- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jefferson City News Tribune, April 28

Easing helmet law would reverse emphasis on safety:

A proposal to relax helmet laws for motorcyclists is a bad idea that continues to get recycled in the Missouri Legislature.

This session’s version would eliminate the helmet requirements for riders age 21 and older. The measure was approved by the House on a 93-56 vote last week and advanced to the Senate.

With all the emphasis and expenditure to improve public safety in Missouri, we are at a loss to explain representatives’ support for this anti-safety measure.

Proponents cite personal freedom, but intentionally increasing the risk of injury or death extends beyond individual whim.

The risk is real.

In this forum in May 2013, we cited an Associated Press report that the average medical claim from a motorcycle crash increased by more than one-fifth after the state of Michigan relaxed its regulations. The change - which mirrors the existing Missouri proposal - resulted in a 22 percent hike in claims in comparison to four similar states: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. The study was conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute.

When claims increase, insurance premiums rise.

Increased claims also reflect more frequent and more severe injuries, which are consistent with not wearing a helmet when involved in a motorcycle accident.

Make no mistake - this is not simply a case of one person suffering the consequences of a poor decision.

Severe head injuries may result in long-term complications and permanent disabilities.

Many head injury victims reside at rehabilitation and long-term care facilities, often subsidized or supported by government funding.

Taxpayers have an interest in this proposal because they will help pay for injuries suffered by riders without helmets.

Beyond the financial cost is the more important emotional toll on family and friends. The victim isn’t the only person who suffers when an injury or death in an accident could have been prevented.

Missouri officials, to their credit, devote much time, energy and money to public safety. Cross-over barriers, rumble strips, j-turns, DWI checkpoints and public awareness campaigns are among recent enhancements.

Why are lawmakers even entertaining a law that would mark a profound reversal?


St. Joseph News-Press, April 25

Gas utility decision good for ratepayers:

We’re not big enough optimists to expect a utility rate case to end with consumers paying less.

We know it happens on rare occasion, but we never see it coming.

This explains our pleasant surprise with the deal announced recently brokered among Missouri Gas Energy, the Missouri Public Service Commission staff, the Office of Public Counsel and other interested parties.

To recap, the gas utility had sought a general rate hike that would have produced an increase in annual revenues of slightly more than $23 million. The money was to be allocated to operating and maintenance expenses, as well to providing a return on investments in infrastructure improvements.

The announced agreement cuts the overall increase to $7.8 million. Additionally, the mix of rates that generate that amount of money will change, shifting higher costs to higher users.

“Residential customers will pay about what they do today,” a spokeswoman says, noting a variable delivery charge “will benefit those who use less gas and may lower their bill.” The odds of this happening increase if a customer relies on just one gas appliance, she says.

The parties to this agreement include the Missouri Department of Economic Development and the Midwest Gas Users’ Association - both inclined to favor big gas users in these kinds of conversations. This suggests the PSC staff and the Office of Public Counsel made significant contributions to defending the interests of smaller users.

An example is the decision to lower the base rate for residential customers from about $28 monthly to $23 monthly starting in October. To the degree consumers have the ability to limit their gas consumption above the base amount, this enables them to cut their cost.

The PSC received testimony during its hearings that low-income ratepayers spend about 14 percent of their household income on utilities, while those with higher incomes spend 3 to 6 percent. It’s a fact of life many people in the Midland Empire live with every day.

Ratepayers overall will contribute more to gas utility’s bottom line than before. However, thanks to the rate structure recently approved, those living on the margins will have a chance to pay less. That amounts to rare good fortune in the world of utility rate-setting.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25

Let the wind blow in Missouri:

Moving clean energy from “the Saudi Arabia of wind” - aka western Kansas - to Missouri and states to the east is going to require some landowners to give a little so towers can be set up and transmission lines strung.

Unfortunately, some of the same people clamoring for the Keystone XL pipeline and its dirty energy from up north are standing in the way of progress on the clean American energy front. It makes no sense.

The so-called Grain Belt Express is a $2.2 billion project intended to cheaply deliver 3,500 megawatts of wind energy generated in western Kansas to Missouri, Indiana and beyond.

The proposed 750-mile route runs through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and ends in Indiana. The line would cross eight counties in northern Missouri: Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls. Missouri would get 500 megawatts of the power generated, which is all the state’s energy grid is capable of receiving, said Mark Lawlor, director of development at Houston-based Clean Line Energy.

