Category: Sarah Gantz

Worcestor Makes The Leap to Green

April 21st, 2009 in Massachusetts, Sarah Gantz, Spring 2009 Newswire

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sarah Gantz
Boston University Washington News Service

WASHINGTON—Worcester was once a bustling mill town, a star of the industrial revolution. Then the biotech boom hit and the city, along with the rest of central Massachusetts, clamored to cater to the surge of university research and new business. After that came a lull, as the biotech hype settled and the science students left for bigger things.

Now, Worcester officials say, it is the time for a new revolution: time to change the city’s centuries-old infrastructure, roads and reputation, and turn Worcester green.

It is a catchphrase tossed around by idealists and political candidates—“going green.” And it is an idea with a sparkling emerald appeal that often masks a cloudy definition. Going green can mean a lot of things—energy-efficient buildings constructed with environment-friendly materials, better recycling, less waste, more trees, broader public transit.

In Worcester, the vision is ambitious. City officials want to transform it into a model city of energy efficiency, a hub of green businesses, a magnet for cutting-edge research of conservation technology.

“Do you remember the Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz? That’s what we’re looking for,” said John Odell, Worcester’s energy efficiency and conservation manager, who was appointed in February to lead the way down the yellow brick road.

This will take years, a decade, even, but it is doable, officials say. The city has already begun to take small steps. Two years ago, officials designed the Climate Action Plan, which outlines 17 strategies for reducing energy use and the emission of greenhouse gases in Worcester. But only recently has the budding plan begun to take shape. Now that its roots are firmly planted, the Energy Task Force, which was disbanded after writing the climate plan but reestablished this spring, is ready to promote its work among the people of Worcester, the conservation-minded in New England and forward-looking businesses and researchers across the nation.

“We’ve started the ball bouncing,” Mr. Odell said. “We’re starting to pick up a little speed, a little momentum. And I hope we’re going to be an example—this is what you can do in a city like ours.”

City leaders have set three green goals to work toward over the next two years—the amount of time $482 million will be available in Massachusetts from the federal stimulus legislation for clean energy and environment initiatives. They hope to make the city’s energy plan more efficient, to create jobs in green industries (anything from home weatherization to biofuel research) and to develop a science plan that keeps Worcester-based researchers ahead of the curve of newfangled green technology.

The Energy Task Force began as a partnership between Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Clark University to create green jobs in the area. Mayor Konstantina B. Lukes and Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, soon joined the effort to make it a city-wide initiative with a much broader mission than job creation and with a chance at picking up some federal funds.

The initiative follows Worcester’s entry three years ago into Local Governments for Sustainability, an international green city organization with a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to Missy Stults, a senior program officer with the organization, which helps cities make the leap from industrial brown and gray to green.

The city has already invested in LED stoplights and more-efficient lighting in municipal buildings. And a contract signed earlier this year with Honeywell International will allow the company to conduct energy audits in Worcester’s public schools and municipal buildings next month to evaluate where the delivery of energy can be further streamlined.

What is important, Ms. Stults said, is to make sure each city tailors its energy plan to make the most difference. West Coast cities, like Portland and Seattle, have emphasized green construction.

In Seattle (coincidentally nicknamed the Emerald City for its evergreen trees), 90 percent of electricity comes from hydropower, a renewable energy that depends on water flow.

But Worcester—which was about 200 years old when Seattle was born—is better off focusing on installing better heating, lighting and recycling systems in existing buildings, according to David Angel, a Clark University professor who is part of the city’s green task force.

The question, he says, is this: “How do you improve energy efficiency in a place that is already built up?” His answer: “retrofitting residential space rather than focusing on new construction.”

Which means taking a stab at the outdated apartment buildings and older homes that are without a doubt wasting energy, in addition to revamping the city’s energy patterns, he said. That means weatherization.

Massachusetts received $122 million from the economic stimulus legislation to be put toward weatherizing homes. A properly weatherized home can save homeowners as much as $350 a year, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Last year Worcester spent $16.1 million on energy for schools and municipal buildings. Once Honeywell completes its audits of energy use in all municipal buildings and schools, the city could save a significant amount of money, Mr. Odell said, though he could not give an estimate of savings, he noted, until the audits are completed.

The idea is to not only save taxpayers money and reduce energy consumption, but also to create jobs in the process. Someone has to lay down the insulation. Someone needs to provide the insulation (made without harm to the environment). And someone else has to develop and manufacture the environmentally friendly insulation.

“We’re doing all this as a municipality,” assistant city manager Julie Jacobson said. But practicing green attracts green, she said. “Not only are they a green company,” she said of the businesses Worcester hopes to attract, “but they’re located in a green city.”

Another hoped-for effect of going green: retaining some of the university brainpower that tends to leave town after graduation. If Worcester can be the center of innovative green research, maybe it can convince the fresh science minds from places like WPI to stick around and help develop the next biofuel or energy source.

A hydrogen-fueled car, for example, is an idea that has been talked about before. But creating affordable hydrogen fuel—that’s where Worcester can get ahead of the game, Mr. Angel said.

