Meet Senator ‘Mac’ Middleton

Meet State Senator Thomas McLain Middleton – ‘Mac’ to his friends. Since 1994, Mac has served the people of the 28th Senate District of Charles County (southeast of Washington, DC), and is now the last remaining full-time farmer in the Maryland legislature. He owns and operates 275-acre Cedar Hill Farm with his family, raising beef cattle and growing hay to feed not only his cows but the neighboring horses that make up the large Maryland equine industry.

As with most modern farms throughout the northeast, diversification and innovation are the keys to success, and Cedar Hill Farm is no exception. Mac’s daughter, Kelly, operates a thriving agritourism business on the farm, where cute barnyard animals charm the kids and their parents.   In addition, the farm has pick-your-own strawberries, a large corn maze, a pumpkin patch, and events like birthday parties and even weddings. (http://www.middletonfarm.com/)

Mac has a degree in Biology from Mount Saint Mary College and served his military obligation is the US Army Intelligence, which took him to both Italy and Germany. After his stint in the service, Mac was elected as a Charles County Commissioner. During this period he bought Cedar Hill Farm from his parents, and proceeded to raise tobacco, grains and strawberries. While the type of crops he grows has changed over the years, his love for the land has not. Mac has recently put the land into a conservation easement so that it will remain farmland in perpetuity.

Senator Middleton notes that the best farm preservation program is farm viability and profitability.   When asked what the biggest agriculture issues are in Maryland, Mac responds, ‘There are three right now.   First is low grain prices, second is the rules for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and third is some of the EPA regulations.’

We asked the Senator how CSG-ERC helps legislators. ‘I think the most important thing that CSG-ERC does is to enable legislators to discuss mutual concerns with other lawmakers from the region.’ He especially likes the tradition of taking the time at the annual conferences to ask each state for a brief update on what they are doing in agriculture and what the major issues they are dealing with.. ‘I always learn from his fellow legislators in other states that way,’ he adds.

The legislation Mac is most proud of in his 22 years in the Senate is the ‘Agriculture Certainty Program’ that he sponsored. This program allows farmers to set environmental goals, especially regarding the Chesapeake Bay. With those goals in place, that farm would then be exempt from new environmental regulation for ten years. He says, ‘This legislation enables farmers to have certainty that new regulations will not impact their ability to secure loans for new equipment and operations.’

We asked about the biggest changes in Maryland agriculture in the last twenty or thirty years, and Mac answered that it was the transition out of tobacco as the number one crop in the region.. ‘Much of the land that was tobacco fields has been replaced by greenhouse products – many Maryland farms raise plants that are sold at big box stores across the country.’

We asked Mac about changes in the legislature he has seen during his tenure. He noted how partisan it has become on both sides of the aisle. He also talked about the urban-rural divide in government. ‘We need to act as agriculture legislators. We need to educate our urban and suburban counterparts about the importance of rural issues and agriculture to the state economy, open space and our ability to produce locally grown food.’ He adds, ‘it is important for rural legislators to understand the urban issues and support what they need, in return for understanding and support coming back to the rural areas. We need to understand both sides of all issues and legislation, not just our own parochial views.’

Finally Mac is justifiably proud of his work on the Chesapeake Bay commission, where he has served for many years, and where he is serving his second term as the chair. When asked what he worries about, he says, ‘I’m concerned about where the next generation of farmer is coming from.’

Mac will be at the Annual CSG-ERC Annual Meeting at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut from August 13 through 17. We hope to see you all there as well.

Bob Tara and Cow

Bob Haefner and Tara Sad, Agricultural & Rural Affairs Policy

First-in-the-Nation Offshore Wind Farm Comes Online in Rhode Island

Last week, America’s first offshore wind farm, a 30-megawatt project situated off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, began to deliver electricity into the New England Power grid. Proponents of the industry hope the pilot will jump-start a thriving U.S. industry in the coming years.

The $300-million, five-turbine wind farm, developed by Deepwater Wind, will supply the bulk of the power used by Block Island, and end its reliance on diesel generation. In a statement, Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said he was confident the project will be the first in a series of larger, utility-scale wind farms that will employ thousands of workers up and down the East Coast, and send abundant, low-carbon power into the region’s power grid. Deepwater Wind is reportedly planning larger offshore wind projects some 15 to 25 miles from the coast to serve multiple states, including New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey.

