Archive for August, 2011

New From the GAO

August 31, 2011 Comments off

New GAO Report and Testimony (PDFs)
Source: Government Accountability Office

+ Report

1.  Environmental Litigation:  Cases against EPA and Associated Costs over Time, GAO-11-650, August 1.
Highlights -

+ Testimony

1.  Defined Benefit Pension Plans: Plans Face Challenges When Investing in Hedge Funds and Private Equity, by Barbara Bovbjerg, Managing Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security, before the U.S. Department of Labor’s Advisory Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans.  GAO-11-901SP, August 31.
Highlights -

Pursuing Risk Intelligence in a Rapidly Changing Industry; Addressing operational risks faced by pharmaceutical companies

August 31, 2011 Comments off

Pursuing Risk Intelligence in a Rapidly Changing Industry; Addressing operational risks faced by pharmaceutical companies
Source: Deloitte

The pharmaceutical industry continues to evolve and change, particularly in light of a number of important industry trends that are reshaping its future, including: product/service and geographic diversification; consolidation; increased regulation; commercial model changes; and R&D model changes. As management and boards of pharmaceutical companies grapple with this increased complexity and market turmoil, they search for ways to address both the threats and opportunities that may come with disruptive change.

While risk and opportunity reside in the key areas of enterprise risk — strategic, financial, compliance, and operational — we believe that when the implications of these changes are synthesized, operations could be the area facing the greatest levels of risk. Our new paper, “Pursuing Risk Intelligence in a rapidly changing industry,” delves into the risks that challenge effective operations planning and decision making and focuses on substantive consideration that might arise in light of current and transformative industry trends. It underscores the benefits of Risk Intelligence in providing an approach to planning and decision making that can enable an organization to make Risk Intelligent choices that help mitigate downside risks and seize the upside opportunities that expose the enterprise to just the “right” amount of risk needed to pursue value creation.

+ Full Paper (PDF)

State Preemption of Local Tobacco Control Policies Restricting Smoking, Advertising, and Youth Access — United States, 2000–2010

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State Preemption of Local Tobacco Control Policies Restricting Smoking, Advertising, and Youth Access — United States, 2000–2010
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

Preemptive state tobacco control legislation prohibits localities from enacting tobacco control laws that are more stringent than state law. State preemption provisions can preclude any type of local tobacco control policy. The three broad types of state preemption tracked by CDC include preemption of local policies that restrict 1) smoking in workplaces and public places, 2) tobacco advertising, and 3) youth access to tobacco products. A Healthy People 2020 objective (TU-16) calls for eliminating state laws that preempt any type of local tobacco control law (1). A previous study reported that the number of states that preempt local smoking restrictions in one or more of three settings (government worksites, private-sector worksites, and restaurants) has decreased substantially in recent years (2). To measure progress toward achieving Healthy People 2020 objectives, this study expands on the previous analysis to track changes in state laws that preempt local advertising and youth access restrictions and to examine policy changes from December 31, 2000, to December 31, 2010. This new analysis found that, in contrast with the substantial progress achieved during the past decade in reducing the number of states that preempt local smoking restrictions, no progress has been made in reducing the number of states that preempt local advertising restrictions and youth access restrictions. Increased progress in removing state preemption provisions will be needed to achieve the relevant Healthy People 2020 objective.

Can Healthcare IT Save Babies?

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Can Healthcare IT Save Babies?
Source: MIT Sloan School of Management Working Paper

The US has a higher infant mortality rate than most other developed nations. Electronic medical records (EMR) and other healthcare information technology (IT) improvements could reduce that rate, by standardizing treatment options and improving monitoring. We empirically quantify how healthcare IT improves neonatal outcomes. We identify this effect through variations in state medical privacy laws that distort the usefulness of healthcare IT. We find that adoption of healthcare IT by one additional hospital in a county reduces infant mortality in that county by 13 deaths per 100,000 live births. Rough cost-effectiveness calculations suggest that healthcare IT is associated with a cost of $450,140 per infant saved.

