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Environment Roundup

Critics: Clean Power Plan Replacement Would Weaken Air Protections

The 2015 Clean Power Plan was projected to cut carbon emissions to 19 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. (x1klima/Flickr)

The 2015 Clean Power Plan was projected to cut carbon emissions to 19 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. (x1klima/Flickr)

September 6, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. – The public can now comment on the Trump administration's proposal to replace the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era rule aimed at drastically cutting carbon emissions from coal power plants. 

Under what's being called the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, states would come up with their own reduction goals and submit their plans within three years to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Wayde Schafer, a conservation organizer with the Sierra Club Dacotah Chapter, says the Clean Power Plan had specific goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in each state, but this new proposal does away with that.

"Coal producing states like North Dakota are obviously going to not have as stringent safeguards as states that don't,” he points out. “You really need a balanced plan, and this certainly isn't a balanced plan."

Schafer maintains a nationwide plan makes more sense because air doesn't stop at state borders. 

North Dakota has seven coal fired power plants and ranked ninth in coal production in 2016. The 2015 Clean Power Plan was put on hold by the U.S. Supreme Court and has not yet taken effect.

Janet McCabe, a senior law fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, is a former EPA assistant administrator who worked on the Clean Power Plan. 

She's concerned the new proposal would delay implementing meaningful air quality improvements in a number of ways, including changing the way an older coal plant's remaining life is factored into how it should be handled.

"The proposal gives the states, really, ultimate discretion to require nothing at all,” she points out. “What this rule would allow is for a state to say, 'Well, given the remaining useful life of this plant, it doesn't make sense to require it to do anything.'"

McCabe notes the Affordable Clean Energy plan would cut emissions, at most, to 1.5 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The Clean Power Plan was projected to cut emissions by 19 percent.

McCabe notes public comments, which will be accepted through Oct. 30, are important to the rule making process.

"When I was at EPA, every single rule I worked on got better between proposal and final because of comments that we got,” she points out. “And those are important expressions from taxpayers in this country about what they feel their government should do, to protect them or to stay out of the way."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND


Health and Wellness Roundup

Idaho Gets Region's First "Virtual Hospital" to Serve Rural Residents

Virtual health centers are popping up across the country to connect with people in rural communities. (St. Luke's Health System)

Virtual health centers are popping up across the country to connect with people in rural communities. (St. Luke's Health System)

September 4, 2018

BOISE, Idaho — With the opening of the region's first "virtual hospital," some Idahoans' health care needs could be met with the click of a button. 

St. Luke's Health System says its virtual-care center in Boise is now up and running, eliminating the distance rural Idahoans have to travel to receive care. Krista Stadler, senior director of St. Luke's telehealth services, said the goal of the program is to address the health care disparities members of rural communities face because of the distance to hospitals and clinics. 

She said patients can be referred to the center for a variety of needs.

"The virtual care center then houses nurses, doctors and other clinicians - like social work, diabetic educators and dietitians - to use two-way audio-video technology, or sometimes secure text-messaging, to reach out and meet the needs of the patients when and where they need it,” Stadler said.

Stadler said the center will be able to connect people with specialty and even emergency room doctors. She noted the virtual care center isn't designed to replace doctors, but it could replace the need for patients to travel long distances for follow-ups after surgery, and also help folks manage chronic illnesses so they don't have to run to a clinic every time they experience a symptom.

Stadler said because St. Luke's in Boise has one of the only children's hospitals in the state, many families drive from outlying areas to have a surgery or procedure performed, which often requires family members to take time off of work. Families still will have to travel for the surgery, but can stay home for followups afterwards. 

Stadler said there aren't any geographical limits to this kind of care.

"If we have a connection, whether it's an internet connection - sometimes even satellites will work as well - we can figure out a way to make sure that these patients who have a choice to be in a rural community and make that choice have access to convenient, low-cost and quality safe care,” she said.

The center eventually will have 350 medical professionals operating it around the clock.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID


Social Issues Roundup

Health, Financial Security Top Concerns for Older Voters

More than half of older Mainers are concerned they won't be able to afford the health care they need, a new AARP survey shows. (pexels)

More than half of older Mainers are concerned they won't be able to afford the health care they need, a new AARP survey shows. (pexels)

September 6, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine's most active voters want political candidates to address their concerns about health care and retirement security, according to a new survey from AARP

Older Americans are more likely to go to the polls than younger voters, and the survey shows they will hold candidates in this year's midterm election accountable on issues that matter to them and their families. 

According to Lori Parham, state director of AARP Maine, at the top of older Americans’ list is preserving their ability to stay healthy and active.

"Ensuring that there is adequate and affordable health care as well as lowering health care costs really is a key issue, not only for people 65 and older but for voters 50-plus as well," she states.

The survey shows 97 percent want Congress to take steps to ensure that Medicare can continue to cover hospital benefits beyond 2029.

Of those surveyed, 90 percent said that financial security in retirement is very important. 

Parham points out that one-third of Mainers over 65 on Social Security have no other source of income.

"That's just over $1,000 a month, and that just doesn't get you very far to cover health care costs, heating costs, food and other housing needs," she points out.

The survey shows that two-thirds of older Mainers are worried that prices are rising faster than their income, and almost 40 percent fear that they won't be able to afford to retire when they want.

Parham adds that beginning this month AARP is holding voter engagement community conversations across the state.

"Maine is the oldest state, and we need leadership around issues impacting older Mainers especially around being able to stay at home and in the communities that they love," she stresses.

AARP does not endorse any candidates, but the organization will be co-sponsoring televised debates with the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates in October and November.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - ME

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