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April 29, 2007

Texas tea's getting more pricey

Star Tribune, WASHINGTON - Gas prices are on the rise again. Though supply is available, out-dated U.S. refineries can't kick out enough gasoline to meet demand. Prices are rising before the summer driving season, and some say it could get as high as $4 per gallon. [full story here]

But not everyone agrees. On Wednesday, the Pioneer Press reported that gas prices remained stable on Wednesday as the market prices climbed 36 cents. The national average now rests around $2.85 per gallon, and some say that's about where it'll stay. This reporter, however, saw the prices spike last week when her local gas station bumped its price up 20 cents overnight.

There are reasons. U.S. gas inventories are lower than they've been in 20 years. U.S. are working at roughly 88% capacity, and they simply aren't producing enough. Furthermore, they're dated. No refineries have been built since 1976, and the U.S. currently relies on Europe for the majority of its oil refinement. With an expected union strike at Belgian refineries (which collectively produce about 1 million barrells of refined oil each day), gas prices could easily jump again.

American motorists are also to blame for the rise in the prices. According to the most recent report released by the U.S. Energy Information Adminstration (EIA), gasoline consumption grew 2.3 percent over the last month alone, and and 2.2 percent over the past year.

But there is some faintly glimmering hope. If the strike doesn't happen and if the U.S. refineries can keep up without any glitches, major natural disasters or shut-downs, prices may not be so high.

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April 25, 2007

Don't Drink the Water, cont'd.

Star Tribune, METRO AREA - Documents released by 3M show that more than two decades ago the company was concerned about the chemicals that have been seeping into local water supplies. [full story here]

3M released the documents1 in the civil suit that began in March. The document, from 1983, suggests that 3M employees were divided about PFCs.

Some were concerned that since the chemicals are particularly resistant to degrading, they could have lasting and dangerous effects in the environment. Others felt that the compounds were stable, and though they don't break down, they also are not harmful. Nevertheless, the report suggests that tests should be run.

3M kept manufacturing the chemicals until 2000, when it began phasing them out due to rising concern over the chemicals spreading into the nearby environment, as well as into the human bloodstream. Especially since one of the chemicals, PFOA, may be a carcinogen.

PFCs have been found in local water supplies, as well as in the Mississippi and Lake Calhoun. Earlier this month, state health officials cautioned against eating a lot of fish from these areas.

1 3M did not want all of the information disclosed. The residents' attorneys "inadvertantly included confidential portions" in both "written notes" to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and in the documents provided to the Star Tribune. Later, the attorneys asked for both agencies to return the documents. MPCA swapped out their copies for a redacted version, but the Star Tribune kept the unredacted files. The attorney's then moved to block the newspaper from publishing the information, but the motion was denied.

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April 18, 2007

Bomb threat at University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota, MINNEAPOLS - Eight buildings on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota have been evacuated as a result of a bomb threat found in a bathroom.

Taken from the University Website

Building Evacuations on East Bank

All employees working in any of the buildings listed below are required to leave the building and will be dismissed from work for the remainder of the day with pay.

Employees scheduled to work evenings or night shifts in these buildings should report to their normal reporting sites in Mechanical Engineering and Scott Hall.

Unless notified otherwise all employees should report to work as usual on Thursday.

Kohltoff Hall, Smith Hall, Fraiser Hall, Science Classroom Building, Walter Library, Johnston Hall, Morrill Hall, Appleby Hall.

I have class on the opposite side of the mall right now and I am not going. It is better to be safe than sorry. If you have a class in Tate, Ford, Murphy, Lind, or even on to the CSci building, or the Biology building - I say do not go. Call your friends, make sure they're somewhere safe, and stay safe yourself.

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March 25, 2007

Jumpin' Jack Tax, it's a gas, gas gas!

Star Tribune, MINNESOTA - The House of Representatives passed an intimidating $9.1 billion dollar transportation funding bill in a vote of 83 to 46 on a rare Saturday meeting. This bill, having been prefaced by months of bipartisan arguing about spending. Meanwhile, Governer Tim Pawlenty has stated that he will veto any bill that proposes to raise taxes. [full story here]

The bill proposes to fund maintenance on state roads and transportation for the next decade. Having passed the Senate, and now the House as well, it rests in Governor Pawlenty's hands. The House vote was only seven votes shy of overruling Pawlenty's probable veto.

The Pioneer Press, in a related article, gives a good breakdown on the might-be bill's proposed effects. The results of the bill would be to expand freeways, improve county roads, and fund more transit and rail lines.

The centerpiece of this bill relies on adding a dime to the 20-cent gasoline tax in two five cent steps, the first of which would begin this summer. The gasoline tax hasn't been raised since 1988. Admittedly, this amounts to a half-cent increase for each year gone by, but many are unhappy with this clause - claiming it's asking too much.

Pawlenty has stated he is opposed to both the House and Senate plans as long as they include tax increases, but the House and Senate both voted to reject Pawlenty's suggestion of borrowing $1.7 billion over the next decade.

