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February 16th, 2013:

Saturday video break: Everybody’s Talkin’

Song #31 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Everybody’s Talkin'”, originally by Fred Neil and covered by Harry Nilsson. Here’s the original:

Nice little country ballad. Never heard it before, but nice. Here’s Harry Nilsson:

I take it back, I have heard this before, I just hadn’t realized it by the title and artist, as has been the case with several other songs. This version is more pop and less country, though you can still hear the country roots in it. Which version do you prefer?

Working the county Medicaid expansion angle

As statewide Medicaid expansion is being pushed in Austin, some activists are going to various County Commissioners Courts to push for the county option to expand Medicaid as well.

“A broad spectrum of people across business, faith and health care communities are coming together to ask that we find a way to draw down these federal dollars, and I think it’s imperative that we do,” said Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins, chairman of the Dallas County Commissioners Court.

In 2011, local Texas governments, cities and counties, spent $2.5 billion in unreimbursed health care costs, according to a report by Billy Hamilton, the state’s former deputy comptroller and former chief revenue estimator. If Texas expanded Medicaid coverage to impoverished adults in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, the state could receive an additional $100 billion in federal dollars over 10 years, helping to offset that spending by local governments. The state would pay $15 billion during that time, which opponents of the expansion, including state Republican leaders, argue is too much.

“We’re doing his across the state. The resolution is our strategy…to put pressure on the governor and the Legislature to pass Medicaid expansion,” said Willie Bennett, lead organizer with the Dallas Area interfaith coalition, which helped write the resolution on Medicaid expansion that Dallas County plans to adopt on Tuesday. He said their organization helped craft a similar resolution that the El Paso County Commissioners Court adopted on Monday, and is working with other major counties to also pass resolutions.

[…]

“Working uninsured [Texans] are leading the fight. These are everyday people who work, some of them six days a week, but can’t afford health insurance,” said Durrel Douglas, a spokesman for the Texas Organizing Project.

Dallas County could get $580 million in federal revenue to help insure 133,000 additional residents through the Medicaid expansion, Jenkins said. (Use this Tribune interactive to compare the costs and savings of expanding Medicaid.)

“What it boils down to is, if we don’t take it, our federal tax dollars will pay to cover this population everywhere else in the country and our local tax dollars will pay to cover it here,” Jenkins said. “That puts us at a health care disadvantage, because we have the nation’s highest uninsured rate already, and it puts us at a competitive disadvantage because you’re paying federal taxes to cover everybody else, but you’re not getting your fair share.”

I’m still not certain that the county option is allowable under Medicaid rules, but I applaud the Texas Organizing Project for their initiative. The more sources of pressure that exist for expanding Medicaid, and the more voices calling for it, the better. They got what they wanted in Dallas County.

Dallas County commissioners endorsed an expanded Medicaid program Tuesday that would cover uninsured low-income residents who otherwise must rely on charity care or county tax dollars to cover their medical costs.

County Judge Clay Jenkins said the 4-0 vote was not a political ploy directed at Gov. Rick Perry and other Republicans, who have staunchly opposed expanding the state-federal program.
“I hear Governor Perry saying Medicaid is a system in need of reform, and I agree,” Jenkins said. “Let’s find a way to craft a Texas plan that reflects the values of the state’s elected leadership and brings those much-needed dollars here.”

[…]

Locally, the expansion would funnel an estimated $580 million to Dallas County to cover new Medicaid recipients in 2014. The money would lessen the burden on local health care providers now treating such uninsured patients, usually in their emergency rooms.

“Parkland Hospital has estimated that the expansion will cover 133,000 Dallas County residents, whether they are going to Baylor’s ER for care or to Parkland’s community clinics,” Jenkins said. “This is the math, and it makes sense.”

[…]

The Dallas County vote won praise from the medical community.

Dr. Sue Bornstein, a former board member of the Dallas County Medical Society, said the current Medicaid system needs fixing as well as expansion.

“I’m certainly pleased that the county judge came out with this,” she said. “It’s our tax money, too. And in Texas we don’t want our tax money going someplace else.”

That’s the argument that has swayed an increasing number of Republican governors to accept Medicaid expansion, but as we know Rick Perry is more resistant to facts and reality than most. The TOP is working on similar resolutions in other counties – via email, Durrel Douglas told me that Bexar County, whose officials were the originators of the county expansion idea, is slated to vote on theirs in two weeks, and they are working to bring them to Harris, Hidalgo, El Paso, and hopefully others as well. I wish them the very best of luck. ThinkProgress has more.

The Summer X-Games

Another sporting event that could be coming to Houston.

The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority is making a bid for ESPN’s action sports event, an annual competition that began in 1995.