All the plans in the world are useless without the money to implement them. Last year, the energy initiatives were tacked on to planning director Joel J. Fontane Jr.’s list of responsibilities. The task force did not exist at the time and therefore was not allotted a portion of the budget. The 2010 city budget has not been completed, but Ms. Jacobson said she thinks the task force will have more to work with this year. Worcester will receive a portion of the $219 million carved out of the Department of Energy’s stimulus funds for Massachusetts, plus whatever grant money from that law that the city can secure on its own.

But Mr. Fontane sees the increased spending on green projects, along with a new media campaign set for this summer, as signs that the task force is truly back in business.

He said he hoped that, with time, “this becomes more of a standard way of business, as opposed to a special project.” The talent, the drive and the resources are all there, he said. “I think we can get there.”


Worcestor Native Leaves Marks on Washington as Major General

April 10th, 2009 in Massachusetts, Sarah Gantz, Spring 2009 Newswire

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sarah Gantz
Boston University Washington News Service

WASHINGTON – The president and the general shared a brief exchange moments after laying a wreath with two elderly Medal of Honor recipients at the foot of the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery. But that was not the highlight of the day for Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr.

Earlier, the Army general, a Worcester native, had signed the promotion application of a young soldier. She had recently completed a bachelor’s degree in biology while on active duty, but her heart was set on driving the president’s limousine, a job that required the rank of sergeant.

Gen. Rowe took out one of his personalized notes, embellished with the two stars of his rank, he recalled, and wrote, “Best wishes for success.”

It is people like the young woman who wants to be a sergeant instead of a biologist who most impress the general—people who, like himself, serve their country not because it is their only choice, but because they feel compelled to military service.

“What a great candidate to become an officer,” Gen. Rowe said of the sergeant-to-be. “She doesn’t have to be. But it’s an option that’s available and it’s a challenge she wants to pick up.”

As the commander of Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, which he has been since 2007, Gen. Rowe is responsible for the safety of Washington. He sits on local emergency response boards and oversees military operations. If the capital should ever come under attack, he would be in charge of its defense.

His ceremonial duties include participating in medal ceremonies and funerals of fallen soldiers. He is also escort to the president—on Inauguration Day, he got a kiss on the cheek from Michelle Obama while walking the First Family down the Capitol steps to the stage.

Gen. Rowe did not become a soldier for the power and the glory—although his father is a World War II veteran and his ancestors fought under George Washington in the Revolutionary War. He had other options after graduating from St. Lawrence University in upstate New York with an economics degree and later earning a master’s degree in business from Boston University while stationed in Germany. Gen. Rowe does what he does by free will.

His military career, 40 years this summer, is a mix of abroad and homeland assignments—including three tours to Korea and homeland commanding positions—that set an example of the lesson with which his conversations with young soldiers often culminate: America is a land of choice; what are your options?

Gen. Rowe, born in Worcester on Aug. 30, 1951, and raised in Franklin and Cheshire, recounted another meeting with a young soldier standing guard at the edge of a ceremony at Arlington Cemetery. The general strolled over after it was over, said hello, and asked how things were going. Then he got to the nut of the conversation.

“I told him, ‘What are you doing, you should be in college,’ ” Gen. Rowe recalled. “He said he’d been in college—graduated in three years, tests off the walls. But he wants to be an officer, he said, and he wanted to do it by going through infantry.”

Gen. Rowe said he never expected to be where he is today, a high-profile homeland security officer, saluting the president at his inauguration, making frequent public appearances and knowing everyone.

Despite the confidence in his voice and crinkles at the corners of his eyes when he smiles and the ease with which he holds conversations, his duties require an aptitude for socialization that the major general says does not come naturally to him.

“I’m an introvert,” he said. “When I’m on my own, I’ll sit in a corner with a book,” mostly biographies and military tactics, usually more than one at a time. At home after a long day, he sits quietly with a newspaper or book or talks with his wife, Dale, about the people he met.

He says his people skills are learned and practiced, like any other military skill. He talks to everyone. He can recall in great detail the burdens and business of each conversation.

While making the rounds through Fort Myer a few weeks ago, he stopped to chat with a military police company commander. “She was telling me she had a new lieutenant arrive yesterday and another one coming in a couple of weeks and she was excited because she was going to get to do leadership development…. These are lieutenants who graduated from college last spring, now they’re coming to their first unit, and for a captain who’s already been through this, it’s pretty exciting…. I would have liked to have been a lieutenant coming to that company.”

What he and his soldiers do in Washington is incredibly important, he said, and perhaps even underrated. It is one thing to learn how to be social. But the invaluable leadership skills needed for the job he learned in Korea, where he has been deployed three times.

“The best job I ever had,” Gen. Rowe said, was as an infantry battalion commander in Korea during the 1990s. He called it “the one which in terms of growing as an Army officer really was a culminating point.”

His previous assignments include joint plans officer for Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and assistant division commander of operations for the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. He has previously been stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort Stewart in Georgia, and most recently held commanding positions at Fort Monroe, Va., and Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

In Korea, he commanded more than 800 soldiers, he said. Many of his officers have been promoted to colonel and his enlisted men and women to sergeant, but he keeps the memory of all of them—even those he hasn’t heard from in years—close.

