Read today’s news from around the state and country. Each day in the Roundup we cover politics, always with a side of bold humor. We think politics should be fun, informative and encourage us all to take action.
Friday, August 3rd
Chelsea, who is the Roundup Writing Queen, is headed back to the Neb from Africa. So, I (Jane) am doing my best today to fill in for her while she makes the trek back home. Here’s your Roundup:
Rolling Stone Keeps Rocking It: Writer Jeff Goodell keeps on churning out some of the best articles on energy, tarsands and the Keystone XL pipeline. In this edition of Rolling Stone, he covers the fact that tarsands companies know they hit a “block” in the United States and how they have turned more focus to getting the landlocked tarsands to their own coasts for export. Problem is, Canadian citizens, landowners and tribes have a few words to say about those plans. Read here. Folllw @jeffgoodell on twitter.
Rumor Has It: OWH reporter Paul Hammel and conservative blogger Objective Conservative both have stories up on rumors that have been swirling around Nebraska political circles. We have zero idea if the rumors are true. We care about elected officials, who our tax payer money supports, being honest with voters. Adults chose who their partners are and chose their actions. If you are being paid by taxpayers, voters have a right to know the truth. We hope it all comes out in the open, true or false. There are also rumors swirling around Att. Gen. Bruning, grants given to We Support Ag and staff members of that organization that have not yet been reported on. Who knows whats true? We do not, but would sure like to know. Read OWH here. Read OC blog here. Follow @paulhammelOWH on twitter.
Mobile Food: Bold supports local food efforts. When Pepe decided he was going to launch a mobile, local food truck that supports family farmers and ranchers we jumped at the opportunity to show our support. Lots of Nebraskans joined his call and his truck should be hitting the streets soon. Read here.
Thursday, August 2nd
The York Times is conducting a poll to see how people feel about the Keystone XL pipeline. Take a 30 second break from whatever you are doing and vote here. Here’s your Roundup:
Womanhood No Longer a Pre-existing Condition: The Affordable Care Act’s requirement for insurance companies to cover a wide array of women’s health services begins today. Now, all new insurance plans will be required to cover services and tests for women at no out-of-pocket costs. These include domestic violence screenings, FDA-approve contraception, breast-feeding counseling and supplies and a well-woman visit, among other services. Although this provision of the Affordable Care Act is still undergoing legal challenges by some religious organizations and private business owners (Nebraska federal judge Urbom declared these lawsuits premature), the law will go into effect for most Americans. The Obama Administration is still working on a compromise with religiously affiliated institutions, for whom the law will not yet go into effect. Read here
Taxing the Middle Class: Economists at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center have essentially said that Mitt Romney’s plan to cut taxes is mathematically impossible. While the Center did not have an exact blueprint of a Romney plan, it incorporated Romney’s clearly stated proposals in its analysis. These proposals include lowering marginal tax rates, eliminating both the alternative minimum tax and taxation of investment income of most taxpayers, doing away with the estate tax, and repealing the high-income taxes passed with the Affordable Care Act. Romney has vowed his plan would be deficit-neutral, but the taxes he would want to do away with (that mostly affect the wealthiest 2% of Americans) would reduce total tax revenue by $360 billion dollars—that’s a lot to make up in closing loopholes elsewhere. Even when assuming that all the tax loopholes affecting those earning more than $200,000 a year would be closed to fulfill his promise of a deficit neutral plan, the Tax Policy Center found that there was no possible way to make up for the cuts Romney has proposed without increasing taxes on those making less than $200,000 a year—95% of the population. Read here and here
Uninsured in Nebraska: The University of Nebraska Medical Center released a report showing that the number of uninsured Nebraskans topped 217,000 in 2010, a 67% increase over the past decade. The Director of the University’s Center for Health Policy noted that this rapid increase may have slowed since the Affordable Care Act has allowed children to stay on their parents’ coverage until age 26. He also said that the Medicaid expansion component of the ACA would “most likely reverse the trend because it will extend coverage to 108,000 to 145,000 more people. This report highlights the need for Governor Heineman to stop playing party politics and start taking advantage of the ACA’s measures to get more people insured. It’s Nebraskans that are paying the price for our state’s inaction. Read here
