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Grassroots Bulletin

February 2012 Grassroots Newsletter

Special "State of the Union" Edition

The State of the Union is an annual address by the President of the United States that reports on the condition of the nation and allows the president to outline his legislative agenda and his national priorities. In recent years, the governor and mayor have also given annual speeches to the same effect. We've decided to publish this special edition of the Grassroots Newsletter to focus on the highlights of each speech.

SOTU: Energy Issues at the Core of President Obama's State of the Union Address

In his State of the Union address on January 24, President Obama made the case for producing more of the United States' energy supplies domestically and pursuing an "all-of-the-above" approach to further bolster the economy and national security.

Speaking to a joint session of Congress in his third State of the Union address, Obama called for policies that harness a mixture of fossil-fuel and alternative energy resources. He said his administration would open most of the nation's offshore oil-and-gas resources for development, continue supporting shale-gas production and put more renewable-energy projects on federal lands.

But he also made requests of Congress. He repeated his unsuccessful call last year for a mandate on clean power sources and asked Congress to pass tax incentives for cleaner energy sources while rolling back subsidies for fossil fuels.

Obama has faced immense pressure from Republicans, energy industry groups and others to make it easier to drill for oil and gas offshore as well as mine for coal. Meanwhile environmental and clean-energy advocates, who form a component of his base, have pressured Obama to reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and shift toward zero-emission sources like solar and wind.

More Oil and Gas

In his address, Obama defended his administration's record on fossil fuels, saying U.S. oil production reached its highest level in eight years, and net oil imports, at 46 percent in 2011, had dipped to their lowest level in 16 years.

The president said he would direct his administration to open 75 percent of the nation's potential offshore fossil-fuel resources. Saying that tapping the nation's oil reserves "isn't enough," he added he would "take every possible action to safely develop" domestic natural gas

But he said his administration would move forward on new rules requiring disclosure of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process on public lands. "America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk," Obama said. The president has directed his administration to develop a plan for safe extraction of natural gas from shale deposits, which the White House says will support more than 600,000 jobs. The administration is moving forward with what it calls "common-sense" rules to ensure that safe drilling practices are followed and the types of chemicals used in the so-called fracking method are disclosed for operations on public lands. At the same time the president boasted of the nation's vast shale gas deposits, the EPA is poised to release a widely anticipated study on hydraulic fracturing. Many in the gas industry fear that the upcoming EPA study will call for harsh new regulations on the process, and many environmental groups - a key constituency for Obama during this year's re-election bid - are publicly pushing the administration to outlaw fracking entirely.

Boosting Alternative Energy

With Republicans holding a strong majority in the House, Obama acknowledged he probably can't win approval of certain policies he campaigned on in 2008, such as sweeping climate-change legislation. But he said the nation nonetheless should help support the development of alternative energy sources.

"I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here," Obama said. The president plans to direct his administration to establish solar energy zones and wind energy areas on public lands to power three million homes by the end of 2012.

In addition to seeking a "clean-energy standard," he called on Congress to pass clean-energy tax credits and other incentives to get businesses to make their facilities more energy-efficient. He didn't specify which energy credits he was referring to; some are set to expire in the coming two years. The White House estimates incentives and efforts to reduce regulatory barriers could save $100 billion from the nation's energy bills and cut energy imports. Obama also said he will direct the Defense Department to make the largest renewable energy purchase in history — 1 gigawatt, or 1 billion watts.

Facing pressure from Republicans over what some have called "job-killing" regulations, Obama said his administration has rolled back unneeded or outdated rules to help business. But he defended other regulations his administration has handed down, including the power-plant regulation (known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards) and tougher safety standards for offshore drilling.

"I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago," Obama said. "I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean."

Missing from Obama's speech was any mention of the Keystone XL pipeline, which the State Department denied a permit for over concerns about a Feb. 21 decision deadline that was imposed by Congress in 2011. Republicans have vowed to push legislation to approve the pipeline. The project would carry Canadian oil sands crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. The fight over the pipeline will continue next week in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the administration's decision.

Financial Fraud

Obama proposed steps to target fraud in the financial sector and mortgage industry, with a Financial Crimes Unit to crack down on bankers and financial service professionals, and a separate special unit of federal prosecutors and state attorneys general to expand investigations into abusive lending that led to the housing crisis. "This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans," Obama said.


The president said the wealthy should pay their fair share in taxes, arguing that anyone who makes more than $1 million should pay a minimum tax rate of at least 30 percent. He also provided more details about the so-called Buffett rule, which sets a goal of a minimum tax rate for those earning $1 million or more a year.


Obama proposed a nationwide program to allow homeowners with privately held mortgages to refinance at lower interest rates. It would cover both loans issued by government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and private bank mortgage lenders. Congress would have to approve, a difficult hurdle. Under the plan, any homeowner current on his or her mortgage could take advantage of lending rates now at four percent or below. Administration officials offered few details but estimated savings of about $3,000 a year for average borrowers.

Immigration and Workforce

The president reiterated a call for comprehensive immigration reform, including giving responsible young people a chance to earn their citizenship. He suggested creating a Veterans Job Corps to help communities hire veterans, and he committed to closing the wage gap between men and women.

