EDITORIAL: Whose power is it, anyway

A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, with my encouragement, a neighbor cut down three tall locust trees in his front yard. My two nearby apple trees are still in shock. I’m no farmer but it looks to me like my trees haven’t adjusted to all the sunlight that comes their way now that the locusts no longer shade them.

If the new trees my neighbor has planted grow as planned, shade will return to the property line someday. For now the apple trees do what they can to adapt to a warmer habitat. Some humans are doing something similar.

It’s reassuring to see solar panels attached to rooftops or freestanding in yards and fields around the county. The Taconic Hills Central School District has a big solar garden–or small solar farm–across Route 23 from the school campus. Businesses have adopted solar power too. The panels at The Chatham Berry Farm are, not surprisingly, near its greenhouses. Read more…

EDITORIAL: What’s it made of?

THIS WEEK MARKS the season’s last great migration of holiday trash to the curb. Garbage bags huddle beside the tall recycling bins that line county sidewalks and roadsides. The bins await the embrace of robot arms that toss their waste into hauling truck hoppers. Will China change this?

Last month the Chinese government said it would no longer accept foreign trash. This is not an idle threat. China is the world’s largest recycler, and the U.S. exports millions of tons of plastics and electronics waste, among other trash, to Chinese recycling factories. The Chinese public doesn’t like all the pollution that comes from those “recyclables” we send them. Makes you wonder where our unwanted plastics will go if not there.

We have a busy public recycling program here in Columbia County. If you don’t want to use a private hauling company, you can take your recyclables to one of the waste transfer stations operated around the county by the Columbia County Solid Waste Department. Read more…

EDITORIAL: Is it safer yet?

IT FEELS AWKWARD pointing out positive news regarding Amtrak while the extent of the disastrous passenger train crash in Washington state is still unfolding. The best argument for bringing up the subject now is to reassure myself that train travel remains relatively safe and to ask why it isn’t safer.

The train in Washington was apparently traveling at almost three times the speed limit when it derailed. One of the first questions raised by news organizations and safety experts was whether that train’s locomotive was equipped with a system called Positive Train Control (PTC), which is designed to automatically slow a train traveling too fast. Amtrak says the PTC wasn’t in use when the crash happened.

Amtrak owns the rails from Poughkeepsie to a point northwest of Albany. These are the tracks that pass through Hudson, the third busiest train station in the state. That’s not a misprint, but let’s deal with safety first. Amtrak’s Empire Service between New York City and Buffalo also uses the tracks of other railroads. South of Poughkeepsie the tracks are the responsibility of the Metro-North, part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA. Are trains on those tracks using PTC? Not yet. Read more…

EDITORIAL: You want how much more?

REMEMBER HIGH STAKES TESTING? Many parents and local school administrators do. Think of it as the standardized-test-zombie apocalypse. Imagine hours of statewide tests taken by 3rd, 5th and 8th graders struggling with lessons based on educational principles developed during (cue the zombie music)… Night of the Living Common Core.

I added the “Night of…” part, but what became known four years ago as the Common Core tests did have a disruptive aspect. It took the form of nearly spontaneous protests by many parents in the Ichabod Crane Central School District who refused to allow their children to take the tests.

ICC had one of the highest rates of participation in this protest, although thousands of public school families across the state also insisted on “opting out” of the tests. This forced the state Board of Regents and the state Education Department to fire commissioner education, dismiss the company that created the tests and make changes in the way the tests are prepared and used. The protests have diminished. Mistrust lingers. Read more…

EDITORIAL: Why pay more for less?

DO YOU READ The Columbia Paper online or in print? Google says we have more online “users” (that’s what Google calls you) than newspaper sales. A couple of hundred more each week. We welcome our web readers, but we’re worried about you.

The problem doesn’t have to do with any of you in particular. It’s your access to this and countless other small internet operations because of a proposal by the federal government to do away with a policy called net neutrality. It’s a national issue, but what happens to net neutrality in Washington, DC, matters to Columbia County, and that includes those who don’t use the internet.

It takes a lot of electronic “plumbing” to make the internet work and a few large companies with familiar names like AT&T and Verizon (among others) control the gateways to that plumbing. The current net neutrality policy of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that the rates the companies charge for using internet gateways must apply equally to all types of users, big or small. The companies aren’t allowed to create preferential rates or to block or slow down service for commercial reasons. Put another way, they can’t make it easier to get to Facebook than to columbiapaper.com. Read more…