NYPD Detective Who Testified For More 9/11 Compensation Dies After Battling Cancer

Retired New York Police Department detective and 9/11 responder Luis Alvarez died on Saturday, his family announced. Earlier this month, he testified during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

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Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Luis Alvarez, a former New York City police detective who became a leading champion for extending health benefits to Sept. 11 first responders, died on Saturday after a battle with cancer he traced to the months he spent helping clean up the World Trade Center site. He was 53.

In announcing his death, the family of Alvazez celebrated him as a “warrior,” noting the “many lives he had touched.”

Alavazez, who went by “Lou,” was born in Cuba and grew up in Queens, served in the Marines before a two-decade stint with the New York Police Department.

Earlier this month, Alvarez sat alongside former Daily Show host Jon Stewart and delivered a wrenching testimony to Congress in support of new funding for the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund, which is set to run out of money by December 2020.

“Less than 24 hours from now, I will be serving my 69th round of chemotherapy,” a gaunt Alvarez told Congress. “I should not be here with you, but you made me come. You made me come because I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11, like me, are valued less than anyone else.”

Just days following his testimony, Alvarez was admitted to a hospice center in Long Island after tests found that his liver was failing.

“My life isn’t worth more than the next responder to get cancer,” Alvarez told Congress. “This fund is not a ticket to paradise. It is there to provide for our families when we can’t.”

The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to replenish the fund, and the full House is expected to vote on the new funding next month.

The fund has fulfilled some 21,000 claims worth about $5 billion from injuries and illnesses related to the terrorist attacks, but some 17,000 other claims are still pending, according to the fund’s most recent status report.

“We will reach the point soon, most likely this year, when more will have died from 9/11-related illnesses than on 9/11 itself,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, urging the chamber’s Republican leadership to bring the bill for a vote as soon as possible.

“NYPD Detective Lou Alvarez died at peace knowing his life made a difference to others and will save lives in the future,” Schumer said on Saturday. “He was a great man. My prayers go to his family, the NYPD, and all who loved him.”

New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill also praised Alvarez, saying, “his strength – physical, mental, and emotional – led us all, and we vow you never forget him or his legacy, which was, simply, to have others do what’s right.”

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Fresh Air Weekend: ‘5B’ Goes Inside America’s First AIDS Ward; Ramy Youssef

Marchers at a candlelight vigil in San Francisco, Calif., carry a banner to call attention to the continuing battle against AIDS on May 29, 1989. The city was home to the nation’s first AIDS special care unit. The unit, which opened in 1983, is the subject the documentary 5B.

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Jason M. Grow/AP

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

1st AIDS Ward ‘5B’ Fought To Give Patients Compassionate Care, Dignified Deaths: A new documentary tells the story of America’s first inpatient unit dedicated to the care of people with AIDS. Nurse Cliff Morrison helped create 5B in 1983, and worked on it with Dr. Paul Volberding.

Imagine There’s No Beatles: ‘Yesterday’ Proves Too Clumsy For Its Clever Conceit: The breezy rom-com is set in a world where only one man remembers the fab four. The film so takes our affection for The Beatles for granted that it never bothers to give the music a proper showcase.

Comic Ramy Youssef On Being An ‘Allah Carte’ Muslim: ‘You Sit In Contradictions’: In the semi-autobiographical show, Ramy, Youssef plays a practicing Muslim who’s torn between his faith and his desire to fit in. “Everyone has a code,” he says of the compromises his character makes.

You can listen to the original interviews here:

1st AIDS Ward ‘5B’ Fought To Give Patients Compassionate Care, Dignified Deaths

Imagine There’s No Beatles: ‘Yesterday’ Proves Too Clumsy For Its Clever Conceit

Comic Ramy Youssef On Being An ‘Allah Carte’ Muslim: ‘You Sit In Contradictions’

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Tesla Led The Charge, But More Premium Electric Vehicles Are Arriving

A Jaguar I-Pace, the first electric vehicle from the premium carmaker, charges during an event in Barcelona, Spain, in May.

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SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Alex Schefer loves his Teslas — the Model S he and his wife use to tote their kids around, the Roadster that’s part of their premium car-sharing club.

But he’s been waiting not-so-patiently to have some other options for luxury electric vehicles.

“This car came out in 2012,” he says, from behind the wheel of his Model S. “In 2015, Porsche said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna make this Mission E.’ And that’s great. I love Porsches, but now it’s 2019 and I still can’t buy one.”

He won’t have to wait much longer. That electric Porsche, now renamed the Taycan, is coming out later this year, as is the first electric Mercedes.

