Friday, November 30, 2012

State issues revised fracking regulations

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 8:48 AM

Yesterday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released a revised version of its proposed regulations for high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

The DEC released the regs late in the day, and many of the folks who've been studying the regulations haven't yet commented or shared their impressions. But some environmental groups and fracking critics have rung in, and they're not happy. They say the DEC should've waited for the results of a state study on the potential health impacts of fracking.

"What needs to be made clear is what DEC did yesterday [Wednesday] was to file a completely revised set of fracking regulations without the benefit of vital health and environmental impact information," said a statement from the environmental group Riverkeeper. "These regulations will be open for public comment for only 30 days beginning on December 12. Neither the health nor environmental study will be completed before public comment on the revised regulations closes. This is not a request for an extension; this is the fracking regulation train leaving the station."

In its statement, Riverkeeper also said that if the governor truly intended to let science guide the fracking review regulatory process, he would have let the proposed regulations expire.

The DEC is accepting comments on the revised rules through 5 p.m. on January 11.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

'Susan B. Anthony' fights to save church

Posted By on Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 10:22 AM

A letter from the activist using the name "Susan B. Anthony" follows this blog.

The fate of a historic West Main Street church is one of the bigger stories in Rochester right now. One notable Rochesterian deems it sufficiently critical to interrupt her eternal rest.

“Susan B. Anthony” is the force behind an online petition drive to save the church. And if my inbox is any indication, hundreds have answered Anthony’s call.

The church in question is just outside the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood in southwest Rochester. There’s been a lot of revitalization work in that area — check out Anthony’s Madison Street sometime, it’s gorgeous — and many people say replacing the church with a proposed Dollar General would be like giving a supermodel a black eye.

The city’s Zoning Board is discussing the Dollar General proposal this morning, and it sounds like they have a lot of questions. A decision isn’t expected for a while.

I don’t know who’s behind the Anthony persona, but he or she is playing it to the hilt, even closing letters with the well-known Anthony line, “Failure is impossible.”

“I fully admit that what I say in the guise of Susan B. Anthony does not matter. What matters is the statements made by all of the people who have signed petitions on behalf of saving this building and the community that this building resides in. Please accept this petition and thoughtfully consider the demolition or salvation of this building and realize that whatever decision you make affects this building only and will not serve as a litmus test for other preservation efforts in the future,” says an excerpt from a letter that “Anthony” wrote to a city official.

I guess we’ll see how much pull the Anthony name still has around here.

Anthony letter:

I first found out about the 660 West Main Street church like most people in the community did. Three to four months ago the church story hit the news and I was intrigued. I'm not a preservationist, but I have a long history of living in the area. I personally can trace back my ancestors to this area by three or four generations. I am proud of Rochester and the role that its played in my life. When the initial news articles ran I knew that the community members trying to preserve the church would not succeed on their own. The news coverage was not sustained enough and there was not the public reaction to it that was necessary to save the building.

I also knew that no one would listen to me. At least noone that would help push my agenda forward. I work with the news media on an almost daily basis in real life and when you are acting in your own self interest reporters can be rather cold to you. So I knew that I had to do something different. I had to become a symbol; someone who would scare and intrigue people. I chose Susan B. Anthony because of the proximity the church was to her home. Also, and this has not been widely reported, the church chapel was built in 1959 only a couple years after Susan B. Anthony arrived in Rochester. So I thought it was rather poignant to have Ms. Anthony fight for this building.

Within thirty minutes of using her identity I knew I was on the right path. With the twitter account I began friending people in the media who would be intrigued by my efforts and the rest is history.

We as a culture think that social media is the great democracy of our society. It is not. If I had contacted people with my real identity no one would listen to me even though my cause is just. I would be cast aside. Several years ago I contacted the media when Emily Good was arrested for filming the police. Not one of the journalists I contacted ran with the story. If they did they would have broken a major news story that would have far reaching implications. Only when the story took on a life of its own did people take notice. They didn't trust the real me because I was seen as a blowhard with an opinion and she was an activist who was asking for it.

So now I use the symbol of Susan B. Anthony to fight my causes. This is just the beginning. I have gotten people's attention and I aim to use it in a way that benefits the people of Rochester. The twitter feed, Facebook account and petitions will be used in the future to promote causes that I feel strongly about — often causes that the media at large chooses not to write about and we will see together how far it goes.

In regards to this instance, the SBA neighborhood deserves better, we as a people deserve better and this is why I am fighting their cause. If we can allow this sort of conduct in our most historic and sacred places then how are we expected to protect the rest of Rochester???

Susan B. Anthony
"Failure is Impossible"

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Vatican squanders its power

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 1:37 PM

The Vatican’s decision to excommunicate the Rev. Roy Bourgeois from the Roman Catholic Church and to dismiss him from Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers is senseless and heavy-handed.

Bourgeois wasn’t defrocked because he committed some immoral or illegal act; he was pushed out because of his outspoken support for the ordination of women priests.

