 126 million Americans voted in the 2012 election, according to estimates by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Based on that voter turnout, counting the vote requires one person involved in the vote count for every 100 to 150 voters. People are also voting in myriad ways. The 100,000 polling places feed into 8,000 precincts, but many states increasingly allow mail-in and absentee ballots that are sent directly to the local election office or county courthouse, while still others allow people to drop their mail-in ballot at polling places. In most places, the voting process looks a little like this: People go to their designated polling place, their name is checked off the voter rolls and they vote, either with a paper ballot that is optically scanned by a machine, an electronic voting machine or, very rarely, a paper ballot that is hand-read, Foley said. [Clinton or Trump for President: What Happens If the Election Is a Tie?] In the case of optically scanned ballots, once voting for the day is done, a poll worker pushes a little button on a computer that automatically tabulates the votes. Then, the machine will print out a grocery-receipt-like record with the vote tally, which is usually taped to the door of the polling place, Stewart said. Several copies of this printout are generated, and those copies, along with a computer card that stores the results, are bundled together and immediately sent to one of the central counting offices, which may be either a dedicated elections department or the county courthouse, Stewart said. (Some counties take uncounted ballots directly from the polling place to have them read by an optical scanner in the county courthouse, Stewart added.) Once these memory cards from all of the polling places are received by the central office, "they're popped into a computer much like you would pop a USB thumb drive into a computer," Stewart said. This computer then tallies all of the results and begins to generate a preliminary vote-count report, Stewart said. Then, this preliminary vote count can be conveyed in a number of ways. In some places, a "stringer" for the Associated Press (AP) will sit there and call in the results to the central AP call center, Stewart said. In other places, the results will be pushed via phone or internet to state officials, who will report the results. To prevent an election from being "hacked," some states even have their own separate, secure wires for transmitting election results between the county and the state, Foley said. Throughout this process, there are multiple safeguards to ensure the vote remains secure. "The laws require representatives from the various parties and then the county election board to be present" during vote tallies, Stewart said. In some places, the computer that is tabulating the vote at the county level will be placed in a locked room with a big picture window, so that observers can see — but not tamper with — the results, Stewart said. Mail-in and absentee ballots are typically sent directly to the central county courthouse or elections department, where they are collected. In the best-case scenarios, the mail-in ballot will be in two envelopes: an inner, plain envelope; and an outer one with a signature line, Stewart said. At the elections department, officials will open the outer envelopes and ensure that the signature matches with the one on file, and then place the sealed, plain envelopes in a pile to be counted by an optical-scan reader, which is used for the entire county, Stewart said. (Astronauts, meanwhile, have a whole separate procedure for casting their ballots from space.) The results coming from the state- or county-level precincts on election night are not the official results, Foley said. That count begins well after the polls have closed, typically the following day, he said. [How Does the Electoral College Work?] "There's a certification process, called canvassing, of the returns, to double-check and triple-check their accuracy," Foley said. For instance, in the official vote tally, counters will make sure that the number of ballots given out is equal to or greater than the number of votes tallied, Stewart said. "It really is accounting. I liken it to double-entry bookkeeping — the sum across the rows has to equal the sum across the columns," Stewart said. Once all of the vote numbers have been reconciled, the county board certifies the election and generates a report with the official vote count. Numerous safeguards prevent fraud and voter suppression throughout the voting process. For instance, poll workers are sometimes overseen by election officials, to make sure they are not depriving anyone of a fair vote or allowing people who are not on the rolls to cast their ballots, Stewart said. The voting lists are public record, and members of each campaign are invited to observe the voters being checked off the lists to ensure a fair process, he said. "At a minimum, there's a right of the candidates and anyone with a question of the ballot to observe at every point," Stewart said. Observers are also on guard to prevent voter intimidation. For instance, the Department of Justice sends attorneys from its Civil Rights Division to observe 28 precincts and ensure they are complying with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to a DOJ statement. In addition, the claims of election rigging have spurred the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to deploy hundreds of international monitors to observe the election. Because many international observers are not allowed into polling places, these monitors may go to election offices, observe the vote counts and ensure the process is free from tampering, Stewart