Category Archives: Appropriations

Local Water, the EPA: Beyond Goodsprings

Water Faucet EPA

The Reno Gazette Journal reports that there are 23 local water systems in Nevada which are not in compliance with drinking water standards (there are currently 22, but more on that later).  Three local systems listed in the article have lead contamination levels exceeding the lead standard, 15 ppb (parts per billion) as the “action level.”  The public needs this information. However, the agency responsible for establishing the maximum contaminant level (MCL) standards is the whipping boy of choice for the Republican Party.  In short – it really doesn’t do to get up in arms about water or air pollution levels and then call for the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The regulatory system isn’t all that complicated. The EPA establishes the standards and then it’s up to the states to devise the implementation.  There’s a reason for this. Setting national standards means that states can’t compete in a ‘race to the bottom’ in which some states seek to attract industry by lowering standards until they are in competition to achieve the status of “Worse Than Any Pig Would Ever Consider in a Sty.”  And, potentially damaging everyone else’s air and water in the process.  However, this hasn’t stopped Over-Hyped Demagogue Donald Trump from calling for handing over environmental regulation to the individual states.  [WaPo]

Nor has this made much of an impression on Seven Mountain Dominionist Ted Cruz; “Cruz has called the EPA a “radical” agency that has imposed “illegal” limits on greenhouse gases from power plants. “I think states should press back using every tool they have available,” the Texas senator has said. “We’ve got to rein in a lawless executive that is abusing its power.” [WaPo]

Ohio Governor John Kasich has been critical of the Michigan attempts to address its man-made, GOP inspired, water quality issues in Flint, MI, but hasn’t been on top of the situation with the Sebring, OH water contamination. [TP]

The 2008 Republican national platform was exceptionally mealy-mouthed about environmental protection:

“Our national progress toward cleaner air and water has been a major accomplishment of the American people. By balancing environmental goals with economic growth and job creation, our diverse economy has made possible the investment needed to safeguard natural resources, protect endangered species, and create healthier living conditions. State and local initiatives to clean up contaminated sites — brownfields — have exceeded efforts directed by Washington. That progress can continue if grounded in sound science, long-term planning, and a multiuse approach to resources.”

It’s not likely that much more will come from a 2016 version.   Nor should we expect much in the way of support for addressing the national problems associated with our drinking water systems.  Remember the ASCE’s Report Card on American Infrastructure (2013)?

“At dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA). The quality of drinking water in the United States remains universally high, however. Even though pipes and mains are frequently more than 100 years old and in need of replacement, outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.”

Not to put too fine a point to it, but as a nation we’re running on a Run-to-Ruin system in which local water distributors are functioning with outdated infrastructure while trying to maintain acceptable levels of quality.  Goodsprings Elementary School offers us an example of what can happen given a 1913 building and 21st century water quality standards. [RGJ]  If Goodsprings was an isolated example, then we could address the aging pipes and move on, but it’s not that isolated, nor that uncommon.  Current EPA estimates indicate we are having to replace between 4,000 and 5,000 miles of drinking water mains in this country on an annual basis, and that the annual replacement rate will peak sometime around 2035 with 16,000 and 20,000 miles of aging pipe needing to be replaced each year. [ASCE]

Putting The Public Back In Public Utility

I am going to start with some basic assumptions. First, that a family or person should be able to move to any part of this great land and expect to find clean water running from the faucet.  Secondly, that it is not a good idea to allow individual states to set drinking water standards, since some might find it inconvenient or inexpedient to set scientifically reliable standards in the interest of “development” or “industrialization.”  Such a piece meal approach would put paid to the first basic assumption.   So, if we’re agreed that any person in this country should have a reasonable expectation of clean drinking water then we need national standards.

Some of the standards are easier than others.  Arsenic contamination levels offer an example of a complex problem with some nuanced related issues.  The MCL (maximum contaminant level) for arsenic was lowered in 2001 from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. Public water systems were to be in compliance by January 23, 2006. [EPA] [More information at FAS pdf] The Reno Gazette Journal reports ten Nevada water systems not in compliance.  One, the McDermitt GID has recently been declared in compliance with a current projected annual running average below 10 ppb after the system put in a new central well.

Arsenic enters the drinking water systems one of two ways, either through industrial activity or as a naturally occurring contaminant.  If the system is west of the Rocky Mountains it’s a reasonably good bet that the arsenic is naturally occurring.  It’s probably not too far off the mark to say that if the standard were set at 15 ppb most Nevada water systems would be in compliance, but the standard is 10 and that’s ultimately what matters.

