March 28, 2023
This Week in Massachusetts – March 28
Remote Work Hits Office Rents Axios – Boston-area office rents have survived the work-from-home revolution so far, at…Read More
Posted on February 22, 2023
Boston’s New Outdoor Dining Guidelines include Tighter Rules in the North End
Boston Globe – For three summers, the narrow streets of the North End bustled with diners seated outside many of its nearly 100 restaurants.
This year, expect a lot less bustle.
The Wu administration on Thursday released new outdoor dining rules for neighborhoods across the city that include a sharp cutback in allowable al fresco areas in the famed Italian enclave.
Restaurants in most of Boston will be allowed to set up tables starting May 1 on adjacent sidewalks and in parking spaces after submitting engineering plans and paying a fee. But North End eateries will be limited to sidewalks, and only those of “adequate” width. The required width will be 5 feet between the edge of the patio and the road in low traffic areas, and 8 feet in high traffic areas.
North End restaurateurs said the restrictions could substantially reduce outdoor seating for many establishments.
The announcement is likely to stir controversy for Mayor Michelle Wu, who is already known for her rocky relationship with local business leaders.
City officials said the change was a response to concerns by residents over noise, crowding, and the loss of precious parking in the historic neighborhood. And it comes amid construction of the North Washington Bridge and the upcoming summer closure of the Sumner Tunnel, which they said could push even more traffic to North End streets.
Convention Center Land Taking in South Boston under Scrutiny
Boston Herald – City and state legislators representing South Boston raised concerns Thursday that the state’s convention center authority may be land-banking property taken by eminent domain under “false pretenses.”
Sen. Nick Collins, Boston City Council President Ed Flynn and City Councilor At-Large Michael Flaherty sent a letter to state and city officials on Wednesday in opposition to the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority’s plan to lease for 99 years three parcels of land on the South Boston waterfront for what they say is not its intended purpose.
The land along D and E Streets near the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center was taken by eminent domain to expand the hospitality industry in the area.
The MCCA opened a 30-day bidding period for the land on the week of Thanksgiving, resulting in only two bidders, according to the letter.
“These assets were taken by eminent domain for a particular purpose that is not being executed with an open-ended bid offering. This has given rise to the concern about the MCCA land banking under false pretenses. We have heard from previous owners who would like their property returned if the aforementioned public purpose is no longer the driver for the need to own this land,” the legislators wrote to Administration and Finance Secretary Matthew Gorzkowicz and Boston’s Chief Financial Officer Ashely Groffenberger.
Collins, Flynn and Flaherty urged the MCCA’s board of directors to stop the “unusual and uncompetitive process.”
The MCCA board met Thursday to discuss the land sale, but members quickly retreated into an executive session. The session was closed to the public to discuss “a matter relating to the purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property and discussions in open session could have a detrimental effect on the Authority’s bargaining and negotiation position.”
Cities and Towns Say Proposed Approach to Local Aid ‘Won’t Cut It’
WBUR – In each of his eight years as governor, Charlie Baker kept a campaign promise to propose increasing unrestricted local aid to cities and towns by the projected rate of growth in state tax revenues.
Now, with a somewhat muted forecast for tax collections ahead of Gov. Maura Healey’s first budget proposal, leaders from cities and towns told the new administration a similar increase in municipal support “won’t cut it.”
The outlook for unrestricted general government aid, or UGGA, was one of the top issues municipal officials flagged Tuesday at the first Local Government Advisory Commission meeting during Healey’s tenure, alongside a jump in special education costs and school-related burdens.
With Healey’s fiscal year 2024 state budget due by March 1, a string of city and town officials briefed Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and Administration and Finance Secretary Matt Gorzkowicz on financial pressure points they face and their hope that the new team will make additional state dollars available.
Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo urged the administration to decouple unrestricted local aid from the projected 1.6% growth rate of state tax revenues that top lawmakers and the Healey administration expect in the next fiscal year.
Healey Says Affordability is about More than Minimum Wage
Boston.com – On Wednesday, Gov. Maura Healey was noncommittal on whether she’d look to raise the minimum wage any time soon. Instead, she hinted during her appearance on “Radio Boston” that she’s going to focus on other factors to make living more affordable in the state.
