Meet Maine Representative Michelle Dunphy

 

Meet Representative Michelle Dunphy, House Chair of the Maine Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee

Representative Dunphy is in her second term in the Maine House of Representatives and is the House Chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. Maine is one of the few states in the northeast that has joint House and Senate committees. Michelle lives in Old Town and represents both Old Town and Penobscot Indian Island. She is married to Matt Dunlap, the Maine Secretary of State and a former Representative. They have a daughter, Emily.

Michelle currently works as a Customer Service Representative for a telecommunications company, and also part time as a waitress at a pizza restaurant. She is a former teacher, and has degrees in both English and Education from the University of Maine. She does say she misses teaching.

Representative Dunphy’s legislative focus is on Agriculture, Natural Resources, Economic Development and Elder Services. She is also a life member of the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine. We asked if this meant she was a hunter. She said was not, but a lot of her constituents are hunters and she supports them. When asked what attracted her to the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, she immediately replied, ‘I have a real passion for agriculture. I believe it is the face of Maine, and we must maintain what we have, without losing more of our precious farms.

Michelle told us that she thinks sustainability is the biggest challenge for Maine Agriculture. She said, “I wonder where the next generation of farmers will come from?” She noted that Maine farms need to be profitable to stay in business. “There is something so wonderful and complex about the ability to feed people, as well as something so economically vital for our state.”

This past November, Maine passed a ballot initiative that created legislation making recreational marijuana legal in the state.   Even though the effective date of the law has been delayed by the legislature because of flaws in the drafting, Rep. Dunphy knows that the marijuana law will take a lot of the legislature’s time this year. The other big issues for the Maine Legislature are Medicaid expansion, economic stability and job growth, and attracting young people to the state and keeping them there.

When asked what it was like being a co-chair of a joint committee with the Senate, particularly when the two chambers are of different parties, Michelle replied, “It forces the members – and especially the co-chairs – to work together, and it forces detailed review of all solutions to proposed legislation.” She likes working in a joint committee because there is a lot of depth to the solutions. When asked whether she likes Maine’s term limits, she was very quick to say “No. The biggest loss with term limits is the that of institutional knowledge.”

Rep. Dunphy’s favorite thing about being in the Legislature is that she learns something new every single day. She loves the whole process of creating legislation, and enjoys the constituent service that she provides. Her passion for her work and the rewards of constituent service keep her going every day in Augusta.

 

Bob Haefner and Tara Sad

Agricultural and Rural Affairs Policy Advisors

CSG-ERC

 

 

 

 

Maryland explores state options to control pharmacy costs

Like many states, Maryland is considering state policy options to control rising prescription costs. Tuesday, the state’s Senate Finance Committee heard from 13 invited experts about possibilities. Committee Chair, Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, opened the briefing stating that controlling prescription drug costs is “one of the biggest issues that we’ll deal with this year.” Ellen Andrews, CSG-ERC’s health policy staff was invited to describe possible federal action, what states are currently doing to control costs, options other states are considering, and especially Vermont’s first-in-the nation transparency law that passed last year. Others on the initial panel included Steve Pearson from ICER talking about their work developing value-based prices for medications and other treatments, and Caleb Alexander from Johns Hopkins’s Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness and the Johns Hopkins-FDA Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation. Senators asked great questions, drilling deep into how transparency could help control costs, the difference between retail and final, net prices for medications, research & development spending both by companies and government, and reimportation. There was a great deal of interest in moving to a value-based pricing model to ensure fair prices that encourage innovation that can lower costs in other parts of the health system. Two relevant bills have been proposed in Maryland regarding price transparency and state authority to sue drugmakers for price gouging. Last month Maryland joined 19 other states suing generic drugmakers for price fixing.

