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A conservative talk radio host from Tennessee who had been a vaccine skeptic until he was hospitalized from COVID-19 now says his listeners should get vaccinatedBy TRAVIS LOLLER Associated PressJuly 23, 2021, 3:34 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNASHVILLE, Tenn. — A conservative talk radio host from Tennessee who had been a vaccine skeptic until he was hospitalized from COVID-19 now says his listeners should get vaccinated.Phil Valentine’s brother, Mark Valentine, spoke at length on WWTN-FM in Nashville on Thursday about his brother’s condition, saying he is in a critical care unit on supplemental oxygen, but not on a ventilator. Phil Valentine has had an afternoon talk radio show on the station for years.“First of all, he’s regretful that he wasn’t a more vocal advocate of the vaccination,” Mark Valentine said of his brother. “For those listening, I know if he were able to tell you this, he would tell you, ‘Go get vaccinated. Quit worrying about the politics. Quit worrying about all the conspiracy theories.’”Mark Valentine took exception to the idea that Phil Valentine was anti-vaccination, labeling him “pro-information” and “pro-choice” on the vaccine but adding, “he got this one wrong.”After Phil Valentine tested positive for COVID-19 but prior to his hospitalization, he told his listeners to consider, “If I get this COVID thing, do I have a chance of dying from it?” If so, he advised them to get vaccinated. He said he made the decision not to get vaccinated because he thought he probably wouldn’t die.Phil Valentine also said that he was “taking vitamin D like crazy” and had found a doctor who agreed to prescribe ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasites in animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns against taking ivermectin for COVID-19, advising that it is not an anti-viral drug and can be dangerous.Mark Valentine said he got vaccinated against COVID-19 after his brother became ill. Realizing that he has a family he is responsible for, he said not getting vaccinated “is just a selfish position to have, and, absent any concrete evidence to the contrary in terms of side effects and negative effects of the vaccine, I have a duty to do that.”Mark Valentine’s comments came the same day Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Lee defended his administration’s firing of the state’s vaccination chief and rollback of outreach for childhood vaccines, both of which sparked national scrutiny over Tennessee’s inoculation efforts against COVID-19.Former state vaccine chief Michelle Fiscus has repeatedly said she was terminated to appease some GOP lawmakers who were outraged over state outreach for COVID-19 vaccinations to minors. Some lawmakers even threatened to dissolve the Health Department over the marketing.Tennessee continues to have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country even as cases are rising. As of Thursday, 12,666 people in Tennessee had died from COVID-19.———Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.
Tennessee death row inmate Stephen Hugueley has died three days after the state filed a motion to set his execution dateBy TRAVIS LOLLER Associated PressJuly 16, 2021, 2:28 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee death row inmate Stephen Hugueley was found dead early Friday morning, three days after the state filed a motion to set his execution date.A statement from Tennessee Department of Correction spokesperson Dorinda Carter said he appears to have died from natural causes, although the exact cause of death is pending. Hugueley, 53, was pronounced deceased at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution at 2:35 a.m., according to the statement.Hugueley attorney Amy Harwell said she received a call just before 6 a.m. Friday from a prison chaplain notifying her of her client’s death.“He had been suicidal for years,” Harwell said, “But TDOC is telling me they do not think it was suicide.”Hugueley was sentenced to death in 2003 for fatally stabbing prison counselor Delbert Steed at the Hardeman County Correctional Complex the previous year. Hugueley had already been given a life sentence in August 1986 after he was convicted of shooting his mother, Rachel Waller of Dyer County, with a shotgun and dumping her body into the Forked Deer River.In 1991, Hugueley killed a fellow inmate while he was incarcerated at the West Tennessee High Security Prison. Six years later, Hugueley stabbed another inmate at the state’s maximum security prison at the time, Brushy Mountain. Hugueley was later moved to the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville.Harwell issued a statement, saying Hugueley “entered the Tennessee Department of Correction as a profoundly damaged individual who from his 12th birthday to today spent less than two years outside of an institutional setting.”He spent the last 18 years in solitary confinement “where he had severely limited interaction with other humans and was systematically denied access to treatment and basic health care,” Harwell said. “Years of this kind of abuse took a tremendous physical and mental toll upon Stephen. That Stephen withstood this treatment for so long is a testament to the strength of his spirit.”Huguely had sued the Correction Department in federal court over his solitary confinement. In a statement sent to the court Tuesday, he accused the department of using the threat of impending execution to either “compel me to commit suicide, like my father,” or to “coerce me into settling for less than I want.”The state moved to set his execution date the same day.