said. Although most elements of the voting process are tightly regulated and monitored, there have been occasional cases of people voting multiple times or trying to stuff the ballot box (literally), but these cases are almost always not serious enough to trigger a new vote, Stewart said. However, the weakest link in the security of voting is the mail-in or absentee ballots, he said. "There isn't evidence of a widespread problem, but inevitably, when there are stories of voter fraud, they show up in mail balloting and, in particular, in absentee balloting," Stewart said. "It is rare for there to be a chain of custody of mail ballots." For instance, once a ballot is mailed to a person, it's out of that tightly controlled environment, Stewart said. "The ballot gets sent to you," Stewart said. "Do you actually get it? Once you get it, do you or a family member fill it out?" We Fact-Checked the Science Behind the Republican Party Platform The 5 Strangest Presidential Elections in US History
News Article | December 14, 2016
How Fast Could GOP Congress Get Obamacare Repeal To Trump's Desk? Republicans in Congress are so eager to repeal the Affordable Care Act that some have vowed to get a bill to President-elect Donald Trump's desk on the day he takes the oath of office. "We will move right after the first of the year on an Obamacare repeal resolution," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters at a news conference Monday. But could lawmakers introduce and pass a repeal measure in the 17 days between Jan. 3, when they convene, and Inauguration Day, Jan. 20? Not likely, say budget specialists. "No way. I just don't think it's possible," says G. William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank and 20-year Republican staff veteran of the Senate Budget Committee. Others think it could be done, but probably won't be. "Mechanically they can get it done," says Ed Lorenzen, senior adviser to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "The bigger question is, can they decide what should be in the package?" Republicans and the incoming Trump administration have been careful not to talk about exactly what they plan to do to the Affordable Care Act beyond repealing virtually all of its coverage expansions and the taxes that help fund them. But they seem to be coalescing around a strategy of repeal and delay, in which they would pass a bill to kill many of the major provisions of law by a certain date, then set to work on crafting and passing a replacement before that date arrives. It would be quicker for Congress to simply repeal the health law outright. But Republicans can't do that, because they would need 60 votes in the Senate to fend off Democrats' delaying tactics, and they will have only 52 GOP members. So instead they will be limited to using a special budget strategy that will let them pass their bill with 51 votes. That's called budget reconciliation, and the strategy does not let lawmakers repeal the entire law — only the parts that directly impact federal spending. It's been widely discussed as something the Republicans might attempt, but there has been less focus on how long the process takes. No one in Congress can simply introduce a budget reconciliation bill. The word "reconciliation" refers to the process by which congressional committees that control permanent spending programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, as well as tax policy, take action to reconcile that spending with the terms of the annual budget resolution. That means the first action must be to pass a budget resolution, which Congress failed to do last year. That is the resolution McConnell was referring to in his Monday remarks to reporters. The budget resolution, which is essentially a planning document for spending and taxes for the coming fiscal year, does not go to the president for a signature. But like a regular bill, it does have to be passed by both the House and Senate in the same form. And while the budget resolution also may not be filibustered in the Senate, lawmakers have up to 50 hours to debate it and unlimited time to vote on proposed amendments, which in practice can take up to another full day. Once that measure is agreed to by the full House and Senate, the action moves back to congressional committees. The budget resolution often includes reconciliation instructions to committees. Those instructions order proposed legislative changes to the programs the committees oversee, to meet the terms of the budget. That process triggers the reconciliation bill that goes to the president. In the normal course of events, those changes take from several weeks to several months to accomplish. Legislative changes need to be written, voted on by the committee and reported back to the House or Senate budget committees, which then forward them to the House or Senate floor for votes. Again, Senate debate is limited to 20 hours, with unlimited additional voting on amendments. House and Senate negotiators then hammer out a compromise, pass it again in the full House and Senate and send it to the president. The last budget reconciliation bill, considered a dry run by Republicans for the coming year, was launched by the budget resolution at the end of April 2015. The resulting reconciliation bill was sent to President Obama, who vetoed it, on Jan. 26, 2016. Clearly, if Republicans were to simply recycle their 2015 bill, the process could be dramatically shortened. That bill called for repeal of funding for Medicaid expansion, as well as for jettisoning subsidies of health insurance premiums and other items that help individuals afford private coverage, along with the taxes to pay for those benefits, as of Dec. 31, 