The smaller public water systems have more trouble meeting the standards than the larger ones, as described by the BSDW:  “The smaller systems are the ones that tend to struggle with regaining compliance because they typically have limited financial resources so we have to collectively figure out ways to help that community get back to compliance,” said Jennifer Carr, NDEP deputy administrator. “Larger systems such as TMWA also have more personnel to tackle projects whereas some of our smaller water systems are operated by one person who might be doing another side job.” [RGJ]

And, now we’re down to the gritty part: Where does the money come from to resolve contaminant problems with arsenic? Or, for that matter, other water infrastructure issues?    The State Revolving Fund provides low interest loans for water infrastructure projects in the state; and can in some circumstances offer “forgiven” loans to small public water services.  The “bottom line” is that in 2016 there will be a need for approximately $279 million for arsenic treatment, groundwater treatment, storage tank replacements, metering systems, and distribution lines in Nevada.  And, the worse news, “Not all will be funded.” [KTVN]

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund was created in 1996 to support water systems and state safe water programs.  “The 51 DWSRF programs function like infrastructure banks by providing low interest loans to eligible recipients for drinking water infrastructure projects. As money is paid back into the state’s revolving loan fund, the state makes new loans to other recipients. These recycled repayments of loan principal and interest earnings allow the state’s DWSRF to “revolve” over time.”  [EPA]   As of 2014 this system had provided $27.9 billion to water suppliers to improve drinking water treatment, improve sources of drinking water, providing safe storage tanks, fixing leaking or aging distribution pipe, and other projects to protect public health. [EPA] The EPA estimates that small public water systems nationwide, those serving populations less than 3,330,  will need approximately $64.5 billion for infrastructure needs. [EPA 5th report pdf]

What was the Republican controlled Congress’s response? They may have avoided a shutdown, but the waters weren’t exactly flowing:

The bill provides $863.2 million for the DWSRF  well below President Obama’s request of $1.186 billion and more than $40 million below the programs FY2015 appropriation.While the figure represents the lowest DWSRF appropriation in several years, it is significantly above the FY16 funding levels originally proposed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, each of which would have cut DWSRF funding to below $780 million. [UIM]

What have we learned?

  • The Republican candidates for the presidency show little to no enthusiasm for infrastructure investments in general, and beyond bemoaning the state of Flint’s water system which must be someone’s fault “just not ours,” even less enthusiasm for funding local drinking water improvement projects.
  • The Republicans in Congress were only too happy to cut funding for the best source for local public water companies projects, in the name of “fiscal responsibility” – meaning, one could think, that preserving tax cuts for the rich is preferable to providing clean drinking water to everyone.
  • The infrastructure needs in this country are serious and go well beyond fixing bridges and filling pot-holes.  This, and we’ve not yet reached the peak of distribution line replacement needs coming up in the next 20 years.
  • “Austerity” is a lovely buzz word, and “We’d love to do it but we just can’t afford to” is a fine campaign trail stump speech phrase, but these won’t keep the water coming from the tap clean and safe.  We need to stop thinking of our infrastructure as an expense and begin to consider it for what it is – an investment; an investment in the capacity of our cities and towns to provide basic services so that economic activity can take place.
  • And, NO it isn’t a good idea to abolish the EPA.

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Filed under Appropriations, Congress, conservatism, Economy, EPA, Infrastructure, nevada health, Politics, public health, Water

Department of No Surprises: From Charleston to Murrieta to Washington, D.C.

 

Murrieta protest 2

In July, 2014 protesters gathered to block DHS busses carrying Central American women and children in Murrieta, CA.  It was ugly, and unnecessary, and gave the town a dismal national reputation. [HuffPo]  Murrieta is in the 42nd Congressional District, with a 46.6% white population, 36.2% Hispanic,  5.1% African American, and 8.8% Asian American. The district has been consistently Republican since 2003.  So, why review this information today?  Because the Representative from this California district, Ken Calvert, has raised the bloody flag in the halls of Congress.

“The amendment to the House’s Interior and Environment spending bill would allow for the display of Confederate flags at national cemeteries managed by the National Park Service (NPS) even though members voted to ban the practice earlier this week. It would counteract another amendment to the same bill blocking the service from selling Confederate flag memorabilia in gift shops in the future. 

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) offered the amendment in the closing minutes of floor debate on the spending bill Wednesday night. He made only a token statement in support of the amendment before setting up a roll call vote on it for Thursday.” [The Hill

Even though Representative Calvert’s amendment hit the floor during the waning hours of the Congressional day, it drew fire overnight when House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) commented:

Hoyer called the amendment, introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) Wednesday night on a spending bill, “appalling.” He challenged House Republicans to vote against it and preserve amendments banning Confederate flag sales at national parks and displays at national cemeteries.

