Category Archives: Regulations

laws and regulations

Power-plant toxics: no longer a political trinket

By appointing Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma attorney general, as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the cockroach President signaled another warp in the long struggle against emissions from U.S. power-plants. During his former service, Pruitt garnered large political contributions from managers in poultry industries, who wanted to scuttle rules for waste disposal at chicken farms. Pandering to their causes against public interests, Pruitt became Chief Chicken Shit of the Southwest.

If the cockroach were to fall to a heart attack tomorrow, the environment could become even more threatened. Vice President Pence was a promoter of Pruitt. Writing in the Huffington Post, John Halstead described Pence as an environmental racist. While Indiana governor, Pence responded quickly to lead found in the water supply for Greentown, a community that is 97 percent white. He ignored problems in East Chicago, where a majority-black neighborhood suffers from the worst soil concentration of lead ever reported in the U.S.

Industrial waste: At an auto-industry event on March 15, 2017, the cockroach promised, “My administration will work tirelessly to eliminate…industry-killing regulations.” The context was fuel efficiency. The cockroach promoted lower efficiency: that is, more fuel waste, more emissions and a retreat from U.S. energy independence. Some applause came from locals but not from the Detroit Free Press, whose business reporter said the push would undermine “innovation we need to see more of in the Michigan economy.”

On March 28, the cockroach President staged a fantasy act with coal miners in the Oval Office, signing Executive Order 19, an unhinged and antisocial maneuver. It directs that federal “agencies immediately review…regulations that potentially burden…use of domestically produced energy…[where] ‘burden’ means significant costs [for]…utilization…of energy resources.” Climate issues got nearly all the media attention then, but regulations on toxic power-plant emissions also loomed as likely targets.

Pruitt was Oklahoma’s supervising counsel for White Stallion Energy v. EPA, the DC Appeals Court case on toxic power-plant emissions that led to Michigan v. EPA, decided in 2015 by the Supreme Court. That proved to be the last attack on the public interest from clever, antisocial former Justice Scalia, who had managed to bend the ear of Justice Kennedy. Against precedent, Scalia’s opinion said the EPA had to consider costs when regulating toxic power-plant emissions.

According to Coral Davenport, writing in the New York Times, “Pruitt, [then] attorney general of Oklahoma…sued the EPA at least 14 times [in only six years], often in concert with the nation’s largest fossil-fuel companies, to block major environmental regulations.” Fortunately for the environment, he was rarely as successful as he was in Michigan v. EPA, and fortunately that case will have little direct impact.

Contrasts: Residents of the Boston area for more than 50 years will likely remember days when smoke darkened the sky. Before the 1960s there were few air quality rules. Power-plants, factories, offices and homes belched smoke from coal, oil and wastes. “Efficient” cars meant ones getting more than about 12 miles to the gallon. Cities, towns, institutions and businesses burned trash in open incinerators.

Smoke-blackened Washington Street, Boston, 1915

SmokeBlackenedWashingtonStreet1915
Source: Boston Public Library Archives

In November, 2013, a survey of large U.S. cities found that “Boston tops the list as the city with the cleanest air and boasts the lowest Air Quality Index score possible. Boston’s accessible public transportation system…the Air Pollution Control Commission…[and] annual precipitation…are good indicators that Bostonians are breathing easy.” Quite a change from the grimy Boston environment between about 50 and 150 years earlier.

Progress and mischief: Before 1970, most efforts to reduce air pollution were state initiatives. The federal 1970 Clean Air Act amendments [Public Law 88-206] became a watershed, aiming at uniform requirements that states would refine and enforce rather than initiate. The 1970 law authorized national “air quality” standards and regional “performance” standards for pollution emitters.

Coal has long been the most harmful fuel. In recent years, activists became concerned that it produces the most carbon dioxide. However, there are longstanding concerns over emissions of sulfur dioxide, mercury, arsenic and particles of toxic metals from burning coal. The U.S. EPA moved extremely slowly to regulate sulfur dioxide, finally spurred by 1990 Clear Air Act amendments [Public Law 91-604] requiring actions to combat acid rain. Until the Obama era, the agency failed to restrict other toxic components of coal smoke.

The Walker Bush administration tried to gut regulation of power-plant emissions through its proposed Clean Air Mercury Rule and Delisting Rule. The music stopped when the DC Appeals Court denounced those two shabby attempts in its decision for New Jersey v. EPA. [517 F.3d 574, 2008] A dramatic sequence of seven federal court rulings overturned much of the environmental mischief oozing from the Walker Bush administration.

*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2005) vacated the New Source Review Rule.
*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2006) vacated the Equipment Replacement Provision Rule.
*** Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (2007) vacated the refusal to regulate carbon dioxide.
*** Environmental Defense, v. Duke Energy (2007) affirmed the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Rule.
*** New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Mercury Rule.
*** North Carolina v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Interstate Rule.
*** Sierra Club v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated 2006 Clean Air Act emission limits.

Obama-era progress: The Obama administrations issued two major air-quality regulations: the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) in 2011 and the Clean Power Plan in 2015. When reporting about lawsuits attacking them, news media sometimes failed to distinguish the two regulations clearly. MATS is directed toward the toxic pollutants that have been longstanding concerns of the U.S. EPA. The Clean Power Plan is a climate initiative, intended to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions.

The cockroach President was able to suspend the Clean Power Plan, but the great majority of fossil-fueled power is now produced by plants that comply with MATS. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that as of April, 2016, nearly all coal-fired plants had installed equipment. According to Paul Ciampoli, writing in Power Plant Daily, plants representing about 2 GW out of about 276 GW total–less than a percent of industry capacity–were still operating on MATS waivers. The cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

Good news for the U.S. is that economics blocked obscene politics. When power-plant emissions are filtered enough to bring down ordinary chemical pollution, costs of coal-fired power rise too high for new plants and are shuttering many old ones. Brayton Point in Somerset, MA–once among the filthiest in New England–was outfitted with pollution controls. Recently it has operated less than a quarter of the time, and it is scheduled to close permanently in May, 2017–no longer competitive.

Power from natural gas-fired plants, not government policy, has been the main agent evicting coal-fired power. In plains areas of the Middle West and in giant river valleys of the Pacific Northwest, wind turbines also provide advantages along with very low emissions. There, where winds tend to be stronger and steadier than in other places and where installation costs tend to be lower, one major form of renewable energy no longer needs new subsidies to prosper. Again, the cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 16, 2017


Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Court freezes Clean Power Plan lawsuit, signaling likely end to Obama’s signature climate policy, Washington Post, April 28, 2017

Sonal Patel, Trump’s EPA signals changes for power-plant mercury rule, Power Magazine, April 20, 2017

Jonathan Mattise, Associated Press, Federal utility CEO: coal plants not reopening under Trump, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Michael Biesecker and Sam Hananel, Associated Press, EPA seeks to derail cleanup of coal power-plant pollution, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew W. Lehren, With Trump appointees, a raft of potential conflicts and no transparency, New York Times, April 15, 2017

Coral Davenport, Coal is on the way out at electric utilities, no matter what Trump says, New York Times, April 5, 2017

Emily Hammond, President Trump’s executive order on “energy independence,” Vox Media (Washington, DC), March 29, 2017

On promoting energy independence and economic growth, Executive order 19, White House, March 28, 2017

Matthew Daly and Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump takes aim at Obama’s efforts to curb global warming, Boston Globe, March 27, 2017

Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump announces challenge to Obama-era fuel standards, Boston Globe, March 15, 2017