Trade Enforcement

Obama called for the creation of a new trade enforcement unit that would go after unfair trade practices around the world, including China. He said the U.S. would provide financing to put its companies on even footing when the Chinese or other competitors use unfair export financing to help their businesses. He also called for better inspections to stop counterfeit, pirated or unsafe goods from entering the U.S.

War Savings and Infrastructure Investment

The president proposed using half the savings achieved by winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover costs of new investments in infrastructure. Obama wants the money to go toward fixing existing roads and building new high-speed rail projects. He also plans to sign an executive order in the coming weeks to clear some of the bureaucratic roadblocks that have slowed work on projects that have already been funded. The White House says the other half of the savings from drawing down the wars would go toward reducing the national debt.


Obama proposed eliminating tax incentives that make it more attractive for companies to ship jobs overseas. The proposal would require American companies to pay a minimum tax on their overseas profits in order to prevent other countries from attracting U.S. businesses with unusually low tax rates. Obama also wants to eliminate tax deductions companies receive for the cost of shutting down factories and moving production overseas. Instead, Obama wants to create a new tax credit to cover moving expenses for companies that close production overseas and bring jobs back to the U.S. He also wants to reduce tax rates for manufacturers and double the tax deduction for high-tech manufacturers in order to create more manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

SOTS: Plans for "Energy Expressway," Increased Solar Investment, on Tap in Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State Address

Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out his agenda for the 2012 legislative session in his second State of the State address delivered January 4. "New York State is on the way to coming back stronger than ever before. By working together in a bipartisan manner and putting the people first, we have established the credibility to govern and to lead. Now we must build on what we have already accomplished to begin to undo decades of decline. We have big problems, but we are confronting them with big solutions. Now is the time to get to work, building a New New York together," Governor Cuomo said.

In his address, Cuomo pledged to close the estimated $2 billion budget gap without raising taxes or fees, and unveiled a three-point plan to confront the State's problems – The Economic Blueprint, Reimagining Government, and New York as a Progressive Capital.

Energy Expressway

The "Economic Blueprint" seeks to invest billions of dollars in key public-private sector partnerships and rebuild infrastructure to create thousands of new jobs across the state. This will include significant investment in infrastructure to create an "energy expressway" to bring excess fossil-fuel energy from Western New York downstate and tap into upstate's potential for renewable energy. The expressway will also bring energy down from Quebec to preserve Western New York's current allocation of low cost hydropower while addressing the energy needs of downstate. The State will issue Requests for Proposals to implement a master plan to meet New York's power needs for the next 50 years. The governor's plan imagines private companies will seek to finance and build $2 billion in infrastructure to complete the system. In addition, the plan includes repowering old and dirty power plants which will be fast-tracked as a result of the recently-enacted Article X energy siting law.

NY-Sun Initiative

Also on Cuomo's agenda is the NY-Sun initiative which will greatly expand the state's solar programs. However, he acknowledged that solar power is still more expensive to develop than other renewables. Therefore, NY-Sun will increase competitive procurement of large-scale solar projects and expand rebate programs for residential and commercial small-to-medium systems "while curbing costs and protecting the ratepayer." It is estimated that the NY-Sun Initiative will be capable of doubling the current customer-sited photovoltaic capacity and quadruple it by 2013. The initiative is intended to establish New York's technology leadership in the emerging solar market while balancing investments in other renewable resources and protecting the taxpayer. "This approach will create jobs, expand solar power, and protect ratepayers – a win, win, win," Cuomo said.

State Facilities Energy Master Plan

In order to promote energy efficiency while saving money, creating jobs and reducing pollution, Cuomo announced that the state will develop a master plan for accelerating energy-saving improvements in state facilities. The plan will provide for substantial improvements in cost-effective energy efficiency measures in state buildings over the next four years. Cuomo asserts that all of this can be accomplished at no cost to the state because the upfront investment will be repaid from the energy savings. Beyond the financial benefit, the program will create thousands of highly-skilled jobs across the state.

On-Bill Financing

Cuomo also highlighted some of the accomplishments from his first year in office, including enactment of on-bill financing, the first of its kind in the nation. In doing so, he announced the early implementation of this program which allows consumers to retrofit their homes with energy efficient upgrades and pay the cost on their monthly energy bill. "The work pays for itself over time because the energy savings reduce consumers' energy bills by more than the cost of repaying the loan… This early start will help produce immediate jobs, and it has the potential to provide benefits to 40,000 homes across the state," Cuomo said.

Infrastructure Investments – Economic Development Plans

The governor also announced the creation of the New York Works Fund and Task Force which will coordinate, leverage and accelerate capital investment in roads and bridges, including construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge. In addition, state monies will be leveraged to invest in municipal water systems, as well as flood control projects and dams damaged in Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

Other job-creating measures include a public-private partnership to develop a new convention space at the Aqueduct Racetrack Center, redevelopment of the Jacob Javits Convention Center as a mixed-use space, and the legalization of casino gambling in New York. The governor also called for a $1 billion economic development package for Buffalo and another round of funding for the 10 Regional Economic Development Councils.