+ Full Paper (PDF)

On the Doorstep of the Information Age: Recent Adoption of Precision Agriculture

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On the Doorstep of the Information Age: Recent Adoption of Precision Agriculture
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service

The adoption of precision agriculture, which encompasses a suite of farm-level information technologies, can improve the efficiency of input use and reduce environmental harm from the overapplication of inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Still, the adoption of precision agricultural technologies and practices has been less rapid than envisioned a decade ago. Using Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data collected over the past 10 years, this report examines trends in the adoption of four key information technologies—yield monitors, variable-rate application technologies, guidance systems, and GPS maps—in the production of major field crops. While yield monitoring is now used on over 40 percent of U.S. grain crop acres, very few producers have adopted GPS maps or variable-rate input application technologies.

+ Summary (PDF)
+ Full Report (PDF)

Wartime Contracting Commission releases final report to Congress

August 31, 2011 Comments off

Wartime Contracting Commission releases final report to Congress
Source: Commission on Wartime Contracting

The final report of the congressionally chartered Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan says at least $31 billion has been lost to contract waste and fraud, and that major reforms are required.

Commission reform objectives include improving federal planning for use of contracts, strengthening contract management and oversight, expanding competition, improving interagency coordination, and modifying or cancelling U.S.-funded projects that host nations cannot sustain. The reforms are described in 15 strategic recommendations.

The eight-member, bipartisan Commission filed its 240-page final report, “Transforming Wartime Contracting: Controlling Costs, Reducing Risks,” with U.S. Senate and House officials this morning. A briefing in the Capitol followed.

The Commission report notes that a consequence of 1990s reductions in the federal acquisition workforce and in support units within the military, the United States cannot conduct large or sustained contingency operations without heavy support from contractors. “Contingency” operations, as defined in federal law for the Department of Defense, are those involving military forces in actual or imminent hostilities, or in response to declared national emergencies. Civilian agencies use a similar definition.

Commission Co-Chair Michael Thibault, former deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, said, “The government has known for 20 years that contractors would be a key part of any major response to large or sustained hostilities or major disasters. Yet the government was not prepared to go into Afghanistan in 2001 or Iraq in 2003 using large numbers of contractors, and is still unable to provide effective management and oversight of contract spending that will have exceeded $206 billion by the end of September. That has to change.”

Co-Chair Christopher Shays, a former U.S. Representative for Connecticut, said, “The Commission finds the government is over-relying on contractors. Even if you think having more than 260,000 contractor employees at work in Iraq and Afghanistan, at times outnumbering the military they support, is reasonable, there are still problems. Some contractors have been performing tasks that only federal employees should perform, while others are doing work that is permissible but still too risky or inappropriate for contractors. And overall, there is simply too much contracting for the federal contract-management and oversight workforce to handle. From every angle, that’s over-reliance.”

The co-chairs said fraud and abuse are problems in wartime contracting, but the biggest challenge is waste. Thibault said, “We have founds billions of dollars of waste stemming from a variety of shortcomings—poor decision making, vague contract requirements, lack of adequately trained federal oversight people in the field, duplicative or unnecessary work, failure to revise or recompete contracts, unsustainable projects, inadequate business processes among contractors, and delayed audits. There are many causes, and no simple solution.”

+ Transforming Wartime Contracting: Controlling costs, reducing risks (PDF; low res)
+ Transforming Wartime Contracting: Controlling costs, reducing risks (PDF; high res)

Tenth Anniversary Report Card: The Status of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations

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Tenth Anniversary Report Card: The Status of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations
Source: Bipartisan Policy Center

“Today, our country is undoubtedly safer and more secure than it was a decade ago. We have damaged our enemy, but the ideology of violent Islamist extremism is alive and attracting new adherents, including right here in our own country. With important 9/11 Commission recommendations outlined in this report still unfulfilled, we fail to achieve the security we could or should have…

“The terrorist threat will be with us far into the future, demanding that we be ever vigilant. Changing circumstances require that we regularly reassess our priorities and expenditures to determine what is needed to defend our country and people.

