RGGI auction

Follow-up to today's earlier FR post, Reuters reports RGGI's first auction of permits allowing power plants to emit a greenhouse gas "raised nearly $39 million."
The auction kicked off the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an agreement by ten states to begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions from more than 230 power plants in January. The states, from Maryland to Maine, are taking action in the absence of guidance from the Bush Administration on how to regulate the gases widely blamed for warming the planet.
RGGI's website reports, "All allowances offered in Auction 1 were sold at a clearing price of $3.07." The RGGI states plan to use the money to protect consumers from higher costs resulting from the emissions cap.

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Where Feds fear to tread

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states initiative which puts limits on carbon dioxide emissions from 233 utilities, making them pay for each ton of pollutants. RGGI is the first mandatory cap-and-trade program in the US. According to a Sept 16 story in the New York Times, the ten states cooperating in this effort:
will set their own limits, with each issuing tradable permits, or allowances, for carbon pollution. On Sept. 25, utilities will start bidding at auction for allowances, which they can later sell - mimicking the so-called cap-and-trade programs that effectively reduced acid rain in the 1990s.
RGGI's factsheet (pdf, 75kB) claims four main goals:
  • Reduce CO2 emissions - The cap on emissions of CO2 from power plants in the RGGI region will be 10 percent lower by 2018 than at the start of the RGGI program in 2009.
  • Support a green economy - The ten states will use revenues from CO2 allowance auctions to boost investment for energy efficiency and renewables.
  • Promote energy independence - Participating states should be able to invest 50 percent more per capita for helping consumers use energy efficiently.
  • Provide a model for a national program to reduce CO2 emissions - RGGI demonstrates that a national program to reduce CO2 emissions can benefit both the environment and the economy.
Auction results should be made available at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, September 29, 2008.

Visit, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

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CBO weighs in

Yesterday Peter Orzsag, Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), testified before the House Budget Committee on the turmoil in financial markets. He identified two problems facing the markets: illiquidity triggered by market panic and the potential insolvency of many financial institutions.

After analyzing the Troubled Asset Relief Act of 2008 proposed by the Treasury, Orzsag presented an alternative approach to address insolvency concerns. That proposal would have the government "invest directly in financial institutions to strengthen their capital positions, without directly purchasing troubled assets. The injections could take the form of preferred stock, which would effectively lower the cost of new capital for the institutions." Orzsag stated that variations of this proposal have been offered, and he listed their pros and cons.

Federal Responses to Market Turmoil (pdf, 11pp/68kB), September 24, 2008

See also Director's 9.25.08 blog on this testimony.

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Measuring childhood obesity prevention

17 percent of all children aged 6-11 and 17.6 percent of adolescents aged 12-19 are obese.

So begins the recent study by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (NA). The report released on September 08, 2008 examines the various efforts to combat the adverse consequences of childhood obesity and to promote healthy lifestyles.

Reporting on a June 2008 workshop conducted by the Institute which "featured site-leaders and evaluators representing different locally-based childhood obesity prevention programs," the release documented the
discussion about the challenges and promising approaches for evaluating and acting on complex policy and programmatic interventions to prevent obesity and its health consequences.
Community Perspectives on Obesity Prevention in Children. Workshop Summary
(September 2008, 40pp/NAP Open Document)

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Open CRS has provided two timely reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) on federal intervention in the current Wall Street crisis.

One is on the cost of past and present government interventions. The paper describes current interventions for AIG, Fannie and Freddie, and Bear Stearns, and a table summarizes interventions from the 1970s (Lockheed, Penn Central, New York City), 1980s (Chrysler, S&Ls), 2001 (U.S. Airlines), and the aforementioned firms in 2008.

The second report is on the legislative proposal, as of Sept. 21, for the $700 billion bailout by Treasury. The paper covers (1) various aspects of the draft proposals, among them: debt limit, definition of troubled asset, factors to guide intervention, management of mortgage-related assets, and loss mitigation and loan modification, and (2) FAQ such as: Does the proposal include provisions to help home owners facing foreclosure? How could financial turmoil affect the wider economy if nothing is done? Couldn't the same assets be purchased through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac now that they are in a conservatorship backed by the Treasury?

The Cost of Government Financial Interventions, Past and Present
RS22956 (pdf, 6pp/68kB), September 23, 2008

Proposal to Allow Treasury to Buy Mortgage Related Assets to Address Financial Instability RS22957 (pdf, 6pp/72kB), September 22, 2008

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CO2 cap & trade

Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Peter Orzsag testified before the House Committee on Ways and Means on designing a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Under cap-and-trade, policymakers would set a cap on total emissions for a certain period and regulated firms would have allowances of the emissions; after initial distribution, firms could buy and sell the allowances among themselves. Among the testimony's key points:
  • Emission allowances would have substantial value. Under the cap-and-trade proposal that went to the Senate floor in June, allowances would be worth around $112 billion once the cap took effect in 2012.
  • The ultimate effect of a policy decision to sell or give away allowances could be either progressive or regressive on high-income or low-income households, respectively.
  • The rise in prices for energy and energy-intensive goods and services would impose a larger burden, relative to income, on low-income than on high-income households.
  • Energy-intensive U.S. industries that face foreign competition could lose sales to countries with less stringent emission policies.

Issues in Designing a Cap-and-Trade Program for Carbon Dioxide Emissions (pdf, 22pp/172kB), September 18, 2008

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Ready for college and work

A recent report from Child Trends addresses the question: What is the intersection of skills, competencies, and assets needed for college, work and the successful transition to adulthood? The study covers five domains of youth development: physical, psychological, social, cognitive, and spiritual. It also addresses the challenges of these special populations: low-income and minority youth, English language learners and immigrant youth, youth with disabilities, disconnected youth, foster youth, and sexual minority youth.

