- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

Omaha World Herald. June 15, 2015

EPA should stand by fuel

Uncle Sam got it wrong.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s “ambitious, but responsible” proposal to lower the 2015-16 renewable fuels standards set by Congress is neither.

It would cut the growing amount of renewables that the feds require to be blended into U.S. fuel by 4 billion gallons this year and by nearly 5 billion gallons in 2016.

Since the majority of U.S. renewable fuel comes from corn-based ethanol, decreasing the amounts required would disproportionately hurt the ethanol industry.

Congress set a 2015 target of 20.5 billion gallons of fuel from renewable sources and a 2016 goal of 22.3 billion gallons. The EPA’s proposal would lower those targets to 16.3 billion gallons this year and 17.4 billion gallons next year.

The country needs Congress to step in and tell the EPA to follow the original law and its mission. Oil lobbyists and the EPA are wrong to argue that the biofuels industry cannot meet those targets, or that the nation’s fuel supply cannot adapt.

Ethanol and biodiesel supporters say the bio- fuels industry could have risen to the challenge of increased production to meet the original goals.

The EPA’s changes risk delaying or damaging development of next-generation biofuels. Biofuel investors in Iowa and Nebraska now face uncertainty as the EPA winds toward issuing a final rule this fall.

Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and pollutes less. It bolsters national security by reducing reliance on hostile nations for oil. The biofuel creates and supports jobs. It helps stabilize corn prices in volatile times. Its byproducts help ranchers.

Midlands lawmakers, who’ve spent years lobbying on behalf of the law’s standards, expressed anger with the president and the oil lobby.

Forty-two of Nebraska’s 49 state senators sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, urging her to support ethanol. That followed a series of letters and statements from Midlands members of Congress, along with Govs. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Terry Branstad of Iowa.

“President Obama’s EPA continues to buy into Big Oil’s argument that the infrastructure isn’t in place to handle the fuel volumes required by law,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a longtime ethanol champion. “Big Oil’s obstruction and the EPA’s delays and indecision have harmed biofuel producers and delayed infrastructure developments.”

Nebraska is the nation’s second-largest ethanol producer, making more than 1.8 billion gallons last year at 24 plants. Iowa is first, with 3.9 billion gallons. It makes sense that Iowans and Nebraskans would want to protect an industry that supports our agricultural-based economies.

“EPA has to be given some credit for attempting to get the (Renewable Fuel Standard) back on track by increasing the renewable volume obligations over time,” Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, told the Des Moines Register. “But the frustrating fact is the agency continues to misunderstand the clear intent of the statute - to drive innovation in both ethanol production and ethanol marketing.”

We need to think big picture.

Right now, American oil is flowing. Right now, automotive technology limits the amount of ethanol many cars can burn to 10 percent. Right now, cellulosic ethanol is in its infancy. Right now, there’s enough ethanol being produced that some is shipped and sold overseas.

But the day will come when some or all of those realities flip. Oil supplies inevitably tighten. Cars will advance and burn ethanol more efficiently. Cellulosic ethanol’s market share will grow.

It will be harder for ethanol to fill the gap if the feds back off the ethanol mandate now. Because that requirement is helping the biofuels industry take risks. And those risks will fuel the future.


McCook Gazette. Wednesday, June 17, 2015

High-tech survey points to buildings’ storm weaknesses

Some of us Nebraskans like to tease our California relatives every time we hear of an earthquake in their region.

That usually brings a retort: “Well, at least we don’t have tornadoes.”

Actually, they can have tornados, but say twister, and Kansas is more likely to come to mind than Cupertino.

Some of the expertise that helps Golden State architects deal with earthquakes is now being used to help Nebraskans deal with our tornadoes.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln civil engineering assistant professor Richard Wood and a couple of graduate students made three trips to Pilger, Neb., last year to survey damage from the tornado that ripped through the town, killing two people and injuring 20.

Using a LiDAR 3D scanner and a tethered drone - presumably tethered to avoid running afoul of federal regulations - they scanned damage to dozens of homes and buildings such as a church and a middle school building that was damaged beyond repair.

While Wood studied earthquake damage in California before joining UNL?in 2013, his trip to Pilger was his first time studying tornado damage.

He and his students created a 3D model of the school building that can be rotated to study fine details of how the structure was damaged by the storm.

“It is data mining,” Wood said. “We assemble millions of data points to look for changes in the surface geometry to detect damage. We’re statistically determining the potential quantity of damage and the whole point is to do it in terms of minutes, not hours.”

They’re creating a report that will go to the school and posted to UNL’s Digital Commons, an open-access online repository of academic papers and similar materials.