“It’s definitely another feather in our cap,” said Janis Schmees, the CEO of Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. “It’s a useful event, it’s a great timing because we have a brand new skate park that we just broke ground on. There, it attracts a younger crowd. Even in the Olympics they’ve added snowboarding because they’re trying to keep the youth excited about the Olympic movement. I think that up and coming generation loves the X Games.”

[…]

The winner will host the event over a three-year span from 2014 to 2016.

“The three year model allows for the event to grow and develop in the region and identify efficiencies over the course of the hosting period,” said Deane Swanson, ESPN’s senior director of event management, X Games, in an e-mailed statement.

Representatives from HCHSA traveled to Aspen, Colo., last month during the Winter X Games to meet with officials of the games. ESPN representatives have also made a site visit. Reliant Stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium and the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark are among possible venues for the games.

Los Angeles, which has hosted several Summer X Games, saw a $50 million economic boon from the 2010 games, according to economic research and consulting firm Micronomics. That figure came from a $12 million influx from increased tourism, $6 million related to the television broadcast production and $12 million from direct spending associated with the games. It also factored in the monetary value of having 31 hours of live programming throughout the games.

Yeah, yeah, economic impact projections, ’nuff said. This would still be a cool thing to have. We’re in a much better position to compete for this sort of thing now, too. Final bids are due on April 2, and the decision will be announced in August.

We’ve got mercury, yes we do

Once again, Texas overachieves at something bad.

Martin Lake coal plant

Even though mercury and other hazardous air pollution from U.S. power plants are declining, the progress at the coal-fired power plants are uneven, leaving in place a significant remaining risk to the health of the public and environment, according to a new report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

Coal-burning power plants release millions of pounds of toxic pollutants into the air every year, including mercury and carcinogens like arsenic and chromium. US EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) can be used to identify the largest sources of these dangerous pollutants based on annual reports the electric power industry submits to the Agency under federal Right to Know laws. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, especially harmful to developing fetuses and young children.

Available online at http://environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/01_03_2013.php, the new EIP report uses TRI data for 2011 (the most recent full year available) to identify the 10 largest sources of power plant mercury emissions – five of these are in Texas, of which four are owned by Luminant Generation.

[…]

EIP Attorney Ilan Levin said: “Nationwide, equipment has been installed over the years to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. That has helped cut down on the release of mercury, toxic metals and acid gases from power plants over the last ten years. However, that progress is uneven, and the dirtiest plants continue to churn out thousands of pounds of toxins that can be hazardous to human health even in small concentrations. For example, emissions of mercury from coal-fired power plants have actually increased in the last decade in the state of Texas.

Levin added, “Emissions from local power plants deposit mercury and other toxic metals in nearby rivers and streams, where these pollutants concentrate in aquatic organisms at levels that can make fish unsafe to eat. The fact that so few plants are responsible for so much of the mercury pollution makes the solution less complicated; the dirtiest sources need to clean up their act.”

You would think, given his deep and abiding love for fetuses, that Rick Perry would be all over this. You would, of course, be wrong. The full report is here; note that not only does Texas have five of the top ten, we have four of the top five. And as the report notes, the news just keeps getting better.

Fortunately, mercury emissions from coal-fired electric power plants have declined over the past decade, from 88,650 pounds in 2001 to 53,140 pounds in 2011. States like Maryland have cut mercury emissions from coal plants at least 80 percent through tough new state standards, while reductions in other states are a byproduct of pollution controls installed to meet other federal standards. For example, scrubbers that reduce sulfur dioxide to comply with acid rain or fine particle standards will also remove mercury. These reductions have not been evenly distributed; for example, mercury emissions from Texas power plants have actually increased since 2001. That matters, because rivers and lakes closest to power plants are the most likely to be the hardest hit by power plant mercury pollution.

The EPA’s long-delayed Mercury and Air Toxics (“MATS”) rule, which gives power plants until February of 2015 to comply, would level the playing field by requiring the industry’s laggards to catch up with companies that have already cleaned up their plants. EPA estimates that the rule will cut annual power plant mercury emissions to just over 13,000 pounds by 2016, about 75 percent below current levels. But the rule is being fiercely challenged by Luminant and other companies seeking to avoid the cost of the pollution controls needed to meet the new standard.

Yes, they are fighting it fiercely. See here, here, and here for some background. After that story about the connection between lead contamination and crime rates, we should all be very, very afraid of anything that dumps large quantities of heavy metals into our air, water, and soil. There is one bit of genuine good news in all of this, and that is that the proposed White Stallion coal plant has been cancelled, and with the boom of natural gas there’s no new coal-burning plants on the horizon. That won’t do anything to help mitigate the effects of the plants we have now, but at least it won’t get any worse.