John Gallagher, Why Trump’s rollback of tailpipe emissions rules is a bad idea, Detroit Free Press, March 15, 2017

John Flesher, Matthew Daly and Catherine Lucey, Associated Press, Climate and other programs get deep cuts in EPA budget proposal, WTOP (Washington, DC), March 3, 2017

Coral Davenport, EPA workers try to block Pruitt in show of defiance, New York Times, February 16, 2017

Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner, Scott Pruitt, EPA designee, expresses doubts on climate, defends oil industry funding, Reuters (UK), January 18, 2017

Alex Formuzis, EPA pick Pruitt stymied cleanup of scenic river fouled by factory chicken-farm waste, Environmental Working Group (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

John Halstead, Mike Pence’s environmental racism, Huffington Post (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

Eric Lipton and Coral Davenport, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA pick, backed industry donors over regulators, New York Times, January 14, 2017

Inside the Clean Air Act, US Legal (Jackson, MS), 2017

Edward Wong, Trump calls climate change a Chinese hoax, New York Times, November 19, 2016

Ryan H. Wiser and Mark Bolinger, Wind technologies market report, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, August, 2016

EIA electricity generator data show power industry response to EPA mercury limits, U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 7, 2016

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Consideration of cost in the “appropriate and necessary” finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants, 81 FR 24420-24452, April 25, 2016

Keith Goldberg, High court won’t halt EPA mercury rule, Law360 (New York, NY), March 3, 2016

Laura Barron-Lopez, Supreme Court stays Obama’s carbon emissions plan, Huffington Post, February 9, 2016

Elena Craft, Graham McCahan and Mandy Warner, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Environmental Defense Fund (New York, NY), 2016

Rachel Cleetus, Steve Clemmer, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, Julie McNamara, Jeremy Richardson and John Rogers, The Clean Power Plan: a climate game-changer, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016

Michael B. Gerrard, Supreme Court ruling on mercury shows little deference to EPA, New York Law Journal 254(49), September 10, 2015

Michigan v. EPA, case no. 2014-46, U.S. Supreme Court, 576 U.S. (2015) June 29, 2015

Samuel Worth, Why EPA should have prohibited cost considerations in White Stallion, Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 42(2):593-606, April 10, 2015

White Stallion Energy v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2012-1100, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 748 F.3d 1222, April 15, 2014

Erin Ailworth, Owner reaffirms 2017 closing of Brayton Point plant, Boston Globe, January 27, 2014

Tracey Jones, Ten cities with the best air quality, CreditDonkey (Pasadena, CA), 2013

Nicholas Morales, New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, Harvard Environmental Law Review 33(1):263-282, 2009

New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2005-1097, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 517 F.3d 574, February 8, 2008

George A. Gonzales, The Politics of Air Pollution, State University of New York Press, 2005

James J. MacKenzie. Boston’s sufferance of sulfur dioxide, Science 172(3985):792-793, 1971

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Fall town meeting: pipe dreams, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2014

Craig Bolon, Coal-fired and oil-fired electricity in New England, Energy and Environment, October 17, 2013

Craig Bolon, Tangle of air pollution regulations affecting energy, Energy and Environment, 2008

Bermuda explosion: medical racketeering

On February 14 of this year, Bermuda filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for Massachusetts, seeking damages and legal costs from the Lahey medical organization of Burlington, MA. Bermuda claims that Lahey, aided by Dr. Ewart Brown, former prime minister of Bermuda, cost the country millions of dollars by engaging in a “pattern of racketeering activity.”

Bermuda v. Lahey is likely to prove complex. It seeks to apply the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970 to a civil dispute. Congress aimed RICO at “organized crime.” RICO helped reduce the New England Mob from subverters of mainstream business through violence and threats to exploiters of some peep shows and massage parlors. However, little known to most people, RICO also includes a section authorizing civil lawsuits.

When a “pattern of racketeering activity” by an “interstate enterprise” has been proven in court, triple damages plus legal costs can be awarded in a civil RICO lawsuit. As an early example, civil RICO was used successfully against anti-abortion activists who harassed and trashed a Philadelphia clinic during 1984, resulting in awards of about $45,000 for damages and $90,000 for legal costs.

Bermuda’s claims: According to the recent lawsuit, Lahey “accept[ed] fees for medically unnecessary…services…using those fees to pay Brown increasing bribes…to promote its interests in Bermuda.” [Bermuda v. Lahey complaint, paragraph 121] The “actions have caused [Bermuda] to…increase the rate at which it pays for certain health benefits, and to pay for overseas services in the United States….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 132]

That is the essence of Bermuda’s arguments that it is owed damages under the RICO Act, in 18 USC 96.1962(a). Bermuda has also made claims under RICO Sections 1962(b), 1962(c) and 1962(d), using similar arguments. Its complaint says that fraud continued over more than ten years, that fraud cost Bermuda millions of dollars and that “bribes” and “kickbacks” were key elements in the “racketeering activity.”

“Lahey and Brown concocted a scheme built upon bribery and greed and carried out with complete disregard for Brown’s position of public trust or for the physiological and psychological impact on patients–who were subjected to excessive, medically unnecessary and frankly dangerous scans so that Brown and Lahey could obtain greater reimbursements….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 3]

“Between 2006 and 2016, Bermudian public healthcare insurers paid Lahey over $40 million for services…To induce patient referrals for diagnostic scanning at the Brown clinics, Brown…offered and paid kickbacks, which he dubbed and disguised as ‘commissions.’…” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 92]

Dr. Brown is a bystander to Bermuda v. Lahey, not a defendant. If damages and legal costs were awarded under the lawsuit as filed, Lahey would have to pay. However, Dr. Brown’s activities would be key elements in showing a “pattern of racketeering activity” by an “interstate enterprise.”

A key issue for Bermuda will be proving that Lahey knew services in which it participated were “medically unnecessary.” If they were medically necessary or if Lahey did not know otherwise, then Lahey would not likely be seen as a party to fraud. According to the complaint in the lawsuit, patients were often referred to the Brown clinics in Bermuda, who would perform scans and send images to Lahey in the U.S. for interpretation. In such a sequence, Lahey acted as a third-party provider.

Conflicts: According to Bermuda’s complaint, “By 2001, Brown…was…serving as Bermuda’s minster of transport. At this time, [Lahey] entered into the first of many consulting agreements…whereby Lahey agreed to pay Brown and [his company Bermuda Healthcare Services] substantial sums of money in exchange [for] their promotion of Lahey’s interests on the island. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 28]

The complaint continues, saying “agreements called for Lahey’s payment of ‘consulting fees’ to Brown…in exchange, Brown…would ‘promote healthcare opportunities (for Lahey) in Bermuda and elsewhere in the West Indies.’…Brown’s use and exploitation of his role as a government minister to promote Lahey’s interests in Bermuda [was] a clear conflict of interest….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 31]

According to the complaint, what looks to have been a problem developed into a threat: “Increasing the rate of Lahey’s payments was important to Brown because he was reliant on the payments to fund his clinics, which had to operate at capacity each month for him to stay…solvent.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 38]

Bermuda’s complaint says Lahey had helped Brown make arrangements to buy a CT scanner for his clinics and later buy an MRI scanner–very costly and risky moves for an individual physician. In addition to paying off debt for equipment, he was also paying Lahey directly for interpreting scans, rather than their trying to bill Bermuda’s national health program, and he tended to fall behind on payments.

