Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Monday, September 18, 2017
A coalition of environmentalists, clergy and solar and wind energy companies launched a campaign Wednesday calling for half of Maryland's electricity to come from renewable sources.
That would double a policy adopted last year requiring that renewable energy account for 25 percent of the state’s electricity portfolio by 2020. The new campaign is setting a target of 2030.
“We cannot wait another moment to begin bringing about the clean-energy future we need,” said Brooke Harper, Maryland and District of Columbia policy director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
The campaign is casting the state’s renewable energy mandate as a tool to create “green” jobs, particularly in economically depressed communities and among women and people of color. Among the groups endorsing what has been dubbed the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative are branches of the NAACP from across the state, Interfaith Power and Light, SEIU 1199 and the Maryland-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association.
They are also stressing it as a way to promote environmental justice.
“For too long here in Maryland’s communities of color, our children and our elders have paid for dirty energy with their health,” said Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.
The policy does not require utilities to buy renewable power, but it mandates that they buy certificates that each represent a megawatt of renewable power. Utilities like Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and retail electricity sellers are required to buy enough of the credits to equal a set and growing percentage of their power supply — 15.6 percent in 2017 — or pay a penalty.
The certificates cost Maryland electricity ratepayers $126.7 million in 2015, according to the state Public Service Commission.
The 25 percent goal became law last year when when the Democratic-controlled General Assembly voted to override a veto by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The legislature had passed it the year before, but the governor rejected it, deriding the measure as a “sunshine tax.”
That suggests another difficult political fight ahead in Annapolis.
Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said the coalition is prepared for that.
“We have a lot of momentum,” she said. That is especially true coming off a stretch of natural disasters “where you see the impacts of climate change,” she said.
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, did not respond to questions about the governor’s position on the proposal. She said he “strongly supports efforts to combat climate change,” including statewide greenhouse gas reduction goals, Maryland’s participation in a regional cap-and-trade system for Northeast power plants’ carbon emissions, and incentives for use of electric vehicles.
No lawmakers attended an event marking the launch of the campaign Wednesday in Charles Village. Del. Bill Frick, a Democrat from Montgomery County, plans to sponsor the bill in the House; Harper said the campaign is still working to line up a sponsor in the state Senate.
Del. Shane Robinson, another Montgomery Democrat, said he meanwhile plans to push a bill that would move the state to getting 100 percent of its power from solar, wind and geothermal generation.
Those sources combined for just 27 percent of the state’s renewable energy supply in 2015. The bulk of ratepayer subsidies go to trash incinerators, hydroelectric dams and paper mills, which burn a byproduct known as black liquor.
He called the 50 percent renewable energy goal “laudable,” but said Maryland is too small for its policy to make a meaningful impact on global climate change — unless it adopts a policy so aggressive it prompts other states to follow suit.
“If we can get other states and then other countries to act more quickly because of actions we take here, that’s how Maryland has an impact on climate change,” he said.
Harper said while the campaign’s bill and Robinson’s bill may appear to be competing, “we all have the same goal of getting Maryland to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.” She called the 50 percent goal “a critical benchmark and step” to getting there.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
In an interview released Tuesday, Hillary Clinton called President Trump a danger to America.
Clinton was asked on the “Pod Save America” podcast about the Democratic Party’s messaging and whether, going forward, Democrats should focus on promoting their economic agenda or drill down on opposing President Trump.
Clinton seemed to admit her campaign struggled with that balance, lamenting that her policy proposals were “just not competitive with the reality TV show” her general-election opponent provided.
“And we tried so many different ways to break through that,” Clinton continued. “And we did, of course, advertise what we saw as the threats that Trump posed to the country.”
She continued: “Because frankly, we thought — and I still believe — he’s a clear and present danger to America. And I would have been less than responsible if I didn’t talk about that. But we tried to do both, we tried to make the case for both, and I’d be the first to tell you, it was difficult to break through.”
Later, Clinton reiterated the “danger” she said Trump poses, saying, “I think Trump, left to his own devices, unchecked, would become even more authoritarian than he has tried to be.”
