Soap Box

Grading Trump's first two years

To the editor,

As an Independent, I provide the following evaluation of Trump’s first two years in office.

Positive accomplishments during the two years include: revised tax policy benefiting many Americans; elimination of some unnecessary or restrictive regulations; low unemployment; and funding the Department of Defense to $700-$750 billion.

During the first two years of Trump’s Presidency the following negative events transpired:

• Russia has made significant in-roads into Syria.

• President Erdogan of Turkey asked Trump if the U.S. could leave Syria, and Trump complied and unilaterally decided to pull our troops out of Syria. Trump, against the judgement of his generals, is drawing down our military in Afghanistan.

• The U.S. ceased military exercises with South Korea because Kim Jong Un asked Trump to do so. We are currently in a stalemate with North Korea concerning their denuclearization.

• We have alienated our allies in the world by pulling out of agreements and diluting our responsibilities in various international organizations.

• China has significantly expanded its outreach in the Far East & has developed strategic bases in the South China Sea. • We are in a trade war with China, and many states are losing billions of dollars in export revenue. China is a top importer of U.S. products.

• The stock market tanked in December 2018 with the worst December performance since 1931, and it continues to roil primarily due to the trade war with China, poor corporate profits, rising interest rates, the turmoil in the White House, and the government shutdown.

• Trump shut down the government and put 800,000 government workers out on the street because he wants to build a border wall that is very costly and might not solve the illegal immigration problem.

• Trump had the EPA weaken the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which will increase the pollution of our environment.

• Trump decreased the size of a number of national monuments in the U.S.

• Trump has lost about 25 key White House officials in his first two years, which is a record.

• Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign proceeded throughout 2018 and led to the prosecution of Lt. Gen. Flynn, National Security Adviser; Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager; and Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer.

• Trump’s deep character flaws, including but not limited to his obnoxiousness, insults, lying, attacks on our freedoms and not understanding the workings of our government, led to the Democratic victories in the midterm elections. The Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the governorships of the key states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. They also took control of the House and Senate in New Hampshire, my home state.

Based on my assessment of Trump’s first two years, I give him a D-. Mr. President, there is tremendous room for improvement in the new year.

– Donald Moskowitz, via e-mail

Shackled to a leaky Tri-State ship

To the editor,

On Dec. 10, 2018, La Plata Electric Association’s electricity provider Tri-State Generation & Transmission (TSG&T) sent well-groomed executives to Durango to reassure us rural folk about TSG&T’s massive $3.3B debt-load.

Repeatedly questioned for hours by LPEA’s CEO, Board Directors and members about their financial strategy, TSG&T’s four managers (with combined salaries around $2.5M) offered wit, eloquence and confidence. But they carefully skirted the details that we and the LPEA Board wanted. Painfully aware of our contractual bondage to TSG&T’s debt-load, we came away frustrated, with unanswered questions such as “What protects LPEA customers from the towering financial liability of TSG&T? From eventual rising rates needed to satisfy TSG&T’s massive debt? Or from outright financial failure?”

TSG&T’s business model apparently depends on about 20 megamillion-dollar debts totaling $3.3B. On most of these debts, TSG&T pays only the interest, deferring principal payments.

Let’s look closely at this. Imagine that you bought a $250M house for your family. You decide to pay interest only (at 5 percent, that would be $12.5M/year) for the term of 10 years, then you owe the full $250M on the 10th year. Good choice? Well, maybe, but if you want security for your family, save 1/10th of the principal ($25M) per year, then PAY OFF the debt. Make sense?

At the meeting, TSG&T did provide one specific example of its current debt handling: a $250M, 10-year debt that actually comes due in 2024. TSG&T pays only interest, and will therefore owe the full $250M in 2024. We LPEA members breathed a sigh of relief when TSG&T’s CFO reported saving $25M/year toward the debt. But on closer questioning, he admitted that those “savings” are then spent each year, “to avoid having to borrow another $25M.” Wait, what? Say that again?

Why would TSG&T suggest that they are saving $25M/year toward a $250M balloon payment, when in fact they spend all those “savings?” It turns out that for the majority of their loans, TSG&T has no apparent plans to EVER pay them off.

That means LPEA and other cooperatives’ members must pay debt interest amounting to about $150M/year, every year, indefinitely. So that’s one part of why our wholesale rates are higher than other regional utilities. Another is the high cost of coal-fired electricity itself, considerably higher than gas or renewable energy.

TSG&T sells electricity to 43 member cooperatives (including ours). What we cooperatives don’t purchase, TSG&T sells wholesale on the open market AT A CHEAPER PRICE than we member cooperatives pay. Why cheaper? Because since around 2010, open market prices (driven by renewables and gas prices) have been cheaper than our cooperative member price. TSG&T relies for survival on long-term contracts like ours – contracts that lock us in to pay whatever price TSG&T sets, until the year 2050. On the open market alone, TSG&T could not survive.

TSG&T blended wholesale rates to LPEA increased over 85 percent from 2002 ($39.14) to 2017 ($73.58) while other electricity source prices fell dramatically. By 2010, all market projections showed coal’s demise. Nonetheless, that year our LPEA Board made the tragic mistake of extending our costly contract with TSG&T until 2050. Capitalizing on our blind willingness to legally guarantee their debts, TSG&T was then able to convince bankers to refinance their debts well into the 2040’s.