Studies show the region is well-situated for ocean-based wind power, given the existence of powerful coastal air currents along the U.S. coastlines, which, if harnessed, could produce enormous quantities of clean power for U.S. residents and industry. According to the U.S. Energy Department, offshore wind has the potential to produce 2,000 gigawatts of power per year, nearly double the nation’s annual energy use. This means that even if only 1% of the technical potential is recovered, ocean-based wind could power nearly 6.5 million homes, according to the agency.

In recent years, offshore wind-industry representatives, federal agencies and policymakers in the Northeast have been engaged in efforts to promote an ocean-based industry along the Eastern Seaboard, in the hopes that a robust, domestic offshore wind sector could transform the region’s energy economy and help to achieve multiple public-policy goals, such as: helping states meet their renewable-energy and pollution reduction goals; creating high-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced; and, through economies of scale, lowering electricity rates, which are among the highest in the nation.

But the industry lags far behind Europe, long the leader in offshore wind, where ocean-based turbines have been producing power since 1999. As of the end of 2015, there were more than 11 gigawatts of installed wind-generation capacity operating in the waters of 82 countries, according to the European Wind Energy Association.

Federal Action

Under the Obama administration, the federal government has engaged in a number of actions to promote offshore wind and collaborate with the states. The administration has funded a multi-state effort with Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York to create a regional roadmap on offshore wind, aimed at large-scale deployment of ocean-based turbines and development of a supply-chain with high-paying jobs. By the end of 2015, the U.S. Department of the Interior had awarded 11 commercial leases for offshore wind development in the Atlantic Ocean that could support a total of 14.6 gigawatts of capacity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2016 National Offshore Wind Strategy Report. The Obama administration estimates that by 2030, offshore wind farms along the U.S. coastlines, in the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes will be supplying 22 gigawatts of electricity annually, enough to power 4.5 million homes.

The agency cites a number of potential benefits to states and the electricity system from ocean-based wind. Along many regions of the coastline, winds blowing offshore tend to be strong at times of peak power demand, which could help lower wholesale electricity prices in many markets, and also provide a hedge against fossil-fuel price volatility. The development of utility-scale offshore wind projects could potentially serve as a replacement for baseload power supplied by aging nuclear power plants set to retire in the coming years, and help states meet their clean-energy mandates. It could also decrease transmission congestion and reduce the need for new, land-based long-distance transmission.

Nevertheless, cost continues to be a deterrent here. Currently, offshore wind is still too expensive to compete in most U.S. electricity markets without subsidies. In Rhode Island, power supplied to residents from the Block Island Wind Farm will cost $1.07 a month more than their current rates, or 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour, and increase by 3.5% annually for 20 years. However, the Department of Energy was optimistic that as the industry establishes itself and develops economies of scale, it could vie with other forms of generation within the next ten years.

An encouraging example is the industry’s experience in Europe, which has benefited from significant cost reductions as ocean-based wind power and its supply chain have grown and matured. Between 2010 and 2014, the levelized cost of energy from offshore wind projects installed in the United Kingdom dropped by 11%, according to the Department of Energy report. (The levelized cost of energy is a commonly used metric for the cost of electricity produced by a power generator over the life of a project, and generally takes into account capital expenditures, operating and maintenance costs, cost of capital, and the expected annual energy production of an offshore wind farm. It is different from the price of energy in a power purchase agreement).

A study released last March by the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind found that in Massachusetts, where several ocean-based wind projects have been proposed in recent years, a commitment to produce 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind power, combined with ongoing industry and technological advances, would lower the cost of the energy source by 55% below previous projections. The study also says that offshore wind has the potential to produce all of the electricity used by northeastern states – a resource far greater than onshore wind or solar.

Developing a Regional Ocean-Energy Economy

The promise of harnessing an abundant source of carbon-free power that could spur an entire new industry has led officials in a number of states to devised policies to attract developers to the region.

Earlier this year, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill requiring utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind in a little over ten years, enough energy to power half a million homes.

