Soap Box

Searching for straight answers
01/24/2019

To the editor,

Good infrastructure – roads, sidewalks, facilities – is an essential foundation of any great community. And every city has a responsibility to its community members to be transparent, accountable, strategic and forward thinking with its resources. As our City Council considers whether to put another tax measure on the April ballot, I would suggest the following information be provided, preferably in a public forum that is videotaped and shared on Durango’s website. By answering these questions, the Council will get greater buy-in from citizens.

1. How does Durango’s budget compare with other towns of our size? If our budget is higher, explain what additional services we provide that are not covered in other towns’ budgets.

2. Why does our budget not have sufficient funds for infrastructure maintenance? What big ticket items had to be prioritized for funding resulting in this situation?

3. What has been cut from the budget as a means of beginning to address infrastructure needs?

4. If an increase in sales tax is not proposed, or not approved, which City programs and services will be reduced or eliminated to address infrastructure needs?

5. What capital or other significant improvements need to be addressed in the next 10 years and how are we planning for those costs?

Finally, I’d like to recognize the City Council for its service. We all want Durango to be a great place to live, and I appreciate your willingness to engage with us in finding a solution to this budget challenge. Thank you.

– Barbara Noseworthy, Durango

Gov. Polis leads on electric vehicles
01/24/2019

To the editor,

Thank you, Gov. Polis for making one of your first actions as governor to address clean air and climate change in Colorado. Supporting the transition to electric vehicles will save Coloradans money and allow us to breathe easier. The lifetime cost of ownership for electric vehicles is already less than that of internal combustion engine
cars. Electric vehicles provide huge reductions in harmful greenhouse gas emissions, including a 99 percent reduction in volatile organic compounds, compared to a gasoline car. Luckily, all of the world’s major automakers have committed to transitioning to many more EV offerings within the next five to 10 years. Three innovative American companies are currently working to bring electric trucks to market by 2020.

Anyone who doubts the power and road-handling capability of an EV need only drive one. I am very satisfied with the performance of mine. Many think they are expensive, but just like a traditional car, it depends on your choice. Buying a used EV was a great option for me, as they are forecast to last 500,000 to 1 million miles (depending on the model), longer than my life span! Used EV’s don’t qualify for the tax credit (up to $5,000 from the state and $12,500 from the feds), but the price was about one-third the cost of a new EV.

Despite the lack of leadership in Washington, Polis’ leadership will pave the way for more electric vehicles on Colorado roads and move our state closer to a zero-emissions goal.

– Susan Atkinson, Durango

Trump makes Nixon look tame
01/24/2019

To the editor,

For those unfamiliar with the Watergate scandal that cost Nixon his presidency, I’ll try to summarize it before I point out how Trump’s actions are not only eerily similar but much worse.

Way back in the early ’70s, President Richard Nixon had his minions break into the Watergate Hotel and steal secret papers and tap his enemies’ phones in the Democratic Party, including his presidential rival George McGovern. A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate.

On the evening of Sat., Oct. 20, 1973, (known as the Saturday Night Massacre), Nixon ordered his attorney general and then the deputy attorney general to fire the special prosecutor. The two men resigned in protest. Finally, the third-most-senior official at the Justice Department, Solicitor General Robert Bork did as Nixon asked.

Nixon’s abuse of power, obstruction of justice and payment of hush money are just a few of the crimes he committed during the election and his presidency. Nixon resigned Aug. 9, 1974, rather than be impeached. He was then pardoned by Ford.

Have none of Trump’s glassy-eyed followers noticed how familiar this sounds or are they drunk on the Kool Aid? Instead of breaking into a hotel to steal secrets, the Trump campaign apparently conspired with Russia to hack the DNC and Clinton campaign. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort even forwarded highly private and valuable campaign data to the Russians. This data was most likely used in the Russian social media targeting scheme, looking to further divide Americans, help Trump and hurt Hillary. It worked.

Instead of a one-night massacre, Trump has been openly committing a slow-motion massacre, and not very skillfully. Consider NBC’s Lester Holt interview where  Trump admitted “I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

Then, when his hand-picked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, recused himself from the Russia probe, Trump  went ballistic. After nearly two years of relentlessly tormenting & humiliating Sessions, Trump finally fired him.

Trump has slandered the FBI and special investigator Robert Mueller, and claims he believes Vladimir Putin over his own Justice Department. That, in itself, should set off alarm bells. Additionally, Trump has attacked NATO, our closest allies, the free press and relieved sanctions on Russian oligarchs without a good explanation.

It gets worse. It was just disclosed that after Trump’s private meeting with Putin in Helsinki (no U.S. officials present!) Trump confiscated the interpreter’s notes and told him to keep quiet. Need more evidence?

When Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen recently pled guilty to his crimes, he implicated his former boss. In his plea, Cohen admitted to paying for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal’s silence on their sexual affairs with Trump – in violation of campaign finance laws – to influence the 2016 election, and he did it in coordination with and at the direction of candidate Trump. Clearly, not the sharpest tool in the shed, Trump majorly screwed up, treating his former lawyer like crap after the election. That’s like pissing off your bartender or the guy cooking your food.

As bad as Watergate was, this is much worse. There should be no doubt that Putin has some serious dirt on Trump, & Trump is dancing like his puppet. Not only that, forget about Mueller for now, what we know today with the indictments of all those former high-level Trump campaign officials (plus all the lies) should be enough for Congress to at least start the impeachment process.

Here’s what’s really disturbing. Once the Mueller report comes out and is hopefully made public and exposes strong evidence of treason, high crimes and misdemeanors, what will the Republicans do? Will they vote to impeach or continue to capitulate to Trump? Will his delusional and gullible base stick with Trump and denounce the evidence as “fake news” part of the “deep state?” I’m afraid I know the answer.

– Bill Vana, Durango

Grading Trump's first two years
01/17/2019

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
01/17/2019

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, (https://s3.amazonaws.com/dive_assets/rlpsys/ 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 https://www.eia.gov/coal/annual/. 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 https://mjbradley.com/sites/default/files/Presentation_of_Re 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