“Those were all my units,” he said, pointing out a frame hanging in his office at Fort McNair. Tanks, intelligence, air defense, infantry companies, and 100 Korean soldiers are each represented by a flag the size of a business card. The small flags are behind him as he describes the challenges of the job—train and communicate with the soldiers, demystify the Korean terrain, decide, decide, decide.

“You’re really in charge,” he said. “What that battalion does well and doesn’t, you and your people make happen. You own it.”

Gen. Rowe has received many medals and distinctions—Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Expert Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge and Ranger Tab, to name a few. But it was the lessons about leadership he learned from his troops in Korea that have helped him accomplish his tasks as a general.

“Lord knows how they picked me to be here. I thought to be in this unit you had to be tall and you had to be a good marcher,” the major general said, jokingly.

The soldiers now under his command cite Gen. Rowe’s personal support for his unit.

“You can’t separate the personal from the professional in the Army,” Col. Daniel Baggio, the general’s press secretary, said of his boss. “Our family members and the support you get from them correlates to the professional side, and you can see that in him. You can see the values he was raised with—he wears it on his sleeve.”

The oldest of 10 children, Gen. Rowe spent four years at boarding school in New Hampshire before enrolling in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at St. Lawrence University.

His father has devoted his life to education—first as a college professor in Massachusetts, then at local and federal departments of higher education. He later returned to teaching at Montgomery College in suburban Washington, where, after celebrating his 85th birthday a few weeks ago, he still works as an adjunct business professor.

“My dad is my mentor,” Gen. Rowe said. So when his dad suggested ROTC, he complied.

The general has four daughters, one who recently took her ROTC entrance exam at Clark University and one who returned from Iraq in February.

“He’s very hard-working and expects the same from other people,” Army 1st Lt. Natalie Rowe, 24, said of her father.

But, she said, “He’s the same everywhere.” If she were to place second in a race, her father might gibe that she was the second-place loser, said Lt. Rowe, who had delayed an afternoon run to talk about her father, also a runner.

Gen. Rowe is, of course, proud of Lt. Rowe—he said he thought of her, in Iraq, as he participated in the inauguration ceremony—but he is proud of all his children.

His other two daughters, Hannah French and Therese Van Antwerp, decided against a military career. Hannah, a school teacher in Lynn, “took one look and decided, ‘This isn’t for me,’” Gen. Rowe said. “I’m supportive. I’m a cheerleader.”

On March 25, Gen. Rowe was at the National Medal of Honor Day ceremony, where he displayed another kind of support and respect for the service. President Obama was descending the marble steps to the wreath propped up before the Tomb of the Unknowns. Gen. Rowe was holding on tight to the crook of the arm of an elderly Medal of Honor recipient. They did not miss a step.


Local Congressmen Post Earmarks on Their Websites

April 9th, 2009 in Massachusetts, Sarah Gantz, Spring 2009 Newswire

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sarah Gantz
Boston University Washington News Service

WASHINGTON – Local congressmen reported more than $647 million in 2010 budget earmark requests on their Web sites, in accordance with a House Appropriations Committee reform to enhance transparency.

Since 2007, a list of earmarks and which members requested them has been posted online before a bill is passed. But this is the first time members have been required to independently post on their own Web sites a list of the earmarks they have requested in the proposed spending bills. Not all requested earmarks will be included in the final versions of the bills.

In an effort to improve transparency, the committee requested that members’ lists include the name and address of the organization for which funding has been requested, the amount of money requested and a brief description of the project.

“Certainly this is a significant step forward,” said Steve Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group that has been tracking Congress’ compliance with the new rule.

But, he said, “Having it located on 400 or 500 Web sites—in a variety of locations, in a variety of Web sites—is not the most efficient and effective way to achieve transparency.”

The appropriations earmark lists posted many House members take the form of Internet buried treasure, which require sifting through various pages and subpages to get to the numbers, and as of April 8, many had neglected to post their projects at all.

But U.S. Reps. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, John W. Olver, D-Amherst, and Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, posted links to their budget earmark proposals on their homepages. They say they have nothing to hide; in fact, they are proud of their earmarks.

“For me, it’s very simple—I’m proud of the work I do for my constituents,” said Mr. McGovern, who has requested 55 earmarks worth more than $400 million. “If I can make it easier for them to know what I’m doing, all the better.”

Mr. McGovern’s earmarks can be perused from a menu listed under the “Appropriations” tab on his Web site’s homepage. According to his Web site, Mr. McGovern requested the 55 projects, including $800,000 for the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester, $2 million for CellTech Power, a Westborough-based company, to improve coal fuel efficiency, and $100 million for Boston-Power Inc., which plans to open a plant in Westborough to manufacture lithium-ion batteries needed by the Defense Department.

“It wasn’t that I just drew projects out of a hat,” Mr. McGovern said. He said his project list is the product of long discussions between him, local politicians, business leaders and community groups.