In New York, which has a mandate to produce 50% of its energy from clean sources by 2030, the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is developing an Offshore Wind Master Plan, expected to be released next year. The state is studying a 16,740-square-mile area of the ocean, from the south shore of Long Island and New York City to the continental shelf break, for potential future sites for offshore wind, according to a report released earlier this year. The report found that offshore breezes along the state’s Atlantic coastline could produce enough electricity to power 15 million homes.

A study released last year from University of Delaware researchers found that New York State could take a number of steps, independently or with other states, that could lower costs for offshore wind power as much as 50 percent.  Among the companies investing in the industry there is Statoil, which last week provided the winning bid in the federal government’s online lease sale of more than 79,000 acres some 14 to 30 miles off the New York coast. The lease grants the company the rights to explore the potential development of an offshore wind farm to supply power to New York City and Long Island. In a press release, Statoil said the area could potentially accommodate turbines producing up to 1 gigawatt of power.

One of the key findings in the University of Delaware study was that using larger, more efficient turbines, along with other technology and supply-chain advances, could help reduce the high cost of construction, which has been a major impediment to the industry’s establishment here.

Lowering costs has been a chief goal of researchers at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composite Center. For more than a decade, they have been developing floating turbines that can operate in waters more than 150 feet deep, harness the powerful winds in the Gulf of Maine, and be built for a fraction of the expense of a conventional turbine. The Gulf of Maine is considered to have the best offshore wind resource in North America, where strong, consistent winds have the potential to produce 156 gigawatts of power. (For the sake of comparison, consider that a nuclear power plant generates roughly 1 gigawatt of energy.)   

Last May, their efforts received an important boost from the Department of Energy, which awarded $43.7 million toward an offshore wind project they are spearheading, known as New England Aqua Ventus 1. Along with two project partners, Emera Inc. and Cianbro Corporation, the consortium plans to build a 12-megawatt floating offshore wind farm in 2018 using proprietary turbine technology patented by the University of Maine. The turbines were specifically devised to float in Maine’s deep waters without the need to be tethered to the sea floor, and utilize technology that could reduce the cost of hull construction by 50%, according to Habib Dagher, director of the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center, during a presentation at the CSG/ERC Annual Meeting last August. Developers hope the demonstration project will lead to the creation of a much larger, utility-scale wind farm further offshore, and help comply with the goals set out in the Maine Ocean Energy Act of 2010, which calls for developing 300 megawatts of ocean-based wind by 2020, and 5 gigawatts by 2030.

In the long-term, Dagher envisions a day in the future when utility-scale turbines in the Gulf of Maine churn out more than enough electricity to heat all of Maine’s homes, and power the entire vehicle fleet. Currently, 70% of residents heat their homes with heating oil, at an average cost of $4,000 annually, and a typical household spends another $5,000 on gasoline to run their cars and trucks. All of that money – some $6 billion annually — flows out of state, said Dagher. Creating large-scale ocean-based wind farms would lead to economies of scale that could dramatically lower the cost of power, making it far more economical for residents to transition to electricity for heat and to electric vehicles for transportation. As an added benefit, the money spent on energy would stay in the state, he said.

“Our goal is to not just create electricity with offshore wind,” said Dagher. “Our goal is to fill up the vehicles and heat the homes.”

States sue generic drug companies for price fixing

Last Wednesday twenty state Attorneys General filed suit against six drug companies for fixing prices of generic drugs. Seven ERC states are included in the lawsuit including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Maine, New York and Pennsylvania. The six drug companies include Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Aurobindo, Citron Pharma, Heritage Pharmaceuticals, Mayne Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical. The suit was filed one day after charges were filed against two former Heritage executives. Almost 90% of prescriptions are for generic drugs which are intended to be lower cost alternatives to brand name medications. However recently prices for many generics have risen sharply. The lawsuit charges the companies “with entering into contracts, combinations and conspiracies that had the effect of unreasonably restraining trade, artificially inflating and maintaining prices and reducing competition”. Over the last several years, . . . prices for dozens of generic drugs have uncharacteristically risen — some have skyrocketed — for no apparent reason, sparking outrage from public officials, payers and consumers across the country whose costs have doubled, tripled or in some cases increased up to 1,000% or more.” Sharp price increases led the state of Connecticut to initiate an investigation in July 2014, followed by Congressional inquiry and a federal grand jury. The lawsuit outlines how the companies coordinated prices and limited competition through “regular ‘industry dinners’, ‘girls nights out’, lunches, parties, and numerous and frequent telephone calls, emails and text messages.”