“Our terrorist adversaries and the tactics and techniques they employ are evolving rapidly. We will see new attempts, and likely successful attacks. One of our major deficiencies before the 9/11 attacks was a failure by national security agencies to adapt quickly to new and different kinds of enemies. We must not make that mistake again.”

+ Full Report (PDF)
+ Report Card (PDF)

LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index

August 31, 2011 Comments off

LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index
Source: Campus Pride

CCI Logo

The LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index is a vital tool for assisting campuses in learning ways to improve their LGBT campus life and ultimately shape the educational experience to be more inclusive, welcoming and respectful of LGBT and Ally people. The index is owned and operated by Campus Pride, the leading national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create safer, more LGBT-Friendly learning environments at colleges and universities. The index is supported under the Campus Pride Q Research Institute for Higher Education as well as benefits from strategic partnerships with professional organizations in higher education and related LGBT nonprofit organizations.

Preventing Wildlife Rabies Saves Lives and Money

August 31, 2011 Comments off

Preventing Wildlife Rabies Saves Lives and Money (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Wildlife Research Center

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals. Several different variants of the rabies virus exist in the United States. Each variant is spread predominantly by one wildlife species, but all variants are capable of infecting and killing mammals, including humans.

Every year, local, State, and Federal governments in the United States distribute more than 12 million oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits in an effort to reduce rabies in wildlife and prevent possible transmission to humans, domestic animals, and pets. Economists at Wildlife Services (WS)—which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)—have conducted cost-bene? t analyses of these efforts showing the elimination of rabies in wildlife not only saves lives, but also has the potential to save taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

America’s Coolest Schools: Sierra’s fifth annual ranking of the greenest colleges in the United States

August 31, 2011 Comments off

America’s Coolest Schools: Sierra’s fifth annual ranking of the greenest colleges in the United States
Source: Sierra Club

It’s well and fine to learn from a lecture. But rarely is a lecture life-changing.

Good professors know that discussing nature in the confines of a classroom is not likely to stir the soul—no matter how enlightening the lesson. Even the most impassioned teachers catch students nodding off. What awakens, they realize, is experience—getting hands dirty, immersion.

Each year since 2007, we at Sierra have sat in our offices for weeks doing the detailed, quantitative work to rank U.S. universities on their greenness. This year, we also wanted to find out what lessons are learned when the classroom walls fall away.

What happens when students sleep on damp earth, grow their own food, or build homes for the poor? Here’s our hypothesis: They change, on the inside and on the outside.

To derive the numbers, we asked the Sierra Club’s conservation experts to help us rejigger our 12-page questionnaire to reflect the Club’s most pressing priorities. We e-mailed surveys to 940 schools and carefully sifted through the 118 responses we received. We corresponded with many of the colleges’ devoted sustainability officers, and we lamented that those at several campuses—including some in last year’s top 20—declined to fill out our survey.

Meanwhile, we dispatched writers to Bali, Utah, and the Adirondacks to report on schools where teachers work to make sure that the graduates they send out into the real world actually know what that place looks like.

As educators continue to deepen their devotion to sustainability and to immersive learning, we’ll keep telling their stories. And we’ll keep honing our methods for doing so. Because, as Emerson also wrote, “the more experiments you make the better.”

+ Top Ten
+ Full Rankings

Shadowy Figures: Tracking Illicit Financial Transactions in the Murky World of Digital Currencies, Peer-to-Peer Networks, and Mobile Device Payments

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Shadowy Figures: Tracking Illicit Financial Transactions in the Murky World of Digital Currencies, Peer-to-Peer Networks, and Mobile Device Payments
Source: Brookings Institution (Baker Institute)

The history of the movement of money is as complex and varied as the history of money itself, and includes ships laden with gold bullion, desert caravans carrying salt or cowry shells, armored trucks filled with banknotes, paper checks, and today, a large and quickly growing list of digital transfer methods. Secrecy and anonymity have always played roles in the movement of money, most commonly because they offer a strong measure of privacy and protection against being targeted by thieves, but also because the parties in financial transactions can have other reasons—some legitimate, some not—for keeping a low profile.