Non-medical vaccine opt-outs for children dropping in most of US, but some ERC states still rising

New analysis by the CDC finds that while the percentage of families opting out of school-required vaccines for kindergartners for non-medical reasons is dropping nationally, the rate continues to rise in a handful of states. Among the eleven states with rising non-medical vaccine exemption rates are Connecticut, Maryland and New York. All but three states have processes for parents to opt-out of required vaccines for their children by asserting a religious and/or philosophical objection. In reaction to recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases among school-age children, many states have tightened the exemption process. Last September, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a position statement urging all states to eliminate non-medical childhood vaccine exemptions stating, “The AAP views nonmedical exemptions to school-required immunizations as inappropriate for individual, public health, and ethical reasons and advocates for their elimination.”

Can Small Northeast Dairy Farms Be Saved?

There is perhaps nothing more evocative of New England than dairy farms – old barns, contentedly grazing cows, and rolling green fields of corn and hay. However, that iconic vision is in danger of disappearing, to be replaced by mini-malls and subdivisions.

Since 2015, our local dairy farmers have been losing money – in effect paying to milk their cows.   The latest data from the USDA shows that the cost to produce milk in Maine per hundredweight is $25.15 (a hundredweight, or CWT, is 100 pounds, or 8.6 gallons of whole milk). The June 2016 price to the farmers was $16.39, or a loss of $8.70 per hundredweight. With the average herd size of 125 cows, and the average milk production per cow of 2,300 pounds, the total production of 287,500 pounds of milk will mean a loss of $25,012.50 per year.

In Vermont, the number of dairy farms has dropped from 1,200 five years ago to 800 now. In New Hampshire, the number of dairy farms have slipped from 137 ten years ago to the current 100 farms. Thirty years ago, there were more than 10,000 dairy farms in the northeast. Today there are fewer than 2,000.

This is the first in a series of three articles dealing with the dairy crisis. We’ll examine the causes of the crisis and look for solutions.

The Milk Price Roller Coaster

 When we entered the NH legislature in 2006, the state and the region were in the midst of a dairy crisis. At that time, the cost of production was just over $16 per CWT, but the farmer was getting only $11 per CWT for his milk. In 2007 and 2008 the prices rose to decent levels. Another fall in prices occurred in 2009, then back up to highs in 2015.   And now, the lows we are currently experiencing.

What is causing this extreme fluctuation? There are many factors, including the balance of international trade, the speculation in milk futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and the base price as set by the Federal Milk Marketing Order (or FMMO). Just what is the FMMO? For the past ten years we’ve been trying to get a handle on exactly what it is and who controls it, with no success. Here is a link http://future.aae.wisc.edu/publications/federal_orders.ppt to a Powerpoint presentation that explains the system. (Note:   The Powerpoint is 50 pages long)   No one understands it, and therefore no one knows how to fix it.

What we know is that the costs of production and inputs included in the FMMO formula are not sufficient to cover the real costs that our dairy farmers have to pay. One thing to keep in mind is that the FMMO price is a base price. Processors and retailers are able to pay whatever they would like over and above this base. The problem is they don’t.   The average retail price for a gallon of milk is $4.49. For that same gallon, the farmer receives $1.40, or 31%.

What can we do? One possibility is, working as a region, we can work with our congressional delegations to amend the Agricultural Marketing Agreement and change the FMMOs formulas to take into consideration the high input costs in the northeast.

Your state can also provide your farmers with a safety net of either cash infusions when the prices plummet, or tax credits and/or tax exemptions to allow them to weather the vagaries of federal dairy pricing. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine each have set up systems to assist their dairy farmers from these cyclical depressions.

Another way to help is to encourage diversification and innovation for your farms. Cheese and ice cream making, agritourism, timber harvesting, and maple sugaring help to augment the milk income and get farmers through downturns.

Our dairy farmers are a smart and pragmatic breed, used to planning for the bad times when the times are good. We can only hope that they continue to be the stewards of our land and open space.

The next installment of this series will deal with the Margin Protection Program, a newly-established safety net insurance plan that was meant to protect farmers when the price drops below a set level. Unfortunately, this did not work. We will investigate why, and what needs to be done to fix it.