Mr. Olver’s 64 earmarks are listed alphabetically in one press release posted front and center on his homepage. There is no point in hiding the fact that he has requested $76 million for his district, Mr. Olver said.

“Earmarks give me an opportunity to help make a difference,” he said, “to directly address the needs I see in our community.”

Among Mr. Olver’s projects, which he described as “solid investments,” is funding for the Leominster branch of Fosta-Tek Optics to develop low-cost combat optics for use in the Middle East ($1.5 million), Mount Wachusett Community College to erect a wind turbine ($1 million), and the Orange Police Department to begin a civilian watch program ($622,000).

Mr. Neal requested about $82 million in budget earmarks, which are listed on his Web site under the link, “Appropriations Priorities.”

William Tranghese, Mr. Neal’s press secretary, said in an email that it is Mr. Neal’s belief “that this significant reform measure will bring increased scrutiny and accountability to the appropriations process.”


Trucking Industry Opposes McGovern Bill That Would Limit Truck Size

April 2nd, 2009 in Massachusetts, Sarah Gantz, Spring 2009 Newswire

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sarah Gantz
Boston University Washington News Service

WASHINGTON – As the trucking industry seeks to loosen weight regulations for trucks traveling on the nation’s highways, U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern (D-Worcester) and U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) will introduce legislation that would cap truck weight and size. They say limits are necessary to minimize road damage and decrease truck-involved traffic fatalities.

Truckers are pushing to increase the weight limit from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds. The move could reduce truck carbon emissions by as much as 17 percent, according to Clayton W. Boyce, a spokesman for American Trucking Associations, by carrying heavier loads in fewer vehicles.

But lawmakers argue that heavier trucks will only exacerbate the problem of crumbling infrastructure and pose a greater risk to drivers. They argue that limiting truck weight will result in fewer accidents because, they say, heavier trucks take longer to stop.

“We’re not going to be able to go backwards on this, but what we can do is stop where we are so it doesn’t get worse,” Mr. McGovern said.

More than 200 of the 1,446 truck crashes (fatal and nonfatal) in Massachusetts occurred in Worcester County, more than every other county except Middlesex, in 2007, the most recent year for which records are available, according to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The safety administration recorded 26 fatal accidents in Massachusetts involving large trucks in 2007, four of which occurred in Worcester County.

“Generally, tractor-trailer accidents involve fatalities,” said Sgt. James Machado of the Fall River police department, who is the executive director of the Massachusetts Police Association. “Even when they’re involved with nothing but guardrails.”

In two-vehicle crashes involving a passenger car and a large truck, 97 percent of the fatalities were occupants of the passenger vehicle, according to a 2007 study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

On March 20, an 88-year-old Marlboro woman was killed and her husband injured when their car collided with a tractor-trailer on Route 20 in Northboro.

“It’s not only a matter of public safety,” Mr. Machado said. “It’s also a matter of making sure we’re not doing anything counterproductive to the amount of money we’re putting into fixing infrastructure.”

In Massachusetts, the problem is twofold, Mr. McGovern said. Massachusetts roads are infamously in need of repair—“We have bridges that are older than most states in this country,” the congressman pointed out—which is why, he said, it is imperative to preserve them as much as possible by limiting the damage done by heavy trucks.

Gov. Deval Patrick has committed $600 million to repair roads and bridges this year. An additional $3 billion has been put aside for a program that would repair or replace as many as 300 of the commonwealth’s 532 structurally deficient bridges over the next eight years.

Massachusetts received an additional $437.9 million from the new federal stimulus law to spend on federal highway projects.

A number of factors contribute to road deterioration, including weather, chemicals, traffic—and weight of the vehicles, according to Adam Hurtubise, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Transportation in Massachusetts.

“The higher the traffic volume and the heavier the vehicle, the more quickly the roadway tends to deteriorate,” Mr. Hurtubise said.


Local Congressmen Vote in Favor of Tax on AIG Bonuses

March 19th, 2009 in Massachusetts, Sarah Gantz, Spring 2009 Newswire

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sarah Gantz
Boston University Washington News Service

WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives voted Thursday to take back almost all of the money firms aided by the Troubled Assets Relief Program paid out as bonuses to employees, a measure local congressmen say is necessary to quell an infuriating situation.

The bill came as a response to public outcry over $165 million in bonuses TARP recipient American International Group gave to executives, many of whom are considered responsible for shaking the insurer’s stability.

The House voted 328-93 to enforce a 90 percent tax on the bonus paid by AIG and any other company that received more than $5 billion of taxpayer aid.

“Basically what we did today amounts to a big two by four that we’re slamming against the back of their heads,” said Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, who was incredulous that taxpayer money had been used so frivolously.

During debate Thursday, Mr. McGovern expressed on behalf of taxpayers the frustration that money paid with faith it would be put toward fixing a financial problem was squandered for the personal profit of those who played a role in the economy’s downward spiral.

“Those employees made bad bets, and now the American people are paying the tab,” said Mr. McGovern, who described the bonuses as “outrageous.”