When asked whether she might be looking to increase the minimum wage, the governor did not directly state whether it was in her plans.
“When you talk about affordability, certainly wage and minimum wage is important, but it’s also important to look at what are we doing around food security, what are we doing around housing, what are we doing to drive down the cost of child care,” she said.
MGM Springfield took in $57,000 in Sports Bets on First Day
MassLive – On the first day of legal sports betting in Massachusetts, MGM Springfield’s sportsbook took in $57,000 worth of bets, about 11.2% of the money wagered across the state on sporting events that day.
Overall, MGM Springfield reported $22.85 million in gross gambling revenue for January, its busiest month since October, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission said Wednesday.
State law requires all three casinos operating in the state report gross sports wagering receipts from the preceding month on or before the 15th of each month. January’s report included only one day’s worth of sports betting statistics in the numbers — wagers made on Jan. 31. February statistics, including figures for Sunday’s Super Bowl, will come out March 15.
Advocates Renew Push for Digital ‘Right to Repair’ Law
Eagle Tribune – Advocates are renewing a push on Beacon Hill to require makers of electronic gadgets, from smartphones to vacuum cleaners, to share diagnostic information, tools and parts with consumers and small repair shops.
The so-called digital ‘right to repair’ proposal, which has been refiled by a group of Democratic lawmakers for consideration in the two-year session, would require manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard, Samsung and Apple to openly sell parts and provide diagnostic manuals to independent repair shops and the public.
Consumer advocates say the lack of repair data from electronics manufacturers ultimately drives up costs for consumers by not allowing a more open repair market.
“These items aren’t cheap,” said Janet Domenitz, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, which is leading advocacy on the issue. “These manufacturers make this stuff, and we buy it, but then they still own the diagnostic information to these electronics and block tools to fix it.”
Domenitz said lifting repair restrictions would also reduce the flow of e-waste into landfills. She points to recent MassPIRG study which estimated that the average U.S. family disposes of 176 pounds of toxic electronic waste every year.
Amid Political Pressures, TikTok Hires Lobbying Firm in Massachusetts
Boston Herald – TikTok has hired a Massachusetts lobbying firm to advocate for policy at the state level, a new strategy for the Chinese-owned video-sharing app.
Boston-based Bay State Strategies Group took on TikTok as a client this month, according to a filing with the state. It’s the first time TikTok has tapped a lobbying firm in Massachusetts, and it comes on the heels of mounting political pressures at the federal level regarding its ties to China and data security concerns.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, an Internet technology company based in Beijing. Over the past few years, as TikTok has grown in popularity in the United States, lawmakers and regulators have become increasingly wary of the app’s ties to China.
Toward the end of last year, FBI Director Christopher Wray raised concerns about TikTok as a security threat, lawmakers introduced a bill to ban the app in the United States, and President Biden prohibited the app from being downloaded on federal government devices. Bay State Strategies plans to represent TikTok in Massachusetts on matters involving social media and “software restrictions,” according to the filing.
Medicare Politics are on a Crash Course with Reality
Axios – There’s an inconvenient truth underneath the politics of Medicare — its finances are simply unsustainable.
Medicare is one of the largest line items in the U.S. budget, and as the population ages, it’s expected to only get more expensive.
Medicare spending is expected to more than double by 2033 — climbing to $1.6 trillion, or over 4% of the entire U.S. economy, according to an estimate released yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office.
And the program’s trustees have said the fund that pays for Medicare’s hospital coverage will soon reach a dangerous tipping point — paying out more than it takes in. On that trajectory, it eventually wouldn’t be able to pay for the coverage it’s supposed to provide.
Lawmakers really only have three options to stop that from happening: raise taxes, cut benefits, or cut payments to the health care industry.
Republicans are against tax increases on principle and have gotten a lot of political mileage out of attacking them.
Democrats are against benefit cuts on principle and have gotten a lot of political mileage out of attacking them.