2017. Predictions of getting the reconciliation bill to the president by Inauguration Day are ambitious, according to Stan Collender, executive vice president of Qorvis MSLGROUP, a Washington communications and consulting firm. "It would be unprecedented to do it that quickly," says Collender, who has worked for both the House and Senate budget committees. "But just because it hasn't worked that expeditiously before doesn't mean they can't do it." While Jan. 20 might not be feasible, "I think they could do it by the end of January," says Lorenzen. He notes that while some Republicans in the Senate have been expressing doubts about repealing the law without having a replacement in hand, and others in the House object to leaving current policies in place for as long as three years, "no one want to be the skunk that stops repeal." But others think that even with a model bill in hand, the process will be harder — and take longer — than many Republicans are saying. With last year's bill, "That repeal legislation, they knew they weren't shooting with real bullets," says Hoagland of the Bipartisan Policy Center. "They knew it was going to be vetoed." Already, health analysts and health provider groups are warning that repealing major pieces of the law without immediately replacing them could cause a collapse of the individual insurance market that currently covers around 20 million people. The risk of that collapse could — and should — slow things down, says Chris Jennings, a health consultant who worked in both the Bill Clinton and Obama administrations. "Few people have ever been wrong projecting that Congress takes a little bit longer" than some predictions, he says. "I think this health debate is of such consequence, that will likely be the case for this as well."
News Article | November 18, 2016
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the past 7 years, expects to go back to full-time research for a while if he’s not asked to stay on by President-elect Donald Trump, the physician-geneticist said this week. And he expressed unhappiness with Congress’s plan to freeze NIH spending at current levels well into next year, dubbing it “crap.” Like other presidential appointees, Collins must submit by 7 December a letter of resignation that says he will resign as of 20 January, Collins told earlier this week. After that, “I have no idea … my mind is pretty open. … It’s not really up to me.” But he said he expects to continue to run the lab he has had at NIH for 23 years “come what may.” Collins declined to comment to reporters yesterday on whether he has been talking to the Trump transition team, but said that if he were asked to stay on, “I guess I'd have to see if that actually happened and what the conditions were.” He told ScienceInsider that if he doesn’t remain NIH director, it’s “absolutely possible” that he would go back to full-time research “at least for a while. It's sort of like a sabbatical.” He said that he has had “no ability to do any negotiation about possible future roles” in the public or private sectors because of federal conflict of interest rules. “So when people say, ‘You must have a plan on what you're going to do next,’ and I say ‘I don't,’ they should believe it because I don't.” Collins’s NIH lab, which studies the genetics of diabetes and aging, now has about 10 members, including four postdocs. Collins says he could conceivably stay on permanently at NIH: “It is a wonderful place and my lab is very well situated.” He added, however, that in anticipation of a possible move, he has not taken any new trainees into his lab for the past couple years. Collins, 66, previously took a break after stepping down in 2008 as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, where he led the Human Genome Project. After writing a book about personalized medicine, he became NIH director in August 2009. His predecessor, Elias Zerhouni, also took some time off after resigning shortly before the 2008 presidential election. But Harold Varmus, NIH director in the late 1990s, moved directly from that position to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in 1999. Collins has been sending a message of reassurance to NIH staff and the research community since Trump’s upset victory on 8 November. He said yesterday that he’s “not really concerned” about the fate of President Obama’s initiatives in precision medicine and brain research. “Congress has been continually positive about medical research, it's one of their highest priorities, and its not a partisan issue. … That kind of support which has already led to the launch of the Precision Medicine Initiative and the BRAIN [Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies] initiative … gives me great confidence that despite various transitions, this kind of effort is going to continue to be a priority for the United States.” Collins did express concern, however, about the news yesterday that Congress intends to pass a stopgap funding measure keeping NIH’s current budget at the 2016 level until 31 March. The Senate and House of Representatives had been considering 2017 spending bills that would give the $32 billion agency between a $1.25 billion and $2 billion increase next year. A continuing resolution (CR), as it’s called, would be “an extremely unfortunate and painful outcome for biomedical research” because it would force NIH to spend its final 2017 budget in just 6 months. That could make it difficult to spend the money “in the most innovative way,” he told an audience at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C. “There's an acronym here which is: A CR Attenuates Progress. That would be C-R-A-P in case you haven't figured that out," Collins said to laughter.