The Star Tribune is currently running an on-line poll to see how readers feel about the proposed bill. So far, at 4:45 on this fine Sunday morning, 58% are against raising taxes.


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March 4, 2007

Wind & Water for Feng Shui, now also for Electricity!

Associated Press, Star Tribune, MINNESOTA - Tim Pawlenty made good on his promise to sign the renewable energy law that pledges a quarter of Minnesota's electricity will be produced by renewable resources by the year 2025. [full story here]

According to the article, only 5% (although other articles disagree with this figure, ranging from 6%-9%) of Minnesota's current energy production comes from renewable resources. A whopping 50% comes from burning coal, and the rest is - as far as this article is concerned - as of yet unaccounted for. Pawlenty said that "we" need to kick our addictive fossil fuel habit. Whether he means Minnesota specifically, or the United States as a whole, I'll go along with him on that.

In fact, unnamed analysts say this new law makes Minnesota the most aggressive state in terms of pursuing renewable resources, but they are by no means the only states pushing for this kind of energy reform. According to this article at CNBC.com, 20 other states are adopting similar programs. Colorado, for example, is shooting for 20% by 2020, and John Lynch, the governer of New Hampshire, is pushing for 25% by 2025 as well. Though the numbers Minnesota seeks are lower than some other states (the article mentions Maine and New York), the amount of change required and the short time frame surpass other states' ambitions.

Speaking of ambitions, Xcel, the state's largest utility provider, is expected to convert 30% of their overall energy-output to renewable energy sources. According to this report from WCCO, Xcel announced a $210 million dollar plan to build a wind farm in Minnesota.

Senator Norm Coleman praises the bill as a way of creating more jobs while also helping to cut down on harmful emissions of global warming gasses.

The Department of Commerce has a lot of detailed information online that shows how the law will be put into effect. Some basic examples include:

Provisions of the energy bill of special importance to Minnesota include:
  • Extension of the renewable energy production tax credit (PTC). The PTC extension, in the short term, is a critical component to help Minnesota meet its renewable energy goals. Under policies implemented during the Pawlenty administration, nearly 3,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity will be installed by 2015 to serve Minnesota consumers. By that time, approximately 20% of the electric energy provided to Minnesotans will come from clean, renewable energy sources such as wind. Further deployment of wind energy will benefit both Minnesota and the nation, by providing consumers with emissions-free energy and by creating significant benefits for our rural economies.
  • Requires the use of 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol a year as a gasoline additive by 2012. This renewable fuels standard is a neardoubling of the nation's current use of ethanol and mirrors and supports Minnesota's commitment to doubling our use of ethanol over that same period. As one of the top ethanol producing states in the country, Minnesota will benefit greatly from this initative.
  • Loan guarantees for the Mesaba Energy Project on Minnesota's Iron Range. The Mesaba Energy Project is the next big advancement in the use of coal for electric generation. Gasifying coal prior to combustion vastly reduces the mercury and other pollutants emitted by in the generation of electricity compared to traditional coal generation technologies. This project would create hundreds of construction jobs for an economically stressed area of the state, as well as over a hundred permanent jobs.

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February 4, 2007

Buckle Up, It's the Law! No, really.

Minnesota Daily, MINNESOTA - There is a bill moving through legislature that will advance the existing seat-belt laws, allowing officers to pull you over if they see you're not wearing one. [full story here]

The fine stays at $25, but if an officer peers through your windshield and doesn't see a strap you'll be pulled over for a wrist-slap. There are some major concerns about abusing the bill as a means to profile minoriities, using seatbelt inquiries as a reason to run plates and search vehicles.

Profiling by police officers is still a large concern, especially in larger cities. It's even been showcased and put into the public forum by some hip-hop artists. Consider, for example, the immortal poetry of Chamillionare:

They see me rollin', They hatin', Patrollin', And tryin' to catch me ridin' dirty. ... Turn on my blinker light, And then I swang it slow. And they upset for sure, 'Cause they think they know, That they catchin me with plenty of the drinkin' drough. So they get behind me, Tryin' to check my tags. Look at my rearview and they smilin', Thinkin' they'll catch me on the wrong; keep tryin' 'Cause they denyin' it's racial profilin'. Houston, TX, you can check my tags; Pull me over, try to check my slab. Glove compartment, gotta get my cash 'Cause the crooked cops'll try to come up fast.

To combat this, the ACLU of Minnesota is demanding that racial information be documented when citations are issued as a guard against racial profiling.

Now remember, there are some exceptions to the Minnesota Seatbelt Law. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Riders 12-years-old and older in the backseat are allowed to ride sans seatbelt, regardless of their position.
  • If you're driving in reverse, you don't need to strap in.
  • If you have a doctor's note, you're excused.
  • If your car was made before 1965.
  • If you're a passenger of a pick-up truck carrying less than 3/4 of a ton, and you're engaging in normal farming work/activities, feel free to ride seatbeltless.

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