What did they find?

- Brick buildings like the school, a bank and funeral home in Pilger looked strong, but they were easily damaged by the storm.

- Storms will always break windows, but treating them with a shatter-reducing film will prevent shards of glass from injuring people during the storm and after.

- Steel anchors connecting buildings to their foundations often failed. Anchors and rivets also failed on steel grain bins, turning them into missiles, like the one that caused a corner of the school to collapse.

There’s no way to make a building completely tornado-proof. We remember surveying damage from the June 15, 1990, F4 tornado that roared through our area, and comparing it to what we imagined a nuclear bomb would cause.

But there almost certainly are economically feasible construction changes that could be made to reduce damage from the storms that are all too common in our region.


The Journal Star. June 17, 2015

Stop pursuit of execution drugs

Out of respect for representative government and ethical behavior, Gov. Pete Ricketts should suspend his attempts to obtain execution drugs.

The governor announced during legislative debate that the state had purchased all three of the drugs necessary for an execution.

The Legislature went on to repeal the death penalty, override Ricketts veto and rewrite state law, replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole.

There’s nothing ambiguous about the action of the Legislature. The repeal ought to stand unless and until it is changed by a subsequent vote of the Legislature or the public.

Meanwhile, one of the drugs, sodium thiopental, purchased from a supplier in India, has not been delivered. The Federal Drug Administration said clearly that it is “unlawful” to import the drug, and the FDA will refuse its admission into the United States. Other federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, also said they will not allow the drug to be imported. Sodium thiopental is not an approved drug in the United States.

Clearly, if state officials somehow manage to take delivery of the imported drug, it will be in contravention of the rule of law.

Texas previously has evaded the ban on importation by hiring local compounding pharmacies to mix up execution drugs.

That approach became more problematic in March when the American Pharmacists Association approved a declaration in March that the practice of providing drugs for use in lethal injections is contrary to the role of pharmacists as health care providers.

The 62,000-member association lacks legal authority to prevent its members from selling execution drugs, but its policies set pharmacists’ ethical standards, the Associated Press reported. National associations of doctors and anesthesiologists also have ethics codes restricting credentialed members from participating in executions.

Death penalty supporters currently are collecting signatures in an attempt to put the death penalty back on the law books.

If they are successful the question would be on the ballot in 2016.

Until then, the Ricketts administration should abandon its attempt to execute the 10 prisoners on death row in Nebraska. Its legal authority to do so is questionable at best. Its pursuit of execution drugs crosses ethical boundaries. Put the executions on hold.


The Grand Island Independent. June 17, 2015

Modest NU tuition increase appropriate

The freeze is over.

For two years tuition has been frozen at the University of Nebraska campuses, but that has now come to an end. The NU Board of Regents Friday approved a 1.75 percent tuition increase this fall and a 2.5 percent hike in 2016-17.

The tuition hikes certainly aren’t good news for families with students attending campuses in Lincoln, Kearney and Omaha, but one can’t say they are unexpected.

Former Gov. Dave Heineman had worked out the two-year tuition freeze with university officials and the Legislature in exchange for more state funding.

A thaw, however, had to come.

The university is facing rising costs, primarily a 3 percent increase in faculty salaries. While the Legislature gave NU a 3 percent increase in funding, the university is still running behind and is looking to cut $8 million in expenses during the next two years.

The regents and new NU President Hank Bounds deserve credit for keeping the tuition increases to a minimum. In fact, other than the two-year freeze, the tuition increases are the lowest the university has had in 30 years. That shows the university is trying to keep a college education as affordable as possible for Nebraskans.

Bolstering this argument is that tuition at the NU campuses is still far below the rates charged at many similar universities in other states.

Bounds said UNL’s undergraduate tuition and fees is 28 percent below a group of 11 peer institutions, with only the University of Iowa and Iowa State University having lower costs. UNL’s rates also are 49 percent lower than the Big Ten average.

UNK’s costs are 25 percent below its peer group and the lowest in the group.

So all of this shows that university and state officials are doing what they can to keep the NU system affordable, and this modest tuition increase re-enforces that strategy.

Bounds also made an important change in setting the tuition rates for two years. He said he did this so university officials and parents could better plan their budgets.

This is a smart move. In paying for college, students and their families often have to scrape together every penny they can get. When a tuition increase is announced a month or two before the fall semester starts it can throw a family’s budget off. So knowing now what the tuition rate will be in 2016-17 is a big step forward.

There’s no doubt that a college education is expensive these days and too many students graduate with a mountain of debt. But it’s good that Nebraska is working to keep it affordable so more of the state’s young people can gain a valuable college education.

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