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The ethanol mistake PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 14 August 2013 13:53

The promise of renewable energy from biofuels was lost when corn needed to feed humans became the source of the mandated gasoline additive

Wisconsin small-engine makers, including Briggs & Stratton, which owns the Port Washington-born Simplicity garden tractor brand and operates a testing facility here, were turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court in their petition to block the sale of gasoline with a 15% ethanol content.

    But now it appears that they and everyone else who would be damaged in some way by increasing the amount of ethanol in gasoline (that’s just about all of us) may get relief from the awakening of the Environmental Protection Agency to the fact that the ethanol mandate is unsustainable.

    The mandate is expressed in the numbers of gallons of ethanol refiners are required to put into the U.S. gasoline supply. For 2013, it’s 13.8 billion gallons, which yields about a 10% ethanol content. The mandated content is slated to increase to more than 15 billion gallons by 2015, which would  result in gasoline consisting of 15% ethanol or more.

    Now the EPA is signaling it may back off on the mandate. That’s good news, but let’s hope this modest progress doesn’t deter the bipartisan movement that is picking up steam in Congress from doing what needs to be done and repealing the ethanol mandate altogether.

    When the mandate was put in place in 2007 it was well intentioned. Six years later it stands as a classic example of the damage that can be wrought by unintended consequences.

    Those include:

    Driving up the cost of food. Most American ethanol is made from corn. As much as 40% of the corn crop is needed to meet the ethanol mandate, straining the corn supply, thus raising the price of the grain used in numerous food products.

    Limiting world hunger relief efforts by diverting corn needed for food to fuel.

    Increasing the price of gasoline by forcing refiners to buy more ethanol than they can safely blend into gasoline.

    Converting woodland, grassland and land used for crops less damaging to the soil to corn  production.

    Exacerbating, rather than relieving, engine emission pollution problems because of the fossil fuel demands of corn ethanol production.

    And if the EPA does not back off on scheduled ethanol content increases, the list can be lengthened to include damage to small air-cooled engines and even to older car and truck engines.

    The good intention of the ethanol mandate was to reduce dependence of foreign oil. That has happened. Petroleum consumption, from both foreign and domestic sources, has declined markedly. But the ethanol mandate deserves no credit for this.

    The recession caused the initial decline, but now that trend is being sustained by remarkable gains in the fuel efficiency of automobiles attributable to government regulation. These are mandates that, unlike ethanol, actually work. The impact of the mandate that new cars double 2010 fuel economy stands by 2025 is already being seen in more miles per gallon for many vehicles.

    The irony here is that achieving ethanol’s original goal is what is exposing the ethanol mandate as a mistake. Gas consumption today is about 20% less than what 2007 projections predicted. Because of reduced demand, there is not enough gasoline being refined to use all the ethanol being produced.

    Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the EPA will probably reduce the ethanol mandate. But that will just make the problem slightly more tolerable. Congress needs to make the problem go away.

    Even if it worked to reduce dependence on foreign oil, it would be fundamentally wrong to turn food into fuel, but it doesn’t work. So it’s doubly wrong.

Lucky Port has space to grow without sprawl PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 07 August 2013 15:37

Contrary to officials’ laments, the fact that there is little land left to annex is not a problem; the city has room to grow as a compact community

The City of Port Washington is running out of urban-sprawl space and officials are worried.

    That was the gist of an article in last week’s Ozaukee Press quoting officials who said Port Washington is facing growth challenges because of the difficulty of annexing land to the
north (inhibited by a border agreement with the Town of Port Washington), to the west (blocked by the Village of Saukville) or to the east (stymied by Lake Michigan).

    This probably proves the point that faced with things going really well, humans need to find something to worry about. There’s a reason the phrase “too good to be true” has
endured for generations.

    The fact is, Port Washington is sitting pretty —it doesn’t need to expand its borders. It has plenty of space to develop within its city limits. Unlike municipalities that keep sprawling
over the countryside, it can grow as a compact community with all of the economic and social advantages that entails.

    In an op-ed piece published in this newspaper in June pointing out the drawbacks of annexing land far from the city’s utilities and commercial center, John Sigwart, a former Port
Washington city engineer, observed that there are more than 70 lots in developed subdivisions in the city waiting for single-family homes and duplexes. These are homesites for which
streets and sewer and water and service are already in place.

    There are scores of other lots ready to be developed in new subdivisions approved by the city, as a well as a fair amount of vacant land not yet subdivided.    

    This so-called infill development is gravy for the tax base because much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place.

    Added to that, significant residential growth can be expected downtown, building population density where it can support the commercial activity needed to bolster the city economy.
On that note, it was encouraging last week to see the Common Council open the door to facilitating some of the financing needed for the redevelopment of half of the 100 block of
Franklin Street into second and third-story condominiums above commercial space.