Bermuda’s complaint continues by saying that “Brown routinely used his role as premier…to ensure that Lahey got the access for which it paid him…on February 5, 2007, [the chief operating officer at Lahey] mailed Brown to thank him ‘for offering Lahey the opportunity to meet with your minister of health…to participate in the development of a future urgent care center’…Brown responded, ‘You didn’t know you were in the in-crowd? (Smile)’.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 50]

As of 2007, an outside survey found that Bermuda did not require a government certificate of need to operate CT and MRI scanners. Its national health-care program did not require preauthorizations for scans. In Massachusetts, certificates of need for scanners began in 1976, and most health-care insurance plans required preauthorizations for scans in the 1980s. In its complaint, Bermuda notes that Dr. Ewart Brown successfully opposed a preauthorization requirement proposed in 2013. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 99]

Prospects: Clearly set out in Bermuda’s complaint initiating the recent lawsuit are issues that might have been obvious to Lahey executives: conflicts of interest between Dr. Brown’s efforts in Bermuda for Lahey and Dr. Brown’s duties in government, plus financial pressures created by Dr. Brown’s debt payments for medical equipment and Dr. Brown’s payments for medical services provided by Lahey.

Bermuda’s complaint has benefited from unexplained disclosures, such as messages cited between Dr. Brown and an executive at Lahey. However, Bermuda probably has more to learn about Lahey’s activities. Unless the case is dismissed on preliminary motions, it will enter discovery, providing Bermuda with opportunities to obtain information.

Bermuda’s complaint says that “no one was better positioned than Lahey, which read all scans conducted at the Brown clinics, to detect medically unnecessary scans.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 81] However, Lahey did not necessarily know what medical indications had prompted scans, since it was reportedly Dr. Brown’s clinics that performed them. Whether scans were or were not “medically necessary” and how much Lahey knew about that are issues likely to develop at a trial.

Bermuda has accused Lahey of paying Dr. Brown for favors and accused Dr. Brown of paying other physicians to refer patients to his clinics. It will surely try to obtain documents and testimony strengthening those claims. If successful in the efforts, Bermuda might be able to prove at a federal trial what it now alleges–that the cooperation between Lahey and Dr. Brown comprised a “fraudulent enterprise,” subject to sanctions under the RICO Act. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 70]

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 15, 2017


Complaint, Bermuda v. Lahey, case 1:17-cv-10242, U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, February 14, 2017

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Lahey fights back against Bermuda bribery allegations, Boston Globe, April 14, 2017

Unattributed, Brown braced for chance of arrest, Royal Gazette (Bermuda), February 24, 2017

Shelley Murphy and Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Former Bermuda premier defends his ties to Lahey, Boston Globe, February 22, 2017

Shelley Murphy and Danny McDonald, Bermuda’s ex-premier calls claims Lahey bribed him a litany of lies, Boston Globe, February 16, 2017

Sam Strangeways, Lawsuit slams Brown and Lahey, Royal Gazette (Bermuda), February 16, 2017

Janelle Lawrence, Bermuda files lawsuit accusing a U.S. hospital group of costly, unnecessary medical-imaging tests, Bloomberg News, February 15, 2017

Mark Arsenault, Former Bermuda leader with ties to Lahey was educated in US, Boston Globe, February 15, 2017

Jo Anne Pool, Northeast Women’s Center v. McMonagle: a message to poltical activists, Akron Law Review 23(2):251-267, 2015

John J. Hamill, Brian H. Rowe, Kaija K. Hupila and Emily Burke Buckley, A guide to civil RICO litigation, Jenner & Block, 2014

Bermuda Hospitals Board: Estate Master Plan review, Johns Hopkins, 2007

Reopen the Senate: practice democracy

From the daily news

“U.S. Senators prepared for a potentially rancorous day Tuesday, even by recent standards of partisan rancor, as Democratic leaders threatened to change filibuster rules to stop Republicans from blocking White House nominees for Administration appointments.

“Several votes were scheduled to test whether Republicans will allow simple-majority confirmations of a handful of long-stalled nominations. Some Senators expressed hopes for a breakthrough early Tuesday after none was reached during a rare, three-hour private ‘caucus’ of nearly all Senators Monday night.”

Associated Press reporter Charles Babington was summarizing events during the summer of 2013 that had led to what looked then like a radical proposal.

“If neither side retreats, potential consequences would last for years. A rules change that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) proposes is limited. It would end the ability of 41 Senators to block action on White House nominations other than judges. The out-of-power party still could use filibusters to block legislation and judicial nominees. Some critics say Reid’s plan would prompt Republicans to retaliate by doing even more to reduce the minority party’s rights when they regain control of the Senate–as early as 2014 elections.”

The struggle four years ago led to the first major write-down of the Senate’s so-called “filibuster” customs–really a gross misnomer. The outcome allowed the Obama administration to confirm key appointments over objections of Senate Republicans. Those included Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

As Prof. Sarah Binder recounted in Congressional testimony published by the Brookings Institution, the so-called “filibuster” was not a founding tradition of the U.S. Senate. It is an invention: a legacy of the infamous Aaron Burr, who assassinated Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury, in 1804.

The original, founding Senate members adopted Rule 8 in April, 1789, under which any debate could be curtailed by a motion for the previous question, requiring a majority vote of those present. Mr. Burr urged on the Senate a custom of unlimited debate in his March, 1805, farewell speech as Vice President. The Senate warmed to his unctuous sense of self-importance and removed Rule 8 the following year.

The term “filibuster” was a borrowing. In the middle of the nineteenth century, it meant a rogue military operation or piracy. There was no actual attempt at seizing the Senate floor for unlimited debate until March, 1841, over an issue of replacing the Senate printers.

For the following 76 years the filibuster, although rarely practiced, was an absolute barrier to Senate action. Then Senate Rule 22, the cloture rule, was adopted in 1917, most recently modified in 1975–reducing the vote count from 67 to 60. Although curbed by the 2013 changes, the supermajority threshold of cloture has left the Senate paralyzed on significant issues.

What goes around comes around. There is never an ideal opportunity for major change. If Republicans abolish or choke off Senate filibusters this year, events are likely to favor future Senate Democrats. Historical precedents suggest small chances for the cockroach President to win a second term. He is at least as much disliked as former Pres. Polk (1845-1849) became.

The 2020 elections may install a Democrat as President and return Democrats as the Senate majority. If that were to happen, the gridlock of 2011 through 2013 could return. It was only partly relieved by the change that former Sen. Reid sponsored. The original Rule 8 should be revived.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 31, 2017


Mary Clare Jalonick and Erica Werner, Associated Press, Democratic opposition to Trump court pick grows, Schumer warns Republicans, WTOP (Washington, DC), March 31, 2017

Charles Babington, Associated Press, As filibuster talks flag, Senate faces showdown, New York Times, July 16, 2013

Jonathan Weisman, The Senate’s long slide to gridlock, New York Times, November 25, 2012

Sarah Binder, The history of the filibuster, Brookings Institution, 2010

Craig Bolon, Circuses: cheaper than bread, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2017

Elections in 2016: trends from Massachusetts cities and towns

In 2016 general elections, Massachusetts voters extended a record of support for progressive causes and candidates. Voters strongly supported Clinton and Kaine for President and Vice President, and they returned a delegation of mostly progressive Democrats to Congress. On four statewide ballot questions, voters opposed another slot-machine casino, opposed lifting limits on charter schools, favored protective measures for farm animals and annulled former state laws against marijuana use and sale.