“That racist, divisive flag of slavery, segregation, and secession is not an appropriate symbol to sell or fly in our national parks and cemeteries run by the National Park Service,” Hoyer said in a statement early Thursday. [The Hill]

Representative Hoyer wasn’t the only member of Congress appalled by the  Calvert amendment.  Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum retorted: “After the murder of nine black parishioners, I never thought that the U.S. House of Representatives would join those who would want to see this flag flown by passing an amendment to ensure” the continued flying of the Confederate flag, McCollum said.” [Roll Call]

Thus evaporated any remaining Democratic support for an otherwise unlikeable Department of Interior appropriations bill.  Representative McCollum wasn’t alone; several other Democratic party Representatives took to the floor to lambaste the idea of voting on the Calvert amendment today, July 9, 2015. [The Hill]

Representative Calvert offered an explanation for his amendment, saying he had been asked by Representatives from southern states to introduce it, and there were Republican members of the House who would not support the Interior Department’s appropriation bill be cause of earlier language banning the CSA battle flag in grounds under DoI administration. [The Hill]

And now we come to the totally predictable part of the story – encapsulated by the remarks of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH):

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters the spending bill had been pulled to avoid the issue from becoming a “political football.” “That bill is going to sit in abeyance until we come to some resolution,” he said.” [The Hill]

This, from the Speaker who said only days ago in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston Church massacre, that Congress would be “the adults in the room.”

So, we have yet another major piece of legislation sitting “in abeyance” while the House Republicans engage in their internecine battles over whether or not to allow the pennon of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and racism to flap on federal grounds.  Additionally, it truly is remarkable that yet again House Republicans have slipped their own poison pill into what was one of their own bills.

This seems less like gridlock between two adversarial parties, and more like what happens when a single party with a majority in Congress cannot control its own caucus.  The Democrats should be perfectly pleased that an appropriations bill which stripped the EPA of essential authority to regulate clean air and clean water is “in abeyance.”  Republicans who wanted to dismantle the EPA’s authority to control pollution may be wondering how and why a California Representative could so easily thwart their plans with a truly insensitive and racially charged amendment on behalf of his southern brethren.

We may have to look no further than the angry faces of the anti-immigrant protesters in his district – Welcome Back to Murrieta?

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Filed under anti-immigration, Appropriations, conservatism, ecology, House of Representatives, Immigration, Interior Department, pollution, racism, Republicans

A Shot In the Sequester Battle: GAO Report on BRAC Implementation and Implications for Civilian Cost Cutting

DoD CobraSomething for the Nevada Congressional delegation to consider while pounding away on the Sequester question is a report today from the GAO concerning the Cost of Base Realignment Actions (COBRA) by the U.S. Department of Defense.  If the intention is that our military operations become more fiscally rational, and our military system more structurally efficient — we have a way to go.

Our first clue is that when a report shifts from a complimentary tone concerning Department of Defense efforts at fiscal responsibility to the next sentence beginning with the word “however,” something is amiss.  For example, after commending the DoD’s projections about costs of base realignments, here comes the punch line:

“However, DOD’s process for providing the BRAC Commission with cost and savings estimates was hindered in many cases by underestimating recommendation specific requirements that were entered into the COBRA model. For example, military construction costs for BRAC 2005 increased from $13.2 billion estimated by the BRAC Commission in 2005 to $24.5 billion after implementation ended in 2011.”

We’re all familiar with cost overruns in construction projects, and with under-estimations of expenditures, but a +93.18% level is much more difficult to explain.   There’s (a) something wrong with the model? (b) something wrong with the estimates? or (c) something wrong with both of these inputs?  The GAO Report explains:

“GAO found that other cost estimates increased because requirements were initially understated or not identified as inputs into COBRA. DOD also did not fully anticipate information technology requirements for many recommendations. For example, the initial information technology cost estimate for one recommendation was nearly $31 million, but implementation costs increased to over $190 million once those requirements were better defined.”

In short, the difference between the idea and the implementation proved to be far more expensive than initially estimated.   Moreover, the methods used to guide its projections didn’t fill the bill:

“DOD was unable to always document the methodology used to estimate savings from reducing military personnel positions. Therefore, to increase the fidelity of the initial cost estimates that DOD submits with its recommendations to the BRAC Commission for a future BRAC round, GAO is recommending that the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) improve the process for identifying and estimating the cost of requirements for military construction and information technology and update the guidance on documenting how it identifies military personnel position-elimination savings.”

Or, not to put too fine a point to it, the U.S. military (a) didn’t do a very good job of estimating the costs associated with construction and IT demands, and (b) needs to figure out a way to substantiate its estimates of the results of eliminating redundant or unnecessary positions.   The GAO provides a helpful example:

“By implementing BRAC 2005, DOD closed 24 major bases, realigned 24 major bases, eliminated about 12,000 civilian positions, and achieved estimated net annual recurring savings of $3.8 billion; however, the department cannot provide documentation to show to what extent it reduced plant replacement value or vacated leased space as it reported in May 2005 that it intended to do.” (emphasis added)

And, when the documentation is faulty it is difficult, if not nearly impossible to determine if the actions taken are producing any real savings to U.S. taxpayers.   Part of the problem associated with generating cost savings in the Department of Defense may well be related to the priority given to the implementation of the BRAC recommendations themselves.