    The fact that those condos will overlook Lake Michigan accounts in large part for the developer’s willingness to spend upwards of $6 million on the project. The notion that Lake
Michigan somehow retards Port Washington’s growth is a thoroughly discredited shibboleth awaiting a final burial. Far from impeding development, the city’s fortunate proximity to the
lake has added valuation by pushing up property values and increasing the appeal of the downtown to investors.

    The concerns expressed by officials about the dearth of annexable land seemed intended in part to defend the city’s insistence on holding land more than two miles south of the city
center for future development.

    That land, annexed years ago for the failed VK development, may be developed one day, but any boost that gives the tax base will be diluted by the costs of extending police and
fire protection and other services to a distant enclave that will likely be a part of the community in name only.

    Port Washington doesn’t need that. It has the space to grow inward, not outward—the kind of growth that brings a community together.

Bad legislating comes full circle PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 31 July 2013 14:37

After the Legislature repeatedly undermined the authority of local government, a state representative claims local control as a rationale for crippling an effective highway safety program

It’s hard to get half of the public, much less 83%, to agree on anything. Yet that was the number a poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal reported last week: 83% of Americans disapprove of Congress.

    It was the highest disapproval rating of Congress ever recorded, but only someone who had just awoken from a four-year-long nap would be surprised by it. Congress, in full view of a disgusted citizenry, has earned near universal contempt by sacrificing the nation’s economic and social progress for partisan warfare stoked by kowtowing to free-spending lobbies and narrow-minded constituencies.

    We are not aware of any recent disapproval ratings of the Wisconsin Legislature, but some of the same traits that have reduced the national legislature to an object of ridicule are evident in Madison.

    On top of partisan rancor, the current legislative session put a sour element of political hypocrisy on display with a surfeit of rhetoric proclaiming the need to limit the intrusion of state government into the affairs of Wisconsin communities and their citizens followed by a stunning series of measures that did precisely the opposite and usurped the power of local government.

    These laws and would-be laws include: outlawing locally enacted residency requirements for public workers; limiting the size of Milwaukee County Board; forcing women seeking an abortion to undergo an invasive medical procedure; prohibiting communities from imposing restrictions on cell towers; prohibiting them from requiring inspections of rental properties; prohibiting local authorities from enforcing any new federal gun regulations; strengthening the tax levy limits that take away the power of municipalities and school districts to raise taxes to meet their needs; and our favorite—overriding the city of Madison’s authority to determine its own street plowing and salting policies and giving it to the state.

    The last came from this district’s own state senator, Glenn Grothman, whose threatened law punishing the city where he works was apparently motivated by his disapproval of Madison’s cleanup efforts after one of last winter’s snowstorms.

    With serious damage already done to local government authority, one of the legislators who helped inflict it apparently now feels free to unfurl his “Don’t tread on me” banner and is claiming to be defending local control with an absurd bill intended to undermine a program that has significantly improved traffic safety in Wisconsin.

    State Rep. David Craig, a Republican from Big Bend, has drafted a measure that would give communities the power to hinder the Department of Transportation in building roundabouts. He says the law is needed because people in his district don’t like roundabouts.

    Seldom has destructive legislation been based on a weaker rationale. Many people in Wisconsin communities don’t like roundabouts when they first encounter them. Those traffic circles are–yikes!—something different. Old Devil Change can be scary.

    But drivers get used to them and like them. Saukville and Port Washington are examples of Wisconsin communities that have come to terms with roundabouts and, judging from the ease with which drivers now use them, are enjoying their manifold benefits.

    Tons of data attest to the fact that roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections regulated by traffic lights or signs, but what is most impressive about the roundabouts at North Woods Road and Market Street along Highway 33 in Saukville is the convenience and travel efficiencies they bring.

    Imagine negotiating those two congested intersections at peak traffic times if they were old-style crossings with stop-and-go lights. Prolonged waiting and dangerous left turns, some of them resulting in collisions, would be the rule. The roundabouts that have been in place for more than a year speed traffic through the intersections while limiting the chances of serious crashes.

    This editorial page has at times been critical of the DOT, particularly of its predilection for ever wider highways as the solution to virtually every traffic problem. But the agency deserves praise, and the gratitude of drivers, for its forward thinking on roundabouts. It has installed 258 of them in the past 14 years and plans many more.

    The roundabout program is one of the brighter initiatives to come from any state agency. That a legislator is so tone deaf to effective public policy that he wants to empower communities to keep this progress off their streets and highways because it’s not the same old way of doing things should be shocking, but it isn’t. It’s pretty much what we’ve come to expect.

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