According to its website, Child Trends is "a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at every stage of development."

A Developmental Perspective on College & Workplace Readiness (pdf, 49pp/2.01 MB), September 2008



State and federal e-gov

The Brookings Institution published a report assessing state and federal electronic government in 2008. It ranks websites based on 18 criteria such as access to publications, databases, and audio and video clips; no ads or user fees; and having privacy and security policies; and additionally the number of online services executable on the site. Among the states, Delaware is first, while Hawaii ranks 46th. The top federal site is USA.gov.

Author Darrell West concludes with ways to improve e-gov, among them that websites should have: strong privacy and security policies, agency layouts similar to the portal page, navigational guides and site maps, search engines, and foreign language accessibility.

State and Federal Electronic Government in the United States, 2008 (pdf, 19pp/544kB), Aug. 26, 2008

Executive Summary

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Recent CRS reports

Recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports from Open CRS:

Legal Issues Relating to State Health Care Regulation: ERISA Preemption and Fair Share Laws, RL34637 (pdf, 18pp/124kB), August 26, 2008

Fair share laws require employers to pay for employee health coverage or contribute to a state or local fund for medical expenses for uninsured residents. Can fair share laws be preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)? This report covers cases brought in Maryland, Suffolk County (NY), and San Francisco challenging fair share laws under ERISA, with varying outcomes, and discusses the fair share requirements of Massachusetts Health Care Reform Act, "the most comprehensive health care reform legislation ever enacted by a state."

The Controlled Substances Act: Regulatory Requirements, RL34635 (pdf, 19pp/128kB), August 22, 2008

Through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), administered and enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the federal government regulates the production, possession, and distribution of controlled substances for medical, scientific, research, and industrial purposes. This report focuses on the non-criminal requirements of the CSA, noting the penalty provisions applicable to authorized persons handling controlled substances.

Governmental Drug Testing Programs: Legal and Constitutional Developments, RL34624 (pdf, 23pp/152kB), August 19, 2008

This report discusses workplace, employee, preemployment, student, and suspicionless drug tessting, and federally mandated workplace drug testing programs.

Text and Multimedia Messaging: Emerging Issues for Congress, RL34632 (pdf, 16pp/1.58 MB), August 22, 2008
The increasing use of text and multimedia messaging has raised several policy issues: applicability of CAN-SPAM Act to unwanted wireless messages; refusal of some carriers to allow users to disable text messaging; carrier blocking of Common Short Code messages; deceptive and misleading Common Short Code programs; protecting children from inappropriate content on wireless devices; mobile cyberbullying; and balancing user privacy with “Sunshine,” Open Government, and Freedom of Information Laws.
The report discusses the foregoing, as well as using Short Message Service for law enforcement and emergency response.

Wireless Technology and Spectrum Demand: Advanced Wireless Services, RS20993 (pdf, 6pp/72kB), August 12, 2008
From the perspective of spectrum management, a significant difference in the technologies is that 3G, 4G, and WiMAX services operate on designated, licensed frequencies, while Wi-Fi shares unlicensed spectrum with other uses. Policy issues before Congress include the competitive impact on commercial wireless carriers when municipalities offer wireless broadband services, promoting the development of broadband wireless access, and assuring the availability of appropriate spectrum for both licensed and unlicensed applications.
CRS reports on various bills in the 110th Congress relating to broadband.

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Amethyst in the rough

Chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges across the United States have signed an initiative calling on elected officials to rethink and discuss the current National Minimum Drinking Age Act. Their publshed statement (pdf) supports "an informed and dispassionate public debate over:"
  • the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age.
  • whether the 10% highway fund “incentive” encourages or inhibits that debate.
  • new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.
The Amethyst Initiative website states that membership is limited to college and university presidents and chancellors. As of today, the current signatory count is 129.

The Christian Science Monitor reports on the Initiative and some of the debate surrounding it:
"We agree there are terrible problems with binge and underage drinking. We just don't agree on their proposed solution, that being lowering the drinking age," says MADD president Laura Dean-Mooney in a phone interview...

The Amethyst signers say that's an unfair charge. They want to take more responsibility, not less, for changing the culture around drinking, they say...

The Amethyst Initiative website states that the signatories advocate a debate but not necessarily a change in the law.

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ConCons in other states

Illinois and Hawaii are among 14 states that mandate periodic referenda to call constitutional conventions. The Library just received a report published last April by the Legislative Research Unit (LRU) of the Illinois General Assembly on how constitutional revisions are handled by different states. The 14 with mandatory referenda are Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island. The report also describes constitutional revision efforts of 7 states without mandatory referenda: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Utah, and Virginia.

Included are appendices on how states call ConCons (by the legislature or by mandatory referendum), referendum frequency, and constitutional citations; and how a constitution revision commission works.

State Constitutional Revision in Recent Decades (pdf, 23pp/1.43MB), April 17, 2008 (KF4530 I54 2008)

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ConCon$ in Hawaii

House Concurrent Resolution No. 231, House Draft 1, adopted during Hawaii's Regular Session of 2008, directs the Legislative Reference Bureau to study the costs of convening a constitutional convention and provide an estimate of the projected total cost.

LRB released this report today which contains the results of their study and their estimate of the total projected cost of a constitutional convention, including consideration of various alternatives.

This report estimates costs of a constitutional convention held on Oahu in 2010 or 2012.

Cost Estimates For A Constitutional Convention (pdf, 111pp/680kB)

See also:
FR 8.11.2008 on the Hawaii Constitutional Convention Cost Task Force, led by Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, and its final report.

FR 6.16.2008 on LRB's Hawaii Constitutional Convention Studies, 1978.

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