And although some Republicans are hinting that they might be open to reducing payments to doctors, hospitals, insurers or pharma companies, the party’s campaign apparatus is currently hammering the Biden administration for proposals to do exactly that.
The bottom line: Without intervention, Medicare’s financial problems will come to a head soon enough. And then it’ll be everyone’s problem.
Officials Pledge to Work with Operator of Four Nursing Homes to Try to Keep Them Open
MassLive – State officials agreed to continue talks with a company that filed plans to close four nursing homes in Western Massachusetts, to see if there is a way they can meet new safety standards and at the same time remain financially viable.
On Thursday, a dozen lawmakers met with representatives from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Health to discuss the far-reaching impacts a new regulation that reduces the number of people who can live in a nursing home is having on the health care system in Western Massachusetts.
Northeast Health Group announced last week it will close the four homes it runs — Chapin Center, in Springfield; Governor’s Center, in Westfield and Willimansett Center East and West, in Chicopee — laying off 362 employees and forcing 311 vulnerable and elderly residents to move. The closure plan filed with the state sets a June 6 deadline.
Ambulance Ride Costs in Massachusetts Sickening
Boston Herald (Opinion) – When a medical emergency necessitates an ambulance trip to the hospital, the last thing the patient or their family needs to worry about is cost.
In Massachusetts, those fears are more than warranted.
According to an upcoming report from the state’s Health Policy Commission, emergency transportation in a publicly owned ambulance here costs about twice the national average.
Nationwide, commercially insured patients pay an average $761 for an ambulance trip from a municipally owned emergency medical services company, compared to a $1,578 charge in Massachusetts, researcher Diana Váscones told the HPC’s Market Oversight and Transparency Committee at a meeting on Wednesday, State House News Service reported.
Adding insult to injury, “ground” ambulance services, as opposed to costly air ambulances, are not included in federal protections under the No Surprises Act, to prevent “surprise bills” from emergency medical care. Since patients don’t have the ability to choose which ambulance picks them up in an emergency, they often end up with these surprise bills if the ambulance provider is not in their insurance network.
Talk about sick. People with insurance provided by employers have to reach a deductible until payments kick in, and there’s often an out-of-pocket “ceiling” as well. Those who try to save money on premiums by opting for higher deductibles face sticker shock at the worst time.
Inside the “Right to Die” in Massachusetts
Axios – Before Bev Baccelli dies, she wants her friend Liz to feed her some mocha chip ice cream.
“That’s the last taste I want,” said Baccelli, a Mattapoisett resident with multiple myeloma. “And with ‘death with dignity’, I can make those decisions.”
What’s happening: Baccelli and advocates made their pitch to legislators as lawmakers review a bill to legalize medically assisted suicide, also called “medical aid in dying.”
The legislation proposes a 10-step vetting process for adult patients expected to die in six months or less who want life-ending medication.
Why it matters: Baccelli and supporters say they want terminally ill patients to be able to choose when and how to die so they can do so “with dignity” instead of suffering a slow, painful death.
A Supreme Judicial Court ruling in December suggests a change in state law is the only path to legalize the practice.
The big picture: 10 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medically assisted suicide.
The other side: The Catholic Church has driven the opposition, calling the practice “an affront to life and a dangerous precedent for determining end of life issues.”
Flashback: State voters narrowly rejected a “death with dignity” ballot question in 2012. State legislators have filed legalization bills in every legislative session since, but those proposals floundered.
Rep. Jim O’Day, who co-sponsored the legislation with Sen. Jo Comerford, says its odds of passing appear to be better with Gov. Maura Healey in office. Despite Healey’s reticence in the past, she told the Globe in December she’d be open to a bill with the proper requirements.
Biogen’s New Alzheimer’s Drug May Spur more Investment in Fighting the Disease
Boston Globe – There’s a morose metaphor that seasoned drug developers often use to sum up decades of failed efforts to find treatments for Alzheimer’s disease: They call the mind-robbing condition “the graveyard of drug development.”
But lately, sentiments have started to shift, with the arrival of Leqembi, a new drug approved by federal regulators in January.