The City of Lincoln is currently conducting a survey in order to obtain input about the City’s current and potential future energy plans. Getting residents’ opinions as to what they would like to see Lincoln do in order to be more sustainable with its energy use is important to ensuring the city’s plan meets the needs and goals of its residents. The survey should take about 10-15 minutes to complete, you can take it here
Wednesday, August 1st
An anonymous donor has contributed $1 million to the Kaneko, an organization devoted to the arts. This is amazing news for a city that continues to grow as a hub for arts and creativity. Here’s your Roundup:
Beetles Gettin’ It Done: Due to litigation brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Western Nebraska Resources Council, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has changed a policy that has implications for TransCanada. Researchers now and in the future cannot use a research permit to remove species for a project that does not have all of its permits granted. The litigation was brought in the first place because TransCanada had commissioned a University of Nebraska-Kearney biologist to use his research grant to remove the endangered American burying beetle as part of land preparation for KXL. This decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service means that the burying beetle cannot be removed before TransCanada has received its federal permit for KXL, possibly foiling the company’s plan for an expedited process. While this is great news, our only wish is that the same logic applied for the issue of eminent domain being used on landowners—TransCanada should not be able to start preparing land until they have all their permits. Read here
Tar Sands Can’t Have It Both Ways: Yesterday, light was shed on a tax loophole that allows importers of tar sands oil to avoid paying into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a fund that is used to help pay for the cost of cleaning up oil spills. The reason tar sands gets a free ride is because the IRS and Congress do not classify the substance as crude oil—haven’t since 1980. Tar sands’ tax exempt status means that the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund is losing out on at least $35 million per year, but the fund is still used to clean up tar sands spills—the Kalamazoo spill took $44 million out of the fund. A central argument TransCanada has used to persuade the public KXL will be safe is that tar sands is really no different from good ol’ fashioned crude oil. Clearly, the United States government has seen a difference between the two for over 30 years. The U.S. should apply this logic that tar sands is different to all aspects of the tar sands industry, including its applications to build pipelines. Read here and here
It’s Not Just Enbridge: Less than a month after Enbridge received a scathing report from the NTSB, PHMSA is lashing out at the company for its 1,200 barrel spill in Wisconsin that took place last week. Enbridge had hoped to get the line restarted earlier this week, but the U.S. government has put that restart on hold until Enbridge meets a list of demands. When the line does restart, Enbridge will have to operate it at a lower pressure and issue operations reports. These demands, and those outlined in the NTSB report, should not be applied in isolation to Enbridge. It is time for U.S. regulatory agencies to wake up to the risks of giving pipeline operators a long leash, and to question operator’s abilities to operate these pipelines, especially tar sands pipelines, safely. Read here
Water is Everything: The drought has taken a toll on crops across the U.S., sparking a conflict between ethanol and livestock producers and igniting concerns over food prices. But another industry is suffering from lack of water. The dependence energy producers have on water is often overlooked, but with a drought covering over 60% of our nation, its importance to power plants and oil and gas production is taking center stage. Our dependence upon water—for life, electricity, gas, food, etc. etc. etc.—cannot be overstated. We are blessed to have the Ogallala Aquifer underneath the vast majority of our state, and it would be crazy to risk any part of that, especially so a foreign oil company can profit. Read here and here
Tuesday, July 31st
When times get busy, massive intake of coffee may be the only thing keeping you running. You may not think that you have enough time to take a nap, but it turns out that the time you spend driving to and waiting in line at StarBucks could be all the time you need to better rejuvenate your mind–naps that last less than 30 minutes are the best, says science. Here’s your Roundup:
Thank You: Over 400,000 people joined major climate scientists in urging the State Department to consider climate change as part of its evaluation when deciding whether to approve or deny Keystone XL. It has been made clear that building KXL will directly increase carbon dioxide emissions from the tar sands, and that full exploitation of the tar sands will cause a global temperature increase of at least 0.36° C. Ten climate scientists that wrote to the Secretary of State said “that it would be “neither wise, nor credible,” to omit global warming impacts from its review of the pipeline project.” The huge turnout of citizens writing to the State Department to voice a similar opinion is incredible, and will hopefully prompt the State Department to include KXL’s affect on climate change in its analysis. We want to thank all of you BOLD Nebraskans who wrote comments to the State Department; undoubtedly many of you wrote about more than climate change, and your input is very important to ensure that the State Department will evaluate from all important angles whether KXL is in the national interest. Read here