News Article | October 17, 2016
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- This week's announcement by the Social Security Administration about the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits, effective January 2017, is likely to be met with questioning and concerns by many current beneficiaries, particularly in an election year and after no COLA was received in 2016. (That marked only the third year without a COLA in four decades.) Social Security's annual COLA is intended to protect the purchasing power of benefits against erosion by price inflation. It is important to many beneficiaries that benefits keep up with the cost of living, because other sources of income typically decline with age. As individuals grow older, their other sources of income decline - pensions are eroded by inflation, employment options end, spouses cope with widowhood, and savings are depleted - and they rely even more on Social Security. The following is a clarification of how the COLA is calculated and why the current method is used, and an identification of possible changes to the method. How is the COLA calculated? The COLA was added by Congress to Social Security in 1972 to ensure that benefits would automatically be adjusted to reflect changes in the cost of living, without relying on ad hoc, politicized, and often belated Congressional action. At the time Congress enacted annual automatic Social Security COLAs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) produced only one CPI. It measured inflation experienced by urban wage earners and clerical workers. Social Security's COLAs are calculated based on the percentage change in consumer prices, as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), from the third quarter of one year to the same quarter the following year. Retirees are not part of those sampled in producing the CPI-W. The adjustments are effective the following January. Why is this method used? The original CPI was renamed the CPI-W. It remains as the only method used to calculate Social Security COLAs, since alternative methods have not been adopted by Congress. In 1978, BLS expanded the CPI to cover all urban residents (about 88% of the population, including most retirees) and named it the CPI-U. The CPI-U is used to index personal income tax brackets and poverty thresholds, but is not used to determine Social Security COLAs. In 1988, BLS launched a third, experimental index, the CPI-E, which reflects the spending patterns of persons age 62 and older. All of these indexes measure changes over time in the price of a basket of goods and services purchased by their respective populations. In 1999, BLS slowed the growth of all the indexes by accounting for consumer substitution among similar items and began tracking a "chained" version of the CPI-U. A chained index reflects the extent to which consumers make changes in their purchasing patterns across dissimilar categories of items – such as spending more on fuel and less on food – in response to relative price changes. The "chained" CPI-U has usually risen more slowly per year than the revised CPI-W. What changes to the method might be considered? Some budget analysts and policymakers have recommended shifting to the "chained" CPI-U to adjust Social Security benefits and other federal benefits and taxes. For example, in November 2010, the Bipartisan Policy Center's Debt Reduction Task Force (PDF) recommended shifting to a "chained" CPI to determine COLAs in Social Security and in other federal benefits that use COLAs, and to index income tax brackets. The President's Fiscal Commission (Bowles-Simpson) (PDF) recommended a similar change as part of a package endorsed by 11 of 18 Commission members. The Obama Administration included this recommendation in its proposed budgets for several years thereafter. Others have called for BLS to develop an improved CPI-E for the elderly for the purpose of adjusting Social Security benefits. Some policy analysts (PDF) have argued that current indexes do not accurately measure the actual living costs of the elderly, including their health care costs, and point to alternative measures of inflation that specifically take into account the inflation experienced by the elderly. They believe that a CPI-E would come closer to reflecting the actual cost of living of older persons, who make up about two-thirds of all beneficiaries. Living costs for older persons usually rise faster than for other households, because medical care usage increases with age, and health care prices are growing faster than prices for other goods and services. While the experimental CPI-E reflects the spending of households age 62 and older, it is based on a relatively small sample and is not based on a dedicated survey of the spending patterns of older households. To obtain more robust estimates, BLS would need to