The medicine’s benefits are modest — it slowed cognitive decline by 27 percent in an 18-month clinical study run by the Japanese drug firm Eisai and its Cambridge partner Biogen — but hopes are high that it could mark a turning point in Alzheimer’s research.
“It will open up the whole field,” said Dr. Philip Scheltens, head of the Dementia Fund at the health care investment firm EQT Life Sciences. “The graveyard, and the grave mood, has been lifted.”
Residents who Received November Tax Refunds in 2022 May Have to Pay Federal Taxes
MassLive – Massachusetts residents who received tax refund payments as part of the state’s nearly $2 billion worth of returns sent out in November may have to pay federal taxes on the payments.
Since November, more than 1 million Massachusetts residents received more than $2 billion in payments under the Chapter 62F refund, a tax cap law that required the state government to return nearly $3 billion in excess revenues back to taxpayers.
Last Friday, Feb. 10, the Internal Revenue Service agency released a notice clarifying that Massachusetts was included on the list of states requiring its residents to pay federal taxes on a state-level tax refund individuals received in 2022.
However, there’s an exception to the rule. If an individual received a Massachusetts tax refund and claimed the standard deduction or itemized their deductions but did not receive a tax benefit in 2022, the person does not need to make a federal tax payment on their tax refund.
Dueling Visions for Boston’s New ‘Participatory Budgeting’ Office
Commonwealth Magazine – What looked like a minor disagreement last week about the size of a committee guiding Boston’s new participatory budget process may have been more of a referendum on how far the city will go in giving residents a direct say in spending decisions.
As part of a broader overhaul of the city budgeting process, a 2021 voter-approved change to the city charter authorized creation of a new Office of Participatory Budgeting, putting Boston on course to join other cities, here and abroad, that have established systems for letting residents directly oversee a small share of city spending.
A progressive bloc of city councilors tried last week, but failed to muster the votes needed, to amend Mayor Michelle Wu’s plan for the office by adding more members to its nine-person panel and providing compensation for them to encourage involvement from lower-income residents.
But it isn’t just the make-up of the office that has drawn differing visions. Boston activists have pushed for the new citizen-led effort to direct 1 percent of city spending, or $40 million of Boston’s $4 billion annual operating budget.
That’s a far higher share than is allocated through the participatory budgeting in place in Cambridge, now in its ninth year. The Cambridge process started with $500,000, an amount that rose along with community engagement. It’s now up to $1 million, but that still represents only a little more than 0.1 percent of the city’s roughly $800 million total budget. In New York City, the citizen budgeting effort controls even less spending, about 0.03 percent of its $104 billion budget.
It will be up to Wu to determine how much to set aside for the resident-driven budgeting exercise.
Pam Kocher, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-funded city watchdog organization, said most people expect the city to earmark $1 to $2 million, which she called a safe place to start. It’s essential to “test drive this thing and have the opportunity to tweak it if necessary,” Kocher said.
White House Says EV Chargers Must Be Universal to Receive Federal Funding
CNet – The White House announced Wednesday that manufacturers of electric vehicle chargers must make them usable by all EV brands if they want to receive federal funding.
White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu said Tuesday that the Biden administration’s goal is to create “a national network of chargers that will work for everyone, everywhere, no matter what type of car or state they’re in.”
EV chargers purchased with federal money will also need to be assembled in the US, according to a White House fact sheet.
A $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed in November 2021 set aside $7.5 billion to create 500,000 public EV chargers by 2030, mostly on high-traffic highways and in densely populated residential areas.
Tesla is among the companies financing the project with a combination of private money and federal subsidies.
Scott Changes Plan to Exempt Social Security, Medicare from Sunsetting
The Hill – Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has amended his 12-point Rescue America plan to say that his proposal to sunset all federal legislation in five years does not apply to Social Security, Medicare or the U.S. Navy.
After taking relentless fire from President Biden, Democrats and even fellow Republicans, Scott has amended Point Six of his plan, which includes the sunset proposal, to make “specific exceptions of Social Security, Medicare, national security, veterans benefits, and other essential services.”