“Although reductions in excess infrastructure to generate cost savings remained an important goal for DOD, the extent and timing of potential costs and savings, including the number of years it would take for the savings to exceed costs, was included as “other” or secondary criteria. As a result, many BRAC recommendations were not expected to produce 20-year net savings. Also, the BRAC Commission added contingency clauses to some recommendations, which allowed some outcomes to be defined by events or decisions that could occur after Congress could have prevented the BRAC recommendations from becoming binding, if it so chose. Hence, Congress had limited visibility into the potential cost of those recommendations.”

If the Department is realigning for strategic purposes then it might be logical to conclude that savings aren’t the main priority.  However, if the Department is called upon to further reduce costs as the result of sequestration, a Grand Bargain, or other Congressional maneuvers, then Congress definitely needs more “visibility” into the process.

One of the more helpful components of GAO reports is that they don’t merely criticize, but also offer recommendations for improvement.  In this case there are three:

“GAO is suggesting several matters for Congress to consider for amending the BRAC statute if it decides to authorize future BRAC rounds. First, if cost savings are to be a goal of any future BRAC round, Congress could elevate the priority DOD and the BRAC Commission give to potential costs and savings as a selection criterion for making BRAC recommendations. Second, Congress could consider requiring OSD to formally establish targets that the department expects to achieve from a future BRAC process and require OSD to propose selection criteria as necessary to help achieve those targets. Finally, Congress could consider whether to limit or prohibit the BRAC Commission from adding a contingent element to any BRAC recommendation and, if it is to be permitted, under what conditions.”

The first makes perfect sense.  If, in fact, cost savings and not strategic considerations are the priority then Congress should say so.  Secondly, more thought should be given to forming implementation targets and setting BRAC priorities.  Finally, if “contingent elements” are to be added we need more oversight into what will be allowable, and under what conditions it would be permitted.

All of this argues against the Meat Axe Approach to the reduction of federal spending.   There may very well be a message here which could be applicable to other government agencies.

There are at least two reasons why agencies, military or civilian, might adjust their operations: Strategic (providing better or more efficient service), and Monetary (getting by with less expenditures of public funds.)

The first asks the question how can we better and more efficiently implement our core mission to serve the people of the United States, while the second simply asks what can we cut in order to save money.  If we extrapolate the military situation into civilian terms then we can more readily see the implications of cost cutting for its own sake.

At this point it would be well to consider the nature of budget cutting and the rationales offered therefore.   Budgets can be cut to save money, but not so much that the agency cannot perform its central mission, or budgets can be axed to prevent an agency from conducting its basic business.   In this context, the House Republicans will be re-introducing the Ryan Budget 2.0 (or whatever version count we’ve now achieved).

“The plan by the GOP vice-presidential nominee is expected to lock in cuts to agency budgets, and curb the future growth of benefit programs like food stamps and Medicaid and contain a controversial proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher-like program for seniors younger than 55. Ryan said it’ll take relatively small additional spending cuts beyond those proposed last year to demonstrate balance.” [USAToday]

What if we were to apply the GAO recommendations on BRAC implementation to the civilian side of the budget proposed by the House Republicans (or, for that matter, to the budget amendments being compiled on the Senate side)?

The Medicare Question

Are the House Republicans proposing to voucher-ize the Medicare program into a coupon-care operation because they want to save money, or because they want to revert to a privatized system of health insurance acquisition for the elderly?  In GAO/BRAC terms — is the proposal strategic or savings oriented?  The Tea Party/GOP response could well be “both.”  Adopting their ideology assumes that privatizing the system would in theory save money and secure the basic provision of health care for elderly Americans in a “free market.”   This is an essentially locular position.

The main cavity is that health care markets in the United States aren’t working like commodity markets, never have and never can.  “Health” is not a commodity.  People don’t make economic choices about the purchase of health care services.    A “strategic” view would incorporate this concept.  As there is no logical way to argue that U.S. military presence in Korea is “unessential” at the moment — there is no way to validly argue that the access to health care service can be fobbed off into a market which commodifies the un-commodifyable.

The Oversight Question

As the GAO recommended more Congressional visibility in the issues raised by BRAC policies, we might want more transparency in the strategies asserted by Congress in others, civilian, functions.  One example might be the CFPB. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has never been popular with Republicans, who seek to replace it with a “committee” structure beholden to bankers and Wall Street investment houses.   Again, we come to the question of whether the proposed cuts are “strategic” or “cost saving” in nature.