Property owners will be compensated for the land they cede to the Grain Belt Express. They’re also going to be able to continue growing crops and feeding livestock on the parcels.

The only objection is that the landowners will have either roughly two or three steel lattice or steel monopoles, each between 110 feet and 140 feet tall, on their property.

Typically about nine acres are needed to erect two to three direct current lines, depending on the footprint of the tower, Mr. Lawlor said. The lattice towers have larger footprints than the monopoles, and fewer of them would be placed on a single parcel.

Mr. Lawlor has been through this before, in Kansas, where he says the company has completed buying the land it needs for that portion of the line.

The northern counties know about undesirable operations. They have embraced them in the past. State legislators squealed in welcome when a unit of Smithfield Foods Inc. set up 63 farms that raise sows and nine confined animal feeding operations in seven northern Missouri counties that feed and process the hogs.

Talk about odor, runoff and pollution, and you’re talking about hogs.

There were no squeals of delight to welcome a company trying to pave the way for clean energy that will eventually allow Americans to be less reliant on coal and big oil. This time around, the region’s lawmakers fear the money spigot will be turned off if they embrace green energy.

That’s right. Right-wingers have labeled renewable energy as the new liberal conspiracy and target of their vitriol. The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some power companies have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona that would roll back clean energy policies.

At the same time, taxpayers subsidize the oil industry by as much as $4.8 billion a year, with the big five oil companies - ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips - getting about half the money.

The wildly wealthy Koch brothers - who Bloomberg News says have a net worth of more than $100 billion - are industrialists who have made much of their money from fossil fuels and who got their start from their father, who made most of his money in oil refining.

So if it seems there’s no rush to embrace wind energy, that impression is correct. Lawmakers in Missouri are trying to block the Grain Belt Express transmission line and another line proposed by Southwestern Electric Power Co., which would start and end in Arkansas but cut through 25 miles of Barry and McDonald counties in the southwest corner of Missouri.

Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, who represents Barry County, says he’s concerned about the precedent of allowing other states to route lines through Missouri. Rep. Jim Neely, R-Cameron, filed legislation to block the Grain Belt line from using eminent domain.

The power of eminent domain should be treated very carefully, but Mr. Lawlor has said repeatedly that Clean Line is not planning to invoke it. He said the company’s goal is to negotiate fairly with landowners, offering them 100 percent of the market value in Missouri for the acreage. Clean Line also will pay landowners about $18,000 for each tower that is erected or annual structured payments for each tower that will grow by 2 percent a year.

Improving the ability to efficiently move renewable energy through the country’s electric grid is an important step toward cutting carbon emissions and making renewable energy more cost effective.

Lawmakers in Missouri should be embracing the Grain Belt Express and the jobs that will come with its construction.


The Kansas City Star, April 28

Citizens group’s report must make the case for a better KCI:

The citizens group reviewing the future of Kansas City International Airport won’t deliver a unanimous conclusion in its report in early May.

That’s not surprising nor a big concern. Committee members have a wide range of views on a subject that’s been a lightning rod for controversy in this community for months.

But the credibility of the panel’s findings will be greatly enhanced if they can clearly spell out the best options for moving toward a more modern, still convenient airport that includes additional passenger-friendly amenities.

These include more restaurants and shops, restrooms, water fountains and additional charging stations, all in more spacious security areas.

Going small-time isn’t really an option, either. It would be absurd to pull back and decide to only pursue badly needed infrastructure improvements in plumbing and heating, then still be left with an antiquated facility that doesn’t serve all passengers well and doesn’t fit the image of an up-and-coming city. Even this would cost several hundred million dollars.

The terminal advisory group’s report needs to be detailed enough to spell out for Kansas Citians what they would get for the admittedly significant amounts of money - raised from passengers, not taxpayers - necessary to upgrade the airport for the next 40 years.

The members who favor improvements up to and including a new terminal have their work cut out for them. The airlines serving KCI and the federal security officials who protect it do not endorse major changes at this time.

However, as the panel’s consultant noted, the city needs to take advantage of its opportunity in the next few years to deal with as many of KCI’s deficiencies as possible.

In addition, the airlines did not say “no” to major upgrades. They recently agreed to work on a plan with city aviation officials on how to best revamp the airport. The proposal is due in two years, though it could come earlier.

The terminal advisory panel’s findings could help nudge these discussions along in a positive direction - if its findings are well-reasoned and clearly show Kansas Citians what they could get in the way of a better airport.



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