By John Howell, Esq., Vice President
In the 1989 movie “Back to the Future II” Marty McFly travels to the distant future – 2015. Among many advances in technology McFly encounters hoverboards, flying cars, and rehydrators which turned tiny pizzas back into full-size pizzas in just a few seconds. While the film was accurate in its prediction of other advances including something eerily similar to Google Glass, I am not taking my flying car home tonight where I will rehydrate a pizza for the kids.
As I sat at the Telecommunications Committee presentations during the recent NARUC Winter Meetings I couldn’t help consider the possibility that I was Marty McFly and that my DeLorean (make that a Volvo) broke down leaving me in 2005.
Back in 2005, in the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, nothing was more important than enhancing emergency communications capabilities for our nation’s first responders. Interoperability and the accurate location of wireless callers were highly critical concerns. In 2005 I led a Federal Advisory Committee chartered to address pressing emergency communications issues ranging from wireless location accuracy and next generation 9-1-1 service to homeland security best practices. Sadly, 10 years later, we are STILL discussing making 9-1-1 calls from multi-line phones. We are still talking about locating wireless callers within multi-story buildings and we are still talking about an IP-based next generation 9-1-1 network – although I’m pleased to see that these networks have begun to be rolled out. Also in 2005, I visited the brand new 9-1-1 call center in Brooklyn, New York which was going to support a combined police and fire system. Here we are 10 years later and that system is still not fully operational with the budget for the project exceeded by more than $700 million.
As I sat at the NARUC Winter Meetings and listened to the Director of DHS’ Office of Emergency Communications present “The 2014 National Emergency Communications Plan: A Plan for the Evolving Communications Landscape” I couldn’t help but conclude it was still 2005. It is time for the states, in partnership with the private sector, to take an active role in the future of our 9-1-1 system and I hope NARUC will do its part to lead the way.
Across the hall at the NARUC Winter Meetings, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan [111(d)] rulemaking took front and center stage. Any discussion of 111(d) at NARUC generated standing-room-only incredible interest. In fact, it was reported that the keynote presentation on Tuesday morning delivered by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was attended by a record NARUC Winter Meetings crowd. This comes as no surprise as Stateside has been actively monitoring and reporting on all 111(d) activity in every state, across all departments, agencies, and offices. We are witnessing states embracing 111(d) and states fighting tooth-and-nail against the rulemaking. This “battle” was staged during a 2.5 hour NARUC meeting titled “Sounds and Visions: A State Talk About the Clean Power Plan.” Commissioners from Maryland, Wisconsin, California, Wyoming, Arkansas and Texas engaged in a lively discussion, if not a debate, on the merits of 111(d). Based on this cross section of 6 states, it is clear that the 111(d) rulemaking is unpopular not necessarily because of the goal to reduce carbon emissions but in terms of the pathway to get there. It was perhaps said best by one commissioner who detailed all of the work his state has done over the past 10+ years to reduce carbon emissions. In the opinion of this commissioner, the EPA should let the states and industry work together to reduce emissions.
Administrator McCarthy stressed over and again that the EPA was “listening” and wants to get 111(d) “right.” Administrator McCarthy stated that the EPA will publish a final rule in mid-summer, after carefully considering all the comments received. One thing for certain is the EPA is not going to allow the states and industry to work together to reduce emissions. As with 9-1-1, the Federal government appears poised to manage with a heavy hand.