As part of the "Reimagining New York" component of the three-point plan intended to reinvent how government operates, Cuomo proposed a redesign of the Emergency Management System. "Last year's floods highlighted problems with the current system – breakdowns in communication and transportation, as well as inadequate deployment of personnel," he said. To address these inadequacies, a statewide network of emergency responders will be created so New York will be prepared to handle any type of emergency at any time. Jerry Hauer, former head of emergency management for New York City, will establish a new network of municipal and regional emergency responders. The first network conference will convene in the coming months.

The governor also called for mandate relief which will include pension reform and the creation of a new Tier VI for public employees. In addition, the Mandate Relief Council, created last year, will hold public hearings across the state to obtain public input on the pros and cons of particular mandates. A package of recommendations will be issued by the end of session for action to be taken this year.

To continue New York's legacy as a "Progressive Capital", Cuomo announced he will take on education reform, with plans to form a panel to look at ways to make schools more accountable. Also on the agenda are independent redistricting, food stamp reform, and protection of reproductive rights.

SOTC: Mayor Bloomberg Focused on Jobs, Education, During Annual State of the City Address

Delivering a familiar message, Mayor Bloomberg promised to focus on job creation and stimulating the economy in the next year when he delivered his annual State of the City address January 12. This includes an increase in the minimum wage from the current $7.25 national level. Noting that two of New York's neighbors recently raised their hourly minimum wage — Connecticut to $8.25, Massachusetts to $8 — he said he would support doing the same in New York. New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) announced a similar proposal in a brief speech before the Governor's State of the State address last week.

An increase in minimum wage could also be seen as a compromise to the controversial living wage bill, pending in the City Council, which would raise wages for workers in city-subsidized developments to $10 an hour with benefits, or $11.50 an hour without benefits. One City Council member, Annabel Palma of the Bronx, saw Mr. Bloomberg's support for increasing the minimum wage as a "poor substitute" for endorsing the living wage bill. Mayor Bloomberg has long-expressed significant opposition to living wage legislation arguing it would hinder job creation.

In addition to raising the minimum wage to stimulate economic development and growth, he also highlighted the city's renewed attempt to redevelop the vacant Kingsbridge Armory, as well as a plan to promote investment and development in the area around Grand Central Terminal.

Much of the speech focused on education and a proposed merit-pay system. This program would award teachers who are rated "highly effective" for two consecutive years with a $20,000 salary increase. Furthermore, in an effort to reclaim $60 million in federal funding and address the ongoing stalemate between the city and unions over teacher evaluations, Mayor Bloomberg proposed the formation of committees to evaluate teachers at 33 struggling schools based on classroom performance.

Finally, Mayor Bloomberg announced a new goal of doubling the amount of garbage the city diverts from landfills over the next five years. The city will expand recycling to include all rigid plastics, like yogurt cups and medicine bottles, by summer 2013, when a new recycling plant under construction in Brooklyn is expected to come online. The effort also calls for increasing the number of recycling receptacles in public spaces from approximately 600 to 1,000 by 2014.


You hear a blood curdling scream, witness a female being brutally robbed at gunpoint, then quickly see two good Samaritans speedily take chase on foot to catch the suspect.

What sounds like a script from an action-packed TV show, in reality turns out to be the efforts of four Con Edison employees who recently saved a Queens woman from imminent danger as a victim of a violent purse snatching.

"She got punched in the face, she was bleeding from her mouth, they chipped her tooth," said John Kane, a gas operating supervisor on job with his crew in Bayside, Queens.

"As soon as I turned around we saw them, it was a commotion, a lot of yelling, arguing," said John McDonnell, Mechanic B, who joined the company in 2005.

Kane and McDonnell recalled that the crew approached the menacing suspect. The man pointed his gun right at them and told them all to step back. At that moment the suspect ran off.

In an attempt to aid the battered woman, and with total disregard for their personal safety, the four-man team chased the suspect through a neighborhood backyard.

"We ran right there, you know," said McDonnell, describing the harrowing scene. "You hear something like that happen and you just run right there. You just go right into mode, you want to help somebody."

Despite their heroic efforts, the determined crew lost the perpetrator. The entire crew stayed with the 24-year woman until police arrived.

"She was very grateful that we helped her out and she was very thankful that we stopped the altercation," said Kane, a 24-year Con Edison employee.

Michael Santeramo, Mechanic A, and Anthony Farmighetti, Mechanic B, rounded out the Con Edison gas crew who helped to thwart the robbery and aided the woman.

Civics Quiz

Former Massachusetts governor and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in what American city?

Submit your answers to grassroots@conEd.com with "Civics Quiz" in the subject line for a chance to win a pair of tickets to see a dance performance at New York Live Arts.

Congratulations to Daniel W. Rosenblum, who correctly answered the last quiz question: "In 1994, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, promoted a document released by the Republican Party which detailed the actions the Republicans promised to take if they became the majority party in the House of Representatives. What's the name of that document?"

The answer is "Contract with America." The employee won a choice to see "Anything Goes" at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, or tickets to catch "The Road to Mecca" at the American Airlines Theatre.

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