Votes for President and Vice President: Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine won majorities in 257 Massachusetts cities and towns, losing in 94 of them. Populations in the cities and towns that Clinton won ranged up to 618 thousand (Boston), averaging 22 thousand. Populations in the cities and towns that she lost ranged up to 41 thousand (Westfield), averaging 10 thousand. Opposition came mostly from small towns. The ten communities with the strongest opposition were Blandford, Chester, Douglas, East Brookfield, Granville, Holland, North Brookfield, Russell, Southwick and Tolland–all with populations of less than 10 thousand.

Clinton support for President in Massachusetts

clintonsupportquintiles2016
Source: Secretary of the Commonwealth, preliminary

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau

Contrary to speculation that higher-income communities were more likely to support Clinton and Kaine, the votes of Massachusetts communities did not show a clear trend of that type. Instead, communities with larger populations voted more strongly for Clinton and Kaine. When Massachusetts communities were divided into quintiles according to support for Clinton, with quintile 1 the strongest support, there was a clear, uniform trend of increasing support with increasing community population.

Votes on charter schools: Sponsors of Question 2, trying to abolish limits on charter schools, spent $24 million. At around $20 for every vote they attracted, it was by far the most costly campaign ever on a ballot question. They won majorities in only 15 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns.

Under current laws and regulations, up to 120 charter schools are allowed statewide. Six cities have reached their local limits: Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield and Worchester. As of November, 2016, 88 charter schools had been designated in Massachusetts, located in 36 communities–one school in each of the following communities except as noted:

Adams, Boston (27), Cambridge (3), Chelsea (2), Chicopee, Devens, Easthampton, Everett, Fall River (3), Fitchburg, Foxborough, Framingham, Franklin, Greenfield, Hadley, Harwich, Haverhill, Holyoke (2), Hyannis (2), Lawrence (8), Lowell (3), Lynn, Marblehead, Marlborough, New Bedford (3), Newburyport, Norwell, Plymouth (2), Salem, Saugus, Somerville (2), South Hadley, Springfield (6), Tyngsboro, West Tisbury and Worcester (2).

No Massachusetts community that has a charter school supported Question 2. No city in the state and no town with a population over 28 thousand supported Question 2. Instead, high household incomes correlated with support for Question 2. When Massachusetts communities were divided into quintiles according to support for Question 2, with quintile 1 the strongest support, there was a clear, uniform trend of increasing support with increasing household income.

Support for Question 2 in Massachusetts

question2supportquintiles2016
Source: Secretary of the Commonwealth, preliminary

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau

The ten communities voting the strongest support for Question 2 were Aquinnah (on Martha’s Vineyard), Chilmark, Dover, Gosnold, Lincoln, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Nantucket, Sherborn, Wellesley and Weston. They include four of the six highest-income Massachusetts towns: Sherborn, Wellesley, Carlisle, Sudbury, Dover and Weston. None of the Massachusetts communities that supported Question 2 has a charter school.

Meanings of trends: Measured trends of support for Clinton and for Question 2 run cross-current to some popular political lore. In a graphical analysis, New York Times writers speculated that lower-income voters turned against Clinton, while higher-income voters did the reverse. Results from Massachusetts communities show no clear trend connected with incomes but instead show a trend involving sizes of the communities where voters live. The more urbanized voters tended to support Clinton.

In contrast, results for Question 2 from Massachusetts communities do show a clear trend connected with household incomes. Sponsors of Question 2 and their apologists claimed that the charter schools are hugely popular with low-income households. If that were true, then there might have been a trend linking stronger support for Question 2 with lower household incomes. However, the actual trend from Massachusetts communities went in the opposite direction.

Promotions for Question 2 appeared to have sophisticated authors, but perhaps the sponsors of Question 2 fooled themselves about the appeal of their products. Bystanders in communities hosting charter schools are much more numerous than participants–a factor that sponsors of Question 2 might not have weighed accurately.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 22, 2016


Massachusetts 2016 election results by cities and towns, plus demographics, Brookline Beacon, December, 2016

Massachusetts elections statistics, Secretary of the Commonwealth, December, 2016

American Community Survey, U.S Census Bureau, 2009-2013 ACS 5-year data release

Names and locations of charter schools, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, December, 2016

Robert Weintraub, Massachusetts should vote No on more charter schools, BU Today (Boston, MA), October 17, 2016

Michael Altman, Charter schools: an issue of civil rights, WGBH (Boston, MA), October 25, 2016

Paul Crookston, Massachusetts charter school measure backed by Republicans, National Review, October 27, 2016

Editorial, Vote Yes on Question 2, Boston Globe, October 29, 2016

Jim Hand, White House says Obama neutral on charter schools ballot question, Attleboro (MA) Sun Chronicle, October 31, 2016

Editorial, Vote Yes on Question 2, Harvard Crimson (Cambridge, MA), November 3, 2016

Katharine Q. Seelye and Jess Bidgood, Charter schools are the big issue on Massachusetts ballot, New York Times, November 6, 2016

Felicia Gans, Donors spent big on Massachusetts ballot questions, Lowell (MA) Sun, November 7, 2016

K.K. Rebecca Lai, Alicia Parlapiano, Julia Preston and Karen Yourish, How Trump won the election according to exit polls, New York Times, November 8, 2016

Phil Demers, Fiercest Question 2 opponents often from communities with existing charter schools, Springfield (MA) Republican, November 13, 2016

Joan Vennochi, With Question 2 defeat, voters ignored the elites, Boston Globe, November 14, 2016

Samantha Winslow, Massachusetts teachers defeat charter school expansion, In These Times, November 14, 2016

Frank Phillips, Moody’s calls charter school rejection credit positive, Boston Globe, November 16, 2016

Lisa Guisbond, People power trounces big, dark money, as charter expansion suffers decisive defeat, Network for Public Eduction (Kew Gardens, NY), November 21, 2016

Dan French and Diana Lebeaux, Question 2 was defeated: now what?, Center for Collaborative Education (Boston, MA), November 21, 2016

Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress

The AP-1000 nuclear power-plant design from the U.S. Westinghouse division of Toshiba in Japan may become the major and perhaps sole survivor of competition in “third generation” nuclear. Eight units are currently under construction in the United States and China. The European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) from Areva of France has four units under construction in Finland, France and China. However, it is currently on life-support, owing to design and testing scandals and to major manufacturing defects.

“Third generation” nuclear from Rosatom in Russia, Kepco in South Korea and Hitachi in Japan gained little traction outside countries of origin. No plants are under construction, and no financing has been announced for deals reported with governments in Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Poland and India. A former barrier to manufacturing–as of 2009 only one plant, located in Japan, able to produce critical components–has been overcome by large, new steel forging facilities in several countries, including China, Korea, India and the United States.

There are other claimants to “third generation” technology–not credited by international business. In Japan, Hitachi completed four ABWR units in the 1990s. All remain idle in the aftermath of the March, 2011, nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Using French technology, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) in Guangdong province developed the CPR-1000 design. Like the Hitachi ABWR, it produces a slightly improved “second generation” nuclear power-plant. More recently, possibly using technology from the AP-1000, CGN announced another cheapened design called ACC1000 at first and more recently 华龙一 Hualong One, couched in Chlingish, or HPR-1000. A prototype has been announced for the Fuqing plant in Fujian province, which currently has two CPR-1000 units.

Schedules and costs: There are currently four AP-1000 nuclear units under construction in the United States, using the Rev. 19 design–providing aircraft impact resistance–approved in 2011 by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are four units under construction in China using the Rev. 15 design, documented in 2006 by the U.S. but lacking aircraft impact resistance. A nationalized company in China licensed the Rev. 15 design and announced plans to build 10 or more additional units. Rev. 19 of the AP-1000 received “interim” approval by the UK in 2011. Currently, UK officials remain conflicted about whether to build EPR units. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has registered slow movement toward final AP-1000 approval.

