A lump of coal is less in use

A good news environmental story that began almost ten years ago is coal use is on the demise. Sadly, legislators who have a say in coal states have not been forthcoming with coal miners making commitments that are not reflective of market conditions. Two stories frame this topic:

A Fox News piece by Dan Springer from September entitled “Coal Industry continues sharp decline despite Trump’s promised revival,” notes the following:

“But since he (Trump) took office, U.S. coal consumption has hit a 41-year low and coal plant closures have actually accelerated. The next to fall, in December, will be Colstrip units 1 and 2, which have been keeping the lights on throughout the Pacific Northwest since 1975. Shutting down one-third of the capacity of the largest coal plant west of the Mississippi comes even after Trump scrapped the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and his administration pledged $39 million to make coal plants run cleaner.

‘There’s nothing he can do about it,’ said Randy Hardy, an energy consultant and former head of the Bonneville Power Administration. ‘The market economics are so compelling that absent massive federal government subsidies to keep coal alive, you couldn’t do it economically.'”

Recently, a Houston Public Media piece by Florian Martin called “Wind energy on track to surpass coal power in Texas,” noted the following:

“Both (Coal and wind energy) now make up about 20% of the state’s energy mix, with wind just 0.3 percentage points below coal. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer at the University of Houston, said wind power has increased dramatically in the past 12 years, up from 3% in 2007. But in the short-term, it’s cheap natural gas that’s responsible for the decline of coal.

‘The real story has been, if coal went down from over 32% down to 20%, that slack was picked up by natural gas,’ he said. Natural gas made up more than 47% of the energy mix last year.

Krishnamoorti said he expects coal to decline further and for renewable energy to make modest gains in the next few years. ‘If wind can just maintain where it is, it’s going to surpass coal in 2020,” he said. “It’s a question of, can it get that next bump up to sort of go through this significant expansion.’ Krishnamoorti said wind power’s growth has slowed down in the past few years due to the end of tax credits that helped it.”

Links to both articles are below. I have written earlier, that if measured as a country, the state of Texas would be the fifth most prolific wind energy country in the world. And, California is among the world leaders in solar energy, also if measured as a country.

What is lost in all of this is the decline of coal is not a surprise, nor has it taken place over night. So, it frustrates me that legislators in a position of power have not shot straight with coal miners and done something more to help the transition. The wind blows and sun shines in these coal producing states. And, that is where the job growth is, not in coal energy.

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/coal-industry-decline-trump-revival

Wind Energy On Track To Surpass Coal Power In Texas

Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality (per The Charlotte Observer)

With more interest and advocacy for the disenfranchised in our midst, an article by Austin Weinstein of The Charlotte Observer caught my this week called “Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality. A link to the article is below.

I have written often about the “haves and have-nots” in America. The disparity has been worsening for years and it now matters more to whom and where you were born than merit. Sadly, the declining middle class and growing poverty problem has been addressed by more trickle down economics and attacks on benefits to help people in need.

Per The Charlotte Observer:

“Kelly King, the CEO of Truist — America’s sixth largest bank — issued an exhortation to the economic elite of North Carolina and the country: We are blind to the difficult lives of many in the U.S. and must work to resolve the country’s educational and economic divides, or risk the consequences.

‘We see what happens when we have this giant divide between the haves and the have-nots,’ King said to bankers and executives gathered in Durham for an annual economic forecast hosted by the North Carolina Chamber and North Carolina Bankers Association. ‘If we have this scenario where people lose hope, they have no sense of opportunity, they’re dysfunctional. They get mad, they get on drugs, they get guns, they start shooting.’…

While there are many origins to America’s widespread educational and economic inequality, King pointed to the perceived failures of American public school system as one of the paramount reasons for the divides in the country. If people can’t read or do simple math, he said, they are effectively left out of much of the U.S. economy.

‘We are cheating our kids and our grandkids of a future,’ King said. ‘They will not have the same kind of life we have had,” he warned, if the current course of the country isn’t changed.'”

We must invest in our children and our communities. Asset Based Community Development means repurposing depleted assets or restoring them to original form. A neighborhood school is more than a place of seven hour education. It offers a community meeting place for after-school programs, neighborhood meetings, civic meetings, exercise classes, etc. Inviting schools, rewarded teachers, safety mind-sets, etc. will reinforce better education for our kids.

King’s admonition speaks to the crisis it is. The US disparity has widened at the same time our educational ranks in science and math have fallen. If we don’t invest in our kids, we really don’t have the standing to speak of American exceptionalism. It is hard to be a shining light on a hill if we fall from the top.

Read more here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/banking/article239048138.html#storylink=cpy

A royal push for climate change action

Strong on the heels of Greta Thunberg’s visit to the United States and United Nations climate change conference in Spain, a royal member of the UK family is making a very public statement backed with funds to match. In an article by Simon Perry in People Magazine, of all places, a very important global mission was revealed in an article called: Prince William Unveils Ambitious New Environmental Mission: ‘The Earth Is at a Tipping Point and We Face a Stark Choice’.

