Lane Closure Exposure

New Jersey traffic retribution scandal tough for Houstonians to understand.

This isn't exactly unexpected, when you think about it. Lots of people signing up for health insurance or changing over their plans means that health insurance companies are being inundated with new customers who all need to be put into the system according to a new set of requirements based on Obamacare, as CNN has reported.

However, it's not as if this should have taken them by surprise. The Obamacare roll-out was a mess, but it still technically happened, so the insurance company people knew a flood of new customers was on the way. But then it's not like the Obamacare roll-out was a surprise, either, so maybe everything is required to be a tangle in this new world of many people being eligible for health insurance in the United States.

Rhodes and his wife are taking turns calling in and being put on hold. They have yet to speak with a real person, he said. They're both on maintenance medications — including blood thinners for Rhodes — that will have to be filled whether their insurance is recognized or not, so Rhodes says they'll pay for it and save the receipts.

Imagine fighting for your political life over this.
Photo by TexasDarkHorse via Flickr
Imagine fighting for your political life over this.

Right now he's just hoping for some contact with an actual company representative who might be able to help Rhodes get into the system. "When they give you two ways to contact them and neither of them work, either they're incredibly incompetent or they don't want to talk to you. I don't know which applies here."

Louis Adams, the director of media and public relations for the Dallas arm of Blue Cross Blue Shield, said he is looking into the issue and will get back to us with some information as quick as he can. And we will update as soon as he does.


We're on Our Own
With money tight, the EPA is dialing down actual enforcing.

Dianna Wray

Once upon a time — and we're talking like three years ago — the Environmental Protection Agency was a force to be reckoned with. EPA regulators were throwing their weight around and pushing the issue on things like biofuels, air quality and the effect of fracking on water quality. They had the White House behind them and the budget to do it, so they did.

Well, it seems the age of the mighty EPA is a thing of the past, at least for now. With a shrinking budget, fewer resources and a dearth of political will, the EPA is being transformed from a tiger of an enforcement agency — taking on the oil industry and tilting at air-quality issues with the states — and becoming a litter-box-trained house cat. In this metaphor, it's an organization not above catching a mouse or two, but don't expect it to bring home the big game anytime soon, says Tracy Hester, professor of environmental law at the University of Houston.

"The program has been going through some changes. The pot is getting smaller and smaller, and the EPA is having to pick and choose what gets enforced and what doesn't," says Hester.

At the end of 2013, the EPA announced it was considering letting nature take its course and not pushing for clean-up efforts on the Cavalcade Street Superfund site in north Houston. If the new "cleanup" plan is approved, the agency will make sure cancer-causing contaminants don't get out of the site, but it will end efforts to try and actually clean up the Superfund site.

Officially, the agency is stepping back because cleaning up these sites is really hard, but it's not a decision the EPA of a few years ago would have made. "The EPA backing off like that is pretty unusual," says Hester.

The EPA is also expected to take a hands-off approach to fracking issues. While there are some concerns (as anyone who has lived on top of the Barnett Shale can attest) about the effect of hydraulic fracturing drilling techniques on water quality — concerns that were raised in an internal Watchdog report made public on Christmas Eve — federal regulators lack the political will and the resources to do anything about it, Reuters reports.

The internal report was focused on a case from 2011 when the EPA initially issued an emergency order asking oil and gas drilling company Range Resources to monitor some water wells in Parker County, Texas. This was a strong stance to take, but then the EPA reversed itself in 2012 and stepped away from enforcement of the order.

And there will be more decisions — though "undecisions" might be a more accurate word — like that to come. "Bottom line, the EPA has announced it is not going to have the same enforcement it has had in prior years, and that almost always means a reduced number of enforcement acts," Hester said.

On top of that, the EPA is in the middle of looking extremely foolish as John Beale, a senior policy adviser in the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, prepares to serve 32 months in prison for pretending to be a CIA operative and using his fake-CIA-operative status to not come into work for months.

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Excuse me, Jeff Balke? What is hard to understand about the NJ "traffic retribution scandal"???

First of all, most Houstonians are obviously "smarter than you". Second, anyone paying attention to the news, or having had watched an episode of "Law and Order", or the Sopranos, would have gotten the gist of it, by now. I've been to NJ. I've driven to NYC. I know more than you.

Aaron Coleman

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