Public anger has largely focused on AIG, but the tax would be applicable to bonuses paid by any company that received at least $5 billion in bailout aid.

“Their abusive behavior clearly demonstrates how out of touch they are with the rest of America,” Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, said in a statement. “While hard working men and women are struggling with the current economic crisis, these greedy executives are rewarding themselves with unjustified compensation.”

Edward M. Liddy, the chief executive of AIG told Congress Wednesday that he had asked bonus recipients to return the money.

“That’s fabulous,” Mr. McGovern said. “But we can’t rely on their good hearted generosity.”

He said the bill is necessary to ensure taxpayer money is retrieved.

Only six Democrats voted against the bill and the Republican vote was split nearly in half, with 85 voting in favor, 87 against.

“They’re hearing what we’re hearing,” Mr. McGovern said of his Republican colleagues. “Fix this problem. We don’t want this to happen again.”


Energy Efficient Insulation Industry Would Benefit From Earmark

March 7th, 2009 in Massachusetts, Sarah Gantz, Spring 2009 Newswire

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sarah Gantz
Boston University Washington News Service
March 7, 2009

WASHINGTON – Insulation made in Northborough can be found wrapped around a natural gas pipeline deep in the ocean off the coast of Brazil, packed around the electrical cables beneath the subway system in Beijing, and layered over the oil tank of a tractor in the French countryside.

“There is insulation everywhere—in aircraft, in homes, in appliances—you name it,” said Sara Rosenberg, director of government and strategic planning for insulation manufacturer Aspen Aerogels.

“Everywhere” is exactly where the company, headquartered in Northborough, wants to be. Since Aspen Aerogels was formed in 2001, its products have had “relatively exotic” uses, according to Don Young, the company’s chief executive officer. But with energy conservation in the national spotlight and strapped-for-cash homeowners looking to save, now Aspen Aerogels would like to expand the use of its insulation in residential and commercial buildings.

The building and contracting industry is a goldmine of a market that, if tapped, could increase Aspen’s client base tenfold, Mr. Young said. Problem is, at $2 per square foot, the 10 millimeter thick aerogel used by home and commercial contractors is just too expensive.

But a $1.5 million federal government earmark could change that. Mr. Young said the company would use the money, which is in the government spending bill passed by the House last month, to find more efficient and effective ways to manufacture its insulation.

In order to compete with conventional insulation, Mr. Young estimated the company would have to slash the cost of aerogel insulation by at least a quarter, maybe even a third. Aerogel is a flexible, silica-based insulation with the appearance of thick felt and the power to absorb up to eight times as much heat as conventional thermal insulation, according to the company’s Web site.

Affordable energy efficient insulation has national appeal, but in central Massachusetts, the benefits extend past the environmental conscience. A thriving green business in Worcester County could stimulate green practices and attract new green businesses to the area.

“I've talked a lot about creating green jobs, finding ways to encourage smart conservation and this fulfills both those goals,” said U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, who introduced the earmark in the fiscal year 2009 spending bill that would fund the government through Sept. 30. The bill, passed by the House Feb. 25, has not been passed by the Senate.

Aspen intends to invest the money in what Mr. Young calls fluid flow optimization—tinkering with the chemical combinations, pressure levels and pipe system involved in manufacturing aerogel insulation. Perfecting solution gelation, as Mr. Young describes the chemical-melding process, will result in significant production cost savings, he said.

“This grant will help us understand our process better” and improve its efficiency, Mr. Young said.

To install Aerogel insulation in an 800-square-foot apartment would cost about $2,000, and could save about $450 per year in energy costs, Mr. Young said.

Bob Levesque, the owner of Bob’s Insulation in Sutton, estimated that if he were to insulate the same apartment with a fiberglass material, it would cost about $600, including installation costs. His fiberglass insulation, a common household insulator, costs 72 cents per square foot, he said.

But investing in energy efficient technology can be well-worth the cost, according to Julie Jacobson, assistant city manager of Worcester.

“If it could have a residential application as well as a commercial application, that’s definitely something the city and any developer should be encouraged to use,” she said.

Last year, the city spent $800,000 on a dozen energy efficient lighting and waste disposal projects and saved $330,000 in energy costs, she said.

Building and home insulation is another energy-saving measure the city is looking into. She, like Mr. McGovern, said she hopes small energy-saving steps will snowball to a greener Worcester.

“It’s not just what we can do to save money,” Ms. Jacobson said. “It’s how we can grow and expand the industry.”


McGovern Proud of $7.3 Million in Earmarks for Central Massachusetts

February 26th, 2009 in Massachusetts, Sarah Gantz, Spring 2009 Newswire

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sarah Gantz
Boston University Washington News Service

WASHINGTON -- Central Massachusetts may receive $7.3 million in the form of earmarks for workforce restructuring, medical research and infrastructure from the $410 billion fiscal 2009 omnibus spending package that the House passed Wednesday. The Senate will debate and vote on the bill next week.