Bob Haefner                                                                                 Tara Sad

NY Gov. Cuomo Announces Deal to Close Indian Point Nuclear Plant

The Indian Point Nuclear Plant will close in four years, more than a decade ahead of schedule, a deal that “eliminates a major risk” to the safety of New Yorkers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in his State of the State address in Lower Manhattan on Monday.

The plant is located less than 30 miles from Midtown Manhattan, and Cuomo has long advocated for its closure, noting that in the event of an accident, evacuation would be all but impossible for the more than 20 million people who reside in New York City and its surrounding areas. 

“New York City sits 30 miles from a ticking time bomb,” said Cuomo during the address. “This agreement eliminates a major risk, and provides welcome relief. New Yorkers can sleep a little better.”

The deal between the state and Entergy, the plant’s operator, calls for the reactor to shut down by April 2021, fourteen years ahead of schedule. An Entergy official told the The New York Times the company had assented to closing the plant early because cheap, abundant natural gas had made nuclear power less profitable.

Some industry sources questioned how the state would replace the 2,000 megawatts of power produced by the plant, which supplies about a quarter of the electricity used by New York City and Westchester County, while meeting the state’s carbon-reduction goals and its requirement that utilities get half of their power from renewable sources by 2030. Some experts expressed skepticism that the power could be replaced without relying on large quantities of natural gas.

Cuomo said the state had identified replacement sources of power for Indian Point, including investing in renewable energy.

The governor has prioritized investments in renewables as part of his administration’s energy-system overhaul, Reforming the Energy Vision, or REV, which was launched in 2014. The state has established a number of incentive programs and financing vehicles, including a 10-year, $5 billion Clean Energy Fund and a $1 billion New York Green Bank, a state-sponsored entity that was launched to partner with private-sector lenders to support renewable-energy projects.

New York has also pledged to lower its carbon emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80% by 2050. The state participates in the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which caps emissions from large power plants. In his address on Monday, Cuomo said that New York would reduce its RGGI cap by 30% by 2030.

In a statement on the Indian Point closure plan that provides some details on replacement power options, the governor said that transmission upgrades and efficiency measures have already produced over 700 megawatts of power, and that several new sources of generation are fully permitted and readily available to come online by 2021, after the plant’s closure, including up to 1,000 megawatts of hydropower.

In his speech, Cuomo specifically mentioned plans to invest in offshore wind, and to add new transmission lines to deliver large quantities of hydropower from Québec.

Here is a brief overview of efforts related to those energy sources in New York, and elsewhere in the region.

Offshore Wind

Cuomo is among several officials in the Northeast who have been working to establish a thriving offshore wind industry here, though the sector is in its infancy in the U.S., with only one project currently in operation, a 30-megawatt pilot off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. That project went online in December. Although other projects are in the early stages of development up and down the Eastern Seaboard, it is expected to take several years, or even a decade or more, for a utility-scale wind farm to be built and operational in U.S. waters. Still, New York is among several east-coast states that are forging policies to attract the massive supply chain that is critical to supporting a robust offshore wind industry here. 

The Cuomo administration is developing an Offshore Wind Master Plan, expected to be released this year. Officials are 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 last year. The report found that offshore breezes along the state’s Atlantic coastline could produce enough electricity to power 15 million homes. Last July, Cuomo announced his support for a proposed 90-megawatt wind farm 30 miles east of Montauk, which would provide power to the South Fork of Long Island. In December, Statoil provided the winning bid in the federal government’s online lease sale of more than 79,000 acres in another offshore wind area, 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.

Hydropower

More than half a dozen transmission lines have been proposed to bring lower-cost Canadian hydropower into New England and New York state, but so far, only one has obtained all of the required siting permits, a proposed 1,000-megawatt cross-border transmission line known as the Clean Power Link. 

The project is a 154-mile underground transmission line that that is being developed with private-sector financing by TDI New England. It will originate at the U.S.-Canadian border, and extend some 154 miles under Lake Champlain, to Ludlow, Vermont, the company said in a statement last month.