survey a larger sample of households and survey shopping outlets specifically used by older consumers. Social Security makes up an ever greater share of elders' income as they age. Hence even modest erosion of the real value of their benefits is a public policy concern. While Social Security's automatic COLAs are a valuable feature of the system, they would function better if they were based on a consumer price index that more accurately measured the cost of living experienced by seniors. If you are a reporter looking for more information on Social Security's cost-of living adjustment, please contact Benjamin Veghte, the Academy's Vice President for Policy at email@example.com. About the National Academy of Social Insurance The National Academy of Social Insurance is a nonprofit organization made up of the nation's leading experts on social insurance. Its mission is to advance solutions to challenges facing the nation by increasing public understanding of how social insurance contributes to economic security. The Academy serves as a nonpartisan source of information for policymakers, thought leaders, the media, and the general public.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs announces a live webcast of a panel discussion of global experts on February 16, 2017. This event is the public launch of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2), led by Executive Director Janos Pasztor. The public is invited to tune in for the live webcast on February 16 at 8:30am EST (New York): http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/live. The panelists will discuss the key issues in relation to climate geoengineering, its governance, and what the C2G2 Initiative will do. This will be followed by a question-and-answer period with the audience. Climate geoengineering is defined as deliberate, intentional planetary-scale interventions in the Earth system to counteract climate change. This initiative comes at a very timely moment and addresses a critical gap in the world's response to climate change. The Initiative does not promote geoengineering, nor is it intrinsically against it. However, it assumes that given the state of international response to climate change so far, these technologies are likely to be used in the foreseeable future. There is a considerable lack of understanding of the governance requirements of geoengineering, which the C2G2 Initiative will address during the coming years. Panelists include: Professor Simon Nicholson, director, the Global Environmental Politics program, American University (facilitator); Dr. Douglas MacMartin, California Institute of Technology; Dr. Jane Long, whose current positions include co-chair of the Task Force on Geoengineering for the Bipartisan Policy Center; Pablo Suarez, associate director for research and innovation, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center; Jennifer Morgan, executive director, Greenpeace International; Oliver Morton, senior editor at The Economist; and Janos Pasztor, executive director, C2G2. ABOUT CARNEGIE COUNCIL Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1914 and based in New York City, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an educational, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that produces lectures, publications, and multimedia materials on the ethical challenges of living in a globalized world. Go to http://www.carnegiecouncil.org.
News Article | March 3, 2017
FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2017 file photo, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during an event prior to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Biden defended the courts and the news media, saying attacks against those institutions are dangerous. He was speaking Wednesday, March 1, at the Newseum in Washington, where he accepted an award from the Bipartistan Policy Center. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden defended the courts and the news media, saying attacks against those institutions are dangerous. Biden was speaking Wednesday night at the Newseum in Washington, where he accepted an award from the Bipartisan Policy Center. News outlets report that the Democrat didn't mention Republican President Donald Trump by name but said he was worried by the "almost drumbeat of denigration of the institutional structures that govern us." Biden said trying to delegitimize the courts is "corrosive" and makes it impossible to compromise. And he said questioning the legitimacy of the free press is "one of the most dangerous things out there." Trump has criticized judges and rulings in the past. He also frequently criticizes what he calls "fake news" and once wrote in a tweet that the news media "is the enemy of the American people." This story has been corrected to reflect that the name of the center is the Bipartisan Policy Center.
