- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

St. Cloud Times, Feb. 5

Keystone pipeline has merit

The Obama administration’s dilemma about whether to approve building the Keystone XL oil pipeline is coming down to a simple choice: Does the president embrace pragmatism or symbolism?

In the wake of the U.S. State Department’s finding Friday that the 1,179-mile pipeline from west-central Canada to Nebraska is unlikely to alter climate change, Obama should embrace pragmatism and signal to the rest of his administration that he supports construction.

Doing so could help this proposal, already under federal study for five years, get through the eight federal agencies still examining it.

While each agency has its own role to fulfill, the State Department’s final environmental assessment released Friday found no major environmental objections, which includes the standard Obama himself mentioned in June: That he would back the project if this report showed it “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.”

As international news reports have noted, the assessment determined denying the project would have no impact on climate change because oil extraction in Alberta will continue. Producers will simply use other means - namely rail - to transport their product to markets.

In fact, the report even indicated using rail instead of the pipeline could increase greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent or more. Couple that with the horrific rail accidents lately involving oil trains in North Dakota and Quebec and safety also becomes a primary reason to build the pipeline.

The $5.4 billion pipeline will carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to get oil to Texas and the Gulf Coast.

The project is expected to create 1,950 annual construction jobs in those states and contribute about $3.4 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. It would generate about 50 jobs once in operation. And not to be overlooked, it would mean America’s importing of oil could come from its peaceful neighbor, not violent places such as the Middle East.

All those reasons are why Obama should back the pipeline.

Doing the opposite - rejecting it - simply puts political symbolism misleadingly ahead of a sound policy. How so? Environmentalists will cheer Obama for a “victory” in the battle to curb climate change even though his administration’s own environmental assessment shows that’s not the case.

As this board has noted previously, finding reasonable replacements to fossil fuels is a worthy and important search. But it’s also a long and difficult one, which makes pragmatism today an essential component of this nation’s energy policies.


The Free Press of Mankato, Feb. 6

No romance in heroin’s return

Died with a needle in his arm.

The weekend death of acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman put a well-known, even beloved, face on a rising scourge: Heroin.

The opiate is making a comeback in the United States. And whereas it has generally been an inner-city phenomenon in the past, heroin’s current incarnation is showing up in rural and small town America.

There have been signs of the drug making inroads in the Mankato area, including an arrest in September after a residence across the street from Lincoln Community Center - home to a sober school - was raided.

The Associated Press this week noted that the governor of Vermont devoted most of his State of the State address to Vermont’s growing heroin problem, and quoted a Florida epidemiologist who studies substance abuse: “We haven’t really seen something this rapid since probably the spread of cocaine and crack in the mid-1980s.”

Why is this killer growing in popularity? In part, it is stepping in for other addictive painkillers, such as oxycodone, which has been a major problem in rural America for years. Heroin is cheaper than the prescription painkillers, and it is highly addictive. The current rise in use is said to be predominately among young adults, aged 18 to 29.

Another attraction is doubtless the supposed dark romance of flirting with disaster.

But there’s nothing romantic about dying with a syringe stuck in one’s arm, as Hoffman did. Heroin is a sordid way to live, and a worse way to die.

It appears a new generation is learning that lesson the hard way. Perhaps Hoffman’s death will serve that purpose.


Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Feb. 6

Public opinion is right - sheriffs should be elected

On more than one occasion during the past decade, members of the Post-Bulletin’s editorial board have debated the merits of electing county sheriffs.

Strong arguments can be made that sheriffs should be hired by county boards, not chosen by popular vote. Why not let elected officials choose from a pool of highly qualified, experienced applicants, much as a city hires a police chief or a fire chief, or as a school board hires a superintendent? A sheriff who is hired, rather than elected, would be free to do the job without worrying about his/her popularity - and wouldn’t have to waste time planting yard signs, knocking on doors and producing campaign literature when election season rolls around.

And don’t get us started on the fairly common practice of having sheriffs step down in mid-term, handing the reins and the advantage of incumbency to their preferred successor.

Still, we’ve never advocated the abolition of elections for sheriff, primarily because we can’t find evidence that people are dissatisfied with the current situation. Indeed, quite the opposite is true - people want to vote for their county sheriff.

Nationwide, 46 states have elections for county sheriffs. There are no sheriffs in Alaska, Connecticut or Hawaii. Rhode Island has one appointed sheriff with authority over its five counties. Nationwide, just three counties have opted for appointed sheriffs. In 1994, Iowa voters put the matter to a referendum and loudly declared that they wanted to elect their sheriffs.

In Minnesota, recent efforts to abolish elections for sheriff in Ramsey and Hennepin counties have failed - with the latest being in 2008, when the Ramsey County Charter Commission deadlocked in an 8-8 vote that, if passed, would have put the matter to a public vote. (One member of the 17-member commission was absent.)

We bring this history up because right now, two sheriffs in southeast Minnesota have been making a lot of headlines - and not for busting up meth labs or cracking down on drunk drivers. Sheriff Rodney Bartsh of Wabasha County has been the most outspoken advocate for the controversial “Safe Driving” programs that recently were ruled illegal, and Dodge County Sheriff Jim Jensen turned heads and attracted a firestorm of criticism when he fired his chief deputy for alleged disloyalty.

In nine months, voters will have their say. Jensen, if he seeks another term, will have at least one challenger in Scott Rose, a law-enforcement veteran with 18 years of experience in Dodge County. And we’d be stunned if Bartsh doesn’t have at least one opponent in deeply divided Wabasha County. Residents of Wabasha County will have the chance to decide which direction they want to go.

Perhaps this is as it should be. Imagine, for example, that job security for Wabasha County’s sheriff hinged on keeping the support of three county commissioners. Given what’s been happening there of late, it would be difficult - perhaps impossible - to attract quality candidates for this position, or to keep them around once they took the job. Wabasha County already has encountered this problem with its county administrator position.

Granted, not every county board is as dysfunctional as Wabasha County’s, but the fact is that a good, ethical sheriff’s office will occasionally step on some powerful toes. That’s the nature of law enforcement, and a good sheriff must be able to do the job without constantly looking over his or her shoulder.

That’s why it’s best to have thousands of people make the hiring decision, rather than just five or seven.

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