His crime was questioning the Vatican’s authority. Worse, he challenged the church's interpretation of Jesus’s teachings. Many Catholics support the Vatican’s position, which doesn’t permit women to become priests. They take an orthodox view and they don’t want to see the church change.

But the society that the Catholic Church served a 1,000 or even 500 years ago isn’t the same society we live in today. And the spiritual needs of all Catholics aren’t the same, either.

Bourgeois recognizes this, as do many other Catholics. Allowing women to become priests would not destroy or diminish the Catholic Church in any way. But honoring hypocrisy will.

Bourgeois was in Rochester yesterday for the showing of “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” at the Cinema Theater. I had the opportunity to speak with him this morning, before he returned to Atlanta. He was obviously shaken by the announcement from Maryknoll and still grieving.

But what struck me most about the brief conversation is his compassion and his capacity for forgiveness. The Vatican hasn’t silenced Bourgeois, and it hasn't ended the controversy over the ordination of women.

At best, it’s made an old priest’s life harder.

For many Catholics, however, the Vatican’s decision validated Bourgeois’s concern: the church’s treatment of women is shameful.

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[UPDATED] Democrats criticize snowplowing fee

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 10:06 AM

UPDATE, Wednesday, November 28, 1:45 p.m.

From county spokesperson Justin Feasel:

“The 2013 Budget holds the property tax rate stable for a 9th consecutive year and protects vital funding for snow and ice removal. Instead of addressing the root cause, unfunded State mandates, Legislature Democrats are attacking the County’s solution to best serve the traveling public while simultaneously protecting local taxpayers. Their partisan attacks ring especially hollow considering this is a group that votes against flat property taxes each and every year.”


Democrats in the Monroe County Legislature are criticizing a new "snow tax" that they say was hidden in County Executive Maggie Brooks' 2013 budget proposal.

At issue is funding for plowing county roads. By law, the county is responsible for snow and ice removal on its roads, though it contracts out to towns to do the job. This year, the county is budgeting approximately $5.3 million for snow and ice control, about $27,000 more than it budgeted in 2012.

But cost isn't the issue: it's how the county plans to pay for it. In previous years, the money came from the property tax levy, just as funding for many county services and programs does. This year, the county is implementing a chargeback — essentially a fee based on a service provided to some communities — to cover the cost of the contracts. Property owners in the towns will pay $15 per $100,000 assessed value to cover the cost of plowing county roads in their towns. The move will not affect city property owners, since the city plows its own streets. (It should be noted that the county is still negotiating contracts with the towns.)

During a press conference this morning, Democratic Legislator Josh Bauroth said the chargeback, combined with others the county has implemented over the years, will results in higher tax bills for suburban residents.

An administration representative said officials will send out a written response to Democrats' criticisms.

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DEC to extend fracking review

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 9:48 AM

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is making a move that should prevent it from having to redo its proposed high-volume hydraulic fracturing regulations.

The department faces a November 29 deadline for approving the proposed regulations, which it introduced in 2011. But the state is still conducting an environmental review of fracking in shale formations, and a health impacts review has just started. That review will be conducted by Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, with the assistance of a panel of experts.

The state was set to miss the deadline, so it is asking for a 90-day extension "to continue to work as Dr. Shah’s health review of the SGEIS comes to completion," department spokesperson Emily DeSantis said in an email.

Once revised draft regulations are issued, they'll be subject to a 30-day comment period, DeSantis says.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CEOs fight for entitlements

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Much was made of the war on women during the 2012 presidential campaign. But now that the election is over, a second war has begun. And it looks like this one will be waged against the poor and elderly.

Congress and the Obama administration are trying to reach an agreement on how to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” Both parties and their allies are arguing about tax rates and eliminating loopholes to find revenue.

But don’t worry; a group of the country’s top CEOs have a solution they’re going to try to sell you. The CEOs, some of the biggest names in US industries, are spending millions launching the “Campaign to Fix the Debt,” according to a column by Christina Wilkie and Ryan Grim for the Huffington Post. And their recommendation is predictably simple: cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The CEO’s, however, don’t think they should have to pay higher tax rates. And they’re fine with being at the receiving end of government entitlements for their enterprises.

“Many of the companies recommending austerity would be out of business without the heavy federal support they get, including Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase, which both received billions in direct bailout cash, plus billions more indirectly through AIG and other companies taxpayers rescued,” according to Wilkie and Ryan.

And for those who insist government doesn’t create jobs, many of these CEOs are lobbying hard against cuts to defense spending. Those big government contracts are bread and butter to companies like GE, Boeing, and Honeywell.

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Sports commission in line for funding bump

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 9:42 AM

Next year, Monroe County will host two high-profile professional golf events. And partly because of that, the county is bumping up funding for a non-profit that promotes local sports events.