Critics point to President Obama’s vow to pare down earmark spending and say too many pet projects were included in the omnibus bill, which will finance government operations through September. A conservative government watchdog group, the Heritage Foundation, estimated that the bill includes more than 9,000 earmarks.

“Regardless of whether an earmark itself is for a good cause, the process itself is the problem,” said Brian Riedl, senior federal budget analyst for Heritage.

Project financing should be left to local officials, Mr. Riedl said. Representatives and senators are “too far away to be making these decisions” he said.

“Understand one thing,” Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, said. “There will always be earmarks.”

But that is not a bad thing, he said. Federal earmark money is necessary to jump-start local projects that otherwise might miss out on funds from Washington, he said.

Money for nurse training at Becker College, RNA interference research at UMass Medical School and Westerly Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrades in Marlborough are among the projects Mr. McGovern secured in the House version of the bill.

More than $2.5 million would be directed to local colleges and universities, to be used for research, program development and workforce preparation.

Mr. McGovern requested nearly $1 million for the RNA interference research. RNAi is a natural process that can be used to define biological functions of genes.

“This is an investment in sound medical research that could result in improving the quality of life for millions of people,” Mr. McGovern said.

Craig C. Mello, a professor at the medical school, and a colleague received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2006 for their discoveries related to RNAi.

“Any funding helps,” said James R. Fessenden, a spokesman for the medical school.

Becker College could receive as much as $540,000 to expand its nursing program and ramp up its workforce training, which Mr. McGovern said is necessary to address the shortage of nurses.

Also included in the bill is $500,000 for the Westerly Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrades, $475,000 for construction in the Gardner-Kilby-Hammond area, one of Worcester’s poorest neighborhoods, and $475,000 for Holy Cross-McKeon road improvements in Worcester.

Mr. McGovern’s list of projects also includes $1.4 million for Aspen Aerogels, a Northborough-based company that manufactures energy-efficient insulation.


Shift in Donations a Sign of McGovern Moving Upward

February 26th, 2009 in Massachusetts, Sarah Gantz, Spring 2009 Newswire

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sarah Gantz
Boston University News Service

WASHINGTON — In an uncontested 2008 House race, the $1 million U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, raised topped any of his other campaigns except his first race for reelection 10 years earlier. Since then, the congressman's source of campaign funds has changed—lobbying firms, lawyers and pharmaceutical companies now back a politician who once relied on money from labor unions.

As his sources of campaign finances have changed, so has Mr. McGovern. The Worcester native started his House career as a member of the relatively low-profile Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Now in his seventh term, he sits on two of the House's more influential committees—the Budget Committee and the Rules Committee, on which he serves as vice chairman..

The increasing amount of money Mr. McGovern has been receiving from lobbyists, who typically donate to politicians they consider to be powerful in committee, is evidence of the congressman’s rising political profile and could be a sign of loftier political ambitions.

“They’re either anticipating a tough reelection race or they have aspirations for higher office,” Massie Ritsch, the communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, said of why delegates raise more money than they need.

“Any Massachusetts congressman who’s banking money is possibly doing it because they’re hoping for a Senate seat to open up,” Mr. Ritsch said.

The center tracks the influence of campaign money on elections and public policy.

In an interview, Mr. McGovern said he does not have his eye on a Senate seat. But he said it was his “dream” to serve as the chairman of the Rules Committee and in doing so to fulfill what he called the “dying wish” of his mentor, the late Rep. Joe Moakley, who represented the 9th District of Massachusetts. Moakley, who was chairman of the Rules Committee until the GOP took control of the House in 1995, died in 2001.

It is extremely common for senior members in both parties to raise big campaign war chests and donate campaign cash to challengers and members of their own party who are facing tough re-election races in an attempt to win support if they decide to seek a committee chairmanship or party leadership position.

According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Mr. McGovern in the 2008 election cycle donated about $300,000 to Democrats in contested races and to Democratic Party committees.

Among Mr. McGovern’s donations were $2,000 to Rep. John Murtha, (D-Pa.), $1,000 to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and $2,000 to Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.).

Mr. McGovern raised just over $1 million for the 2008 campaign. That is less than the national average, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Lobbying firms’ political action committees and employees were the second largest donor, at more than $55,000, to Mr. McGovern’s campaign. He ranked 53rd in the center’s list of recipients of contributions from lobbyists—higher than any of the other nine Massachusetts representatives.

The $1 million Mr. McGovern raised for an uncontested race is normally the kind of money candidates for Congress raise for a competitive House race, according to Robert G. Boatright, an assistant professor of government at Clark University.

To lobbyists, Mr. McGovern is a good candidate with whom to develop a relationship because, as a delegate from the deep blue Bay State, he rarely faces competition for his seat, Mr. Boatright said.

“So they’re a pretty safe bet” for groups interested in developing connections to politicians in their areas of interest, Mr. Boatright said.

The changing pattern of contributions to Mr. McGovern was dramatic in some cases. In the 2000 election, lawyers and lobbyists donated almost $54,000 to the Worcester congressman; in the 2008 race, the two groups combined for more than $134,000, an increase of about 148 percent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Web site. At the same time, union contributions dropped from $164,000 to about $86,000, a decline of about 47 percent.