Pet Projects Trump Security: While the federal government is cutting funding to nearly all sectors of its budget, and both Republicans and Democrats continue to call for more cuts, there are still pet projects that will not receive the axe. One such project falls under the purview of the Pentagon, but it isn’t the U.S. military that wants the project to continue. The Defense Department (which itself faces huge cuts) wishes to save $3 billion by not doing scheduled “refurbishing” on its M1 Abrams tanks from 2014 to 2017—instead wanting to redesign the tank to make it more capable in combat. Three billion dollars is no small sum, and you would think Congress would be thrilled that the Defense Department is proposing ways it can save money. But alas, the maker of the Abrams tank has spent a lot of money lobbying Congress, and the $3 billion in unrequested funding is still there in the budget bill. Read here
Big Oil Trumps Security Too: At the same time Congress is forcing $3 billion onto the Pentagon for a project it does not want; Republicans in Congress are going all out to cut a $12 million program that the Department of Defense has explicitly said is “critical to our national security and combat capability.” Republicans have authored a spending bill that completely cuts spending for the Navy’s “Green Fleet,” a project that has worked to field a strike group run entirely on biofuels. So, while the GOP has long touted its “support for our troops,” that “support” does not include measures that would reduce dependent on oil and other fossil fuels. When important changes that actually save lives and enhance our nation’s defense go up against Big Oil, the Republicans in Congress make it clear that Big Oil is where their true loyalties lie. Read here and here
Monday, July 30th
Today is the last day to send in your comments regarding what should be included in the State Department’s evaluation criteria for approval or denial of Keystone XL. Our ideas on what should be included in the analysis as well as how to submit your comment can be seen here. Here’s your Roundup:
Enbridge’s Commemoration: While we held the “We Are Nebraska, We Are Kalamazzo, Keep Our Water Blue” event to mark the 2 year anniversary of the largest inland oil spill in America’s history, Enbridge was about to be responsible for yet another pipeline rupture. More than 1,000 barrels of oil spilled out of an Enbridge pipeline in rural Wisconsin on Friday, forcing the shutdown of the line. Enbridge says the spill is contained, but the dark oil showered a nearby house and stains the field where the spill occurred. For a company that has hundreds of known defects on its pipelines, another spill isn’t all that surprising. But lack of surprise doesn’t translate into lack of importance—every additional pipeline spill brings with it ever more pressing need for stronger regulatory requirements on oil pipelines in the U.S. Read here
Property Rights Hypocrisy: The WaPo has published its story on eminent domain, part of its “Keystone: Down the Line” series. Landowners up and down the line are fighting TransCanada’s claims to right to use eminent domain. Noted was the strong support for landowners here in Nebraska, where over 100 landowners have joined N.E.A.T. in order to negotiate strong easement terms against TransCanada. The Post highlighted the hypocrisy many conservative officials are showing in their support of KXL and in turn abandonment of protecting property rights, once a staple of the GOP ideology. Deb Fischer’s support of KXL was highlighted as one of these conservatives turning their backs on landowners, but missing was reporting of her 2006 legislation that gave oil pipelines eminent domain rights in our state. Read here
Science Changing Minds: A well-known climate change denier has changed course. After years of doubting the science, Richard Muller started a project to uncover the truth of climate change, paying specific attention to what skeptics often see as wrong with scientists’ conclusions. Last year, he found that global warming is in fact real. Now, he has found that it is attributable to humans. While his conclusions aren’t mind-blowing (he has now caught up to where most scientists were years ago), the source of this information is surprising. It is hoped that this once-skeptic will be able to change the minds of other skeptics in the U.S. Perhaps the best part about this news is that Muller’s study was largely funded by the Koch brothers, the kings of spreading climate change disinformation. Muller’s findings brought no praise by the Koch’s who undoubtedly wish he would have come upon a different conclusion. Read here