agriculture * food * energy * environment
By Robert Pore
A Minnesota tar sands oil pipeline spill Wednesday has alarmed conservationists who are protesting construction of a much bigger and riskier pipeline planned to cross six states, including Nebraska, said Duane Hovorka, Executive Director of the Nebraska Wildlife Federation.
Hovorka said the Minnesota pipeline, owned by Enbridge Energy, carries tar sands crude from Canada, through Minnesota to Wisconsin. He said an unknown amount of crude oil leaked out of a 1-inch crack into a wetland area where the pipe is located.
The leak, Hovorka said, was first discovered and reported by local fire fighters. Enbridge Energy reportedly did not know of the leak until the fire crews called and notified them. Though oil transportation companies like Enbridge claim to have safety regulations and mechanisms in place to immediately detect problems, Hovorka said leaks like this can occur and not be noticed for days.
”Concerns about potential leaks like this are mounting in regard to a new tar sands oil pipeline that has been proposed to cut through Montana, crossing the Missouri River as it travels south to Nebraska where it will cross the Niobrara River and carve up the Nebraska Sandhills region on its way to Texas refineries,” Hovorka said. ”The Sandhills region is particularly vulnerable to pipeline spills because of the porous soil and the fact that the Ogallala Aquifer lies beneath its surface.”
He said the idea of having a pipeline running through the state, putting wildlife habitats, farm lands and public water resources at risk of leaks similar to what has occurred in Minnesota makes one question the value of this fuel source, “…especially when we can be investing in clean energy and conservation instead.”
“When also taking into consideration the environmental destruction that is required to produce tar sands oil to begin with – an energy intensive process that emits three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil, requires two barrels of water for every barrel of oil, and the clearing of boreal forest for wastelands of tailing ponds, it becomes clear that tar sands is the wrong energy choice for Americans,” said Jenny Pelej, Field Coordinator with National Wildlife Federation.
The state is accepting comments on a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Public hearings will be held at three locations in Nebraska where verbal comments will be accepted. In addition, written comments will be accepted through the end of May, unless a comment period extension is given. The hearings will be held:
May 6, 7 – 9 p.m. Fairbury, Nebraska, Rock Island Railroad Depot, 910 Second St., Fairbury, NE
May 10, 7 – 9 p.m., York, Nebraska, York Auditorium, 211 E. 7th Street, York, NE
May 11, 7- 9 p.m., Atkinson, Nebraska, Atkinson Community Center, 206 W. 5th Street, Atkinson, NE
The draft EIS can be reviewed and written comments submitted by visiting www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov
Both Sens. Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns are co-sponsors of legislation that would extend tax credits that incentivize ethanol production through 2015, which are set to expire at the end of 2010, including the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC).
”Encouraging the development and use of ethanol in our energy supply will lessen our dependence on foreign oil and strengthen rural economies,” Johanns said. “This bill is especially important for Nebraska, the nation’s second largest producer of ethanol. Incentivizing ethanol production moves us closer to energy independence and strengthens Nebraska’s leading role in ethanol production.”
The Grow Renewable Energy from Ethanol Naturally (GREEN) Jobs Act, drafted by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), would extend the following provisions:
*VEETC, a 45-cent-per-gallon payment to gasoline refiners for blending ethanol into gasoline.
* A ten-cent-per gallon tax credit for small ethanol producers.
* The $1.01-per-gallon Cellulosic Biofuel Producer Tax Credit.
* The ethanol import tariff.
* Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives.
Nelson said the legislation would strengthen America’s energy independence and create jobs through the production of domestically produced biofuels.
Nelson said that extension of these policies is the right thing to do because biofuels offer an alternative to foreign oil and generate economic activity in the United States. Today, he said, ethanol comprises nearly 10 percent of the U.S. fuel supply.
He said ethanol produced in the Midwest replaces oil from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. Ethanol is good for rural economies, Nelson said, and a recent study found that the failure to extend the VEETC credit and the secondary tariff would result in the loss of 112,000 jobs nationwide and reduce ethanol production by nearly 40 percent.