Initial estimate projected  it would cost about $143 million to get the agency up and running, and Republicans immediately revised this downward in 2011 to $80 million. [HuffPo]  Budgeting for an agency in “creation mode” offers a point of comparison with Defense Department efforts to “re-create” some of its functions and their implementation.   The CFPB needs to hire employees (as the DoD needs to recruit personnel compatible with its mission) and to “build out core supervision and enforcement capability.” [BIB CFPB pdf] The FY 2013 Administration Budget calls for $261,119,000 for enforcement and supervision (up 22% from FY 2012) and $126,025,000 for consumer engagement and responses to consumer concerns about financial products being marketed to them. (Up 49% from FY 2012)

A suggested reduction in the FY 2013 budget for the practical elements (supervision of financial services and engagement of consumers in understanding financial products and services) means that someone is making a “strategic” decision about how resources are to be allocated for these basic functions.  Do we, for example, put “bases” in all major U.S. cities, or do we attempt to function with a single centralized base of operations in Washington, D.C? Do we appropriate funds for minimal staffing in all “bases,” or do we strive for moderate staffing levels in some, minimal in others?

The Final Question

Removing for the moment those ideological radicals who really want no government and no regulation of major economic or environmental factors (physical or social) in our lives (save for the defense contractors in their Congressional districts?) it’s reasonable to assert that when we say “smaller government” we say we want more efficient government.  If this is truly the object then why not consider applying the GAO recommendations to the budget conversation?

We want the best cost projection models possible. Further, we want to know if the estimations are predicated on cost savings or strategic considerations.  We deserve to know the Congressional priorities in budget allocations, and finally we should be told — in terms as clear as possible — if changes are to be made who made them and why.

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Filed under Appropriations, Defense Department, financial regulation, Medicare

Sequester This: The Impact in Nevada, Cut Women And Children First

Deficits Don't MatterYesterday’s post was theoretical — that which decreases aggregate demand will reduce our national Gross Domestic Product.  Today the White House has released what the impact of the sequestration would be specifically in Nevada, and it’s not pretty.

Education

Nevada’s not been known for its generosity with its K-12 education funding. The information obtained from the 2010 Census shows Nevada spending approximately $8,422 per student, while the national average stands at $10,499.  [Census pdf] [LVSun 2011]  Sequestration makes this situation worse.

“Nevada will lose approximately $9 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 120 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition about 14,000  fewer students would be served and approximately 10 fewer schools would receive funding.”  [Nevada pdf] (emphasis added)

In the real world, the average teacher aide in Clark County salary is reported as $20,378.  [salary.com] Average teacher pay is reported as approximately $51,777  annually. [RGJ factchecker]  Of the $9 billion lost to state and local funding for K-12 education in Nevada, if we lose 120 teachers and aides the loss to local economies could range from $2,520,000 (if all the losses were aides) to $6,240,000 (if all the losses were teachers at state average pay.)  If we arbitrarily take the half way point, (half losses of aide jobs plus half losses in teacher jobs) then Nevada stands to lose about $4,380,000 in consumer spending as a result of the sequestration cuts.  Less spent for housing, groceries, clothing, utilities, medical needs, transportation, etc.  What this state doesn’t need as it struggles out of the Housing Bubble/Wall Street Wizard Mess Recession is a significant decrease in disposable income for consumer spending.   And we haven’t even gotten to the part wherein 10 schools would face cuts, and 14,000 fewer students would be provided with federally supported services.  It gets worse:

“In addition, Nevada will lose approximately $3.8 million in funds for about 50 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities.” [Nevada pdf]

Those would be Special Education funds. There’s no way to say it other than to observe that special education services are labor intensive.  The services are labor intensive by definition, by the terms of Individualized Educational Plans, by the needs of children who are physically or mentally incapable of performing some tasks without personal assistance.  This, perhaps more than any other example, illustrates the problems with across the board cuts without analyzing priorities.  How is it preferable to cut services for the most vulnerable children among us in order to preserve subsidies for oil and energy companies?

“Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for approximately 300 children in Nevada, reducing access to critical early education.”  [Nevada pdf]

This would be sorry enough were it not for the following unfortunate fact: “13% of Nevada’s eligible children are currently being served, leaving about 87% in need of services.”  [NHStart] That’s right, 13% of Nevada children who are eligible for Head Start  are NOW served — that’s an under-service rate of 87% and the sequestration would cut the number of children served even further.   How could the Obama Administration “over hype” the significance of additional cuts to a program that’s already struggling in Nevada.  To this, the Republicans say that “there will be no more revenue,” i.e. “We will not cut loopholes for corporate jets, corporate subsidies, yachts, and accounting tricks for overseas operations?”