“Note to President Biden, Sen. Schumer and Sen. McConnell — As you know, this was never intended to apply to Social Security, Medicare, or the U.S. Navy,” Scott states in bolded language, addressing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
In an op-ed published Friday in The Washington Examiner, Scott said Democratic leaders and McConnell played “gotcha politics” with his plan.
“I have never supported cutting Social Security or Medicare, ever. To say otherwise is a disingenuous Democrat lie from a very confused president. And [McConnell] is also well aware of that. It’s shallow gotcha politics, which is what Washington does,” Scott wrote.
“Everyone outside of Washington perfectly understood what my plan was trying to accomplish, but that hasn’t stopped Washington politicians from doing what they do best — lying to you every chance they get. So, since the folks up here are clearly too confused and disingenuous to get it, I’ll put it down in black and white so they can read it, or have someone read it to them,” he added.
Biden targeted Scott’s plan at his State of the Union address when he claimed, “some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years,” drawing boos and jeers from GOP lawmakers in the House chamber.
Scott doubled down on his proposal to sunset all federal programs, insisting in a statement the day after Biden’s speech: “This is clearly and obviously an idea aimed at dealing with all the crazy new laws our Congress has been passing of late.”
McConnell then on Tuesday disavowed that Senate Republicans would support cuts to Medicare and Social Security as part of negotiations to raise the debt limit — or any time.
Healey’s Tax-Cut Plan Will Come with Budget in March
Boston Herald – The wait for her long promised tax cut proposal is almost over, according to the governor.
“I will be filing, at the same time as my budget on March 1, a tax package. It’s a tax package directed at making life more affordable for folks, and we are busy putting the final touches on that proposal right now,” Gov. Maura Healey said.
Healey, during an interview with WBUR’s Tiziana Dearing broadcast Wednesday morning, reiterated an assertion she made while running for office and has maintained since winning her job: that the state is too expensive for working families and the government should do something about it.
“This is something that I focused on throughout the campaign. I have made it a priority,” she said. “Massachusetts is a great place as long as you can afford to live here, and right now, with the cost of housing, the cost of child care, and then some of what we’ve seen in terms of inflationary pressures, it’s tough.”
The governor previously signaled support for a tax relief package offered by former Gov. Charlie Baker last year and mostly approved by the Legislature at the end of summer.
That plan would have lowered the tax burden for seniors, provided additional tax relief to renters and low income families and changed the estate tax. But it never left the joint conference committee tasked with ironing out the details and subsequently died with the end of the last legislative session.
Now, Healey says, she willing to consider the same sort of relief. However, as has been the case for months, the governor was short on details even as she was heavy on acknowledgement of need.
Elizabeth Mahony to Lead Department of Energy Resources
Boston Globe – The administration of Governor Maura Healey on Tuesday named another veteran of the attorney general’s office to fill a key climate post.
Elizabeth Mahony, who was senior policy advisor for energy under Healey when she was attorney general, will now lead the state Department of Energy Resources, a role with responsibility for Healey’s effort to drive a massive transition to clean energy. The job will include decisions about rapidly increasing the amount of solar and wind power in the state and upgrading the state’s electricity transmission.
Mahony was appointed by Rebecca Tepper, secretary of the Energy and Environment Administration, who also came to the Healey administration from the attorney general’s office. “I’ve seen her in action, thinking up creative solutions to complex problems and delivering real results for the Commonwealth,” Tepper said in a statement. “Elizabeth will be at the epicenter of our clean energy transition, and I know she will prioritize ratepayers and advance equity in everything she does.”
Mahony is taking the reins of the energy department at a crucial moment. The state has less than seven years to slash emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels in accordance with state law, and a central part of that requires a transition away from a reliance on natural gas for home heating and electricity.
Climate Change is Stealing New England’s Winters
Boston Globe – It’s February in Massachusetts, but you wouldn’t know it without a calendar. Temperatures recently rose to a stunning 62 degrees, breaking a daily temperature record, on the heels of a record-breaking warm January.
Welcome to the new normal for New England winters, where increasingly, maple syrup producers are tapping trees over a month early, ski resorts and skating rinks are opening later or not at all, and T-shirt weather is arriving before Presidents’ Day.