In addition to blind-faith cooperative contracts like ours, TSG&T’s primary collateral when refinancing their staggering debt-load indefinitely is coal plants.

That brings up another glaringly obvious problem: coal’s plummeting asset value. Coal is the horse-and-buggy of today’s cheapening energy market. It turns out that digging, shipping and burning millions of tons of flammable rock is more expensive than plugging in panels, catching the wind, even fracking and piping gas. Who knew, huh?

Of 600 North American utility executives surveyed in 2017, ( SEU_2017.pdf), 52 percent expect coal generation to decrease significantly. and another 27 percent expected it to decrease moderately, replaced largely with solar and wind resources.

It’s already happening. Over 200 coal plants have been shuttered since 2010, many fully functional, and coal con-

sumed for electricity nationwide fell over 32 percent since 2010 That’s good news for America’s skies, climate and lungs.

But not for LPEA. TSG&T (the worst emitter of CO2/ MWh of the 100 top domestic electricity producers sults_2018.pdf) plans only cosmetic changes to its coal-heavy generation portfolio. Remember, we LPEA members are bound by contract to pay whatever rate hikes TSG&T demands.

And TSG&T has no Plan B for its eternal loans. Come 2024, what happens if no one refinances TSG&T’s first quarter-billion loan? Or the following one?

– Kirby MacLaurin, Durango

Homeless commentary hits home

To the editor,

I just wanted to thank Sarah Rankin for her lovely piece on the homeless (“La Vida Local,” Jan. 3). It was a beautifully written and thoughtful commentary, and should be required reading for every citizen of Durango. Her son sounds like a great little guy, too.

– Jane Dunn, Durango

Trump's great American lies

To the editor,

We are now in a government shutdown, and Trump said, “Good, I’m having my New Year’s party in Florida, and you taxpayers are paying for my tents at a cost of $54,000. Thanks so much. But what a party it will be.”

I would like to mention that the POTUS has stated he is proud to be American and wants to make America great again ... whatever that means. America has always been great. Just ask our migrants who have come to our shores.

Trump in his mind has made America great again by doing the following:

• Hanging around criminals starting with his lawyer, Cohen; Flynn; Manafort and others. Chumming up to dictators and leaders from Russia, Turkey, Syria, China, North Korea, Phillipines while insulting NATO and putting strains on Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France and all in NATO;

• Using his foundation to pay for his own oil painting to hang in his own property from moneys given to him by GOP supporters. Are you one? The state of New York is checking on this as a crime run by his daughter and family with no board meetings for 19 years.

• Trump has lied to the American people over 5,000 times and just lately to the military on their pay raise stating they received only one in the last 10 years. A big, big lie. He has proven he knows more than the generals – five have left in two years.

• The emolument clause means nothing to him. All staff stay at Mar-a-Lago. You pay for their rooms, the money goes in his pocket.

• Trump said Mexcio is going to pay for the wall.

America is great, that’s why you don’t leave. I hope you have a great 2019, but read the paper and not fake news.

– Bob Battani, Durango

Hemp a growing opportunity

To the editor,

In 2013, I received a call from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking me, as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to support a pilot program to allow farmers to grow hemp. Knowing Colorado farmers’ interest in the crop, I jumped at the chance and pushed to include the program in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Over the next four years, Colorado’s hemp industry boomed. From 2014-18, our hemp cultivation increased six-fold. As the industry grew, I visited hemp businesses and farms across our state, including stops at State Sen. Don Coram’s operation in Montrose and at Colorado Cultivars in Eaton. Each visit underscored the crop’s versatility and potential. Coloradans were turning hemp into clothing, food and animal feed. They were making plastics and CBD oils for pain and inflammation. In short, they were turning this new crop, which is well suited for our arid climate, into a welcome source of income.

But as Colorado’s hemp businesses have continued to grow, they have run into obstacles from Washington. Our farmers are worried about maintaining access to their water. They are unable to buy crop insurance or transport seeds. Some have encountered red tape opening a bank account or applying for federal grants.

In response, Coloradans have taken action. When the state passed a law to protect water access for hemp growers, our office followed the lead and introduced similar legislation in Congress. We pressed the Obama administration to make federal resources available to hemp growers. More recently, we pushed the Trump administration to help them access banking services. Last spring, we introduced a bill to legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity.

We had a breakthrough this year when the Senate Agriculture Committee adopted our language to legalize hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill. Now that we’ve passed the Farm Bill, and the President has signed it into law, hemp cultivation is fully legal for the first time in 50 years. That means less uncertainty and more opportunity for hemp farmers, small businesses and manufacturers.

In the years since McConnell’s call, I’ve learned more about hemp than I ever expected. More than anything, it’s given me the opportunity to see more of our state’s boundless creativity, determination and entrepreneurship. In the face of barriers and uncertainty, Coloradans have led the country in demonstrating hemp’s potential. If we continue to curb Washington’s influence, there’s no limit to what our state can achieve.

– Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.