Health

“In Nevada around 1,150 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $78,000.” [Nevada pdf]

Here we go again.  We’re already in a hole and the sequestration would simple exacerbate the situation, things had been improving:

The Nevada Health Division says Nevada ranked 40th in the nation last year for vaccine coverage in children between the ages of 19 months to 35 months. That’s up from 51st in 2010.” [KTNV]  So, in 2011 we’d moved up from 51st in the states and territories ranked in terms of childhood vaccinations to 40th, and in 2013 we can expect to revert to lower climes?  However, it’s not just kids:

Nevada will lose approximately $258,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events. In addition, Nevada will lose about $690,000 in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in around 500 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs. And the Nevada State Department of Health/Human Services will lose about $123,000 resulting in around 3,100 fewer HIV tests. [Nevada pdf]

What could possibly go wrong?  Hepatitis C infections? Lower substance abuse treatment levels? Fewer HIV tests?

Women

“Nevada could lose up to $57,000 in funds that provide services to victims of domestic violence, resulting in up to 200 fewer victims being served.” [Nevada pdf]

It’s ridiculous enough that the House Republicans have a substitute bill for VAWA which denigrates tribal courts and refuses services to gay and lesbian couples, and ignores abuses perpetrated on immigrant women, but to cut funding for services and shelters to abused spouses and children is beyond the pale.

A complete list of sequestration effects in Nevada can be found here, as a pdf document.

So, Why Are We Doing This?

Is it because the terrible horrible deficit demonstrates a nation at risk of bankruptcy? Is it because our “out of control” spending is taking an increasing portion of our GDP?   The truth of the matter in one chart:

Deficit Share GCP

To see the President’s proposal, including his last offer to House Speaker John Boehner, click here

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Filed under Appropriations, conservatism, Economy, nevada education, nevada health, Politics, Women's Issues

Yelling Fire In The Burning Brush

There’s nothing like having a deputy sheriff circle around your town with his flashers going announcing through his bull-horn that residents “are advised to prepare for a possible evacuation notice” to grab attention.  And, there’s nothing like having three wildland fires going on in a single region to make the air thick with sage brush smoke, and to cause several ranches to make emergency roundups to remove cattle from harm’s way — if they can.  If we thought that after the Long Draw Fire there was little left to burn, we were wrong; and, from August 6th to August 12th three more lightning related fires were classified as “ongoing incidents.”

Nevada agencies are now dealing with ten active “incidents” (fires) in the Central and Elko Districts alone.  These range from relatively small fires (which have a nasty way of turning into complex or larger ones) and two large ones such as the Holloway Fire (Humboldt County) and the Bull Run Fire (Elko County.) [InciWeb]

The June 2012 fires in Colorado should have been as much a wake up call for Congressional leaders as our deputy sheriff in his patrol car with lights flashing and bull horn blaring [CBS]  Evidently, they weren’t.

The Funding Fail

The House Appropriations Committee was pleased to note its funding for wildland fire suppression for FY 2013:

In total, the bill funds wildfire fighting and prevention programs at $3.2 billion, which is $6 million above last year’s level. This includes fully funding the 10-year average wildland fire suppression costs for both the DoI and the Forest Service. Total funding for Wildland Fire Management within both DoI and the Forest Service is $2.8 billion, and the total funding for the FLAME program – a reserve fund for fighting large scale fires – is $407 million.

While this sounds nice, the reality is less reassuring:

A study reported in 2009,

“…warned the government to step up its fire fighting capabilities to deal with an escalating rise in wildfires, covering up to 12m acres of terrain each year. “The current budget environment for federal and partner fire management is at best uncertain and difficult,” the review said.  It noted government agencies had already over-shot their budgets five years in a row, because of escalating wildfires.  But the economic downturn and a Congress dominated by Republicans who want to shrink the role of government make it extremely complicated to divert more funds to forest fighting.

Instead, funding for preventing and putting out wildfires has fallen by $512m, or about 15%, since 2010.”  [RawStory]

In short, increases don’t solve the problem when the program budgets are already in the hole.   We should go back to March 29, 2012 to review some basics:

“In a 228 to 191 vote, the House has passed the Ryan budget plan for FY 2013 which includes extending the pay freeze until 2015, reduces the size of the federal workforce, and increases federal employees’ pension contributions.

The cuts would save an estimated $368 billion over the next decade.

The budget provision is expected to fail in the Senate, but it is representative of the path lawmakers in the House plan to take, so presumably federal employees can expect to see more such proposals in the near future.” [FedSmith]

Who is included in this pay freeze until 2015? Firefighters on federal lands.  Who is now required to pay more into federal pension plans — even though their wages aren’t being increased? Firefighters on federal lands.