Nelson said the expiration of the tax credit would have a negative impact on the 25 Nebraska ethanol production plants that have a combined annual production capacity of more than 1.8 billion gallons of ethanol. Studies show, he said, that expiration of the credit would “ripple throughout Nebraska” resulting in the loss of more than 13,700 jobs.
“Nebraska’s ethanol production is helping with one of America’s toughest problems today, our dependence on foreign sources of energy,” Nelson said. ”We shouldn’t play games with this home-grown, clean-burning energy supply, especially when more than 13,700 Nebraska jobs are involved. We should extend this triple-duty tax credit that helps our national security, environment and jobs.”
By Robert Pore
Sen. Ben Nelson and Sen. Mike Johanns differed Thursday as members of the Senate Agriculture Committee voted for the “The Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act of 2010.”
According to Nelson, the legislation regulatesderivatives, which the committee sent to the full Senate on a bipartisan 13 to 8 vote. The only Republican to vote for the legislation was Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
“These common sense rules for derivatives will bring a massive market now operating largely in the dark into the light,” Nelson said. “They represent one step needed to address financial reforms that end bailouts, stop Wall Street’s risky behavior and protect taxpayers with new transparency.
He said that in recent years, the derivative market has “mushroomed to nearly $600 trillion as Wall Street made enormous bets with no oversight and no rules.”
“Because the derivative market was considered too big to fail when our economy plunged into crisis, taxpayers had to pay for Wall Street’s bad bets,” he said. “We know, of course, that Nebraska taxpayers and our Main Street businesses did not make these bets. And they didn’t act irresponsibly.”
Critical of the Senate Ag Committee vote was Ranking Republican Member of the House Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas. He said voted down a substitute amendment by Sen.Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), which would have replaced the bill’s language with the text of a bipartisan draft the committee had been developing.
“I am disappointed that the Senate Agriculture Committee in a matter of hours reversed months of bipartisan efforts in the House to bring greater transparency to the derivatives markets while at the same time allowing end-users to manage legitimate business risk,” Lucas said. “Last year, Chairman Peterson and I worked tirelessly together with our colleagues from the Financial Services Committee and with the greater regulated community to strike the appropriate balance for increased regulation of the swaps and other derivatives markets. We widely agreed that the end-users did not cause the financial crisis and should not be regulated like they did.”
Lucus said that if the bill adopted by the Senate Agriculture Committee becomes law, “…it will make it too costly for end-users to manage risk and will require companies to unnecessarily tie up capital that could otherwise be used for job creation and economic growth.”
Nelson said the misuse of derivatives “clearly hurt our economy and contributed to the collapse of several large financial institutions, including Barings Bank, Enron and AIG.”
“This proper regulation of the over-the-counter derivatives market will protect and empower consumers by creating transparency in what was a shadow banking market,” he said.
Tim Keigher, Executive Director of the Nebraska Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, Inc., thanked Nelson for supporting what he called a “comprehensive commodity reform” bill.
“This legislation is critical to petroleum marketers and will benefit all consumers,” Keigher said. “In voting for this legislation, Senator Nelson is putting Main Street before Wall Street. The bill would close the egregious statutory loopholes that have allowed investment banks, sovereign wealth funds, and institutional investors to pour billions of dollars into commodity markets and drive up the price of energy for American families and businesses.”
John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said that Nebraska farmers and ranchers appreciate Nelson’s support for the bill.
”Sen. Grassley was the only Republican on the Senate Ag Committee brave enough to vote in favor of this package,” Hansen said. “After all that has happened on Wall Street and in the financial markets, how can you be opposed to financial reforms? ”
Hansen said increased transparency, accountability, and integrity in derivatives trading will help Nebraska farmers and ranchers, and lessen the ability of “bad actors to unfairly manipulate the commodity markets, which is the livelihood of our producers.”
“This legislation is an important first step to bring common sense oversight to the derivatives market to ensure that farmers, ranchers, and rural America are no longer hampered by the unregulated activities of Wall Street,” Hansen said.