It’s a pattern playing out across much of the United States as greenhouse gas pollution heats the planet, but New England in particular is a hot spot, warming more quickly than the global average.
Now, climate change is ending winter in the region as we know it, experts say, putting wildlife, economies, and cultural traditions at risk.
The balmy winter weather can feel like a gift — an opportunity to take a long walk or bike ride or enjoy a spontaneous happy hour. But it’s also a stark reminder of planetary devastation.
“The climate I lived in as a kid is long gone,” said Stephen Young, a professor of sustainability at Salem State University. “The climate that my students grew up in is also gone.”
New $50 Million Grant Program Will Help to ‘Decarbonize’ Low-Income Housing
WBUR – There are more than 2.6 million homes in Massachusetts. A lot of them are old and leaky, and use fossil fuels for heating and cooking — in fact, about 30% of the state’s carbon emissions come from buildings. If Massachusetts is going to meet its legally binding climate goals, the building sector will need a massive overhaul.
To help jump start the process of “decarbonizing,” or dramatically reducing emissions, the Healey administration announced on Thursday a new $50 million grant program to fund retrofits in low- and moderate-income housing. The money will be administered by the Department of Energy Resources and can be used for things like swapping fossil heating systems for air or ground-source heat pumps, upgrading electrical panels, replacing old windows, adding insulation and installing rooftop solar panels.
“Wherever I go across the Commonwealth, I hear about the high cost of energy and housing,” Gov. Maura Healey said in a statement. “We’re taking these intertwined crises head-on with this new grant program. Massachusetts residents who need help the most will be able to benefit first from healthy, affordable electric heating, cooling, hot water, and energy efficiency.”
Offshore Wind Could Cost Town $815 Million in Tourism
Inquirer & Mirror – The installation of wind farms off Nantucket’s south shore, interrupting the unspoiled ocean views, could cost the island’s tourism economy over $800 million over the next 30 years, said Greg Werkheiser, a lawyer with Cultural Heritage Partners, the special legal counsel to the town for offshore wind.
Healey Looks at PFAS Remedies, but Wants Federal Help
WWLP – Describing the issue as a “big problem,” Gov. Maura Healey said Wednesday that reining in the impact of PFAS chemicals is a priority for her administration while stressing that the federal government’s involvement will be key.
Healey faced a listener question during her appearance on WBUR’s “Radio Boston” about whether she would launch a rebate program to reimburse private well owners for installing PFAS treatment, similar to a system in place in New Hampshire.
The governor said she would have her team examine the Granite State’s program “to see if there’s something that we could do that’s comparable.” “When it comes to PFAS, know that I want to do everything we can as a state to help homeowners out, of course, help municipalities out,” Healey said. “PFAS is a big problem. The numbers around PFAS in terms of its cost are just astronomical. We’re definitely going to need help from the federal government.”
Power-Grid Attacks Surge and Are Likely to Continue, Study Finds
Wall Street Journal – Physical attacks on the U.S. power grid rose 71% last year compared with 2021 and will likely increase this year, according to a confidential industry analysis viewed by The Wall Street Journal.
A division of the grid oversight body known as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation found that ballistic damage, intrusion and vandalism largely drove the increase. The analysis also determined that physical security incidents involving power outages have increased 20% since 2020, attributed to people frustrated by the onset of the pandemic, social tensions and economic challenges.
The NERC division, known as the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or E-ISAC, recorded the sharp increase in incidents in 2022, driven in part by a series of clustered attacks on infrastructure in the Southeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest. One of the most significant incidents occurred in early December when attackers targeted several substations in North Carolina with gunfire, leaving roughly 45,000 people in the dark.
The E-ISAC study of grid attacks, which other U.S. government agencies have said are on the rise, is more robust than publicly available data sets. The division’s data includes some nonpublic reports that utilities and grid authorities file with federal agencies or NERC, as well as voluntary disclosures made confidentially. The division tracked a significant increase in mandatory reports last year.