Now, who voted to freeze the wages of firefighters on federal lands until 2015, and to underfund federal wildland firefighting resources and programs?  Every single Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives — including Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) and Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3).   [Roll Call 151]

The Perils of Privatization

Contrary to popular belief, the National Forest Service doesn’t own air tankers; it contracts with private firms for the operation and maintenance of our aging air tanker fleet.    S. 3621 shepherded through the Senate by Majority Leader Harry Reid, in June 2012,  would:

“… allow the Forest Service to quickly complete the contracting process for acquiring at least seven new large air tankers to fight wildfires during the 2012 and 2013 fire seasons.

The Forest Service is contending with an aging fleet of aircraft. The agency is working with planes that were designed for combat in the Korean War. Finding parts for tankers a half-century old is difficult, leading them to be grounded for long periods of times when repairs are needed.

The Forest Service has said it needs between 18 and 28 new air tankers for optimal response to emergency response to wildfires. Today, however, there are only nine Forest Service tankers deemed airworthy to fight fires during what is expected to be a terrible fire season. If we act promptly, Congress has the opportunity to help the Forest Service put more tankers into service this year.

To partially satisfy the need for new air tankers, the Forest Service has requested that Congress waive a 30-day notification requirement before it awards contracts for four large air tankers.  S. 3621 would waive this requirement, and allow the Forest Service to deploy these urgently needed air tankers.”  [Reid]

The bill made it through Congress in record time — record time, at least for the 112th Congress — [floor proceedings]  and was signed into law on June 13th. [DenverCBS] The tanker bill, sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), may not have broken the deadlock as of August 2012 after the Forest Service’s contracts for tankers were approved:

“Two other firefighting aviation companies protested the contract in late June. The federal General Accountability Office allows 100 days to review and decide the case. That means the contract could be delayed until early October.

The protesting companies, 10 Tanker of Victorville, Calif., and Coulson Aviation of Port Alberni, British Columbia, were unsuccessful contenders for the next-generation contract.” [BillingsGz]

Contrary to some right-wing complaints about the Obama Administration’s “failure” to request more resources for air tankers, an interesting protest in the face of the Ryan Budget cuts, the hold up at the moment is a conflict involving private firms which were not awarded the contracts.

Meanwhile

There are firefighters, who just received federal health benefits thanks to the action of the Administration (certainly not the Congress), camped out at the local rodeo grounds, successfully fighting several wild land fires, and not looking at any pay increases until 2015.   Somewhere, there might be some member of the Top 0.1% saying — “Good help is just so hard to find these days.”

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Filed under Amodei, Appropriations, Heck

Dim Bulbs: GOP objection to energy savings survives in appropriations negotiations

In the immortal words of Barbara Walters upon discovering that Herman Cain dreams of being Secretary of Defense:  “WHAT???” [ComedyCentralThis, from a report on the appropriations negotiations in Congress:

“According to the AP, Republicans dropped their demand for restrictions on people who visit or send remittances to relatives in Cuba, and Democrats gave up on an effort to pass energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs.”  [Las Vegas Sun]

Actually the standards were enacted as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and signed into law by former President George W. Bush, the major question now is whether implementing the standards will be funded.

And yes, that would be light bulbs, as in it probably wouldn’t do to shut down the U.S. government over a dispute about light bulbs, but few topics so well illustrate the unhinged hypocrisy of Republican talking points than the argument about having federal agencies replace incandescent bulbs in their facilities with the new compact fluorescent ones.   If my increasingly ‘senior’ memory serves:

Aren’t the Republicans nearly always the ones railing about “Waste in Government?”

What could be more wasteful than to deliberately ignore the following chart estimating the savings to be had by replacing traditional incandescent bulbs with more efficient lighting?

By Republican logic then, it is somehow NOT waste to add $1.30 in annual operating costs to every 60W light bulb in every federal facility?  It is NOT waste to refuse from 2000 to 24,000 hours of additional use per bulb?

In addition to not making a bit of sense in terms of saving tax dollars, the Dim Bulbs provision actually hurts American manufacturers:

“Eliminating funding for light bulb efficiency standards is especially poor policy as it would leave the policy in place but make it impossible to enforce, undercutting domestic manufacturers who have invested millions of dollars in U.S. plants to make new incandescent bulbs that meet the standards,” . . . .”  […] All five of the major light bulb manufacturers are already selling new incandescent bulbs that give off the same amount of light as a traditional 100-watt bulb using about 30 percent less energy. And while they are not planning to pull those bulbs from the shelves if the controversial language is enacted, they are faced with numerous questions moving forward.”  [Legal Planet, E&E net] (emphasis added)

What was it that Republicans were complaining about when referencing other regulations? That they created “uncertainty?”  Now the Congressional GOP has created its own ‘uncertainty’ over lighting procurement…when all five major light bulb manufacturers have invested heavily in the production of more modern products.