News Article | September 22, 2016
In one week – on Tuesday, September 27th – the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument in legal challenges brought by the coal industry and its allies against the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan establishes the nation’s first ever climate pollution standards for the power sector, which is the largest source of climate pollution in the United States, and one of the largest sources in the world. (According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the next largest sector – light-duty vehicles, which includes passenger cars and most pickup trucks – accounted for roughly one-half the emissions of the power sector in 2014.) As a result, the Clean Power Plan is one of the most important measures the United States has ever taken to combat the threat of climate change. The Clean Power Plan is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, yielding up to $54 billion in annual climate and health benefits and saving up to 3,600 lives each year. The good news is that the United States’ power sector is already rapidly reducing emissions by transitioning toward low cost, lower carbon sources of generation. In 2015, emissions were already 21 percent below 2005 levels. That’s almost two-thirds of the way toward the 2030 emission reduction target reflected in the Clean Power Plan. The rate of emission reduction we have seen over the last decade far exceeds the rate that would be required to achieve the Clean Power Plan targets by 2030. Meanwhile, analysts are projecting that the combination of falling prices for renewable energy and the extension of federal tax credits will drive a significant surge in new renewable development (see here, here, and here for just a few examples). Even though powerful market forces are already driving dramatic progress in reducing climate pollution, opponents of the Clean Power Plan have argued in court that the plan represents a dramatic “restructuring of nearly every State’s electric grid” and have also argued that compliance with the Clean Power Plan’s emission reduction goals is “impossible.” (See Opening Brief of Petitioners on Core Legal Issues, page 6, West Virginia v. EPA, No. 15-1363, D.C. Cir. Apr. 22, 2016, and Opening Brief of Petitioners on Procedural and Record-Based Issues, page 12, West Virginia v. EPA, No. 15-1363, D.C. Cir. Apr. 22, 2016) To evaluate these claims, EDF commissioned an analysis to examine how far measures already planned by power companies could go towards helping achieve the Clean Power Plan emission targets in the states that have challenged these standards. What the analysis found stands in stark contrast to allegations by the litigating states and power companies. M.J. Bradley and Associates conducted the analysis using its publicly available Clean Power Plan Compliance Tool. The analysis drew on multiple, widely-used sources of industry-provided information on investments in new generation and planned retirements, and was based on policy scenarios and assumptions provided by EDF. The analysis is cited in a court declaration filed by EDF clean energy expert Diane Munns, and was recently featured in a Reuters article titled “Most states on track to meet emissions targets they call burden.” Finding #1: All 27 litigating states can comply with the Clean Power Plan by leveraging planned investments coupled with flexible compliance programs The analysis found that all 27 states opposing the Clean Power Plan could come into compliance with their emission reduction targets all the way through 2030, without making any additional investments beyond those that are already planned by power companies or required under existing state law. All state regulators need to do is take advantage of the inherent flexibility provided by the Clean Power Plan and adopt flexible compliance programs that allow power plants to fully leverage the benefits of planned investments – such as by allowing companies to average across their sources or trade compliance credits across states lines. As Clean Air Act experts have noted, this compliance approach is familiar territory under our nation’s clean air laws. The Supreme Court recently upheld this approach in reviewing EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule, and many of the litigating states have already successfully adopted these types of emissions trading programs to achieve compliance with limits on soot and smog pollution from power plants. Finding #2: Even if they do not take full advantage of these program flexibilities, the vast majority of litigating states can comply with Clean Power Plan goals through 2030 through planned investments alone The analysis also considered very conservative scenarios where states do not take advantage of these program flexibilities, and each state comes into compliance solely through in-state investments and existing state policies – without engaging in trading of compliance instruments with any other states. Such constraints seem unlikely, given that most of the litigating states are already taking advantage of interstate trading in other Clean Air Act programs for the power sector and requested that interstate trading be an option under the Clean Power Plan. Even in these very conservative scenarios, as many as 21 of the 27 states challenging the Clean Power Plan could fully achieve their emission targets through the first three-year compliance period of the Clean Power Plan (the period from 2022-2024) by relying exclusively on existing generation, investments already planned within each state, and implementation of respective existing state policies. The study also found that as many as 18 of these states could comply all the way through 2030 