Clinton largely receded from public life after her stunning election loss, but she is set to participate in a round of interviews in conjunction with the release of “What Happened,” her election memoir. The tome officially went on sale Tuesday, but a number of excerpts have already made waves.
In both the book and in the “Pod Save America” interview, Clinton also took a number of digs at her primary foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
In “What Happened,” Clinton charges Sanders with “impugning my character,” thereby inflicting “lasting damage” and “making it harder to unify progressives” in the general election.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
THE PRESIDENT Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization. Now, let’s be clear — this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is –
THE PRESIDENT: — the right thing to do.
Q — foreigners over American workers.
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, sir. It’s not time for questions, sir.
Q No, you have to take questions.
THE PRESIDENT: Not while I’m speaking. Precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act.
President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of immigration programs and Congress’ refusal to lift a cap on work visas meant many seasonal businesses had to hire American this summer — and pay their workers more.
That's good news for Trump, for U.S. workers, and for supporters of Trump's “American First” agenda, but business groups complain that increased spending on wages will ultimately cost jobs and sap company profits. Across the country, enterprises ranging from oyster shuckers to landscapers say they were forced to give up contracts and forgo revenue because they just couldn’t find enough workers to do the jobs this summer.
"There were a lot of businesses that lost a lot of revenue,” said Laurie Flanagan, co-chair of the H-2B Workforce Coalition, a lobbying group with a membership that includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Trump has blasted programs that allow foreign guest workers to take jobs in the U.S. legally. “Widespread abuse in our immigration system is allowing American workers of all backgrounds to be replaced by workers brought in from other countries to fill the same job for sometimes less pay,” he told workers in Wisconsin in April. “This will stop.”
The Trump administration hasn't moved specifically against the visas for summer workers — known as H-2Bs. His own companies use H-2B workers, especially at his Mar-a-Lago resort, which recently requested H-2B visas for 70 cooks, housekeepers and servers to start in October. But an executive order that Trump signed in April put the federal government on notice that he intended to tighten restrictions on guest-worker visas, and created a chilling effect.
The U.S. had 66,000 slots this year for foreign workers to staff non-agricultural seasonal businesses — landscapers, hotels and seafood processors among them. By March, these slots were all filled. In previous years, Congress often dealt with such shortages by extending the guest workers' H-2B visas. But this year Congress ignored employers’ pleas, putting the decision in the hands of the administration. In response, the Department of Homeland Security added 15,000 visas in what then-DHS Secretary John Kelly called a "one-time increase." Even that somewhat grudging gesture didn't occur until mid-July, when nearly one-third of summer was already past.
The Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit, a seaside village in southeastern Maine, didn’t receive the eight H-2B visas it requested to supplement its summer housekeeping staff. To make ends meet, owner Sarah Diment recruited college kids through her Facebook network and cobbled together part-time shifts, some filled by American students and some by foreign students here on cultural exchange visas. In the past year, Diment estimates she had to boost housekeeping wages roughly 10 percent to keep employees.
Diment could continue to increase wages, but the higher staffing costs, she says, would make it difficult to keep the business open year-round. “Raising wages is good in theory, until you put it into practice,” she said.
North American Midway Entertainment, a large traveling-amusement-park company headquartered in Indiana, requested roughly 400 H-2B workers this year, a quarter of its total seasonal workforce. But the Department of Homeland Security reached its 66,000-visa cap before the company could secure the guest workers. Company President Danny Huston said he had to skip three fairs and contract out some ride operations because of the visa shortage. In total, he estimates that North American Midway may have lost as much as $800,000.
But the company was able to cover about one-third of the vacancies by hiring American through job fairs, newspaper advertisements, and social media. "We even set up a job fair in Puerto Rico," Huston said.
Other employers say hiring American just isn't an option.
Michael Martin owns a Maryland-based landscaping company. Roughly 40 percent of his workers — and the majority of those performing manual labor — hold H-2B visas, he told POLITICO. Martin received his H-2B workers on time this year, but he knows other landscapers who didn't, and lost clients as a result. "It affects people, their bottom line," he said, "whether they’re still in business, whether they’re going to make it next year."