Unruffling the Feathers

In its October 2011 magazine, Consumer Reports concluded:

“Contrary to what you might have heard, you can still buy most incandescent lightbulbs. But we’ve found few reasons you should. Our tests of 26 compact fluorescents and 10 light-emitting diodes found that though the newest bulbs might not be perfect, they last longer and use less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs, and many of the problems of earlier versions have been overcome.”

In the early years of the Light Bulb Wars some citizens were concerned about mercury in CFL’s, this problem has (1) been mitigated, and (2) is easily dealt with by simply including the used bulbs with your electronic waste.  Consumer Reports said last October,

“The amount of mercury in the bulbs we tested has dropped 60 to 75 percent, compared with the already low levels we found in 2008, without affecting performance. Mercury helps CFLs produce light. And most CFLs contained less than 1 milligram of mercury. The one exception is the EcoSmart covered CFL, and even that has significantly less than Energy Star allows. Given our test results (available to subscribers), Energy Star could consider lowering the mercury cap below 5 milligrams. Nevertheless, spent CFLs should be recycled. Home Depot, Ikea, Lowe’s, and some Ace Hardware stores will accept used bulbs. Three CFLs we tested, including the top-rated GE Energy Smart Saf-T-Gard spiral, have a plastic coating that contains mercury and any shards if the bulb breaks.”

Another objection was the “guv’mint intrusion” argument, as in “Gee Whiz, next they’ll be telling us we can’t eat contaminated meat and e-coli smeared vegetables if we want to,” the Los Angeles Times had a good response to this silliness:

“Many opponents complain that the bulb law is an unwarranted government intrusion on their right to buy the product of their choice. But it’s actually about setting standards for production, which the government does in many areas. Cribs must meet safety standards; new homes must meet energy standards; roofs have to meet fire standards.” [LATimes]

Finally, it is a bit baffling how the Republicans in Congress shifted from supporting the industry standards when the Bush Administration suggested them in 2007 (Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007) to opposing their own measures during the Obama Administration in 2011.  [TP]

References and Suggested Reading: Consumer Reports, “Lightbulbs offer more choice…,” October 2011.  Huffington Post, “Light Bulb Standards fought by House Republicans,” July 12, 2011.  The Hill, “House to vote on GOP legislation repealing light bulb efficiency standards, July 7, 2011.  California Energy Commission, “FAQs about energy efficient lighting.”  Los Angeles Times, “Bush Administration light bulb efficiency standards make sense,” July 18, 2011.   The Hill, “Omnibus spending deal blocks funding for light bulb efficiency standards,” December 15, 2011.

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Filed under Appropriations, energy, energy policy

Tone Deaf? HAC cuts Firefighter, FEMA funding

The House Appropriations Committee chaired by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) has voted to cut $1.5 billion from the Obama Administration’s request for firefighter assistance grants and local and state grants administered by FEMA.   Rogers’s rationale:  “In today’s environment,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), according to CQ, “we can’t be subsidizing local governments to the extent we have.” [TP]  This would be the same Representative Rogers whose district benefited from a federal disaster declaration on May 11, 2011 because of catastrophic flooding. [WSAZ]

And, this would be while FEMA is funding 25 fire management grants to assist Texas firefighters deal with wildland fires,   [list here] covering about 75% of the total cost.  While FEMA has operations ongoing in Alabama, including assistance to local home and business owners trying to remove debris from their properties. [AL.com] And, while FEMA found it necessary to open a second Recovery Center in Joplin, Missouri. [OzFirst]  Nor should we forget that about 1,500 people in Sedalia, Missouri were spared because of public shelters.  “The $3 million project to build public storm shelters was controversial. Seventy-five percent of the cost was paid for with a FEMA grant, and the rest was the county’s responsibility. The presiding commissioner at the time, Rusty Kahrs, took a lot of heat from some who thought the money could be used for other city expenses.”  [KCTV]

“In today’s environment” in the world according to the Republican Party incumbents in the House of Representatives, it is acceptable to opposed the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts for the ultra-wealthy, but unacceptable to fund local first responders and public storm shelters.  It is acceptable to defend taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil, but not acceptable to fund disaster relief for communities in peril.  It is acceptable to promote the shifting of tax liability from the shoulders of Wall Street speculators to the backs of American middle and working class people, but unacceptable to fund disaster clean up activities for local citizens who all too often can’t afford the kind of insurance that would restore their property, and help them rebuild their lives.

Perhaps the wording on the glass should read:  In case of emergency, vote Democratic.

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Filed under Appropriations, Federal budget, FEMA