Mike from Iowa asked for a close-up of bluestem grass. Can do, Mike!

Bluestem, also known as turkey foot, also known as "ice cream for cattle." (CAH, 2014.08.21)

Bluestem, also known as turkey foot, "ice cream for cattle," and the key to putting the prairie back to work. (CAH, 2014.08.21)

Carter Johnson showed me this native grass and a whole lot more on his EcoSun Prairie Farm on a hot summer morning last week. I've written about Johnson's prairie farm and its philosophy before. The SDSU ecology professor gave a stirring speech on his vision for a working prairie at TedX Brookings last winter. But I wanted to see the Prairie Farm for myself.

Read the rest of this entry...

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The Clean Water Alliance was at Rickstock yesterday, spreading the word about the perils of the Powertech/Azarga in-situ leach uranium mining proposal for the Black Hills. CWA's Lilias Jarding took a moment to explain what's at stake in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's hearing on the Fall River/Custer County mining project license this week:

Whoa—did you catch that part about ten companies expressing interest in mining the Black Hills for uranium? Jarding tells me that Powertech/Azarga's isn't just applying to mine; they want to build a processing plant that would have the capacity to process the uranium mined by subsequent entrants into the Black Hills mining game.

For opponents of uranium mining in the Black Hills, stopping Powertech/Azarga at this week's public comment session and evidentiary hearing becomes all the more important. Powertech is the tip of the uranium-iceberg. Let them in, and they are banking on other uranium miners to follow.

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Rochelle Hagel (left), Democratic candidate for District 33 House, and Pam Stillman-Rokusek, campaign volunteer, at Rickstock, Piedmont, South Dakota, 2014.08.16

Rochelle Hagel (left), Democratic candidate for District 33 House, and Pam Stillman-Rokusek, campaign media wrangler (funny, I didn't feel wrangled!), at Rickstock, Piedmont, South Dakota, 2014.08.16

Democrat Rochelle Hagel is running for District 33 House. Really running: the reporter turned salesperson very smartly showed up at Rickstock in Piedmont yesterday with a team of her yellow-shirted campaign volunteers to show support for U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland and to work the crowd herself for some coattails.

Hagel is working to light a fire under a local electorate that has very low turnout. She asks voters what issues matter to them and is surprised by how many say that aren't really sure. Among those who do have some issues at the top of mind, many talk in terms laid out by national partisan pundits. Hagel says she tries to lead conversations that lead people to think of themselves first as South Dakotans with shared needs specific to South Dakota. "We all hold the same things dear," says Hagel, things like our children, peace of mind, and doing our duties as citizens and workers. She says she gets positive if sometimes surprised responses to that effort to identify and mobilize around common ground.

Hagel resists telling voters which issues to prioritize, but she says legislators must focus on education. (She'd better say that: her husband teaches at Rapid City Central, and her sister, Rep. Paula Hawks, used to teach at West Central in Hartford.) Even if there is no extra money available for the state budget—and Hagel isn't convinced there is no extra money—Hagel says we need to get creative and compensate teachers better.

For example, Hagel notes that her family's health insurance through her husband's coverage at school has increased premiums every year. She says South Dakota families face an average premium of $10,000 a year. (We didn't have the Web with us during our conversation, but this morning I find this Kaiser Family Foundation chart indicating that the average total cost for family health insurance in South Dakota, combining employer and employee contributions, is $14,999.) Hagel suggests we could save as much as $4,000 per policy by insuring every teacher in the state through a single, non-profit health policy. (Hey—could this be a vote for the Mike Myers CO-OP plan?)

We could then plunge those savings right back into teachers' paychecks. "It's our money!" says Hagel says of the tax dollars going into school insurance plans and teacher salaries. Shifting our money from insurance payments to teachers' pockets would pour a larger chunk of that cash right back into local businesses. Hagel would like to reframe our political discussions to rouse more respect for teachers and education in themselves, but if Republicans can't shed their economic development blinders, she's ready to justify better pay for teachers on economic grounds as well.