Opioid-related hospital visit rates higher in ERC, but rising like the rest of the nation

From 2005 and 2014 the national rate of opioid-related ED visits almost doubled and inpatient hospital stays rose by 64.1% according to a new report by AHRQ. Unfortunately ERC states are among the highest in the nation on both measures. Massachusetts had by far the highest ED rates in 2014 at two and a half times the national rate. Maryland topped the 2014 list for opioid-related inpatient stays. In better news, ERC states’ growth in those rates from 2009 to 2014 was more modest.

Compared to US average

 

Opioid-related inpatient stays per capita, 2014 Growth in inpatient stays, 2009 – 2014 Opioid-related ED visits, 2014 Growth in ED visit rates, 2009 – 2014
CT 28% higher 20% worse 37% higher 42% better
MD 61% higher 39% better 62% higher 31% worse
MA 42% higher 56% worse 149% higher 14% worse
NJ 16% higher 62% worse 17% higher 23% better
NY 49% higher 4% worse 2% higher 15% worse
PA 8% higher 179% worse    
RI 48% higher 129% worse 62% higher 16% worse
VT 75% higher 192% worse 12% higher 73% better

CSG, ERC pass resolutions to preserve Medicaid state-federal partnership

At our meetings in Virginia last week, both the National and Eastern Region Council of State Governments passed resolutions urging federal policymakers to support and continue the successful Medicaid state-federal partnership and “avoid the imposition of new burdens on state budgets.” The resolutions are in response to signals from the incoming federal administration and Congress to place new limits on Medicaid funding to states combined with more flexibility operating the program. Across the ERC region, Medicaid covers one in five residents, including 1.4 million newly eligible under the Affordable Care Act, brings in $79.8 billion in federal funds to fund health services, and makes up between 18% and 37% of ERC state budgets.

Allow us to introduce ourselves.

Bob Tara and Cow

We are Bob Haefner and Tara Sad, former State Representatives from the beautiful state of New Hampshire, and now your Agricultural Policy Consultants for the Council of State Governments/Eastern Regional Conference. We are delighted to join the great CSG/ERC Team!

So, a little bit about us.   We were both elected to the NH House ten years ago, and were both appointed to serve on the Environment & Agriculture Committee. While neither of us have a farming background, we chose the committee because of our interest in local food, open space and the rural landscape that is so important to our state.

We don’t know how many of you are aware that New Hampshire is unique among the other U.S. states – we have 400 members of our House, 24 members of our Senate. are paid $100 a year for our service, have no staff and have no assistants.

As a result, we were forced to learn how to read and understand statutes and rules, how to get answers to our constituents’ questions. and how to delve into the issues that affect our farmers and rural areas. So with this intense training, we will know how to get answers to your questions and help find solutions to your problems.

Perhaps most importantly, despite being of opposite political parties, we have worked together closely on agricultural and rural issues for our years in office. So rest assured what we pass along to you will not be partisan, but what we think is important for agriculture in the northeast.

So for those of you that we have known over the years, we are excited to be working with you. For those who are newly elected or newly appointed, welcome! We look forward to meeting you and working with you to help strengthen Agriculture in the CSG/ERC region!

 

Bob and Tara

 

ERC region and individual state Medicaid fact sheets online

The new administration has signaled interest in reforming Medicaid by giving states more flexibility but with fewer resources. Both CSG/ERC and CSG nationally are considering resolutions urging “that the federal Executive and Legislative Branches maintain the integrity of the strong state-federal partnership that has been the hallmark of the Medicaid program since its inception more than five decades ago, and that any reforms to federal Medicaid law and policies avoid the imposition of new burdens on state budgets or programs.” To inform this debate, CSG/ERC health committee has published state-specific and regional fact sheets with critical information on Medicaid. Information includes total enrollment, new eligibles under the Affordable Care Act, federal matching funds, the % of population covered by Medicaid, and % of state budgets devoted to the program.