The nation’s largest public utility is looking at shutting down three of its five remaining coal-fired power plantsBy TRAVIS LOLLER Associated PressJuly 2, 2021, 9:36 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNASHVILLE, Tenn. — The nation’s largest public utility is looking at shutting down three of its five remaining coal-fired power plants, saying they are old and no longer practical. But despite President Joe Biden’s goal of a carbon-pollution-free energy sector by 2035, the Tennessee Valley Authority, an independent federal agency, is considering replacing the lost megawatts from coal with another carbon-producing fuel — natural gas.At a public hearing this week on the proposed closure of the Kingston Fossil Plant, TVA Senior Manager of Enterprise Planning Jane Elliott stressed the fact that gas provides reliability and flexibility as a fuel that can be called upon at any hour of any day. Solar generates energy only about 25% of the time, Elliott said, so “you have to add more solar to get the same amount of energy from gas.”Gas is also currently cheaper than solar, Elliott said, although prices are falling and solar should become cheaper towards the end of the decade.Samantha Gross, director of the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security and Climate Initiative, said reliability and flexibility are real considerations, but TVA already has lots of that with its current gas and hydroelectric plants. Any new gas plants will likely be around for decades, long past Biden’s 2035 goal to decarbonize.“That’s important,” Gross said of the goal. “We’re fried if we don’t do it.”Scientists have warned that failing to meet that target will only lead to more intense and more frequent extreme weather events, as well as droughts, floods and wildfires.TVA’s Kingston and Cumberland plants together produce around 3,900 megawatts of electricity. The utility is not looking to replace electricity lost from the shut down of its smaller Bull Run plant, but for the other two, the utility is studying three replacement alternatives. Two of them are different types of gas plants. The third option is for renewables — most likely solar — plus storage.The utility already has plans to add 10,000 megawatts of solar power to its system by 2035, but that won’t be a replacement for the coal plants. Utility spokesperson Scott Brooks said most of that will go to large industrial customers like Google that want to power their facilities with renewables.Marilyn Brown is a professor of energy policy at Georgia Institute of Technology who served on the TVA board of directors from 2010-2017. She said what’s missing from TVA’s proposals is decreasing the need for new electrical generation altogether. That can be done through stronger investments in energy efficiency and demand response — which involves helping customers change their usage patterns to flatten peak demand periods.Demand response can drop a load just as quickly as firing up a gas turbine to meet that load, Brown said. “Why not help people control their thermostats and appliances when generation is in short supply?” As an example, she said, studies have found you can cycle off air conditioning for 17 minutes in an hour without any noticeable difference.One challenge is that TVA does not sell electricity directly to homes. Instead, that’s done through 153 local power providers. But Brown said it’s a challenge they could overcome. Going all-in on gas would be a backwards solution, but “the risks are low, and they know how to do it,” Brown said. “The issue is getting the utility to move in a direction it’s not as familiar with.”Meanwhile, critics say TVA already has failed to accurately weigh the environmental impacts of a separate proposal to add new gas turbines at its Paradise plant in Kentucky and Colbert plant in Alabama. TVA’s draft environmental impact statement states these additions will not negatively affect greenhouse gas emissions or climate change because the utility is reducing emissions elsewhere in the system.A group of seven environmental organizations has written to TVA, calling their analysis flawed and a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. “If building new gas-fired power plants does not negatively impact climate change, nothing does,” the letter states.TVA President Jeff Lyash said earlier this year that the utility is on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2035, compared to 2005 levels. He said they will not be able to meet the 100% reduction goal without technological advances in energy storage, carbon capture and small modular nuclear reactors. The utility has its own aspirational goal of net zero emissions by 2050.Any final decision on whether to shut down the coal plants and what to replace them with will have to be approved by TVA’s board.