The first three paragraphs from the article (see link below) are as follows:

“On Tuesday, the royal unveiled a multimillion-dollar international award to harness the best ideas for tackling the biggest environmental challenges in the world.

William, 37, has set his sights on spending the next decade rewarding visionaries and innovation. Called Earthshot, it will be awarded to five winners a year for the next decade, generating what William hopes will be 50 solutions by 2030.

‘The earth is at a tipping point and we face a stark choice: either we continue as we are and irreparably damage our planet or we remember our unique power as human beings and our continual ability to lead, innovate and problem-solve,’ William said in a statement. ‘Remember the awe inspiring civilizations that we have built, the life-saving technology we have created, the fact that we have put a man on the moon. People can achieve great things. And the next 10 years presents us with one of our greatest tests: a decade of change to repair the earth.’”

The case for change to reward climate change action innovation was echoed when “Dr. M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, added in a statement, ‘We have a very small window, 10 years, to jolt earth onto a path of sustainability. It can sound terrifying – or it can sound like one of history’s greatest opportunities. Yes, the challenges are daunting. But how we react is still, in this sliver of time left, entirely up to us – and that is what the Earthshot Prize is all about. It’s about this opportunity in front of us, right now, to choose to put our energies towards taking action and uncovering solutions, to choose to create the future we want over settling for the one that we fear.’”

It is good to see more public figures cite the need to act, especially with the recalcitrant US president who is beholden to the fossil fuel industry. Fortunately, good things are happening around the globe and in the US, but more is needed to address the climate change impact which is already happening. I applaud the future King. We all should.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/royals/prince-william-unveils-ambitious-new-environmental-mission-the-earth-is-at-a-tipping-point-and-we-face-a-stark-choice/ar-BBYun7r?ocid=spartandhp

Former Arkansas surgeon general brags on Medicaid expansion

I have written often about the Affordable Care Act not being fully implemented since 15 states have not expanded Medicaid. Rather than repeat my arguments, let me reference the attached editorial written by Dr. Joe Thompson, the former Surgeon General of Arkansas, which I read in Friday’s The Charlotte Observer. The reason for their interest is North Carolina has a Democrat governor working with a Republican majority General Assembly and the issue of Medicaid expansion is of importance. The editorial is entitled “Medicaid expansion works in deep red Arkansas. It would work in North Carolina too.”

“My home state of Arkansas is unusual among Southern states in having adopted Medicaid expansion early and in our own fashion.

I was Arkansas’ surgeon general in 2013 when the state first faced the question of whether to expand Medicaid. Like North Carolina now, Arkansas then had a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled legislature. Fortunately, we avoided an impasse; lawmakers on both sides of the aisle came together to approve an innovative alternative to traditional Medicaid expansion that provides private health insurance coverage to about 250,000 people earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level.

The effect on Arkansas’ uninsured rate was swift and dramatic. A 2015 Gallup report showed that since Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion program took effect in January 2014, the state’s uninsured rate had been cut roughly in half, dropping from 22.5% to 11.4% ― the biggest reduction in the nation.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Arkansas’ uninsured rate was 8.2% in 2018. North Carolina’s was 10.7%, the ninth-highest rate in the nation. Arkansas’ reduced uninsured rate led to a 55% reduction in uncompensated-care losses at hospitals. This has been especially important for rural hospitals, which treat many low-income patients.

Since January 2010, only one rural Arkansas hospital has closed for financial reasons. In the five neighboring states that have not expanded Medicaid, more than 50 rural hospitals have closed, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Expanding Medicaid also has helped stabilize Arkansas’ health insurance market, improve competition and control premiums. Since 2014, at least three insurers have offered plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace in each county in the state. The competition encourages low rates: In 2014, 38 states had marketplace premiums lower than Arkansas’; today, only six states have lower premiums.Medicaid expansion has brought billions of new federal dollars into Arkansas’ economy: $1.7 billion between January 2014 and June 2015 alone, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Arkansas also is saving money because some individuals previously covered under traditional Medicaid, which in Arkansas is 30% state and 70% federally funded, are now covered under Medicaid expansion.

The federal government currently is paying 93% of Medicaid expansion costs and will pay 90% in 2020 and thereafter. A consultant told a legislative task force in 2016 that Medicaid expansion would save Arkansas $757 million between 2017 and 2021.Thirty-six states have now decided to accept Medicaid expansion.

Arkansas has become a firmly red state, but it has reauthorized its Medicaid expansion program with a supermajority vote every year because of the demonstrated benefits to the working poor, the economy and the health care infrastructure. Last year, Arkansas added a work and community engagement requirement that currently is blocked by a federal judge’s order, but however that issue ultimately is resolved, it is clear that Medicaid expansion has had tangible, positive results. There’s a reason the number of states rejecting it continues to shrink each year.