The proposed 2013 county budget includes a substantial funding increase for the Monroe County Sports Development Corporation. Under the proposal, it would receive $207,500 in hotel-motel tax funds. That would be an increase from the $82,500 it received under the 2011 and 2012 budgets.

The increase is due to the corporation's success in bringing in sporting events, county Chief Financial Officer Scott Adair said during a Legislature committee meeting last night.

The pro golf events, however, will draw a lot of visitors to Monroe County. The extra funding will be used to take advantage of that influx and to promote Rochester and Monroe County as a sports destination, says county spokesperson Justin Feasel.

The Democrat and Chronicle reports that the corporation also receives $400,000 in grants from the Greater Rochester Visitors Association and the Greater Rochester Sports Authority. Both of those organizations also receive hotel-motel tax revenues.

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A little County Legislature humor

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 9:10 AM

During his state Senate campaign, Democrat Ted O'Brien stressed the need to relieve local governments of some burdens imposed by the state. So he had to have expected some post-election joking when he returned to the Monroe County Legislature for a committee meeting last night. (O'Brien, a Democrat, doesn't take his seat in the Senate until January. He still serves on the County Legislature.)

The Brooks administration says that unfunded mandates play a key role in driving up the size of the county budget. During a committee meeting last night, O'Brien asked why the county would pay more for some court security costs in the 2013 proposal. County Chief Financial Officer Scott Adair said it's because the state is no longer reimbursing the county for some court security personnel costs, including some retiree benefits.

O'Brien asked if there was anything the county could do to combat that, also noting that he was probably going to regret posing that question.

"We're hoping January 1 you'll be able to help us with that," Adair said, earning a few laughs from both sides of the aisle.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

[UPDATED] Week ahead: County budget meetings, West Main Street church discussion

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 11:08 AM

Monroe County Legislature committees start discussing County Executive Maggie Brooks’ 2013 budget proposal today.

Today’s schedule: Agenda/Charter, 5 p.m., Planning and Economic Development, 5:30; Public Safety Committee, 6. Tuesday: Recreation and Education, 5 p.m.; Transportation, 5:30; Human Services, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Environment and Public Works, 5 p.m.; Intergovernmental Relations, 5:30. Legislators typically ask a lot of questions during the Human Services Committee meeting; that committee oversees some of the largest areas of the budget.

The final committee meeting, by Ways and Means, is next week, at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 6. That’s the annual public hearing on the county budget, and it’s generally where legislators do the heaviest questioning.

Brooks has proposed a $1.2 billion budget. It keeps the tax rate flat at $8.99 per $1,000 assessed value, but raises zoo admission by $1 and raises the amount taxpayers are charged to fund Monroe Community College.

Under the budget, 20 county positions would be eliminated; most of them are vacant. Jeremy Moule

The Rochester Zoning Board meets on Thursday to consider the fate of a historic church on West Main Street. A decision is not expected for about a month, however.

Marvin Maye, owner of the former Westminster Presbyterian Church at 660 West Main, wants to tear down the building and an adjoining house to build a Dollar General store and two additional commercial units on the site. But some neighbors and neighborhood groups say the store would not fit with the revitalization going on in that area of West Main, which borders the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood and Bulls Head in southwest Rochester. They want to find a new use for the church, such as for an indoor mall or west-side performance space.

Preservation Board members offered comments on the proposal at a meeting a few weeks ago, unanimously agreeing that a Dollar General would be a poor fit. But the board’s recommendation is not binding. It is meant as guidance for the Zoning Board, which decides whether the building can be demolished.

Thursday’s meeting is at 9:30 a.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street. It’s open to the public. Christine Carrie Fien

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Will economic decline stop with the middle class?

Posted By on Fri, Nov 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM

Even before the Great Recession hit in 2007, the middle class was getting squeezed. Business and political leaders have been portraying globalization as the Grim Reaper of US manufacturing jobs for years. And job losses that couldn’t be attributed to globalization were blamed on advances in technology.

But Hedrick Smith says that globalization and technology are not responsible for America’s shrinking middle class. The decline was caused by a change in political forces, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter writes in his new book, “Who Stole the American Dream?”

Smith says businesses organized a rebellion against the Nixon administration’s intense regulatory climate in the late 1970’s. Arming themselves with battalions of lawyers, accountants, and lobbyists, corporations launched an assault on Washington law makers. And over time their strategy graduated from peddling influence to authoring key provisions of laws that go before Congress.

Some of Smith’s main points are familiar themes: stagnating worker wages as CEO salaries have skyrocketed, the tilt of power in Washington to K Street lobbyists, and a tax structure that benefits the rich and corporations.

But what Smith does well is expose how the US economy has gone through less of a downturn and more of a planned shift. The economy is not at the mercy of unpredictable forces, says Smith, but the result of decisions made at the highest levels of government in collaboration with corporate leaders.

We already know that many companies have shed any pretense of concern for the welfare of their workers. But what’s most troubling to Smith is the increasing indifference to what’s good for the country.

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