An AP-1000 unit in Sanmen, China looks likely to become the first “third generation” nuclear unit to operate. Chinese industry got a head start by adopting the Rev. 15 design, rejected for U.S. plants. However, all AP-1000 projects world-wide are around three years behind schedule. The worst delays were caused by test failures of coolant pumps built by Curtis-Wright of Cheswick, PA. Those were controversial elements, based on technology developed for U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. Each AP-1000 unit has four of the pumps, using an innovative, sealed design unproven in industrial applications. After delivery delays of up to about two years, revised pumps have been installed at four of the eight AP-1000 units currently under construction. The revised pump designs are apparently not part of the Rev. 15 technology licensed to Chinese industry.

Fully burdened costs of AP-1000 units in the U.S. were recently reported more than $7 a watt, nearly a factor of two cost overrun. Full cost of the EPR unit at Flamanville, France is also reported at over $7 a watt–and still growing. Both European EPR projects are around ten years behind schedule, with cost overruns at least a factor of three. Schedules for the two EPR units in Taishan, China leaped ahead of the two in Europe, under a less demanding regime of regulation. However, schedules for all EPR projects are now in question from recent threats of catastrophic failure, owing to major manufacturing defects that remain under review in Europe.

Safety concerns: Safety concerns are always relative. Fatalities in automobile crashes per miles of vehicle travel probably peaked in the United States during 1900 through 1920, years before the U.S. government compiled records. Since 24.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles for 1921, official tallies fell almost continuously to a low of 1.08 for 2014. For decades, however, the lures of automobile travel distracted U.S. attention from the dangers, while enthusiasm surged.

Lures of nuclear power in China and several other countries will more likely be weighed against hazards of alternatives rather than against hazards of nuclear power-plants. Hazards in those countries are dominated by large-scale burning of coal. Chinese steel, smelting and cement plants have been expanding rapidly, most of them burning coal. Over the past ten years, China added more than 800 coal-fired power units averaging 600 MW capacity. Academic research published in the summer of 2015 attributed more than a million and a half deaths per year in China to air pollution.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 6, 2016


First two AP1000s move closer to commissioning in China, World Nuclear News (UK), May 26, 2016

Scott Judy, U.S. contractor shake-up stirs nuclear project’s acceleration, Engineering News Record (Troy, MI), March 31, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association (UK), 2016

Fatality analysis reporting system, U.S. National Highway Safety Administration, 2016

Jim Green, EPR fiasco unraveling in France and the UK, Nuclear Monitor (WISE International, Amsterdam), October 15, 2015

Rod Adams, Reactor coolant pumps for AP-1000 still a problem, Atomic Insights (Crystal City, VA), August 29, 2015

Dan Levin, Study links polluted air in China to 1.6 million deaths a year, New York Times, August 14, 2015

As U.S. shutters coal plants, China and Japan are building them, Institute for Energy Research (Washington, DC), April 23, 2015

UK assessment of AP-1000 design advances, World Nuclear News (UK), March 12, 2015

Robert Ladefian, The world’s largest canned motor pump, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), January 1, 2013

AP-1000 overview (Westinghouse), International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), 2011

Sven Baumgarten, Bernhard Brecht, Uwe Bruhns and Pete Fehring, Reactor coolant pump type RUV for Westinghouse reactor AP-1000, American Nuclear Society, Paper 10339, Proceedings of the International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants, June 13-17, 2010

Stephen V. Mladineo and Charles D. Ferguson, On the Westinghouse AP-1000 sale to China and its possible military implications, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (Arlington, VA), March 29, 2008

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Labor rights for U.S. domestic workers

Labor standards–wages, hours, benefits and age limits–were a thin patchwork in the U.S. until the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The Franklin Roosevelt administration considered FLSA its most significant social legislation after the Social Security Act of 1935. In its initial form, FLSA provided a 25-cent-an-hour minimum wage, a 44-hour straight-time work week, time-and-a-half pay for overtime and a minimum working age of 16. However, there were exceptions and exclusions.

The Roosevelt administration was opposed by an unreconstructed Supreme Court, losing the issues in a 1935 case [Schechter Poultry] and losing in its “court packing” efforts of 1937. To resolve Constitutional issues, FLSA focused on occupations related to interstate commerce–notably manufacturing–generally omitting coverage for agriculture, construction and many services: transportation, retail trade, government, health care, education, publishing, machinery repair and domestic work.

The 1938 law also excluded coverage for union shops, as endorsed by both AFL and CIO out of fears that a wage floor might presage a wage ceiling. It survived two Supreme Court challenges in 1941. [Darby and Opp Cotton] By then, former Pres. Roosevelt was serving a third term and had appointed a majority of the Court: Justices Hugo Black, Stanley Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas and Frank Murphy.

Strengthening standards: Since World War II, labor standards have gradually been strengthened through four main channels:
• FLSA regulations, expanding coverage and increasing requirements
• FLSA amendments, removing and modifying exceptions and exclusions
• state and local standards, expanding coverage and increasing requirements
• interpretations, policies and lawsuits sometimes expanding coverage

Trends in federal minimum wage

FederalMinimumHourlyWage1938to2016
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, 2016

There have been three notable eras in federal minimum wage. The Franklin Roosevelt through the Lyndon Johnson administrations substantially increased the wage level, starting around $4 an hour and growing to around $10 an hour–in 2016 dollars–during 1938 through 1968. The Nixon through the Reagan administrations substantially shrank the wage level, from around $10 to around $6, during 1968 through 1988. The Herbert Bush through the Obama administrations maintained a stagnant wage level between about $6 and $8, during 1988 through 2016.

Labor standards in retail trade made progress through state initiatives–notably in setting minimum wages. Every state now has laws that benefit some workers outside the initial FSLA focus. Even in the “at will,” “right to work,” wage-and-hours-free state of Mississippi, employers can’t fire a worker because of jury service, if a worker provides “reasonable notice.” As of the start of 2016, more than half the states had a statewide minimum wage higher than the federal standard: 29 states plus the District of Columbia.

Currently the District is highest at $11.50 an hour, while California and Massachusetts are next at $10.00–to be compared with the $7.25 federal standard since July, 2009. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee have no state minimum wage. Georgia and Wyoming wage levels are below the federal minimum. The Deep South was the region most hostile to FLSA in the 1930s and remains the region most hostile to labor today.

Coverage struggles: Since early years of labor standards, starting with the first laws enacted in 1912 by Massachusetts, many groups of workers did not benefit. The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, in both initial and current forms, begins by stating a focus on “industries engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.” [P.L. 75-718, Sec. 2(a) and 29 USC 202(a)] “Commerce” under FLSA has been limited, both initially and now, to mean “trade…among the several States….” [P.L. 75-718, Sec. 3(b) and 29 USC 203(b)]

FLSA allows states and cities to enact stronger requirements. During the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, some states and cities began to close gaps in wage and hour coverage left in 1938. So far, no labor scholar has published an inventory of those initiatives, but sectors often involved appear to be retail trade, construction and transportation.

At the same time, business interests began to promote anti-union, “right to work” laws, authorized under the 1947 federal Taft-Hartley Act. The earliest of them, predating the act, was an amendment to the Arkansas constitution. Statewide laws are currently found in 25 states that are generally hostile to labor.

