St. Cloud Times, Aug. 6
Rail delays demand multiple solutions
From inconsistent passenger rail service to farmers and power companies frustrated by delayed commodity shipments, it's no secret Minnesota is feeling the impacts of a national rail system unable to supply timely service in the face of overwhelming demand.
About the only place worse might be North Dakota — from where the massive oil and record crop outputs driving this "capacity crisis" emanate.
Troublingly, a short-term fix in the form of expanded rail capacity is likely a few years or more away. Couple that with shipping demands projected to increase during that time, and it's clear long-term solutions need to look beyond just trains and tracks. Everything from adding pipelines to reducing dependency on coal should be on the table.
Sure, those solutions might make for some strange political bedfellows, but the reality is America needs to find more ways than rail cars to move commodities, freight and even people to the places they are needed.
The latest example? Xcel Energy, along with other utilities that rely on coal as a power source, last month let the federal government know their coal stockpiles are at the lowest levels in years simply because BNSF Railway lines in the north and Upper Midwest are so overloaded with demand.
Similar points have been made by a variety of groups directly impacted by rail service. In early July, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture issued a report estimating rail delays have cost Minnesota corn growers $72 million, soybean growers $18.8 million and wheat growers $8.5 million.
Farmers across the Upper Midwest echoed those concerns, and with the 2014 harvest heading toward its fall peak, it seems losses likely will mount. Meanwhile, oil production in the Bakken region also shows no signs of slowing.
Insufficient rail service has been high on the radar of the federal U.S. Surface Transportation Board since early spring. It's organized hearings and even told BNSF to issue weekly updates about its backlogs.
Sadly, those reports and growing anecdotal evidence indicate rail simply won't be enough in the long term. Indeed, BNSF is expected to spend about $5 billion on its trains, tracks and workforce between 2013 and this year, yet reports of delays continue.
That's why federal and state agencies, along with the private sector, must find more ways to transport more of these much-needed commodities and freight across the country.
Mesabi Daily News, Aug. 2
Natural resources based industries under fire
We are very pleased that Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine dashed off a letter to the federal EPA criticizing that agency's absurd decision regarding a water variance for Mesabi Nugget. We roundly applaud him for doing so.
But for this issue to have reached the level of a state environmental agency publicly bristling at a federal environmental agency speaks to just how bad and disgusting is the Washington regulatory offensive against natural resource-based industries throughout the country.
And it is attack underway with the full blessing of the President Barack Obama administration. In fact, it is actually devised right out of the White House's regulatory game plan.
The MPCA and Mesabi Nugget worked attentively with the Environmental Protection Agency's Region V office in Chicago to get a water quality variance for iron nugget facility near Hoyt Lakes. In 2012, the variance was granted — and for good reason. All the company wanted was some time to identify, install and test technologies needed for the proper treatment of the four pollutants at issue in Mesabi Nugget's water discharges.
But a few months ago, EPA officials decided that was a big no-no, even though they had actually granted the variance in 2012. So, the EPA overrode its own ruling. Now there's a real functional agency.
The national narrative on the EPA's regulatory war has been focused on coal. But that's far, far too narrow.
The Obama administration and its minions at various agencies, especially the EPA, have launched a personal assault on all natural resource-based businesses. And that most definitely includes the iron ore industry. Taken to the next level, that means the Iron Range is targeted.
Minnesota's Democratic U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken should be speaking out loud and clear and often about that threat that is coming directly from the White House.
Much to his credit, we do hear such vocal objections from 8th District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan. But Franken and Klobuchar are pretty much mum. And in being so docile on this issue, they are not serving as watchdogs for the region ... they are being lap dogs.
Enough, for crying out loud. What is at stake is the very survival of the Iron Range. Minnesota's elected officials need to stand tall and be brazen and outspoken to help ward off this continual assault on natural resources-based industries.
Rick Nolan has done admirably well in this regard. But the state's U.S. senators are using pea-shooters against federal regulatory missile launchers.
Albert Lea Tribune, Aug. 7
Founders would be ashamed of executions
Last month, the state of Arizona performed the most recent in a string of botched executions. While we certainly don't condone what these convicted felons did — in many cases horrendous acts of violence — at stake here is one of basic rights protected under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Our Founding Fathers clearly intended to protect this land's citizens from cruel and unusual treatment, and a two-hour execution — as was reported in the state of Arizona's killing of Joseph Rudolph Wood III in late July — fits that criteria.
The problem stems from many drug companies' refusal to provide the necessary drugs, which had been used in most prior lethal injections. States are left to trade and barter among themselves, in other markets, or who knows where else (some states won't even reveal what exactly they're using.)
Compounding the issue is most doctors, after taking the Hippocratic oath, will not participate in executions, which in some instances leaves less qualified technicians to perform the deed. In April, Calvin Lockett, a convicted killer and rapist, writhed and grimaced during what probably was the most obvious of the controversial executions, this one in Oklahoma. According to witnesses and official comment from the state, the problems were caused by a failure of a vein that allowed the drugs to seep into Lockett's tissue, something missed until after it was too late.
It should be no surprise when this system, flawed from the start, fails. The question governors, state legislatures and residents of these states should be asking is: Should we continue blindly and allow more cruel punishment to inevitably happen, or should we institute a moratorium until these issues are resolved? The answer should be obvious.
Whether states should sanction executions is another debate, but those on both sides of the issue should be in agreement on this. Any citizen who claims to be an adamant supporter of Constitutional rights should certainly be concerned with the state of executions in this country. Our founders would be.