The division wrote that it is reasonably likely that the uptick in such attacks will continue this year based on the number and nature of recent attacks, some of which appear to have been carried out by members of extremist groups aiming to destabilize the grid.
Manny Cancel, E-ISAC’s chief executive, declined to discuss the confidential materials but confirmed that the division has tracked an uptick in serious incidents since 2020. The number of politically or ideologically motivated attacks appears to be growing, he said, though it is difficult to identify the reasons for each one.
“There seems to be a pattern where people are targeting critical infrastructure, probably with the intent to disrupt,” he said. “Going back to the 2020 presidential election, as well as the recent midterm elections, we’ve seen an uptick in chatter and an uptick in incidents as well.”
Earlier this month, federal authorities charged the founder of Atomwaffen, described as a neo-Nazi network by civil-rights organizations, and a woman he met while in prison with an alleged plot to attack the Maryland power grid. The two planned to shoot up five substations that serve the Baltimore area, federal authorities said.
Brian Harrell, former assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security, said there has lately been a notable increase in conversations among extremists about targeting critical infrastructure.
“These groups are talking to each other, and they’re learning from each other,” he said. “It gets a lot of people’s attention when you start turning off the lights, and I think that’s what they’re craving.”
Authorities and utilities say they have long been aware of the vulnerability of the power grid, a vast network of wires running from power plants and substations, many of which are located in remote areas. Power companies take numerous measures to secure their infrastructure, but some of it remains difficult to protect depending on location and a range of other factors.
In 2013, snipers targeted a large-scale transmission substation near San Jose, Calif., and raised fears that the country’s power grid was vulnerable to terrorism. The attack took out 17 transformers critical to supplying power to Silicon Valley, authorities said. A former federal regulator at the time called the event “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.”
The attack resulted in stronger physical security standards for such large-scale substations that, if compromised, could result in outages for thousands of people. Mr. Cancel said federal regulators have directed NERC to re-evaluate those standards and determine whether they should apply to a broader range of assets.
The December outages in North Carolina occurred when attackers shot small-scale distribution substations owned by Duke Energy. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said it is currently investigating the incidents.
Bonnie Titone, Duke’s chief information officer, said the company is working to improve its security practices and invest in measures to secure the grid better, in part by installing technologies to help keep power flowing in the event part of the system is damaged.
“No utility has the ability to prevent this from happening,” she said. “You can have all the cameras in the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be able to deliver reliable power because of that.”
EU Lawmakers Vote to Ban Sale of New Gasoline-Powered Cars From 2035
Wall Street Journal—European Union lawmakers approved a law that will effectively ban the sale of new gasoline- and diesel-powered cars in the bloc from 2035, one of the most aggressive moves yet by a major economy to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.
In setting a date to wind down sales of new passenger vehicles using internal combustion engines, the EU’s move will likely further fuel a global shift that is already having a huge impact on investment and product development by car manufacturers and their suppliers.
The European Parliament’s vote Tuesday caps a tumultuous debate in Europe over the direction of one of the region’s most important industries. Representatives from parliament and EU member states had last year agreed on the broad political outline of the bill, including a compromise that could allow the sale of vehicles with engines that run on carbon-neutral fuel.
The law is set to require new cars and vans to have significantly lower carbon emissions by 2030 and zero emissions by 2035, a requirement that industry groups say is expected to result in an end to the sale of new vehicles that use traditional combustion engines, and accelerate the shift to EVs.
“Tying our citizens and our industry to the past is not a smart move,” said Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission, ahead of the vote. “We need to provide regulatory clarity.”
Under the terms of the political agreement reached last year, emissions from new cars sold in 2030 would need to be 55% lower compared with 2021 levels, and new vans would have to be 50% lower than 2021 levels. The zero-emissions target for 2035 applies to both new cars and new vans.
The deal reached by lawmakers left the door open for the possibility that vehicles that run exclusively on carbon-neutral fuels could be sold after 2035. It also included a review clause that requires the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, to assess progress toward the zero-emission targets in 2026.
“These targets create clarity for the car industry and stimulate innovation and investments for car manufacturers,” said Jan Huitema, a member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands who was the body’s lead negotiator on the legislation. He said the rules should help drive down the cost of buying and driving zero-emission cars.