And two new luxury electrics are already on the market: the Jaguar I-Pace and the Audi e-tron.

It’s no exaggeration to say the luxury electric vehicle was invented by Tesla. And the California-based carmaker has indisputably paved the way for these new rivals selling for $70,000 and up.

The new entrants put fresh competitive pressures on a company that has been struggling to scale up production and make a profit with the tighter margins on a mass-market car. But Tesla CEO Elon Musk says he welcomes the arrivals.

“Our goal all along has been to try to get the rest of the car industry to go electric,” he said in March. “This is great.”

Established premium automakers aren’t just motivated by Tesla’s model. They’re also driven by government regulations. In the U.S., that means the zero-emission vehicle mandates adopted by California and other states that follow its lead.

Such regulations have long driven investment in electric vehicles. But for a long time, major automakers responded to the mandates half-heartedly. They’d build “compliance cars” — less-than-appealing vehicles, for sale only in states that required it, rarely advertised and made in low numbers.

Automakers said this was because they were losing money on each one. Chelsea Sexton, a longtime electric vehicle advocate, says that became a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“As long as things aren’t available they’re never going to sell,” she says. “People can’t buy what isn’t out there.”

But the new generation of premium electrics, the ones going toe-to-toe with Tesla, represent a shift. They’re available in every state. And they’re hardly underwhelming compliance cars.

“One of things that struck me about the Audi e-tron is that it was so normal,” says Rebecca Lindland, an independent auto analyst who writes at RebeccaDrives.com. “You’re not compromising, you’re not sacrificing. You’re driving a really good Audi. And, by the way, it’s electric.”

Ask Jaguar product manager Dave Larsen why the company made the I-Pace and you’ll hear about “combined 400 horsepower” and “zero-to-60 time of about 4 1/2 seconds” and “incredible on-road performance.”

One word you won’t hear: emissions.

And the North America president of Porsche, Klaus Zellmer, recently wrote an op-ed about the rise of electric vehicles. He mentioned sustainability almost as an afterthought, after emphasizing electric cars’ “instant power and sporty handling.”

Tesla, too, emphasized its vehicles’ performance — but it self-consciously appealed to early adopters, people who wanted to buy something conspicuously out of the ordinary.

Meanwhile, more affordable electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt, have marketed themselves as eco-friendly electrics.

Analyst Sam Abuelsamid says manufacturers are now eyeing a bigger slice of the car-buying market.

“There’s a certain segment of the audience that wants an environmentally friendly vehicle — they want to show off their green credentials,” he says. “But the reality is that most consumers just want to have a nice car that drives well, looks good.”

“We are not any more in this very early adopter phase,” says Thomas Ingenlath, the CEO of Polestar — the luxury electric brand launched by Volvo. Polestar will be releasing its first premium all-electric model next year, initially selling for $63,000.

The electric vehicle market is becoming “much more sophisticated,” he says, “establishing an ecosystem of different car brands which simply make this electric market a much more mature and attractive offer for the customer.”

But will these new offerings draw in customers who aren’t actively seeking a car that comes with a charging cord?

That’s one thing analysts will be watching as these new options arrive on the market. And it’s not just a question for the Porsches and Audis of the world.

Right now, every major automaker is working on electric vehicles, at every price point, to hit the market over the next few years.

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North Carolina Tries To Clean Up Its Electricity

Emissions rise from the Duke Energy coal-fired Asheville Power Plant ahead of Hurricane Florence in Arden, N.C., in September 2018. Regulators are supposed to make sure Duke Energy delivers reliable power at the lowest possible cost — and that’s always been interpreted as cost to the consumer, not cost to the environment.

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Charles Mostoller/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Let’s say you want to help stop global warming and kick your gasoline habit.

You buy an electric car. And then you go to charge it up and you think: Wait, where’s this electricity coming from?

Nationwide, 60% of it comes from power plants burning coal and natural gas, belching carbon dioxide. And across the country, energy experts are trying to figure out what might persuade these electric utilities to change.

It’s a hot issue in North Carolina. Last fall, Gov. Roy Cooper declared that the state would try to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 40% by 2025, compared 2005 levels.

The state can do this most quickly and easily at power plants, replacing coal and gas with wind and solar power. So energy experts now are trying to hammer out a plan for how to do it. The goal is controversial, but the debate isn’t nearly as partisan as it used to be. That’s mainly because wind and solar power have become much cheaper.