A Southern Baptist governing panel has quashed for now a push to expand an investigation of its handling of sex abuse casesBy TRAVIS LOLLER Associated PressJune 14, 2021, 9:16 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleNASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee on Monday quashed a push for an independent committee to lead a probe of its handling of sex abuse cases, but the proposal is almost certain to resurface when the nation’s largest denomination holds its biggest and most contentious annual meeting in decades.The push for accountability came after leaked letters accused current and former Executive Committee officials of slow-walking efforts to address sexual abuse and trying to intimidate those who advocated for change.Amid calls for a third-party investigation, Executive Committee president Ronnie Floyd announced Friday that the panel had retained a firm to conduct it. But some pastors demanded an independent task force, saying they don’t trust the committee to oversee an investigation of itself.The committee voted down a proposal for such a task force that was presented Monday by member Jared Wellman during a meeting of the governing body. Wellman also was seeking to expand the scope of the probe to all paid, appointed and elected leaders, past or present.Speaking against the motion, member Jim Gregory said Floyd’s original proposal is comprehensive enough. Otherwise, he said, “This will never end. Monetarily, where does it end?”Still, the issue is likely to come up again Tuesday at the meeting in Nashville, which more than 17,000 voting delegates are pre-registered to attend.“It is hard to imagine that a body of believers of the Lord Jesus would vote to limit in any way an investigation to find the truth when there are serious allegations related to sexual abuse,” Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president Danny Akin tweeted after Monday’s committee meeting. “Praying our Convention charts the right course tomorrow.”The Executive Committee takes care of SBC business between annual meetings, but during the gatherings themselves it is voting delegates from the denomination’s churches that are in charge. Several people have promised to make motions similar to the one rejected by the committee, and a group of abuse survivors released a joint statement in support of the effort.Also looming over the meeting is an effort by a group of ultraconservatives to wrest control of the denomination, calling some of its leaders too liberal on issues such as race and the role of women in ministry. Formed last year, the Conservative Baptist Network is backing one of it own as a candidate for SBC president at this year’s meeting: Mike Stone, a white pastor from Georgia.At least one prominent Black pastor has announced that he will leave the denomination if Stone is elected. Several other Black pastors have already left the SBC over what they said was racial insensitivity from the denomination’s overwhelmingly white leadership.Stone is also the immediate past chairman of the Executive Committee, where he worked to place other members of the Conservative Baptist Network in key leadership positions on his way out the door. On Monday current chairman Rolland Slade, a Black pastor from California, pushed back and was able to elect his own candidate to lead a commission on strategic planning.Floyd alluded to the infighting and controversy surrounding this year’s meeting in his address to the Executive Committee.“We do have challenges in many areas that have led to confusion and division among some of our SBC family,” he said. “It really grieves me. At the same time, I have to realize that it’s expected in a community of our size and breadth.”Despite claiming 14 million members, the denomination has been shrinking for the past 14 years. Some see the need to appeal to non-white pastors and congregations as a matter of survival. The number of Black, Latino and Asian American congregations has been increasing despite the overall decline, and they now make up about 22% of congregations, Floyd said.Kelly Miller Smith Jr., a Black pastor who spent 25 years at SBC churches and now leads a Baptist church not affiliated with the denomination, said some in leadership want Black churches but don’t want to make room for other cultures.“They really want to make Black and brown churches accommodate to their way of thinking,” he said.———Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.