Colorado editorial roundup: Clean energy, vaccines, the VA and assisted suicide | SummitDaily.com

Colorado editorial roundup: Clean energy, vaccines, the VA and assisted suicide

Transition to clean energy economy has us moving in right direction

Colorado is gaining strength as a national leader in reducing carbon emissions, cleaning up our air and responding to the effects of climate change. This is good news for our public and environmental health, and if done right has the potential to position us as a leader in training and transitioning traditional and new energy workers into new jobs in the clean energy economy. Several recent actions point to this.

In late August, an executive order was leaked from Gov. Hickenlooper's office that outlined his climate mitigation and adaptation plans. The order requires a 35 percent cut by 2030 in greenhouse gas pollution from power plants and directs state agencies to require utilities to cut carbon emissions and keep energy affordable.

With 60 percent of Colorado's electricity currently coming from coal, this sounds like a tall order. If it is coordinated thoughtfully and funded adequately, however, with cooperation among the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, it could be an exciting, if not ambitious, way forward toward a clean energy future.

In fact, it is already in motion. Although the result of a lawsuit for Clean Air Act violations, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the electric provider to 43 cooperatives including La Plata Electric Association, has recently taken significant steps to reduce carbon emissions.

In early September, Tri-State, state and federal agencies, together with conservation and environmental groups, reached an agreement that will result in the likely retirement of two coal-fired power plants in Craig and Nucla by December 2025, and with them a reduction of millions of tons of air pollution.

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Despite the benefits realized to tourism, a vital part of our economy, from cleaner air and clearer vistas in our national parks, or to health care costs associated with poor air quality, there is no denying the plant closures will significantly affect these communities and must be immediately addressed.

Fortunately, organizations like Solar Energy International in Paonia are providing industry-leading technical training and renewable energy expertise to empower people, communities and businesses. And CalCom Solar, our wildly successful hometown hero, is partnering with the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency (4CORE), LPEA, Living Solar and SolarWorks to barn-raise solar projects for individuals and families of all income levels in Southwest Colorado.

Through the Solarize La Plata and Solarize Archuleta programs, 4CORE has provided 117 homes with solar and cut thousands of metric tons of greenhouse gases. LPEA records 884 systems installed in La Plata and Archuleta counties.

The oil, natural gas and coal industries maintain that environmental regulations have crippled them; the reality is that the coal industry has been declining for the past five years, and market forces, including over-supply and lack of investment, have hurt the oil and gas industries.

Renewable energy, such as wind and solar, has benefited from investment tax credits, but the true driver of falling prices is economies of scale. According to Bloomberg, investment in renewables is outpacing fossil fuels 2-to-1 and solar-power generation will continue to dominate because it is a technology, not a fuel. Same goes for wind energy.

The writing is on the wall. Xcel Energy, Colorado's largest energy provider, recently outlined plans to increase wind and solar energy production too. Renewables are the future. We can be on the leading edge or trailing behind. We hope it is the former. Energy independence, the development of renewables, benefits us all.

— The Durango Herald, Sept. 21

Needle legislative candidates to make sure they back mandatory vaccinations

School's back in session and state lawmakers are back asking for votes. Is your child vaccinated and will the legislator you're voting for make sure other kids are vaccinated, too?

While what has become a hysterical presidential race has hogged voter attention this year, state House and Senate members in Aurora and across the state are pitching their ideas. Most are focusing on the economy, fracking, bathroom rules and a host of usual election-year suspects.

What most aren't talking about this year is vaccination law. Make them talk.

We've said this repeatedly, and we, as well as others working to overcome the state's dangerous ignorance, will keep repeating it until lawmakers take action. Colorado regularly ranks worst or near-worst in the nation for vaccination rates, and it's costing lives, health and millions of dollars.

The problem stems from past legislators, succumbing to fake science and political pressure, who were either sympathetic to odd parents who didn't want to vaccinate their children or shortsighted in thinking that making it easy to "opt out" of mandatory vaccines was just no big deal.