Hagel also says South Dakota needs more pork—no, not more handouts from Washington (that's Mike Rounds's gig). Hagel grew up on a farm. She fed little pigs by hand. She recalls how her family called pigs "mortgage lifters": a sow would produce a couple litters a year, the pigs would put on meat fast, and with just a couple sows in the barn, a farmer could sell that pork faster than corn to boost the family income.

Hagel says the change in the past generation of corporate packer ownership of livestock turns farmers restrains that "mortgage-lifting" potential from keeping a few animals on the side of a mostly-crop operation, reducing livestock growers to corporate employees instead of independent entrepreneurs. Hagel doesn't jump to regulate corporations, but she'd like to find ways to support a return to small livestock side operations, such as marketing assistance through our Extension Service. Help farmers sell their product on the small, local scale, disentangled from the big global packers, and we'd improve local farm revenues and selection in our local meat shops.

Hagel lights up on environmental issues. She says our key industries of agriculture and tourism depend on a healthy environment. Wreck the land and the water, and we won't be able to raise food or entice travelers to come camp and boat and take pictures. Hagel says we cannot take risks with our aquifers, including the Madison and the Ogallala. That's why she cannot support the Keystone XL pipeline. "We're smarter than that," says Hagel. She says we can think of a better way to meet our energy needs without imperiling our water.

Hagel and her campaign team will be working to get District 33 voters to rally around those issues and other common interests. Hagel faces incumbent Republican Reps. Jacqueline Sly and Scott Craig and Independent challenger Susan Hixson in the November 4 election.

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Jackrabbit Farms, a new 5000-head hog farm south of Mount Vernon, is making a stink:

Neighbor Lyle Reimnitz said company representatives told him before construction that the facility would smell less than 2 percent of the time, and that hasn't been the case.

"I'm going to have to live there. I don't plan on dying any time today," Reimnitz said. "And I will not live with that stench in my yard."

Barry Kerkaert, a veterinarian with facility manager Pipestone System, said officials never promised that Jackrabbit Farms would be odor-free. Pipestone attorney Sean Simpson said the company has done what the county and neighbors have asked, including spending $30,000 on biofilters.

"What I suspect is that we're in a position where we'll never fully satisfy the neighbors of the smell," Simpson said. "Until there's scientific data supporting some of this, we're not just going to spend money every month or year to try to meet these unreasonable requests" ["South Dakota Hog Farm, Neighbors Battle over Smell," AP via Rapid City Journal, 2014.08.14].

Yes, because it's unreasonable to expect a business to live up to its claims and not make life unbearable for its neighbors.

You know, all those service jobs toward which South Dakota's economy is shifting don't emit nearly as many noxious fumes. Maybe instead of expending resources to promote polluting mega-dairies and help counties identify sites for giant, smelly concentrated animal feeding operations like Jackrabbit Farms, the state should consider helping counties attract businesses with less noxious impact on air and water.

By the way, Davison County neighbors, recall that Rep. Kristi Noem showed up at the Jackrabbit Family Farms' opening last year to say the hog lot would be great for family farms and national security. It would be nice if she would as eagerly drop by neighboring houses when the breeze carrying the stench of 5000 pigs' worth of poop imprisons neighbors in their homes. Neighbors, you can extend that invitation to Noem at DakotaFest next week on Tuesday, August 19.

Noem is touring nearby towns already, but she wants to hear about people's frustration with government, not people's frustration with corporations.

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...and your gasoline prices will still go up.

A new study from researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute (based in the U.S., not Sweden) says the U.S. State Department could be off by a factor of four in its estimate of greenhouse gas emissions that the Keystone XL pipeline would facilitate. The State Department says Keystone XL could lead to 1 to 27 million more tons of carbon dioxide belched into the atmosphere each year. Researchers Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus say the additional carbon pollution could be almost nil, but they could also be as great as 110 million tons per year.