Sean Klimczak, senior managing director of Blackstone group, the project’s lead investor, said the approval makes the company well positioned to respond to Massachusetts’ upcoming clean-energy solicitation for 1,200 megawatts of base load hydropower and onshore wind, according to the statement. Legislation approved by the Massachusetts Legislature last year requires the state to solicit long-term contracts of up to 20 years to procure 1,200 megawatts of hydropower or other renewable resources, and 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power.

TDI is developing another project, the $2.2 billion Champlain Hudson Power Express, which would bring up to 1,000 megawatts of hydropower to the New York City metropolitan area. As proposed, the line would be buried along railroad right-of-ways and under waterways, including Lake Champlain and parts of the Hudson River.

Cuomo’s address on Monday, which was held at the World Trade Center in New York City, was one of six planned State of the State speeches that the governor will deliver across New York this week.

You can watch Monday’s address here.

ERC states remain among the most healthy, but lots of room for improvement

The latest America’s Health Rankings finds that overall residents of the CSG-ERC region are generally healthier than other states. While Hawaii was the healthiest state, Massachusetts and Connecticut were numbers 2 and 3, respectively. Among ERC states, only Delaware (#31) and Pennsylvania (#28) were below the US overall average. The rankings are based on 34 health measures such as air pollution, childhood immunizations and drug deaths. Strengths and challenges varied widely between ERC states. Lots to be proud of, but room for improvement as well.

  2016 ranking 2015 ranking
CT 3 6
DE 31 32
ME 22 15
MD 18 18
MA 2 3
NH 6 5
NJ 9 11
NY 13 13
PA 28 29
RI 14 14
VT 5 2

Benefits of State Clean Energy Mandates Outweigh Costs, Federal Report Finds

The costs associated with implementing state renewable-energy standards between now and mid-century will be far outweighed by the benefits to public health and the environment, a new federal report finds.

The report was released jointly by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is the third in a series of federal studies assessing state clean-energy policies.

Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require utilities to derive an increasing share of power from clean-energy sources over time.

These policies have been a key driver for the growth of non-fossil-fuel generation, and have been responsible for more than half of all renewable capacity additions since 2000, according to the study. (Other drivers include federal tax credits and other state policies.)

Electricity from solar, wind, hydroelectric power and other renewable sources comprised about 14% of U.S. electricity generation in 2015. As the policies currently stand, most states are expected to reach their maximum targets for renewable generation between 2020 and 2025, though eight states have targets that increase until 2030 or beyond.  

In recent years, many states have raised their RPS requirements, with seven states raising and extending them in 2015 and 2016 alone, and one state—Vermont—enacting a new RPS. There have also been efforts in a number of states to repeal or freeze existing RPS policies. In late December, Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed legislation that would have effectively extended a freeze on that state’s RPS that had been in effect for two years.

The report notes that officials in some states will likely look to expand and strengthen state RPS programs in the coming years, while efforts to repeal or freeze existing policies may persist in other states.

Quantifying Future Benefits

The new analysis seeks answers to two questions not covered by the previous reports: What are the potential future costs, benefits, and impacts of renewables used to meet state RPS programs from 2015-2050, as they are currently structured? And, how would the costs and benefits change with greater levels of renewable deployment?

The study considers two different scenarios: an “existing RPS” scenario, in which renewable energy requirements continue to grow based on current state RPS policies as of July 2016; and a “high RPS” scenario, in which most states adopt relatively aggressive targets in the coming years. Those two scenarios are measured against a hypothetical baseline which assumes no further growth in RPS requirements beyond 2015.

Under the “existing RPS” analysis, renewables will account for 26% of total U.S. electricity generation by 2030 and 40% by 2050, compared with the baseline scenario of 21% by 2030 and 34% by 2050.

In the “high RPS” analysis, renewables reach 35% of total electricity generation by 2030 and 49% by 2050.

