Colorado editorial roundup |

Colorado editorial roundup

Ballot the wrong way to decide right to die

We all die. It’s just a question of when.

But, for those who know the end is near, the absence of laws assuring a peaceful, self-directed, medically-supervised, drug-induced death becomes an urgent matter.

We don’t begrudge a Parker man’s attempts to get a measure on the 2016 ballot that would ask voters to make doctor-assisted suicide legal in Colorado. But, we don’t support it either.

Lance Wright is afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, and he’s upset the law doesn’t allow him to decide where and when his life will end.

For Wright, this boils down to establishing a legally-recognized right to die — to control our own destiny without government interference. In that vein, he’s chosen the proper vehicle because his measure — if it passed — would be written into the Colorado Constitution.

Once that right is established, the courts and the Legislature would sort out the definitions and guidelines, he said.

But, this is precisely why Wright’s quest is doomed to fail. Voters want certainty, down to the last detail, about how death will be administered. The ethical considerations must come first to achieve any level of comfort with such a sensitive issue. In a state with a hefty evangelical presence, a broad provision like doctor-assisted suicide is certain to spark protests about interfering with God’s will.

Rep. Lois Court, a Denver Democrat, tried to pass a bill modeled after Oregon’s assisted-suicide law last session. Even she believes that Wright’s proposal goes too far. Court’s proposal has very narrow definitions that limit the right to kill oneself to a very strict set of circumstances. Wright’s measure is far more open-ended and would allow someone to specify that they want to be put to death, even if they aren’t able to say so at the time, in the event they become physically or mentally incapacitated.

Court said she plans to reintroduce a measure similar to last year’s failed bill, but with even tighter conditions. Whether she succeeds, it’s an important issue worthy of public debate.

Atul Gawande, an esteemed surgeon, author and public health researcher has sparked a national discussion about end-of-life issues with his recent book “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.”

In it, he describes a medical system finally coming to grips with the notion that medicine isn’t just about prolonging life. Doctors are overtrained to fix health problems, but receive no practical guidance on how to manage problems they can’t fix.

As a result, dying patients may receive last-ditch, heroic measures that can cause more harm than good. Doctors must learn to ask what a patient’s priorites are at the end of life and align care and treatment with those priorities.

Gawande barely touches on physician-assisted suicide, but it would fall under his prescription for “better and earlier conversations with people about what matters at the end of life.”

For some, it’s a peaceful death on their own terms.

– The Daily Sentinel, Aug. 28

Fighting the president’s Clean Power Plan does not reflect Colorado values

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said Friday that she would be adding this state’s name to a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. It is a move that puts her at odds with Colorado values, the tide of history and the good of the nation.

The Clean Power Plan aims to cut the carbon emissions of coal-burning power plants by 32 percent from their 2005 levels by 2030. It is an ambitious goal in a worthy effort to combat climate change and improve air quality.

The Clean Power Plan is not only a good idea, it is an imperative. Climate change is an increasingly well recognized threat, and pollution from coal-fired power plants is obvious. Moreover, with advances in renewable energy technology — combined with the nationwide boom in natural gas — doing something about it is clearly possible.

Why that is controversial, let alone objectionable, has to do with several factors. One, of course, is simply that it is Obama’s plan. That in itself is enough to generate opposition.

Another factor is the coal industry, which stands to suffer if generating electric power depends less on burning coal. Leading that charge are people like the Koch brothers and groups such as the Heartland Institute, which seemingly exists to promote climate change denial.

The lawsuit is also supported by the Colorado Mining Association. In a statement issued Saturday, it said, “Coffman seeks to protect Colorado consumers from skyrocketing electricity prices … “ and “The EPA regulations … threaten the reliability of the electrical grid.”

Plus, there is the general opposition to the Environment Protection Agency and its authority to control pollution — typically characterized as “regulatory overreach” — which is where Coffman comes in. The problem with that is the objections to the Clean Power Plan consist of the same arguments that have been made against every environmental rule ever proposed.

Speaking to The Denver Post, Coffman said, “I think it has the potential to cost jobs. I think it will impact the rates that we pay for our electricity. And I think it impacts the rights of our state government to make these decisions about how electricity is delivered.”

It will cost jobs. But then, it will also create jobs. Whether that will be a net loss, a gain or a wash is hard to say, but those new jobs and their surroundings will definitely be cleaner and more sustainable.

Notions of “skyrocketing” electric rates as threats to the grid are laughable. Natural gas is cheap and the easiest way to move away from coal. In the long run, renewable sources will also be cost-competitive with coal. And if coal’s real cost is counted, factoring in its health and economic effects such as the mercury in local lakes, they may well be already. As to the structure of the grid, that has nothing to do with what energy source produces the electric power.

The irony to Coffman’s move is that Colorado is well positioned to work within the Clean Power Plan. Under the state’s Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, passed in 2010, utilities are already required to come up with plans to cut pollution. With that, under the Clean Power Plan the state is required to cut emissions by a lower percentage than the national standard, not because it is allowed to be dirtier, but because it is already on the way.