But check out the reason: Peterson and Lazarus say the State Department failed to include in its model the economic impact of Keystone XL, which will increase supply, lower global oil prices, and thus increase oil consumption. A working version of the Peterson-Lazarus paper from December 2013 suggests the new oil Keystone XL will bring to the market (510,000 barrels per day, 62% of the pipeline's capacity) would lower the global price of oil by $1.50 per barrel, from $101.10 to $98.60.

Attentive readers are saying to themselves, "Wait a minute! Heidelberger told us Keystone XL would raise our gasoline prices. These eggheads are saying Keystone XL will lower global oil prices. Heidelberger's an idiot! Build the pipeline!"

But here, you have to think locally, not globally. Not all segments of the market are created equally (as anyone traveling across the country last week and getting a motel room in Minnesota one night and the Black Hills the next can attest). As I've reported for years, the whole business case for Keystone XL hinges on clearing the relative glut of oil in middle America and connecting Canada's oil to the global export market. Keystone XL would erase the discount we Midwesterners get and divide it up among the Chinese and other global players.

Now if you want to give China your credit card reward points or the money you save on your capital gains tax rate, then hey, Keystone XL is for you. But if you're putting American interests first and/or if you would like to take one more action to mitigate carbon-induced climate change, you tell TransCanada to keep its pipeline out of South Dakota and leave more of that tar sands oil in the ground.

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Here's an issue on which the Libertarians won't be able to help us with a nominee for attorney general: South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley threw us in with eleven other yahoo states suing to stop the federal government from making coal-fired power plants less dirty. The Environmental Protection Agency wants to use the really successful Clean Air Act to reduce carbon pollution.

AG Jackley is wasting his vital law enforcement resources by chasing the "War on Coal!" bogeyman for his partisan pals. Jonathan Chait dissects the Republican rationale behind the lawsuit and finds it lacking:

  1. Republicans claim the new EPA regs will increase electric bills by 10% a year, but that claim is based on analysis of federal actions well beyond the EPA coal proposal and ignores the savings from conservation and reduced health costs.
  2. The Heritage Foundation is saying the EPA's proposal would kill 600,000 jobs and $2 trillion in GDP. However, Chait notes that Heritage modeled a complete phase-out of coal, not the EPA's actual plan, under which we would keep using coal, but more efficiently, reducing coal use by 30%.
  3. Jackley's fellow Republicans seem to think that the U.S. has no obligation to reduce carbon pollution as long as China, India, or anyone else is producing carbon pollution. Chait says that's morally bonkers:

I have seen no morally cogent explanation as to why the entire burden of sparing the world from runaway global warming should fall on the countries that have contributed the least to its existence. Developing countries have already made the significant concession that they will not be allowed to follow the cheap dirty-energy developmental path used by the West.

...Given that, as noted above, people in developing countries are giving up a chance to use a proportionate share of the world’s historic carbon budget, minimal reciprocity dictates that the United States make some contribution. The Obama administration expects the American people to sacrifice in order to secure the agreement of people in other countries to sacrifice. That’s how collective action works [Jonathan Chait, "Republican Climate Policy Keeps Getting Less Intelligent," New York Magazine, 2014.08.05].

Attorney General Marty Jackley is wasting South Dakota's time and good name on this irresponsible pro-pollution lawsuit when he could be prosecuting more important cases. But oops! We said coal, so AG Jackley has to swing into action on behalf of big, dirty business. And we said collective action, so we can't count on South Dakota Libertarians to bring that up as another reason to replace our misguided attorney general.

But wait: Now the permafrost is melting, and Siberia is burping methane, so I guess we might as well do whatever we want until the tide comes in, right?

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Brookings city councilman Tom Bezdichek would like to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. Pat Powers screams "Nanny state! Nanny state!"

Seattle, San Francisco, and D.C. have banned plastic shopping bags. Chicago is implementing a partial plastic-bag ban. New York City may require customers to pay a dime for their convenience. Stores all over Europe expect you to bring your own bag. This isn't nanny-statism; it's recognizing that free bags easily become litter and trying to deal with that public problem.