In both the “existing RPS” and “high RPS” scenarios, fossil-fuel generation declines, compared with the baseline. This leads to lower quantities of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulates spewing from smokestacks, which in turn improves air quality and avoids premature deaths from pollution. Less fossil-fuel generation also lowers greenhouse-gas emissions and reduces electricity-sector water use.

The researchers estimate that the monetary benefits associated with these public health and environmental improvements will exceed the costs of greater penetration of renewable generation in the nation’s electricity system, “even when considering the highest cost and lowest benefit outcomes.”

For example, in the “existing RPS” scenario, incremental electricity-system costs range from plus or minus $31 billion during 2015-2050, while the air-quality benefit is estimated at $97 billion. During that same period, life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions fall by 6%, which lead to $160 billion in global benefits.

This translates to a levelized, high-end cost of 0.75¢ per kilowatt-hour of electricity, which is outweighed by air pollution and health benefits of at least 1.2¢ per kilowatt-hour, and greenhouse-gas-reduction benefits totaling at least 0.9¢ per kilowatt-hour.

For the “high” renewable energy scenario, estimated incremental electricity-system costs range from $23 billion to $194 billion from 2015-2050, while air-quality benefits are estimated at $558 billion.  Cumulative life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions decrease by 23%, resulting in $599 billion of global benefits.

This translates to a levelized, high-end electricity cost of 1.5¢ per kilowatt-hour, compared with air pollution and health benefits totaling at least 2.7¢ per kilowatt-hour, and greenhouse-gas-reduction benefits of at least 1.2¢ per kilowatt-hour.

Compared with the baseline scenario, water consumption falls in both analyses. By 2030, annual water consumption savings are equal to the water demands of 420,000 U.S. households under the “existing RPS” scenario, and to those of 1.9 million households in the “high RPS” scenario.

Both scenarios lead to more jobs in the renewable-energy sector and to a drop in demand for natural gas, though the study considers those impacts to be resource transfers rather than societal benefits – explaining, for example, that the rise in jobs will be offset by a decrease in employment in other economic sectors.

The authors mention a number of caveats and limitations in the scope of the study, which does not take into account recent changes in state renewable-energy policies since late summer. The analysis was completed before New York officials increased the state’s RPS last August to 50% by 2030, up from 29% by 2015, and prior to a vote among Michigan lawmakers last month to approve legislation expanding that state’s RPS to 35% by 2025. The report also notes that aside from state mandates, a variety of other policy and market forces may contribute to renewable-energy growth over the study’s horizon, and to the associated benefits.

You can read a fact sheet that details the report’s findings here.

ERC hospital Medicare hospital-acquired condition penalties getting worse

This year 176 hospitals in the CSG-ERC region will be penalized by Medicare for poor rates of Hospital-Acquired Conditions, potentially avoidable health problems, up by 30 from two years ago according to an analysis by Kaiser Health News. Fifty-three hospitals in the region have been penalized for each of the last three years, since the program began. Connecticut has the highest rate of hospitals penalized for all three years at 22.6%; Maryland, Vermont, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have had no hospitals penalized for all three years. The penalties are based on the rate of patients with conditions such as blood clots, falls or bed sores, and for the first time since beginning the quality program, Medicare included antibiotic-resistant infections in the calculations. The CDC estimates that 23,000 Americans die each year of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections they got in a hospital. Hospitals penalized this year will lose 1% of all Medicare payments for the year that began in October. A recent study found that a similar Medicare quality improvement program – the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program – improved performance in all but one state, especially among the lowest performing hospitals. In 2015 alone, nationally readmissions were reduced by 100,000 from 2010 levels.

 

Hospitals with avoidable complication penalties all three years
Penalized hospitals Total hospitals %
CT 7 31 22.6%
DE 1 7 14.3%
MA 6 64 9.4%
MD 0 49 0.0%
ME 2 33 6.1%
NH 2 20 10.0%
NJ 6 66 9.1%
NY 19 172 11.0%
PA 9 169 5.3%
PR 0 52 0.0%
RI 1 11 9.1%
VI 0 2 0.0%
VT 0 14 0.0%