STATE CAPITOL BRIEFS - LUNCH EDITION - WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18, 2018
4/18/18 12:36 PM
- BOSTON AIR POLLUTION IMPROVING, REPORT FINDS
- MARKEY TO HOST TALK ON NET NEUTRALITY, INTERNET'S FATE
- UNIONS BACK BAY STATE WIND
- HEALTH COST ESTIMATORS CATCHING ON, PIONEER REPORT SAYS
- FORMER HOUSE DEM, STATE COP FACING FINES FOR LATE DISCLOSURES
BOSTON AIR POLLUTION IMPROVING, REPORT FINDS
Three Massachusetts counties -- Bristol, Essex and Suffolk -- cut their ozone and particle pollution levels, and the Boston metro area reported some of the lowest pollution levels on record in spite of a national trend of higher ozone pollution, according to the American Lung Association. The association on Wednesday released its 2018 "State of the Air" report, tracking ozone, or smog, and year-round particle pollution, also called soot, from 2014 through 2016. It ranked Boston as the 47th most polluted city in the nation for ozone, calling that level "significantly improved" from last year's ranking of 37th. Hampshire County was the only county in Massachusetts to have its ozone grade drop from 2017 to 2018, falling from a C to a D. Hampden County recorded the worst ozone levels in the state, according to the report. "When older adults or children with asthma breath ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor's office, the hospital or the emergency room," Michael Seilback, the association's vice president of public policy and communications for the northeast region, said in a statement.. Ozone can even shorten life itself." The association said more than four in 10 Americans, or 133.9 million people, live in counties with "unhealthful levels" of either ozone or particulate pollution. The report gave Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk and Worcester counties "A" grades on particle pollution, while the other five counties either had incomplete monitoring data or had no monitor collecting data. - Katie Lannan/SHNS
MARKEY TO HOST TALK ON NET NEUTRALITY, INTERNET'S FATE
One of the inventors of the internet will be in Cambridge on Thursday to talk with U.S. Sen. Edward Markey about net neutrality and "the fate of a free and open internet." Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium and World Wide Web Foundation, will join Markey and former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler for the discussion at Harvard. In December, the FCC approved an order reversing its Obama-era net neutrality rules, which deemed internet service a public utility and required internet providers to treat all traffic equally. Markey filed a resolution that would rescind the FCC's vote and fully restore the Open Internet Order, and his office said Wednesday the resolution "is just one vote shy of passage in the U.S. Senate." The resolution, which needs a simple majority, has been one vote shy of passage since January when all Senate Democrats and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine signed onto Markey's resolution. U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement in January that Democrats will "force a vote on this bill" this session. Meanwhile, the Senate is working on state legislation (S 2376) that would make it illegal for internet service providers to slow connection speeds for some users, block access to certain content or give preferential treatment to certain content. A bundle of net neutrality-related bills, along with the bill proposed by a special Senate committee, was sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. Senate President Harriette Chandler has named the issue as a priority. Markey's conversation with Wheeler and Berners-Lee -- as well as Harvard Law School professor Susan Crawford and Carbonite CEO Mohamad Ali -- will take place at the Kirkland Junior Common Room at Kirkland House on Harvard University's campus, starting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. - Colin A. Young/SHNS
UNIONS BACK BAY STATE WIND
Three unions representing various portions of the construction industry on Wednesday threw their support behind the offshore wind project being developed by Eversource and Ørsted, as the state approaches its deadline to choose how it will get offshore wind energy. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Utility Workers Union of America, and the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers endorsed the Bay State Wind project, which would be 25 miles off the coast of New Bedford. The unions announced that they had negotiated project labor agreements with Eversource and Ørsted "to provide work directly to Massachusetts workers" and cited those agreements as a leading factor in their decision-making when selecting between Bay State Wind, Deepwater Wind and Vineyard Wind. "The citizens of Massachusetts should have the assurance that their money is being invested in a project that not only provides clean, cost-effective energy, but also brings the added benefit of providing work directly to Massachusetts workers," IBEW International Vice President Michael Monahan said. In June, 2017, electric distribution companies in Massachusetts and the state Department of Energy Resources launched a procurement for long-term offshore wind energy contracts. Procurement overseers are scheduled to choose a project to deliver between 400 and 800 megawatts of offshore wind energy on April 23 and submit long-term contracts for Department of Public Utilities approval by July 31. Bay State Wind has said it could provide 500,000 Massachusetts homes with power and includes a 55-megawatt battery storage system to help ensure power is available during peak hours. Deepwater Wind, which operates an offshore wind farm off Block Island, is planning a 400-megawatt Revolution Wind project southwest of Martha's Vineyard that it says could be complete and operational by 2023. Vineyard Wind has proposed projects capable of generating 400 megawatts or 800 megawatts and says it could begin construction in 2019. - Colin A. Young/SHNS
HEALTH COST ESTIMATORS CATCHING ON, PIONEER REPORT SAYS
Private health insurers are "waking up to" benefits of price transparency, but work remains to reach the potential for cost savings from providing consumers with more information, according to a new study from the Pioneer Institute. The study, released Wednesday, analyzed the online cost estimator tools offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Tufts Health Plan, finding them to be more user-friendly than the same tools were in a 2015 assessment by Health Care For All. A 2012 health care cost containment law required insurers to develop the cost estimators by October 2014. The tools "cover between 700 and 1,600 procedures, a vast improvement over the initial numbers of procedures available in 2015," Pioneer said. The institute also flagged it as important that "all three carriers are embracing incentive/reward programs to attract workers at entities with 250 or more employees to lower-cost, high value providers." Jim Stergios, Pioneer's executive director, said the number of aggregate inquiries on the cost tools -- about 297,000 from early 2014 through 2017, compared to the at least 3 million people the three carriers cover -- "shows that the carriers still have a lot of work ahead to achieve price transparency's potential to rein in healthcare costs." The study also noted that none of the three cost estimators "are readily available in a language other than English," though the Blue Cross Blue Shield site is compatible with online translators. - Katie Lannan/SHNS
FORMER HOUSE DEM, STATE COP FACING FINES FOR LATE DISCLOSURES
Former state Rep. Gloria Fox and retired State Police Major James Jones are both facing fines of $1,250 for failure to file timely statements of financial interest last year with the Ethics Commission, the commission reported Tuesday. Fox, who retired from the House in 2016, and Jones, whose position in the State Police required a disclosure, missed their May deadlines to file a statement of financial interest (SFI) in 2017 for the previous calendar year. The disclosures list assets such as property owned and stock held by public officials, and must be filed annually. The Ethics Commission on Tuesday said it had filed "orders to show cause" initiating an adjudicatory process to collect the fines owed for the alleged violation of the state's financial disclosure law. According to the commission, Fox was notified on June 19 last year of her failure to file an SFI for 2016 by May 30, but did not file the required disclosure until Nov. 22. Jones missed his May 1 deadline to file, and was reminded on May 19 that he would face civil penalties for failure to file. He did not submit his SFI for 2016 until Nov. 6, 2017. "If the allegations are proved, Fox and Jones each face a civil penalty of $1,250 under the Commission’s civil penalty schedule. Three other late-filers have already paid civil penalties for failing to file their Statements of Financial Interests on time in 2016," the commission said in a statement, suggesting that it has been unable to resolve the matter with Fox and Jones voluntarily. Hearings will be set for both Fox and Jones within 90 days. - Matt Murphy/SHNS
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