“Right to work” states

RightToWorkStated2016
Source: AFL-CIO, 2016

The Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations began to expand FLSA coverage beyond narrow views of interstate commerce dating from the Great Depression and earlier. FLSA amendments enacted in 1961 included employees of retail trade firms with at least $1 million in annual revenue. Amendments enacted in 1966 included employees of schools, nursing homes, construction firms, commercial laundries and large farms.

Domestic workers: Sustaining work performed inside and near homes–care for children, the elderly, sick and disabled, cleaning, cooking, pet and plant care, laundry and other household services–had not been a focus of federal and state standards, in contrast with work performed away from homes. Domestic work currently remains at the far reaches of labor standards in most states.

A pioneering effort in Massachusetts–coordinated by Melnea Cass, the legendary Boston activist for civil rights and housing–resulted in the first state labor standards law covering most domestic workers. Chapter 760 of the Acts of 1970 provided coverage under the state’s wage and hours law: minimum wage, maximum weekly straight-time hours, overtime pay and contributions to Social Security and Medicare. For workers employed more than 16 hours per week, the 1970 law required workers compensation and unemployment insurance. These were all standards that had applied to most other jobs in Massachusetts.

FLSA amendments enacted in 1974 set federal standards for some domestic workers but specifically excluded workers providing “companionship services for individuals who…are unable to care for themselves.” It also excluded all live-in workers from overtime pay benefits. [29 USC 213] Intermittent and varying work hours and direct employment by householders have proven to be areas of difficulty. Some observers estimate that two-thirds or more of U.S. employers subject to FLSA fail to comply fully with the law.

In 2013, the Obama administration revised regulations to extend FLSA coverage to all domestic workers employed by agencies, regardless of duties, effective at the start of 2015. However, some workers without specialized training may not be eligible for overtime pay, and workers directly employed by householders remained excluded from coverage. These and other gaps are slowly being addressed by state laws specific to domestic workers.

As of August, 2016, seven states had enacted some form of enhanced labor standards for domestic workers, and in six states those had come into effect. The first new law was in New York, enacted in 2010, followed by Hawaii and California in 2013, Massachusetts in 2014, Oregon and Connecticut in 2015 and Illinois in 2016. None of these states have enacted anti-union, right to work laws. While provisions of the recent laws about domestic workers vary greatly, most take into account special situations of live-in workers.

Connecticut has the weakest of the new laws, providing only a guard against harassment. Massachusetts and Hawaii probably have the strongest. Only Massachusetts requires sick leave and parenting leave. Only Hawaii requires disability and health care insurance. Most states require time-and-a-half overtime pay, workers compensation insurance and unemployment insurance. Massachusetts had already required those benefits, since 1970. Most new laws require at least a day per week off-duty and some amount of paid personal leave. Some of the new requirements are stronger than those of federal labor laws and regulations.

Information and compliance: Elusive elements affecting standards for domestic work remain information and compliance. That generally takes organization. NAACP chapters were involved during pioneering efforts in Massachusetts, in the 1970s. More recently, National Domestic Workers Alliance, first located in New York City but now in Chicago, was organized in 2007 from experience with Domestic Workers United, founded in 2000 in New York City. Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers was founded in 2010 and is located in Boston.

During the last few years, the domestic worker organizations and their academic partners have surveyed many domestic workers and employers in several U.S. cities. They provide unique information about work experiences and direct employment by householders. So far, however, most publications do not measure a shadow economy of unreported wages and undocumented workers that are sometimes mentioned in general media but rarely surveyed. A UCLA survey of about 500 direct employer households reported 14 percent paying “out of pocket.”

As anyone who has run an above-ground small business knows, complying accurately with labor law is complex. So far, no state has set up a clearing house to provide simple and centralized access to required record-keeping, reporting and payments. Large payroll services–PayChex and ADP–do not provide all the services needed to comply with state laws and are tedious to use. Concierge services, mostly available from accounting firms, can be very costly. The domestic worker organizations have not seen these issues as parts of their missions. A barrier their reports rarely acknowledge is that there is no method to report wages or to pay Social Security and Medicare contributions for undocumented workers.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 25, 2016


Enhanced state labor standards for domestic workers, Brookline Beacon, as of August, 2016

Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers (founded 2010), 197 Friend St., Boston, MA, 617-603-1540

National Domestic Workers Alliance (founded 2007), Chicago, IL, 872-216-3684

Saba Waheed, Lucero Herrera, Reyna Orellana, Blake Valenta and Tia Koonse, Profile, practices and needs of California’s domestic work employers, UCLA Labor Center, May, 2016

Minimum wage laws in the states, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, 2016

Natalicia Tracy, Tim Sieber and Susan Moir, Invisible no more: domestic workers organizing in Massachusetts and beyond, ScholarWorks, University of Massachusetts Boston, October, 2014

Benjamin Collins, Right to work laws: legislative background and empirical research, Congressional Research Service, January 6, 2014

Minimum wage, overtime protections extended to direct care workers by Labor Department, U.S. Department of Labor, December 17, 2013

Rachel Homer, What’s happening with domestic workers’ rights?, On Labor (Cambridge, MA), November 6, 2013

Gerald Mayer, Benjamin Collins and David H. Bradley, The Fair Labor Standards Act: an overview, Congressional Research Service, June 4, 2013

Karen Michael, Labor law: the Supreme Court and the Fair Labor Standards Act, Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, April 28, 2013

Nik Theodore, Beth Gutelius and Linda Burnham, Home truths: domestic workers in California, National Domestic Workers Alliance (New York, NY), 2013

Linda Burnham and Nik Theodore, Home economics: the invisible and unregulated world of domestic work, National Domestic Workers Alliance (New York, NY), 2012

History of changes to the minimum wage law, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, 2007

Howard D. Samuel, Troubled passage: the labor movement and the Fair Labor Standards Act, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review 123(12):32-37, 2000

Dora L. Costa, Hours of work and the Fair Labor Standards Act: a study of retail and wholesale trade, 1938-1950, National Bureau of Economic Research, Industrial and Labor Relations Review 53(4):648-664, 2000

Jonathan Grossman, Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: maximum struggle for a minimum wage, U.S. Department of Labor, 1978

Peyton Elder, The 1974 amendments to the federal minimum wage law, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review 97(7):33-37, 1974

Leon H. Wallace, The Fair Labor Standards Act, Indiana Law Journal 22(2):113-149, 1947

Opp Cotton Mills, Inc. v. Administrator, U.S. Supreme Court, 312 U.S. 126, 1941

United States v. Darby, U.S. Supreme Court, 312 U.S. 100, 1941

U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, in original form as Public Law 75-718, 1938

Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, 295 U.S. 495, 1935

New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates

If operators of interstate natural gas pipelines succeed in getting permits for expansions in Massachusetts, they will have to raise their own funds to install new lines. On Wednesday, August 17, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled out schemes that would have subsidized new gas pipelines from Massachusetts electricity bills.

Utility companies Eversource and National Grid had proposed to acquire interests in new gas pipelines and load costs upfront onto electricity rates. The Baker administration and its Energy secretary, Matthew Beaton, had supported the schemes–similar in effect to construction-work-in-progress tariffs used to force electricity customers in Georgia and South Carolina to pay for new nuclear power-plants while they are being built.

