- Associated Press - Thursday, August 6, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Minot Daily News, Minot, Aug. 6, 2015

Timing is everything

President Barack Obama must have gotten a good laugh out of a federal court decision less than two months ago. Timing is everything, Obama may have chuckled.

In early June, a panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to shut down even more coal-fired power plants. Judges ruled it was premature to hear the cases because they were in objection to the EPA’s proposal. Until it was implemented, the courts had no jurisdiction, the ruling stated.

On Monday, the White House announced the plan is being implemented.

Only the most naive would believe that EPA officials did not have a timetable for quick action on the plan, even as they were arguing it was only a proposal. They and probably Obama himself knew perfectly well the EPA was, to use military firearms parlance, locked and loaded on the new rules.

On Monday, Obama pulled the trigger.

In truth, as we pointed out previously, the rules have been more than a proposal for some time. Scores of coal-fired power plant units have been shut down because utility executives knew full well there was no way the EPA would not proceed with its “proposal.”

There was a practical reason behind what the White House did, of course. It took months for the cases decided in June to wend their ways through the court system to the appeals panel, only to be rejected. Once the rules were finalized, a whole new round of challenges would have to be handled - and in the interim, even more coal-fired power plants could be closed.

But on July 24, 14 states filed a petition asking the appeals court to reconsider its June decision. It seeks a rehearing, handled by all 17 judges on the court rather than the three who sat on the panel in the June ruling.

The appeals court judges certainly ought to feel deceived by the EPA and the White House. Again, even as government lawyers were arguing prior to the June ruling that the lawsuits were premature, the agency’s officials knew that within eight weeks, the new standards would be finalized.

That knowledge ought to prompt the appeals court to cut through the red tape and hear the 14-state petition at the earliest possible date. The courts already have allowed the EPA to do too much damage - and now is the time to rectify that.


The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Aug. 5, 2015

Highway bill essential for N.D.

The Senate has passed a six-year federal highway bill and now it’s time for the House to act. The nation has been living off extensions of the highway bill since 2009 and the states have an appetite for something long term.

A six-year bill would allow states to plan, it would give contractors an idea of how much work will be available and it would give workers stability in their jobs.Companies that get the jobs will be more able to guarantee work.

The highway bill, unfortunately, has been one of the victims of gridlock in Congress. Unable to reach agreement on a bill, lawmakers instead have approved a series of extensions of the old law. Both the House and Senate have approved an extension of the bill through Oct. 29.

Now the question is whether the House can approve a long-term bill when it returns from recess and reach a compromise with the Senate.

Funding has become a sticking point with the bill. Some funds in the Senate bill would come through extending user fees and selling a portion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Lawmakers have been unwilling to increase spending through a gas tax increase. The Highway Trust Fund is largely financed by a federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel fuel and other related excise taxes. The last time the tax was raised was on Oct. 1, 1993.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has warned the trust fund is on a path to insolvency unless Congress acts. However, President Barack Obama and Congress can’t agree on a funding mechanism that doesn’t increase the deficit.

The importance of the Senate bill to North Dakota can’t be downplayed. It would provide $1.6 billion to the state.

“It’s a good formula for North Dakota, and it comes with fewer strings,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Monday. The bill averages $270 million per year, an average increase of $30 million annually. That money would provide for a lot of improvements in North Dakota. The state has poured a lot of money into roads and highways in recent years, especially in the oil patch.

But more needs to be done. The Tribune reported Tuesday on the possibility of replacing the Long X Bridge to help traffic and safety on U.S. Highway 85. Add the needs of 49 other states and one can see the value of a six-year highway bill.

Congress should act and quickly when it returns from recess.


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