We can debate the extent to which plastic shopping bags pollute the environment. (Alas, much of that debate is fueled by crony-corporate mouthpieces hitching their profit wagons to that one word from Mr. McGuire in The Graduate.) What bugs me is the crux of Powers's bitter attack on his neighbor as an enemy of sainted capitalists:

Let me restate this – So, Tom Bezdichek is going to go on the attack against the job creators & providers in this town. He is going to go on the attack against the lion’s share of the sales tax generated in this community, because in his dippy liberal world, he doesn’t like people who litter? [Pat Powers, "Welcome Back To The Nanny State. Brookings City Councilor Plans Attack On Retailers Using Plastic Bags," Dakota War College, 2014.07.23].

Pat's argument appears to boil down to the infallibility of businesspeople. The popular job-creator mythos attempts to paper over the fact that job creators, just like job doers, and moms, and kids, and retirees, make decisions that have consequences. They all—we all—have a responsibility to make sure our choices don't harm others. Sometimes we make choices that look as if they don't cost us much but end up imposing costs on others. And sometimes when the short-term financial incentive of such choices clouds certain actors' ability to see the long-term, large-scale costs, community regulation can and should trump certain selfish decisions... even the decisions of those whom the GOP thinks are hot stuff.

Bexdichek isn't attacking job creators or anyone else. Bezdichek is trying to solve a problem and improve his community. We can hope Brookings shows the wisdom to ignore Pat Powers's one-note squawking and instead engages all interested citizens in an intelligent discussion about the harms and merits of plastic shopping bags.

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Uh oh: better go easy on the walleye. SDPB reports that sixteen lakes have state advisories that fish caught therein may have high mercury levels. The Department of Health lists those lakes and the potentially mercurial fish:

County Lake Fish Species
Brookings/Kingsbury Twin Lakes Walleye - 18" & larger
Northern Pike - 19" & larger
Brown Elm Lake Walleye - 25" & larger
Butte Newell Lake Walleye - 18" & larger
Northern Pike - over 18"
Clark Reid Lake Walleye - over 23"
Swan Lake Walleye - over 21"
Codington Long Lake Walleye - over 17"
Corson Pudwell Dam Walleye -18" & larger
Black Crappie - over 12"
Day Bitter Lake Walleye - all sizes
Northern Pike - 30" & larger
Lake Minnewasta Walleye -18" & larger
Middle Lynn Lake Walleye -18" & larger
Opitz Northern Pike - over 26"
Dewey Lake Isabel Northern Pike - 25" & larger
Largemouth Bass - 17" & larger
Kingsbury/Brookings Twin Lakes Walleye - 18" & larger
Northern Pike - 19" & larger
McCook/Minnehaha Island Lake Walleye - 18" & larger
Smallmouth Bass - 18" & larger
Minnehaha Twin Lakes Walleye - all sizes
Perkins Coal Springs Reservoir Northern Pike - over 25"
Potter Lake Hurley Largemouth Bass - 18" & larger
Tripp Lake Roosevelt Largemouth Bass -18" & larger
Northern Pike - over 24"

Lake Herman walleye are still good! Pass that frying pan!

If you're healthy, you should partake in the fish listed in the above lakes no more than once a week. Child-bearing and child-suckling women and children under seven should not eat such fish more than once a month.

Alas, these high mercury levels aren't unusual, says Pat Snyder of the DENR. But what's causing this fish pollution?

“A lot has to do with the flooding, the changes in lake elevation over time, the vegetation that’s flooded," Snyder says. "There’s air deposition rates that can alter over time. All of those kind of contribute in to what the particular mercury level in the lake is going to be” [Heidi Kornaizl, "Consumption Advisories Posted Due to High Mercury Levels in South Dakota Lakes," SDPB.org, 2014.07.17].

Flooding contributes to mercury contamination in fish by releasing previously emitted and absorbed mercury pollution from the soil. Coal-fired power plants are a significant source of mercury contamination, but luckily the Clean Air Act and EPA regulations are on track to reduce mercury emissions 80% from their 1990 levels by 2016...

...unless, of course, we elect Mike Rounds, who thinks trying to reduce the level of mercury in our walleye is a war on coal. More fish, please!

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