as a result of these measures. Also, since this analysis was completed, Arkansas announced that it was already in compliance with the 2030 emissions targets. This suggests that at least 22 of the states could comply through 2024 as a result of planned investments, and that 19 states could comply through 2030. For the minority of states that were not found to meet their Clean Power Plan emission reduction targets through planned investments alone, this analysis indicates that very modest additional measures would be sufficient to close the gap. For example, it finds that all of the states could come into compliance in the first three-year compliance period merely by deploying cost-effective energy efficiency measures and developing new clean resources at a rate comparable to the average of their neighboring states. Finding #3: The Clean Power Plan has an essential role to play in reducing emissions from the power sector While the analysis shows that these states are well positioned for compliance, it also reaffirms the importance of the Clean Power Plan in delivering the needed reductions in climate pollution over the long term. This is because building new clean generation alone is not enough – it is also vital to ensure that the benefits of these investments are fully realized. By establishing nationwide emission limits through 2030, the Clean Power Plan will provide clear market and regulatory signals to power companies that encourage them to cost-effectively deploy their generation in a manner that reduces climate pollution. However, any delay or disruption in the implementation of the Clean Power Plan would interrupt those signals and put these eminently achievable reductions in climate pollution at risk. Power companies, states, and others agree: compliance is readily achievable We aren’t the only ones who have concluded that the Clean Power Plan targets are eminently reasonable. Our results are consistent with recent, independent economic analyses by the Nicholas Institute, M.J. Bradley & Associates, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and others. All of these analyses predict very low compliance costs because favorable economics for lower and zero-carbon sources of electricity are expected to continue driving sustained investment in these resources even in the absence of the Clean Power Plan. As a result, states around the country are well positioned for compliance. Notably, states and power companies from across the country have themselves affirmed this very point: At this point it is abundantly clear that America is rapidly transitioning to a low carbon economy – yielding enormous benefits for climate and public health, and opening new economic opportunities in communities across the nation. With the price of low-carbon resources at all-time lows, the market is already strongly driving this transition. The Clean Power Plan is a common sense framework that can provide an essential role in harnessing this momentum and providing a clear, certain path forward to protect against climate change — while at the same time giving states the ability to achieve emission reductions in ways that maximize local public health benefits for communities affected by air pollution. Litigating states and power companies should stop wasting money fighting against the protection of public health and the environment, and instead focus more fully on how to seize the opportunities of a clean energy future and maximize benefits for communities and consumers. By Nicholas Bianco. Tomás Carbonell, EDF Director of Regulatory Policy and Senior Attorney, and Diane Munns, EDF Senior Director of External Affairs, co-authored this post.
News Article | December 6, 2016
LEHI, Utah--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Solutionreach, the leader in patient relationship management (PRM) solutions, today announced the availability of SR Conversations, an integrated texting application. Among other benefits, SR Conversations offers intelligent prioritization of patient mobile conversations—a first-to-market functionality—allowing practices to better nurture their patient relationships and foster loyalty. Patient expectations on how they should communicate with their providers are changing. According to a study released by the Council of Accountable Physician Practices and the Bipartisan Policy Center, most patients want to communicate with physicians via text and email, but very few providers offer the ability to do so. “Our provider customers put their patients first—they want to meet their patients where they are,” said Jim Higgins, chief executive officer of Solutionreach. “And now our practices can do more than that. With SR Conversations, each patient can get the unique attention and engagement they need.” SR Conversations allows patients to text a practice’s landline for non-emergency issues from their mobile device. The feature can also seamlessly integrate with most practice management systems, if desired by practice staff. In addition to intelligent prioritization of patient messages allowing practices to give each patient the attention they need, benefits include: SR Conversations is available to Solutionreach’s more than 25,000 practice customers. Learn more about Solutionreach and SR Conversations by calling (866) 605-6867 or visiting www.solutionreach.com. Solutionreach is revolutionizing the patient and provider relationship. Through its market-leading patient relationship management platform, Solutionreach supports higher patient satisfaction and loyalty, greater efficiency, and ultimately, stronger healthcare organizations. Solutionreach partners with more than 25,000 provider organizations in numerous specialties. Learn more at www.solutionreach.com.