Several other jurisdictions have passed similar legislation or announced target dates for combustion-engine bans. Auto industry executives expect the global push to ban new sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles to accelerate by 2030.
The U.S. government hasn’t yet set a date to ban gas-powered cars, but the state of California, which has traditionally led the drive to cleaner cars, passed rules last year banning the sale of new gas-powered cars after 2035. The move could potentially encourage other states that typically follow California’s lead to also issue bans, analysts said.
EVs are already gaining traction with consumers around the world. While worldwide auto sales fell slightly to around 81 million vehicles last year, sales of fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles surged, growing around 55% to more than 10 million vehicles sold, around 13% of total new car sales, according to data provider ev-volumes.com.
Europe is now the second-largest market for electric vehicles, after China, with EVs accounting for more than 20% of all new cars sold last year, data from ev-volumes.com shows.
While auto makers have often urged the EU to slow down the shift to electric vehicles, manufacturers and their suppliers have started to pivot toward EVs in recent years amid growing consumer interest and stricter rules against combustion-engine vehicles.
For instance, European car makers including Volkswagen AG, Mercedes-Benz Group AG, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, known as BMW, and Renault SA have shifted investment toward developing EVs, partly to meet European emissions regulations, which have continually tightened over the past decade.
Volvo Cars AB, the Chinese-Swedish auto maker, last year spun off its combustion-engine business into a joint venture to free up cash to invest in EVs.
In a dramatic sign of the impact of this shift to electric, Ford Motor Co. said Tuesday it would shed 3,800 jobs in Europe over the next three years from a European workforce of around 34,000 people.
Martin Sander, a former Volkswagen executive who now is in charge of Ford’s drive to go fully electric in Europe, told reporters that because EVs were far less complex than conventional cars, the company couldn’t afford to keep all of its developers on board.
“No customer would be willing to pay us more only because we have an inefficient development regime,” he told reporters.
Big auto suppliers have also embraced the transition, with Continental AG, Robert Bosch GmbH and ZF Friedrichshafen AG having either spun off or significantly wound down their businesses producing components for conventional vehicles, shifting their focus to the new market for supplying software, parts and systems for electric cars.
“Our industry is up to the challenge of providing zero-emission vehicles,” the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, an industry group, said ahead of Tuesday’s vote. The group said the industry will need access to the raw materials required for EVs, such as the metals needed for batteries.
Wu Vetoes Boston School Committee Bill
Boston.com – Mayor Michelle Wu has vetoed a proposal to make the Boston School Committee an elected body, turning down an overhaul that nearly 80% of the city’s voters supported in a non-binding 2021 ballot question.
“I deeply respect that the proponents of this proposal are motivated by a commitment to supporting Boston’s young people — a commitment I share with urgency,” Wu wrote in a letter to the city council on Friday. “Respectfully, I cannot support legislative changes that would compromise our ability to stabilize and support the Boston Public Schools during this critical period.”
Researcher Warns of ‘Fiscal Cliff’ for US School Districts
Commonwealth Magazine – School systems been awash in millions of dollars of federal aid meant to cope with the impact of the COVID pandemic, but the gravy train will quickly turn into a catastrophic derailment for districts that have poured the one-time money into recurring costs, according to a Georgetown University education finance expert.
Marguerite Roza, who directs the university’s Edunomics Lab research center, offered a grim warning to education officials on Thursday in a presentation at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Roza said a lot of the country’s 14,000 school districts, which have faced enrollment declines and other factors putting a squeeze on funding, “are propping up their budgets” with the federal aid. But with a September 2024 deadline to spend the federal money, school systems could face a sudden and painful budget crisis after that date, Roza said in her talk, titled “The Fiscal Cliff Coming to a District Near You.”
The federal government has committed $190 billion to schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, program. The money, which amounts to more than $3,500 per pupil, has come in three waves, but the bulk of it – about $128 billion – has not been spent yet, Roza said. Massachusetts districts received $2.9 billion in ESSER funding.