The largest contribution—$25,950—Mr. McGovern received came from the PAC and employees of Sepracor, a pharmaceutical distributor based in Marlborough. Tim Hermes, executive director of government affairs at Sepracor, said the company’s employees donated to their local congressman in the interest of having a Washington contact who has been a “visible presence in his district.”

When it comes to campaign finance, this is the explanation for who donates to whom.

“They give based on access,” Mr. Boatright said.

The Carpenters and Joiners Union, the Teamsters Union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the AFL-CIO were listed among the top five donors to Mr. McGovern’s 1998 campaign. The PAC and members of the Carpenters and Joiners Union donated $10,500 to the congressman that year, a sum that was among the largest contributions the union made to a candidate.

In recent campaigns, the union's donations have shrunk to $5,000. The top donors to Mr. McGovern’s 2008 campaign after Sepracor included a hospice political action committee, and two lobbying firms.

“The determining factors for money are what area do you represent and what committees are you on,” Mr. Ritsch said.

Mr. Boatright said that caps on contributions by individuals and political action committees limit the potential for conflicts of interest. The maximum a candidate in 2008 could receive from an individual during the two-year election cycle was $4,600 and from a political action committee it was $10,000.

But equally important is the constituency’s perception, according to Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign Action Fund, a campaign finance watchdog group.

“Voters make a direct connection between where candidates get their money and how they vote,” which can create problems of trust among constituents for even the cleanest lobbyist-friendly delegate, Mr. Nyhart said. A congressman’s loyalty to his home district is a fundamental necessity of representative democracy, he said, which can be compromised when congressmen depend on lobbyists instead of constituents to finance their campaigns.

Mr. McGovern said his participation in committee work and his policy choices are not influenced by campaign contributors.

“I make my own decisions,” he said. “I meet with everybody, whether you like me or don’t like me, donate to me or don’t donate to me.”

Neither does the source of his campaign funds influence his political priorities, Mr. McGovern said. His goal of someday ruling the Rules Committee is a clearly defined goal, but he said he hopes to attain the chairmanship through continued hard work on the committee and dedication to the Democratic Party.

“Good waiters,” he said, “get good tips.”


Federal Aid for Infrastructure Could Stimulate Worcestor’s Economy

February 11th, 2009 in Massachusetts, Sarah Gantz, Spring 2009 Newswire

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sarah Gantz
Boston University Washington News Service

WASHINGTON —The promise of what Worcester could be—colorful and attention-commanding—takes the form of an 18-foot-8-inch mosaic signpost that towers over Main Street outside the Hanover Theatre in downtown Worcester. The sign is part of the Wayfinding project, which calls for hundreds of signs to help visitors better navigate the city’s labyrinth-like tangle of roads.

For now, the hand-tiled tower that reads “Downtown” in cutout aluminum letters is the only one of its kind in Worcester until the city finds a way to fund the $2.7 million project.

But help could come soon. The sign project is one of 30 shovel-ready infrastructure and improvement projects the city has identified for funding when the $2.8 billion tentatively set aside for Massachusetts in the economic stimulus package is divvyed up among communities.

“We need help,” said Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester. “We need investments in our infrastructure because it not only creates jobs but is something that will last a long time.”

Mr. McGovern described the transportation and infrastructure projects Worcester has proposed as “a catalyst for economic development.” City officials agree. They say that improving the city’s accessibility and navigability will bolster business.

“The biggest complaint about Worcester is that nobody knows where anything is,” said Troy Siebels, executive director of the Hanover Theatre.

Mr. Siebels said the painted metal and hand-tiled sign comes in handy when giving directions to the theater—“when you’re looking down Main Street, it’s the only thing you see”—and helps unite the theater to the downtown district.

“We’re only a couple of blocks from city hall, but it’s a couple of blocks that people don’t walk,” he said.

Congestion and inaccessibility from highways have long plagued the city, where the roads designed for a mill town serve a central business district. Plans to address the congestion of east-west traffic are among the city’s shovel-ready projects, according to Assistant City Manager Julie A. Jacobson.

The Worcester Regional Mobility Study, a state-funded program organized by the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, will be released this fall and will evaluate east-west traffic in and out of Worcester.

Some of the study’s ideas for stimulating business—widening roads, upgrading traffic signals, developing commerce along major corridors—can be done now and are included in the city’s shovel-ready plans, Ms. Jacobson said.

“It’s got to be looked at from a multimodal standpoint,” she said. The mobility study evaluates not only road quality but how travel by car, train, airplane and even bicycle can be improved.

The Worcester Regional Airport, for example, is notoriously inaccessible. Improved access to the airport, as well as to Union Station and other hubs of transportation, would improve the city’s economy by making Worcester better-connected to communities near and far, Ms. Jacobson said.

Better roads and more fluid traffic into the city could also mean a larger labor pool for businesses to choose from, said Nancy B. Cahalen, president of the Better Business Bureau of Central New England.