News Article | November 10, 2016
Obamacare’s days may be numbered. The Affordable Care Act has survived dozens of recall attempts by the House of Representatives and two challenges brought to the U.S. Supreme Court. But with a Donald Trump presidency and a new Republican-led House and Senate, the bill—or at least certain key provisions—is almost certainly headed for the chopping block. The question now is what provisions may survive and when the death knell of the others will sound. President-elect Trump campaigned on repealing the law and its requirement for Americans to carry health insurance. Trump says the private market should step in with the sale of insurance plans across state lines to help drive down costs through competition. He has said he will dismantle Medicaid and transform it into a system of state grants to provide assistance for low-income residents. Until now the twin shields of Pres. Barack Obama’s veto power and the threat of filibuster—a Senate procedural tool that allows senators to slow or stall legislation—have helped prevent Republicans from repealing Obamacare. Overcoming a filibuster requires a vote from 60 senators. Even with the new Republican-led Senate, lawmakers will not have those 60 votes—but House Speaker Paul Ryan has already sketched out a blueprint for sidestepping those obstacles in the next Congress by employing a budgetary process called reconciliation. This approach is not subject to filibuster in the Senate and limits the addition of amendments. With this maneuver only 51 senators would need to approve an action once it clears the House. The process, created in 1974, is designed to speed up certain tax, spending and debt limit legislation and has been employed a couple dozen times. Under reconciliation restrictions Senate debate on a bill is capped at 20 hours, and debate on any compromise between the two chambers is limited to 10 hours—ensuring relatively swift action. Republicans have already used this approach to push through a bill aimed at repealing Obamacare, but Obama vetoed it when it came to his desk. President-elect Trump, however, would almost certainly sign such a bill into law. With a Republican-led Congress, a reconciliation bill would go further than the bill that previously made it to the Oval Office, says G. William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank. “They would probably replace the subsidy system in Obamacare with tax credits on the purchase of health insurance,” he says. “So they would repeal and replace Obamacare.” Reconciliation is a limited tool. It could only alter provisions of Obamacare that would officially have a federal budgetary consequence. So regulatory changes imposed on the private sector insurance market—such as altering how state health insurance markets are organized or changing the requirement to cover adults under age 26, if desired—would not be included. But something like a change to Medicaid coverage, or tax requirements related to the Affordable Care Act, would be eligible. (If lawmakers first changed a provision of the law that oversees the reconciliation process to allow matters beyond those that affect the federal budget to be included, then there could be more extensive action, says Jack Hoadley, a research professor in the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University.) Exactly how many Americans would remain insured following an Obamacare repeal is subject to many moving parts, including individual state actions. “Obviously Medicaid expansion was a piece of the law, and perhaps some states would continue that with state dollars so that would affect how many people gain or lose insurance,” Hoadley says. A state could try to maintain an exchange marketplace on its own, but it would have to come up its own subsidy dollars out of its own state monies, he says. Repealing Obamacare could not happen overnight, however. Passing a straight overhaul of the act without reconciliation remains unlikely, because the action could get mired by a Senate filibuster. But in order for lawmakers to use a reconciliation bill they would first need to have a budget. Because a budget would not be introduced until February—or perhaps March—and then the House and Senate would have to agree on it, it is unlikely that a bill would get to the president’s desk until around August recess, Hoagland says. “That reconciliation bill could include things other than Obamacare, including tax reform, so once you start putting that kind of bill together you are not talking about doing this in the first 100 days,” he adds. The timeline may get even longer if there is no good agreement on an exact formula for replacing Obamacare, Hoadley says, noting that repeal is much less contentious than the formula for its replacement. “We have been operating under this law for five to six years, so repealing and replacing it is a different animal now than it would have been if we had this conversation in 2011, before a lot of the provisions took effect.”