The combination of the enormous growth in social networks, the complexity of peer-to-peer systems and software, and the number of Internet and wirelessly connected devices is altering the landscape of financial transactions at a rate and to a degree that is unprecedented. Today, such transactions can be conducted not only using traditional, state-backed currencies, but also through purely digital currencies, virtual currencies, and virtual goods. In addition, mobile phone-based money transfer systems enabling traditional currencies to be moved in novel ways are experiencing rapid adoption, particularly in developing nations.

Almost no one would argue that governments do not have a right to track and trace digital financial transactions associated with activities such as terrorism and human trafficking. It is less clear, however, how governments can surmount the formidable technical and organizational challenges associated with detecting and monitoring these transactions. The solution will require a combination of self-regulation, government-industry collaboration, and change in both technology and culture within government agencies.

+ Full Paper (PDF)

National Institute of Corrections — Report to the Nation FY 2010

August 31, 2011 Comments off

Report to the Nation FY 2010 (PDF)
Source: National Institute of Corrections

In this report, NIC is pleased to highlight its success in meeting constituent needs during iscal year 2010. We responded to a number of requests for technical assistance, revived the NIC Ofice of Public Health, and migrated many of our print publications into a fully online format. We have also developed and nurtured an increasing number of partnerships with industry stakeholders, which we hope will enhance our ability to meet the needs of the ever-changing and exciting ield of corrections.

Rather than operating in a vacuum, NIC commits itself to sharing ideas and contributing to the success of individuals and jurisdictions in the criminal justice ield. In these pages, you will ind evidence of NIC’s collaborative model of getting things done, a model that focuses on teamwork and trust, and foreshadows the positive changes in corrections now slowly taking shape nationwide.

Surveillance for Violent Deaths — National Violent Death Reporting System, 16 States, 2008

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Surveillance for Violent Deaths — National Violent Death Reporting System, 16 States, 2008
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

For 2008, a total of 15,755 fatal incidents involving 16,138 deaths were captured by NVDRS in the 16 states included in this report. The majority (58.7%) of deaths were suicides, followed by homicides and deaths involving legal intervention (i.e. deaths caused by police and other persons with legal authority to use deadly force, excluding legal executions) (26.4%), deaths of undetermined intent (14.5%), and unintentional firearm deaths (0.4%). Suicides occurred at higher rates among males, American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/ANs), non-Hispanic whites, and persons aged 45–54 years. Suicides occurred most often in a house or apartment (70.6%) and involved the use of firearms (51.5%). Suicides were precipitated primarily by mental health (45.4%), intimate partner (30.9%), or physical health problems (22.6%), or by a crisis during the preceding 2 weeks (27.9%). Homicides occurred at higher rates among males and persons aged 20–24 years; rates were highest among non-Hispanic black males. The majority of homicides involved the use of a firearm (65.8%) and occurred in a house or apartment (52.5%) or on a street/highway (21.3%). Homicides were precipitated primarily by arguments (41.4%) and interpersonal conflicts (18.4%) or in conjunction with another crime (30.2%). Other manners of death and special situations or populations also are highlighted in this report.

Sole Proprietorship Returns, 2009

August 31, 2011 Comments off

Sole Proprietorship Returns, 2009 (PDF)
Source: Internal Revenue Service

For Tax Year 2009, nearly 22.7 million individual income tax returns reported nonfarm sole proprietorship activity, a 0.2-percent increase from 2008. Between Tax Years 2008 and 2009, reported profits for those sole proprietorships declined by 7.4 percent to $244.8 billion. In constant dollars, reported profits decreased for the fourth consecutive year, by 8.3 percent, after decreasing 7.7 percent between 2007 and 2008, 2.0 percent between 2006 and 2007, and 0.2 percent between 2005 and 2006. This was the first time that profits (in constant dollars) have decreased for 4 consecutive years since before 1988.

Obesity (Series)

August 31, 2011 Comments off

Source: The Lancet

This four-part Series critically examines what we know about the global obesity pandemic: its drivers, its economic and health burden, the physiology behind weight control and maintenance, and what science tells us about the kind of actions that are needed to change our obesogenic environment and reverse the current tsunami of risk factors for chronic diseases in future generations.