The root of most of this building crisis comes from a regularly discredited study run by a discredited doctor to tie autism to childhood vaccinations, and the U.S. media bought the hoax, helping to legitimize it. There is not one reputable pediatrician, pediatric organization, hospital, clinic or researcher that does not vehemently work to debunk the autism lie and beg parents to vaccinate their children.

In Colorado, it's much easier to say that you don't want to vaccinate children than to prove that you have.

Many lawmakers and much of the public erroneously believed that since the bulk of the "herd" was vaccinated against potentially lethal diseases such as measles, polio and whooping cough, we're all protected.

They're wrong. Dead wrong for some people. The incidence of those diseases continues to increase as vaccination rates decline. Last year, reports of deaths of people with depressed immune systems sounded an alarm for all of us: Colorado, and the country, is at grave risk.

One death followed a measles outbreak at Disneyland last year that sickened 100 people, all because foolish, misled, selfish people have avoided childhood vaccination rules.

Real scientists and medical professionals have been unequivocal: The purported danger of childhood vaccines are lies. Dangerous lies.

Colorado must join California in solving an ailing public health problem that's easy to cure. Last year, California virtually eliminated all exemptions to that state's childhood vaccination policy.

The state lawmaker you vote for next month must do the same thing.

Colorado must join California and require that every child who attends a public school or college undergo vaccination. The state cannot command these vaccinations, but lawmakers certainly can force scofflaws to stay away from public programs and venues. Schools, rec centers, colleges, day cares and employers should all demand that people comply with vaccination programs.

It's almost unthinkable that a country like the United States would slide back decades in health care progress, risking the lives of millions of Americans potentially exposed to diseases we nearly eradicated — because of lies, laziness or ignorant fear.

If parents still won't listen and comply, then lawmakers must act to protect the rest of the public, and even the naive or selfish from themselves. But first, we need to choose those legislators. Ask and choose wisely.

— The Aurora Sentinel, Sept. 23

Vote 'no' in Colorado on more suicide

Proposition 106 would establish the assisted suicide trade for doctors willing to participate. An out-of-state special interest, funded mostly by billionaire George Soros, has marketed this measure as a form of compassion.

Suicide rates are a crisis in Colorado, and a poorly written plan to legitimize these tragedies raises big concerns.

Last week began with another teen suicide in Colorado Springs, where last year 15 teens killed themselves and doubled 2014's suicide rate. Throughout Colorado, we lost 1,000 kids to suicide in 2015.

Suicide is climbing among all demographics throughout the state, as reported in May by The Denver Post. "Colorado's suicide rate, one of the highest in the country, is climbing, with 19.4 suicides for 100,000 residents," the Post reported.

USA Today reports "veteran suicide rates remain high seven years after the rate of suicides by soldiers more than doubled and the Army's effort to reduce the tragic pace."

In a state saddened and confounded by rising teen and adult suicide rates, it seems reckless to pass a law that legalizes self-inflicted death. Imagine another Colorado teenager facing what seem like insurmountable problems. The teen contemplates suicide and calculates the fact grandma ended her life with pills prescribed by a doctor. The law, a doctor and a beloved mentor have inadvertently told this child how suicide is a good way out.

Our concerns extend far beyond the likelihood this will increase suicides among those who are not terminally ill.

Proposition 106 says to qualify for assisted suicide, one must be of sound mind. Yet, nothing in the law requires even a cursory psychological evaluation. The will to die by prescription could be related to a minor bout with depression, easily treated if properly diagnosed. A study in Oregon found 66 percent of people who chose to end their lives did so because of the loss of a will to live, not excessive pain as this bill's sponsors would have you believe.

The law would require a diagnosis by two doctors, who can be partners, that says the prospective suicide patient has only six months to live. Most people know of someone who has outlived a months-long death prognosis by years or even a decade or more. A Johns Hopkins University study found doctor mistakes are common. They are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. More than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors.

"It is nearly impossible to predict the course of an illness six months out, and many patients given such prognoses live full, rewarding lives long past six months," wrote Dr. William Toffler, professor of family medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.

Oregon legalized doctor-assisted suicide in 1997, and about 1,000 people have used the law to die.