They’ve won over state legislator John Szoka. “I would describe myself as a conservative Republican who has come to believe in renewable energy based on the economic facts behind it,” he says.

There’s now a whole industry pushing clean power. “We’ve got low-cost clean energy that’s like fruit falling off the trees. It’s laying on the ground, it’s been rotting for 10 years, and let’s just pick it up!” says Ivan Urlaub, from the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, which represents some wind and solar companies.

Others, like Democratic state Rep. Pricey Harrison, mainly want to fight climate change. “I would like us to move away from fossil fuel dependency completely,” she says.

All this pressure is aimed at one company, Duke Energy. It’s the electricity provider in most of North Carolina. It’s owned by shareholders, but regulated by the North Carolina Utilities Commission. This is a very common arrangement across the country.

Duke Energy occupies an office tower in downtown Charlotte. It’s the second-highest building in North Carolina. The view from the 36th floor is spectacular.

Randy Wheeless, a company spokesman, lays out some of the basic facts about his company: It’s one of the largest electric utilities in the country, covering six states, delivering electricity to 7 million customers.

It also released 105 million tons of carbon dioxide last year.

That’s equal to the total greenhouse emissions of a small country, like Greece or Chile. Wheeless points out that the company generates a third of that electricity from nuclear plants, with no greenhouse emissions. Also, the company’s emissions are falling. Duke Energy’s been shutting down coal-burning power plants, switching over to natural gas, which is cheaper and releases less carbon.

It plans to keep doing this, reducing emissions by another 40% over the next 15 years. Yet this plan also means a big investment in natural gas plants — and those plants still release a lot of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, avoiding the worst effects of climate change will require shutting down greenhouse emissions from the power sector almost completely in the coming decades.

“What would it take for Duke Energy to cut [its emissions] by 90 percent?” I ask.

“That’s going to be tough,” Wheeless says. “I think what you’re looking [at], you’re going to have to have some sort of carbon capture; some sort of new technology that’s not really on the table right now.”

I press him on this. Couldn’t they do more with technology that’s available now?

Wheeless says they can’t. Going faster, he says, would make electricity more expensive. “I think a lot of environmentalists talk about the end of the world, but there are a lot of people still worried about the end of the month, and how to pay bills,” he says.

For everybody in the state who’s been pushing for a big quick shift to clean energy, this is frustrating. In February, dozens of North Carolinians showed up at a meeting of the utilities commission, demanding that the regulators reject Duke Energy’s plans.

“It is critical to move to a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy fast, y’all, with the urgency of the crisis that we are in,” said Karen Bearden, from Raleigh.

It’s not clear what regulators will do, though. Under North Carolina law, they’re supposed to make sure that Duke Energy delivers reliable power at the lowest possible cost — and that’s always been interpreted as cost to the consumer, not cost to the environment.

It’s a puzzle that people are trying to figure out all over the country. How do you get electric utilities to go green?

States in the Northeast are forcing them in that direction with a “cap-and-trade” system that’s intended to make burning fossil fuels steadily more expensive.

In North Carolina, some are calling for more competition in the energy business. They include Jim Warren, executive director of an environmental justice organization called NC WARN. Warren thinks that if other companies had a chance to offer Duke Energy’s customers a better deal, they’d prove that clean energy is cheaper. “What we would really like to see is the monopoly be restructured where we have competition, and then let the marketplace figure it out,” he says.

Others, though, say that regulated monopolies like Duke Energy can be motivated to cut carbon emissions drastically. According to Cara Goldenberg, a senior associate at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit energy consulting group, it’s just a matter of giving these utilities the right incentives. “You don’t necessarily need to use sticks all the time,” she says. “There’s also carrots, right? There are these business model incentives to bring the utility along in this transition.”

For instance, she says, regulators can change the rules so utilities don’t just earn money selling electricity; they can also get paid for cutting their greenhouse emissions. “Give the utility a goal. If you meet that goal, you’ll get rewarded. If you don’t meet that goal, there could be a penalty,” she says.

Regulators also could let a utility charge its customers higher rates to recover the cost of upgrading its electrical grid, so that it’s ready to handle electricity generated by solar arrays on millions of people’s homes. Regulators could let utilities charge customers for the costs of managing the demand for power, rather than just supply. Conceivably, a utility could control its customers’ hot water heaters or electric car chargers, turning them on and off so that demand for electricity always matches what’s being generated by the wind and the sun, hour by hour.

Goldenberg says that these financial tools do work. Some states, like Colorado and Hawaii, are using them successfully, turning utilities into partisans of clean power.

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