The first paper looks at the global drivers of the epidemic; the second paper analyses obesity trends in the USA and UK, and their impact on prevalence of diseases and healthcare spending. The third paper introduces a new web-based bodyweight simulation model, that incorporates metabolic adaptations that occur with decreasing bodyweight; and the final paper assesses the interventions needed to halt and reverse the epidemic. Its authors conclude that the changes needed are likely to require many sustained interventions at several levels, but that national governments should take the lead.

UK — Waiting times for suspected and diagnosed cancer patients: quarter ending June 2011

August 31, 2011 Comments off

Waiting times for suspected and diagnosed cancer patients: quarter ending June 2011
Source: Department of Health

The key results for outpatient services and first definitive treatments show that, in England during the period April to June 2011:

  • Two week wait:
    o 95.4% of people were seen by a specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer – (96.0% in Q4 2010-11)
    o 94.5% of people urgently referred for breast symptoms (where cancer was not initially suspected) were seen within two weeks of referral (95.5% in Q4 2010-11)
  • One Month (31-day) wait:
    o 98.3% of people began first definitive treatment within 31 days of diagnosis for all cancers – (98.3% in Q4 2010-11)
    o 99.0% of people began first definitive treatment within 31 days of diagnosis for breast cancer – (99.2% in Q4 2010-11
  • Two Month (62-day) wait:
    o 86.3% of people began first definitive treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer, for all cancers – (86.3% in Q4 2010-11)
    o 97.4% of people began first definitive treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer, for breast cancers – (97.4% in Q4 2010-11)
  • 31-day wait for second or subsequent treatment:
    o 97.5% of people began treatment within 31 days where the subsequent treatment was surgery – (96.7% in Q4 2010-11)
    o 99.7% of people began treatment within 31 days where subsequent treatment was an anti-cancer drug regimen – (99.6% in Q4 2010-11)
    o 98.2% of people began treatment within 31 days where subsequent treatment was a course of radiotherapy – (97.8% in Q4 2010-11)
  • 62-day wait extension:
    o 93.4% of people began first definitive treatment within 62 days of a consultant’s decision to upgrade a patient’s priority, for all cancers – (92.8% in Q4 2010-11)
    o 92.8% of people began first definitive treatment for cancer within 62 days of referral from an NHS screening service, for all cancers – (93.2% in Q4 2010-11).

AU — Risk factors for advance fee fraud victimisation

August 31, 2011 Comments off

Risk factors for advance fee fraud victimisation
Source: Australian Institute of Criminology

Fraud is Australia’s most costly form of crime with the Australian Institute of Criminology estimating that in excess of $8.5b was lost to fraud in 2005 (Rollings 2008). Consumer fraud alone has been found to cost Australians almost $1b each year (ABS 2008c). Most types of consumer fraud entail the use of so-called ‘advance fee’ techniques in which individuals are tricked into paying money—an ‘advance fee’—upfront in order to secure an anticipated financial or other benefit at a later date. However, the promises of wealth are false and victims invariably lose their payments in full. Such scams have had a huge impact globally, with Ultrascan (2008) estimating that US$4.3b was lost to advance fee fraud in 2006. To date, however, there has been only limited research on how and why people respond to such unsolicited invitations and become victims. This paper examines the characteristics of a sample of victims of advance fee frauds to determine how their behaviour and personal circumstances might have contributed to their willingness to respond to unsolicited invitations and to their subsequent loss of money or personal information.

Gender Indicators, Australia, Jul 2011

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Gender Indicators, Australia, Jul 2011
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

The indicators presented in the July 2011 issue of Gender Indicators, Australia, are organised in six domains representing major areas of social concern for gender equality – Economic security, Education, Health, Work and family balance, Safety and justice, and Democracy, governance and citizenship. The publication presents data for 49 key indicators and 42 related supporting indicators across all the six major areas of social concern. Some indicators are also accompanied with written commentary of key points and graphical representation.