The H-2B program requires employers to first seek out U.S. workers before they bring in guest workers. But Americans, Martin says, just won’t take landscaping jobs. He paid $2,500 for a two-week want ad that ran in the Baltimore Sun (print and online) and on social media. The jobs Martin was advertising paid more than $14 an hour, slightly above the average wage for the job in his area. Even so, he got no applicants. “No parents in Maryland are raising their kids to swing a pickax,” Martin said.
Not everyone agrees with that view. Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, said the recruitment standards for the H-2B program aren't sufficient to give U.S. workers a real crack at the job.
“The requirements aren’t that onerous, and the DOL isn’t really checking all that much,” Costa said. H-2B employers are required to offer a so-called prevailing wage — defined as the average wage paid to people in a similar role in the same area — but Costa said the benchmark should be higher. A rider inserted in a 2016 spending bill, and re-upped again this year, allowed employers to use their own private wage surveys rather than Labor Department data to calculate prevailing wages. “There’s always some sort of loophole,” Costa said.
If H-2B workers had skills that were hard to find in the U.S., one might expect H-2B wages to be rising faster than those of other workers. But in a recent report, Costa found the opposite: Wage growth over the past decade in nine of the top 10 H-2B occupations was slower than wage growth for all workers, and some occupations actually lost ground. (Waiters and waitresses were the exception, with 20 percent wage growth from 2004 to 2016.)
Some employers say they can't raise wages substantially without pricing their products out of the market. Raz Halili is an owner of Prestige Oysters, a seafood processing outfit with operations in Louisiana and South Texas. He says he lost $3.5 million in sales this year because he got only one-third of the 150 H-2B workers he needed to shuck oysters. Prestige Oysters posted the H-2B worker positions at $9.64 an hour, according to data provided to the Labor Department. That's $2.39 above the state minimum wage, but $2.63 below the national 2016 average hourly wage for “meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers,” according to EPI.
“You raise wages, and then you raise the prices of your crab meat,” says Jack Brooks, president of Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association. Customers will pay more for domestic crab meat, he says, but if the price goes high enough, they’ll buy from "the guy down the street who’s using Chinese crab meat.”
EPI’s Costa disagrees with that logic. “It’s true that you can only raise [wages] so high,” he said. “I’m not saying that you should be paying $30 to $40 to people picking crabs.” But more modest increases — from $9 to $12 an hour, for instance — could bear different results, he said. “If you don’t have a business model that requires you to pay a decent wage," Costa said, "then you have to think about your business model."
One reason guest-worker wages tend to be low, quite apart from questions about the scarcity of their skills, is that the workers are by definition vulnerable as temporary guests of the U.S. government. “This is a controllable and compliant workforce,” said Art Read, general counsel with Philadelphia-based Friends of Farmworkers. “A U.S. worker with a family may miss a day of work.”
But many employers say the jobs that H-2B workers perform are so miserable that few Americans would take them, even at substantially higher pay. Of oyster shucking, Prestige Oyster's Halili says, "It’s a dirty, gritty job that most people just don’t want to do. They’ll do it for a few days or they’ll do it for a week, and then they just won’t show up.”
Meanwhile, despite the high demand, the 15,000 H-2B visas that DHS added to the pile in August are not yet exhausted — a bit of a surprise given the intense lobbying efforts by business groups and members of Congress. The H-2B Workforce Coalition's Flanagan chalks it up to how late in the fiscal year the visas were made available.
“I think that it’s the timing,” she said. “It would have been a different story if we saw visas released earlier in the process.”
Thursday, August 31, 2017
The other day we talked about a meeting being called by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to discuss the skyrocketing murder rate and gang violence problem in Baltimore. That discussion focused on the fact that a panel of judges invited to the meeting had declined to attend. The meeting went forward without them as planned and produced some proposals to address the city’s problems, at least one of which is definitely worth a closer look.
What Governor Hogan is focusing on is the relatively light sentences that persons convicted of gun crimes receive, many of whom do no time in jail at all. And those who are sentenced to prison frequently wind up doing only a small fraction of the time. The Governor is asking for some “truth in sentencing” which will ensure that criminals know that the city is serious and that they will pay a steep price for their crimes. (Baltimore Sun)