Corrupt schemes: Attorney General Maura Healey and state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D, Amherst), the senate president, opposed the corrupt schemes. They were joined by the Conservation Law Foundation in responding to a lawsuit filed by interests in natural gas import terminals. Imports of liquefied natural gas, while more expensive than domestic pipeline gas, have helped to reduce and prevent wintertime price spikes. As documented in 2015 by Analysis Group of Boston, that approach costs less overall than installing new interstate gas pipelines.

In what looks to be his last opinion, Justice Robert Cordy wrote for a unanimous court, finding that the Baker administration’s regulation, allowing pipeline construction tariffs, was “invalid in light of the statutory language and purpose” of the Electricity Restructuring Act. [Chapter 164 of the Acts of 1997] Specifically, Justice Cordy wrote, the Baker administration’s regulation “would undermine the main objectives of the act and re-expose ratepayers to the types of financial risks from which the legislature sought to protect them.”

It was a conclusive decision, putting paid to the corrupt schemes engineered by the pipeline companies and to the corrupt regulations adopted by their Republican sweethearts in state government.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 17, 2016


ENGIE Gas & LNG LLC v. Department of Public Utilities, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case Nos. SJC-12051 and SJC-12052, August 17, 2016

Jon Chesto, SJC rejects Baker’s plan to impose fee for gas pipelines, Boston Globe, August 17, 2016

Naureen Malik, The U.S. has more gas than it needs and Boston’s importing, Bloomberg News, April 13, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Craig Bolon, Little need for new gas pipelines, Brookline Beacon, July 20, 2016

Little need for new gas pipelines

A year ago, companies based in the Southwest were planning about 3.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in new natural gas pipeline capacity entering New England, nearly doubling current capacity of about 3.6 BCf/d. Why would that happen? New England is at most a slowly growing energy market. Since the region was already well advanced in switching from coal-fired and oil-fired to gas-fired electricity generation, there were no huge, likely new customers. It was clear that pipeline companies had other motives.

Although pipeline companies would not admit it, most industry observers read those motives as sending U.S. natural gas into international markets through Canada. For such purposes, New England is not a market but a transportation route. The region does not need to accept environmental hazards in order to boost pipeline company profits milked from the region by using it as a pathway to foreign trade.

Gas giant collapses: Since then, new information appeared, and pipeline momentum stalled. Last November, Maura Healey, the state’s attorney general, released a report prepared by Analysis Group of Boston (AGB), examining needs for new gas pipeline capacity to provide reliable electricity. In its 70-page report, AGB showed that adaptation of the current electricity network can meet needs for at least the next fifteen years, without new gas pipelines.

New England was not well outfitted for cold winters of 2013 and 2014, when natural gas supplies were stressed, causing spikes in electricity prices. Advance preparation–stockpiling fuels and equipping plants to burn either gas or oil–began to help the next year. In the winter of 2016, milder weather and better preparation led to no electricity price spike.

Monthly electricity prices, Jan. 2010 thru June 2016

IsoNeMonthlyHubDayAhead2010to2016
Source: ISO New England data, July, 2016

The region’s average wholesale electricity price for the utility year ended March 31 was 2.8 cents per kWh. Wholesale electricity prices this year stand comparable to other regions that organize competitive generation markets. Retail prices remain higher in New England than in most of the U.S., but that is mainly because of aging distribution networks, incurring high maintenance costs. Despite claims from pipeline promoters, given good management of current gas supplies, New England has little to gain and much to lose from new pipelines.

This spring, the proposed Northeast Direct pipeline was cancelled by financial parent Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX. It was the largest and most disruptive of the New England projects, threatening undisturbed lands and state forests across northwestern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Although Kinder Morgan cited “market” factors, it no could longer depend on political pressures stimulated by electricity price spikes.

Next largest projects: Access Northeast, sponsored by Spectra Energy of Houston, is the next largest project. Unlike Kinder Morgan’s proposed line, most of Spectra’s proposal was sited along rights of way for the Algonquin pipeline, opened in 1953, which Spectra now operates. However, Access Northeast also includes large branches that would plow through new territories.

Spectra Access Northeast, eastern Connecticut through Massachusetts

SpectraAccessNortheastCTRIMA2016
Source: U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, July, 2016

The largest new branches are proposed in central and eastern Massachusetts, running from the Algonquin main line in Medway to West Boylston, just north of Worcester, and from Medway to Canton, where that new branch is to rejoin and reinforce the southern part of the main line, heading toward Weymouth. The branches through new territories, about 50 miles in all, are generating much more opposition than the rest of the project, about 75 miles that are nearly all sited on current Algonquin rights of way.

Opponents of Spectra have more complex targets than opponents of Kinder Morgan. There are now three Spectra projects in New England. Algonquin Incremental Market has been in construction since 2015, aimed at increasing capacity along the Algonquin main line between southern New York and eastern Massachusetts. Its most controversial feature has been a high pressure, 3-1/2 ft diameter pipe under the Hudson River, passing a few hundred feet from the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, NY.

International exports: Atlantic Bridge is the most revealing and speculative Spectra project. It would increase compressor power all along the Algonquin line and add a new compressor in Weymouth. That one would be used to reverse gas flow on the HubLine, opened in 2003 across Massachusetts Bay between Weymouth and Beverly Harbors. There are no proven markets in New England to be served. Instead, like the recently cancelled Kinder Morgan project, Atlantic Bridge would aid international export of U.S. natural gas through Canada.

So far, Spectra has shuffled along plans for its three large, mutually reinforcing projects in defiance of law. The combined new capacity from the three large Spectra projects is more than the capacity that was planned from the cancelled Kinder Morgan project. A 1976 Supreme Court opinion held that “when several proposals…that will have cumulative or synergistic environmental impact upon a region are pending concurrently before an agency, their environmental consequences must be considered together.”

Ms. Healey, the attorney general, is currently defending the state against a pipeline company lawsuit for a small project, extending a branch line into northwestern Connecticut across a state forest. So far, however, while she raised the issue of concurrent projects in comments sent to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, she has not launched a court challenge against the Spectra projects–all seeking separate reviews instead of joint review as elements of a single, larger project.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 20, 2016


Jon Chesto, Kinder Morgan shelves $3 billion pipeline project, Boston Globe, April 20, 2016

Mild weather, ample natural gas supply curb Northeast winter power and natural gas prices, U.S. Energy Information Administration, April 5, 2016

Sam Thielman, Planned gas pipeline alongside Indian Point nuclear plant stirs meltdown fears, Manchester Guardian (UK), April 4, 2016

Clarence Fanto, Massachusetts attorney general picks up fight against natural gas pipeline that would serve Connecticut, New Haven (CT) Register, March 21, 2016

Wholesale power prices decrease across the country in 2015, U.S. Energy Information Administration, January 11, 2016

Paul J. Hibbard and Craig P. Aubuchon, Power system reliability in New England, Analysis Group (Boston, MA), November 18, 2015 (1 MB)

Paul L. Joskow, Natural gas: from shortages to abundance in the U.S., American Economic Review, 103(3):338-343, 2013

Bruce Estrella, HubLine impact assessment, mitigation and restoration, Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, 2009

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: attorney general weighs in, Brookline Beacon, November 1, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: need versus greed, Brookline Beacon, August 29, 2015

Fairer elections and more diverse officeholders

Some supposedly “American” innovations in democracy actually began in Australia, led by Tasmania. Perhaps the most surprising of them might be the official and anonymous ballot–first used there in 1856–inaccurately called the “secret ballot.” After experiments in Louisville, KY, and other cities, in 1888 Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to require government printed, anonymous ballots based on the Australian model. Washington and Lincoln had been elected using open, privately printed ballots, as was New York City’s infamous Tweed gang.