Ms. Cahalen agreed that better access to highways and clearer directions to sites of interest “once you’re in here” would also be beneficial for visitors. “If they had a good experience coming in,” she said, “they’d be more apt to make return trips.”

The $2.7 million cost to spread hundreds more Wayfinding signs throughout the city pales in comparison to some of the other proposed projects. The city requested $20 million for the east-west traffic enhancement program, $9.9 million for Belmont Street reconstruction and $7 million to renovate Quinsigammond Avenue.

“We know that this is an ambitious list,” Ms. Jacobson said, but this, she said, is what Worcester needs.


Stimulus Bill Includes Plan to Computerize Health Records in Five Years

February 5th, 2009 in Massachusetts, Sarah Gantz, Spring 2009 Newswire

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sarah Gantz
Boston University Washington News Service
Feb. 5, 2009

WASHINGTON—When it comes to medical technology, Massachusetts is ahead of the game. Hospitals, private practices and medical facilities across the state have been working to computerize patients’ health records for years, a practice intended to reduce medical errors and save money. But it won’t be easy and it may not be enough.

The stimulus package moving through Congress this week outlines a national plan to computerize every American’s health record in five years. The billions of dollars set aside for this program in the stimulus legislation would supplement the out-of-pocket money that medical facilities in Massachusetts are already putting toward moving from paper to computer, a process that takes years.

The state budget includes $15 million to go toward Gov. Deval Patrick’s goal of computerizing all health records by 2015, but many in the medical world say that without federal aid, electronic health records across the board may not happen any time soon.

“Crucial. Very, very important,” was how William Corbett, the vice president of UMass Memorial Medical Group, described federal aid for electronic health records. “If we want to have doctors electronic in five to 10 years, it’s not going to happen unless there’s some federal money.”

UMass Memorial began transitioning its staff of more than 800 doctors to electronic records two years ago. About one fourth of its doctors now use Allscripts, a Web-based program that makes data more readily accessible to doctors, Mr. Corbett said. The hospital has received some money through grants, but much of the cost, about $50,000 per doctor, has come from internal funds, he said.

Medical professionals say that electronic health records reduce the number of medical errors by making it easier to access a patient’s medical record. About 90 percent of doctors and 70 percent of hospitals will be using comprehensive electronic health records within the next decade, according to the office of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

“Health information technology has extraordinary potential to revolutionize the practice of medicine, and Massachusetts is leading the way,” said Sen. Kennedy, adding that “electronic medical records will significantly reduce costs, bureaucratic red tape, and medical errors, as well improve the quality of care for patients.”

Dr. Dilip Jain, of Worcester, has kept his patients’ medical records electronically for more than eight years. Rather than flipping through thousands of pages of paper charts, he simply scrolls through one screen to find the information he wants. “Data at your fingertips,” he said.

The transition from paper to computer is a slow process, Mr. Corbett said, because each system must be customized.

“It’s not like a microwave, where you take it out of the box and use it,” he said. Computers must be formatted to build dictionaries, automatically transfer data, and address billing needs, he said.

Dr. John D. Halamka, the chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, agrees. “It’s not about buying PCs and installing software, it’s about the people we need to make it happen,” he said. The process of computerizing health records involves a team of people to organize and maintain the use of the electronic programs, which he says could create thousands of jobs.

A major challenge of implementing these programs is getting doctors on board, experts say. Dr. Jain said some of his colleagues nicknamed him the Space-age Guy because of how easily he adapted to electronic records.

Dr. Lawrence D. Garber, medical director for informatics of the Fallon Clinic in Worcester, said the relationship between having electronic records and using them was “very much like buying a piece of exercise equipment—you can buy it and have someone put it in your house, but if you don’t use it regularly, you won’t get the benefits from it.”

The same is true for computerized health records, he said. Without the necessary staff training and site maintenance, doctors will simply not use the system.

Provisions in the Senate version of the stimulus bill that provide monetary incentives for using computerized record systems may address that problem.

The bill would allow for health providers who participate in the Medicare program to receive compensation beginning in 2011 for using electronic systems, according to Sen. Kennedy’s office.

A similar provision would allow health care providers who service Medicaid patients to receive aid to offset the costs of supporting, maintaining or upgrading certified electronic health systems.

Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative connected 600 physicians in three communities, Brockton, Newburyport, and North Adams, with computerized health records, a $50 million project made possible by a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield, said Micky Tripathi, the nonprofit organization’s chief executive officer.

Mr. Tripathi said that the project is an example of the large amount of money that is needed to complete the transition of Massachusetts doctors to computerized records.

Federal money would help the medical facilities make the transition, he said, but aid would also benefit the many health-oriented research facilities and production companies in Massachusetts.

Girish Kumar Navani, the chief executive officer of eClinicalWorks, an electronic medical records provider based in Westborough, said he plans to hire at least 150 employees in the Massachusetts area to help with the increased demand for services that the company has been experiencing in the last few years. The company also will open a new facility in California to meet demand on the West Coast.

“The stimulus will have an amazing impact on jobs in the short term and significant impact on improving health care costs in the long term,” he said. “It’s what you’d call a no-brainer.”