Joe Thompson, MD, MPH, is president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. He was Arkansas’ surgeon general under Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.”

In spite of efforts to naysay it, hobble it and kill it, the Affordable Care Act is stabilizing some. It needs more stability and Medicaid expansion would help in the remaining 15 states. I have also advocated the US government paying back the money they withheld from insurers causing some to leave the market, inviting those companies back to the market. I have also advocated the reduction of the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to age 62 or even 60. And, where options don’t exist, Medicare could be offered as an option for younger adults.

What frustrates this retired benefits manager, consultant and actuary is the fact people getting harmed by decisions to harm the ACA is not a major factor. There is too much focus on winning an argument that people getting screwed does not seem to matter. Please help make it matter. Even as we speak, the eating away at the edges of the ACA could lead the Supreme Court to rule it unconstitutional. If this occurs it would be a damn shame.

Per Reuters – More foreign firms halted U.S. deals amid Trump administration scrutiny: report

Last week, Alexandra Alper of Reuters Financial News shared findings within a concerning report. The “report released by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), shows that foreign companies abandoned roughly 14 percent of U.S. investments that were investigated by CFIUS in 2017 ‘in light of CFIUS-related national security concerns.’ The percentage in 2018 was 11 percent.

Those figures were sharply up from the period immediately before Trump took office. About 4 or 5 percent of such transactions probed by the committee were dropped annually from 2014 to 2016, the report showed. The Committee, led by the Treasury Department, reviews foreign investment in the United States for national security issues.”

I have raised this issue previously – when any entity makes it more burdensome to deal with, other entities will explore other options. The tariff wars are causing suppliers and customers to find other avenues. John Deere sales are down in the US, but up in South America as more agricultural products are being bought there.

On foreign investment, if we have companies jump through too many hoops, they will take their money elsewhere. These are headwinds to our economy and our growth has been softening.

Coupled with overall global softening, it should give us concern.

Greta Thunberg joins a ninth grader in Charlotte for climate change strike

Her words were clear. We must “unite behind the science.” Sixteen year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg joined ninth-grader Mary Ellis Stevens in Charlotte along with 1,200 other people for a climate change strike. I was one of the 1,200. Several young people spoke, with only a few adult voices making it to the dais. The crowd was multi-generational, multi-ethnic and multi-racial. It was wonderful to witness.

Below is a brief article from The Charlotte Observer on the strike. I was struck by several things she and others said.

– Thunberg made a point of referencing many of the indigenous tribes from our area. To me, this is representative of the saying “we are not inheriting our land from our forebears, we are borrowing it from our children.”
– a young UNCC student activist who is African-American noted that people of color are more impacted by climate change than other groups, yet they get under-represented at these events. The reason is the events are held during the working day, and not everyone has the luxury of getting away from work or school.
– Thunberg handled a heckler with the aplomb of a seasoned politician. After listening for a few seconds, she said why don’t you come back stage afterwards and we can talk about your comments?

I was incredibly proud of the young folks in attendance. I think Thunberg is a hero for her courage and candor. My favorite sign was from a young adult woman standing near me that said “You cannot renew lost time.” I told her that her sign was excellent. In my view, we have lost eleven years due to the Bush/ Cheney White House and the Trump White House. Good things have happened in spite of their lack of leadership on this topic, but these efforts could have been leveraged even more by concerted federal action.

https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article237108539.html

The only woman in the room – a novel about the amazing true story of Hedy Lamarr

Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler was born in Austria and would later become a famous and beautiful actress known as Hedy Lamarr. But, her story is far more compelling and complicated than that. Marie Benedict penned a novel based on Lamarr’s incredible true life story called “The only woman in the room.” Not only was she an iconic actress, she was a scientist and was in the room when her domineering husband, a munitions manufacturer in Austria, hosted Austrian, Nazi and Italian leaders.

I will stop short of giving the story away, but this fast-paced novel told in first person, provides a narrative of a woman frightened by her first husband and the plans she overheard. Staying only with the teaser written on the back cover, she would eventually flee to London where she met a movie mogul who was recruiting actors and actresses leaving Europe as Hitler expanded his evil reach.

Yet, she would lament what was transpiring in her homeland, as a Jew and as an transplanted Austrian. So, based on what she heard in these many meetings back in Austria, she would work with a talented avante garde pianist and composer to devise an electronic communication system for the war effort that laid a foundation that is used today. I will stop there at this strange point, so as not to say too much. I will leave you thinking the obvious – an actress and a pianist did this?

The book found its way to The New York Times best seller list. It is a quick and compelling read. I highly recommend this book as it is far more than an unknown history lesson.