Fighting the Clean Power Plan is not in Colorado’s best interest. On the contrary, from a Southwest Colorado point of view, Attorney General Coffman would do better using her influence to ensure that New Mexico and Arizona comply with it.

– The Durango Herald, Sept. 1

Don’t question state CEO’s big raise

Just behave, state treasurer Walker Stapleton. Go along with the established governing class. Don’t ask questions. Toe the line and allow politicians to help fellow politicians. To do otherwise — to work as a defender of public funds — is just plain “asinine” and “stupid.”

That’s the message made clear last week by Lynn Turner, one of three governor-appointed members of the board of directors of Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association.

Stapleton has shown a commitment to defending the public interest against questionable agendas of the governing class. He was a front-line warrior against the proposal for a $1 billion tax increase, deceptively promoted as revenue for classrooms and teachers. Voters trounced the proposal in 2013, trusting Stapleton’s judgment. A member of the PERA board, he has pushed for transparency against the wishes of fellow board members and the pension’s ranking employees.

His commitment to serving the public rose to the level of “asinine” last week when he dared question an enormous raise for PERA Executive Director Gregory Smith.

It was apparently supposed to be a rubber stamp affair, with the board quickly approving a $1.8 million contract extension for Smith. The deal would include a $394,000 base salary for 2016, with possible 30 percent annual bonuses and a $200,000 retention bonus.

Stapleton, as reported in a Gazette news story, suggested the director’s bonuses should reflect performance and results. He recommended tying bonuses to factors such as the fund’s return on investment or reductions in the $26 billion unfunded liability. Doing so would benefit state employees and all other taxpayers of Colorado, who are ultimately at risk if the pension goes bust.

Stapleton’s suggestion was “stupid” and “asinine,” in the opinion of Turner.

“I’ve never heard anyone propose such a stupid idea,” Turner said.

We have heard considerably stupider ideas, most notably one that says a 30 percent bonus — about $120,000 a year — should have no basis in performance. In the world of wage earners, such as the Colorado’s teachers who work to fund PERA, bonuses are tied to performance. If Turner thinks Smith is somehow entitled to lower expectations than people who teach kids for $40,000 a year, then Turner should resign from the board.

In Turner’s world, Smith should get a giant raise even if his actions reduce the performance of investment funds generated by teachers and other government wage earners.

Smith isn’t exactly making a sacrifice by managing PERA. As Stapleton pointed out, the CEO of California’s much larger $300 billion retirement system receives a salary, combined with bonuses, of about $500,000. Smith, who manages a much smaller pension than California’s, will receive about $750,000 in salary and bonuses.

Smith’s defenders on the board told Stapleton the CEO deserves more than California’s because Smith manages more investments in-house. They approved his generous raise by a 12-1 vote.

If Smith deserves so much more because he makes investments, it is all the more reason to tie his bonuses to his decisions. Treat him like he lives among those state employees and taxpayers who fund the pension. Reward him as government critics frequently insist the private sector reward corporate CEOs.

Turner’s asinine comment highlights what is wrong with PERA. The majority of those who run it prefer immunity from accountability. They prefer to live in a world of illogical money management that is not scrutinized for results.

— The Colorado Springs Gazette, Sept.1

Countdown for northwest Colorado coal mine

The clock runs out this weekend on a federal judge’s extraordinary order giving the Interior Department just 120 days to fix what he said were flaws in an environmental analysis of an eight-year-old expansion permit for the Colowyo coal mine in northwestern Colorado.

At the request of WildEarth Guardians, a group opposing all fossil fuel extraction in the West, Judge R. Brooke Jackson mandated the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) take a closer look at “the direct and indirect environmental effects of the Colowyo mining plan revisions” and wrap it up by Sept. 6.

The indirect effects include the effects of burning coal.

If Interior fails to satisfy the judge and he were to close the mine, it would amount to a heavy economic blow of more than $200 million to Moffat and Rio Blanco counties — not to mention the very personal trauma to 220 employees who could lose their jobs.

It would also be a blow to common sense. The mine has been operating in compliance with all relevant safety and environmental regulations since the permit’s approval. And while the effects of coal combustion are real, they are dealt with through a variety of environmental policies and regulations that govern how it is used in power plants. T But coal will remain a part of America’s energy portfolio for many years and it has to come from somewhere. And the existence of a mine presupposes the product will be used. As attorneys for Colowyo Coal Co. noted in a legal filing, “Combustion of the mined coal is a necessary and foreseeable consequence of granting a federal coal lease.”

It’s unfortunate that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell decided against appealing Jackson’s ruling, but she has also said federal officials were “doing everything we can” to avoid a mine shutdown.

And she may be right. On Tuesday, OSMRE released a revised environmental assessment in what may be record time for such a document, as well as an official finding of no significant environmental impact. We hope it will be enough to satisfy the judge.

The economic health of northwestern Colorado depends on it. He Obama administration’s recent Clean Power Plan goes further than ever in pushing states to transition from coal to other energy sources.

— The Denver Post, Sept. 1

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