A more rarely used Australian innovation aims at fair representation, intended to make it more feasible for minorities of all sorts to become officeholders. Tasmania has used one such approach since 1907: ranked voting. Candidates are ranked on ballots, and votes are distributed according to the rankings. In Massachusetts, the City of Cambridge adopted a version of this approach, starting in 1941, and still uses it.

Ranked and weighted voting: Tallying elections using ranked voting is always complex, and it always involves some arbitrary shortcuts for distributing votes according to rankings. No state has adopted it. Cambridge used to need about a week for a tally until 2001, when the city bought a computerized system–also adopted by Burlington, VT. Australia continues with slow, manual tallies. A week after its 2016 elections for parliament, the winning party was known, but the numbers of members for the parties remained in doubt.

It has been shown that unbiased translation from voter rankings to candidate selections poses a factorially complex problem, far beyond foreseeable computing power for voting populations of most communities. Weighted voting provides a far less complex approach to fair representation, in which voters weight rather than rank their support for candidates. Modern forms of it are innovations from the United States, not Australia.

CumulativeBallotExample

The simplest fair-voting plan equips each voter with multiple votes to be allocated among the candidates for an office. Such an approach can be compatible with electronic, scanned and plain-paper ballots and can yield an almost instant election result. Adding normalized weights that were assigned to candidates by voters avoids the arbitrariness and huge complexity of trying to interpret rankings. Weighted or “cumulative” voting is used in business settings, but no U.S. states and only a few communities–such as Port Chester, NY–have adopted it. However, the Electoral College that chooses Presidents has provided a longstanding example, since 1824.

Official cliques and transformative change: Local governments in most communities often fall into control of official cliques, but those may wax and wane over time as powerbrokers come and go. Election reforms can help communities resist cliques, increase diversity and improve open government. One can expect resistance to such reforms from members of cliques.

New England towns with representative town meetings typically have annual elections for groups of officeholders who hold staggered terms, with only a subset of a group elected at a time. Such a custom promotes formation and persistence of official cliques; they need focus on only a small number of candidates in any one year. It harbors minefields for independent candidates and newcomers.

A potentially transformative change to a New England town would truncate current terms of offices and change to elections every few years, with all members of groups of officeholders elected at the same time, as typically occurs in cities. Coupled with change to weighted or “cumulative” voting, minorities of many sorts would see improved opportunities to counter cliques and to elect some officeholders.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 10, 2016


Kristen Gelineau, Associated Press, Australian leader claims election win, but questions remain, ABC News, July 10, 2016

Stephen St. Vincent, Could ranked choice voting stop Donald Trump?, Philadelphia (PA) Citizen, March 10, 2016

Ranked choice voting and instant runoff, FairVote (Takoma Park, MD), 2015

Cumulative voting, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, 2014

Jill Lepore, How we used to vote, New Yorker, 2008

Peter Brent, The Australian ballot, Canberra Times, 2005

Andrew Gelman, Jonathan N. Katz and Joseph Bafumi, Standard voting power indexes do not work: an empirical analysis, British Journal of Political Science 34:657–674, 2004

David Goode, The advent of proportional representation in Cambridge, Cambridge (MA) Civic Journal, 1998

Douglas J. Amy, A brief history of proportional representation in the United States, Mount Holyoke College, 1997

Lani Guinier, The case for cumulative voting, WBAI Net (New York, NY), 1994

John J. Bartholdi, III, and James B. Orlin, Single transferable vote resists strategic voting, Working Paper No. 3221-90-MS, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1990

Electoral Reform with the Massachusetts Ballot Reform Act and New York (Saxton) Bill, Economic Tracts 24, Society for Political Education (New York, NY), 1889

Trash metering: cheaper by the barrel

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen started at 6:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The main business of the evening finally began an hour and a quarter later: a public hearing on trash metering, repeatedly postponed for more than a year.

Melvin Kleckner, the town administrator, seemed to suggest he had played some role in the plans, saying his administration was “still early in the process.” While that might be, Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, had described the elements at a public meeting two years earlier: standard-sized trash carts replacing a wobbly approach that charges every participating household the same fee for unlimited refuse collection and disposal.

The gist of the new plan is that households can sign up for trash carts of different sizes and pay annual fees for weekly collection and disposal. They can also buy standard plastic bags, as many as they need, for either regular or overflow refuse collection. Bags are more costly to handle, so proposed fees per pound of refuse put out in bags are higher than fees for using standard trash carts. Mr. Pappastergion did not give a starting date for trash metering, saying it was still at least a year away.

The most recent twists on the plan were on display at the hearing: four sizes of standard trash carts with capacities rated at 18, 35, 65 and 95 gallons–all to be supplied by the town. Starting about five years ago, Brookline has been supplying bright blue plastic carts for recycling. They were originally all 65-gallon capacity. More recently, 35-gallon and 95-gallon capacity has been available on request. The 18-gallon cart is a new member of the line. It has about the same girth as the 35-gallon cart but is not as tall.

Refuse service fees, cheaper by the barrel: According to Mr. Pappastergion, several other communities in eastern Massachusets now operate refuse and recycling collections in similar ways. However, the rubber meets the road in pricing. The fees now proposed make refuse services much cheaper by the barrel, rather than by the bag.

type refuse, lb fee–weeks annual lb annual fee fee per lb
big bag 25 $3–1 1300 $156 $0.120
18-gal 24 $130–52 1248 $130 $0.105
35-gal 48 $180–52 2496 $180 $0.072
65-gal 87 $260–52 4524 $260 $0.057
95-gal 125 $340–52 6500 $340 $0.052

Proposed fees are also much higher for the smaller trash carts: about twice as much per pound for the 18-gallon carts as compared with the 95-gallon carts. Mr. Pappastergion did not provide the comparisons that the Beacon shows, above, and he did not offer any explanation of pricing. Multifamily buildings with space for the larger carts will pay much less for refuse services than buildings that lack enough space. A typical 3-family building would pay less yet get a bigger service quantity by using 65-gallon rather than 35-gallon trash carts:

size number carts annual fee annual lb
35-gal 3 $540 7488
65-gal 2 $520 9048

Public comments: Sean Lynn-Jones, a Precinct 1 town meeting member who chairs the Advisory Committee, urged that Brookline “maintain flexibility” and consider individual circumstances. Kenneth Goldstein, who stepped off the Board of Selectmen a year ago, recounted his experience using a single, 35-gallon trash cart for his family of four. They get along with it, he said, “It works.”

Nomi Burstein of Garrison Road told a different story. Space in her neighborhood is very limited, she said, not enough even for current recycling carts: “Last year we stopped recycling during the winter.” Susan Granoff of Vernon Street, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, agreed. “Lack of storage space,” she said, “is a big problem.” Anne McNulty of Claflin Road said her street is “littered with blue.” Brookline recycling carts are being kept in front of buildings for lack of space to store them elsewhere.

Ms. McNulty’s neighbor Harry Friedman, a Precinct 12 town meeting member, said Claflin Road neighbors will hold an exhibit on their street next Sunday afternoon, May 22, showing how difficult a situation the town-supplied carts are creating for their urban environment. Mr. Friedman sponsored Article 17 at the annual town meeting that starts Tuesday, May 24. It proposes a resolution seeking an “exception system” where use of trash carts would be “impractical.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 18, 2016


Warrant report for the 2016 annual town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, May 10, 2016

Department of Public Works, Hybrid pay-as-you-throw (trash metering) proposal, Town of Brookline, MA, May 17, 2016

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014