CRS — Health Insurance Agents and Brokers in the Reformed Health Insurance Market

August 30, 2011 Comments off

Health Insurance Agents and Brokers in the Reformed Health Insurance Market (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Bureau of National Affairs)

Health insurance agents and brokers, collectively called “producers” by insurance companies, assist consumers and small employers in choosing and enrolling in health insurance products. Producers are licensed and regulated by the states. Traditionally, the federal government has had no role in regulating producer activities outside of federal programs such as Medicare Advantage. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148, PPACA), as amended, creates a limited federal role in developing standards for the use of producers in the health insurance exchanges, which are competitive regulated markets effective January 1, 2014. The additional regulation of producers and alternative health insurance information (e.g., the online insurance portal) and assistance services available to consumers may limit the traditional demand for producers’ services.

PPACA also has a minimum medical loss ratio provision requiring plans to pay rebates to their members if a certain percentage of their premiums are not spent on medical costs. This provision may provide an incentive for health insurance companies to reduce their compensation to and/or utilization of producers as they seek to reduce their administrative costs in relation to their medical costs.

This report will be updated to reflect relevant legislative and regulatory activity.

CRS — Clean Energy Standard: Design Elements, State Baseline Compliance and Policy Considerations

August 30, 2011 Comments off

Clean Energy Standard: Design Elements, State Baseline Compliance and Policy Considerations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Energy Policy Institute)

During his State of the Union speech on January 25, 2011, President Obama announced an energy goal for the country: “By 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.” The White House, on February 3, 2011, released a Clean Energy Standard (CES) framework focused on U.S. electricity generation. The framework describes the fundamental goals and objectives of such a policy to include doubling clean electricity, sustaining and creating jobs, and driving clean energy innovation.

Congress, if it chooses to take up CES legislation, will likely sort through and evaluate a number of policy options that might be considered during the formulation of a federal Clean Energy Standard policy. Understanding previous CES proposals, the Administration’s CES policy framework, state-level baseline CES compliance, and policy considerations might assist a CES debate during the 112th Congress. These areas are the focus of this report.

CES and related concepts have been debated for more than a decade and several Clean/Renewable Energy Standard proposals were offered during the 111th Congress, although none became law. The scope of this report includes a comparative analysis of four proposals of the 111th Congress: S. 20, Clean Energy Standard Act of 2010; S. 3464, Practical Energy and Climate Plan Act of 2010; S. 3813, Renewable Electricity Promotion Act of 2010; and a substitute amendment offered for H.R. 2454, American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. This analysis, which illustrates commonality and key differences among the legislative proposals, includes an assessment of each bill based on a uniform set of design elements. While the proposals considered generally agree on the definition of “renewable energy” (wind, solar, geothermal, etc.), they differ on certain policy aspects including (1) base quantities of electricity, (2) target/goal for the standard, and (3) alternative compliance payments, among others.

The Administration’s proposal states that 40% of delivered electricity is generated from “clean energy” sources today and 80% should be generated from clean energy sources by 2035. Clean energy sources are defined to include (1) renewable energy, (2) nuclear power, and (3) partial credits for clean coal and efficient natural gas. However, the amount of partial credits received by clean coal and efficient natural gas generation is not explicitly defined.

CRS analysis of 2009 electricity generation data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) also suggested that 40% of electricity generated could be considered clean energy if renewable energy, nuclear power, and 50% of electricity generated from natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants are classified as clean energy. Further analysis of EIA data assessed the amount of clean energy generation in each state. This work revealed differences among the states regarding existing clean energy generation, with some states currently generating more than 80% of electricity from such clean energy sources and other states generating less than 5%.

Finally, the Clean Energy Standard debate involves several policy design options that Congress might consider, including (1) Should the policy credit existing and/or incremental clean energy generation? (2) What should be the value of alternative compliance payments? (3) Should utility companies of a certain size be exempt? (4) Should preference be given to renewable energy generation? and (5) Which generation sources would qualify as clean energy? These, and other, policy options are presented and discussed in this report.


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