"I have seen firsthand how the law has changed the relationship between doctors and patients, some of whom now fear that they are being steered toward assisted suicide," Toffler wrote.

A greater concern is those with serious financial incentives to steer old, ill relatives or business partners toward death. Elders who control estates and bank accounts, which will be handed down upon death, may receive encouragement to "die with dignity" — meaning a massive dose of barbiturates to be self-administered quickly, no doctor present, and typically chased with alcohol.

The law contains no oversight provisions to protect individuals from coerced or even forced consumption of suicide pills. Incredibly, it grants full immunity to anyone present for the suicide. That means a confused, weak person could unwillingly receive a dose of pills from someone protecting an estate from the potential costs of long-term hospice or medical bills.

Institutional pressure to die is almost guaranteed. Insurance companies and the state's money-challenged Medicaid plan have every reason to avoid years of treatment and prescription costs associated with terminally ill and elderly patients.

Look no further than Oregon. Routine notices tell Oregon doctors a variety of important treatments and drugs are not covered by the state's Medicaid program. Yet, they are happy to pay for "assisted" suicide.

"Supporters claim physician-assisted suicide gives patients a choice, but what sort of a choice is it when life is expensive but death is free?" Toffler asks.

"Death with Dignity" sounds like compassion. Evil is often disguised as good. Few among us want dying patients to suffer needlessly against their will. This ill-conceived proposal is not the answer. It stands to do far more harm than good.

Vote no on Proposition 106, a dangerous idea that can only endanger vulnerable patients and exacerbate Colorado's suicide crisis.

­— The Gazette, Sept. 18

How would the next president reverse the VA's downward spiral?

Let's hope the moderators for the coming presidential debates press the candidates to substantively explain to the nation their proposed solutions for dealing with a Veterans Affairs system in clear need of reform.

The latest news from Colorado alone suggests deadly problems with patient wait times and irresponsible management of its facilities will continue to haunt the Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucracy far beyond our state's borders. Indeed, it would seem the current VA culture is collapsing under its inability to stop making bad decisions.

This week we learned of a whistle-blower claim that officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Colorado Springs forged documents after a 26-year-old Army Ranger struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder committed suicide while awaiting treatment this summer, apparently in part because of excessive delays in treatment.

The claim comes after the wait lists trouble of 2014. Then, agency employees in Phoenix dealt with high demand for patient service by concealing the extent of the problem. The subterfuge has been cited as a potential factor in the deaths of at least 35 veterans waiting for help.

U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin called for an investigation into the whistle-blower's accusation, and a second claim that VA officials threatened the whistle-blower for alerting Congress.

Next, a VA Inspector General report found that agency officials in Washington looked the other way when they should've been looking into repeated warnings about rising costs at the VA hospital then and still under construction in Aurora.

Seems like every time we get a new report on that hospital. The price goes up and opening date extends into the future. The IG report says the Aurora facility once expected to cost $604 million will need at least six more months of construction time and cost $315 million more than the $1.7 billion price tag it swelled to.

As the IG put it, "This means veterans will not likely be served by a fully functioning facility before mid-to-late 2018 or almost 20 years after VA identified the need to replace and expand its aging facility in Denver."

The watchdogs found that Glenn Haggstrom, the construction chief who should have taken heed the Aurora hospital's whimsical design elements were breaking the bank — and a prominent subject in The Denver Post's investigation of the Aurora project's troubles — declined to tell Congress about the concerns when called to testify in 2013 and 2014.

Haggstrom and another official involved in the mess have left the agency with full benefits. An internal investigation the VA has refused to make public found, miraculously, that no other punishments are necessary.

President Barack Obama recently noted his administration has reduced wait times by hiring more doctors, nurses and staff. But no sooner did that bit of good news arrive than government officials released a report warning the VA is battling a rush of doctors and other key medical staff toward the exits.

Sad times indeed. Especially when you consider that the country's two major political parties have presented presidential nominees most Americans find untrustworthy.

Properly treating veterans is a fundamental responsibility of any commander in chief. We hope veterans' issues on these and other fronts get more attention before Election Day.

— The Denver Post, Sept. 22