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The Public Opinion, Watertown, Jan. 20, 2015
Expanding training range makes sense
The U.S. Air Force made the right decision last week when it decided to expand its Powder River Training Complex. It's not only a good move for the country but a good move for South Dakota.
Why this is important is simple: as long as we need to have an air force to defend our country and interests, we need to provide those airmen and women with the best possible equipment and training so they can do their jobs.
The Powder River Training Complex expands the air space in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, which will allow the B1B bombers of Ellsworth Air Force Base in western South Dakota and the B-52s of Minot (N.D.) Air Base to conduct tailored air training exercises close to home. That saves time and money and makes those bases more useful to the future needs of the U.S. Air Force. In addition, the decision also increases the likelihood those bases won't be on the list when and if the next round of military base closings begins.
The airspace in the Powder River Training Complex will be another ideal training tool to provide the critical training experiences our Air Force needs for safety and success in defending our nation.
Said another way, without this expanded area to train, closing the bases like Ellsworth and Minot is much easier. But now, because the fliers can take off and almost immediately begin training in the close-by Powder River Training Complex, the financial case for keeping those bases open is much improved. The economic impact of those bases is significant in the areas where they are located and losing either one would have a serious negative impact on the area around it.
It seems these days we can't get anything done, more often than not because of the EPA and that overgrown bureaucracy, or a handful of individuals who place personal interests ahead of the needs of our nation. This generation, unlike those that preceded us, is too much about "me" and not enough about "us" together. Hence, the process to get the Powder River Training Complex approved has been long and arduous.
All the concerns over expanding the training area and the pluses and minuses involved in doing so have been heard, many repeatedly. But in our minds it's time to move forward and that's why we applaud this decision, fully supported by our South Dakota congressional delegation and governor who understand the importance of the decision.
The United States has the best trained, best equipped and best supported military in the world. In order to maintain those qualities, it needs to have the proper sites and facilities to assure that their level of preparedness stays at the highest level. Expanding the Powder River Training Complex helps do that.
We can understand the concerns of farmers and ranchers in the affected area who are worried about the impact of increased activity on their livestock. And we also understand the concerns about those who worry about the expansion's potential impact on civilian aviation. Those issues however, certainly existed in the past in the existing training area and apparently haven't led to any earth-shattering problems. That would lead one to think that expanding the training area won't lead to any significant problems that would seriously impact the civilian population. After all, it's not like the Powder River Training Complex is a new facility. It's been in use for years and all the Air Force is doing is expanding an area already in use and which covers hundreds of square miles of rural, wide-open, sparsely populated space.
The bottom line is this is a move which makes sense for all involved. It doesn't involve the expense and turmoil of relocating to a new area and it doesn't add any additional impacts. All it does is expand an existing training area to improve training opportunities while keeping costs to a minimum. It's a win-win for the nation and the Dakotas.
American News, Aberdeen, Jan. 21, 2015
Daugaard motor fuel tax increase has merit
Last time the motor-fuel tax went up in South Dakota was in 1999, so Gov. Dennis Daugaard's idea to increase the per-gallon tariff is probably past due.
That might not sit well with many residents of the state. But neither do roads that are breaking up or bruised with potholes. Something has to change.
Now, South Dakota's motor-fuel tax is 22 cents per gallon on gasoline and diesel fuel. There's a different rate of 8 cents per gallon on alcohol fuels, and the rates are essentially blended when gasoline and alcohol are mixed to create ethanol.
Under Daugaard's proposal, the motor-fuel tax would increase two cents a year in perpetuity beginning July 1. So in 10 years, South Dakota's gas tax would be 32 cents per gallon. And it'd keep going up annually after then, unless a future Legislature took action to stop it.
The idea is part of a larger proposal that would increase revenue collected by the state to improve and maintain roads and bridges by $50.5 million the first year and more in subsequent years.
Beyond that, it would give counties and townships more freedom to raise additional property taxes to spend on local transportation needs.
Daugaard's plan certainly has merit. Inflation has obviously eaten into the state's ability to cover repair and maintenance costs since 1999. And the future of federal highway funding that makes its way to South Dakota is uncertain. In recent history, highway bills have been generous to the Mount Rushmore State. That could change.
If there's a point of contention, it would be that Daugaard's plan has no ending date. Having one would make it more palatable to state lawmakers — who will be asked to approve the measure — and residents alike. But the governor, a proven fiscal conservative, deserves the benefit of the doubt. He has a history of curbing spending. So much so, that the tendency has sometimes drawn ire.
Entering his second and final term, Daugaard doesn't have to worry about re-election. That means he can make bold proposals. At worst, it'll cost him a bit of goodwill he has built within the state's strong Republican base. It's refreshing, really, to hear a member of the GOP acknowledge that sometimes taxes need to go up to provide the expected goods and services. Too often, Republicans are willing to increase various fees that don't, technically, have to be called tax increases. The end result, though, is no different. People pay more.
A legislative interim committee has also proposed a plan to increase revenue for highway needs. It is, in fact, broader than what Daugaard calls for and seeks $100 million in the first year.
It seems clear that South Dakotans will soon be paying more to care for the roads that are vital to the state's agriculture and tourism industries. Under the governor's plan, visitors who drive through the state will share that cost. It's a fair partnership in payment that, if truths are to be told, should have been enacted before now.
Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, Jan. 20, 2015
Energy policy: Look in the mirror
The greatest strength in America's energy policy may be in the mirror.
And sometimes, that mirror also harbors the policy's greatest weakness.
In the past six months, global oil prices have collapsed, resulting in an epic freefall in gasoline prices that have gladdened motorists from coast to coast. It's easy to understand why, especially when the cost of filling up your vehicle has been nearly cut in half in recent months.
But there was a bonus that came with higher fuel prices, beyond what it did for America's own oil industry. The pain we've felt at the pump for the last few decades — starting with the 1973 Arab oil embargo when OPEC became a dirty word — has compelled us to become a more energy-efficient nation. This practically reshaped the automotive industry, which has created more fuel-efficient vehicles for a market eager to save. It has also promoted the deployment of energy efficiencies in businesses, schools and other facilities. In short, Americans became energy conscious and, as a result, gradually reduced its petroleum consumption.
That's all good, of course, and it is an important step in truly reaching the cherished (and mostly fictional) nirvana of energy independence.
The downside is what happens to us when the pain subsides. In this occasional situation where prices stabilize or even drop — in the current case, dramatically, as the $1.839 seen at most Yankton stations Tuesday would attest — some of us tend to forget the lessons that were learned from high prices and revert to our old, less efficient ways.
That may be what's happening now. The Associated Press reported earlier this week that car dealerships are retooling their inventory to put forth bigger, thirstier vehicles because consumers who once demanded superior fuel efficiency are now looking for the larger rides because gas prices aren't so painful these days. A pent-up demand is driving a change of thinking across the board.
However, this trend actually goes back a couple of years. According to the website Inside Climate News, U.S. oil consumption actually began ticking upward in 2013 — the first rise in several years — thanks to the increase in inexpensive domestic fuel. Indeed, the increase in domestic production has apparently made the market mostly immune to any instabilities in the Middle East that once regularly manipulated oil prices like a yo-yo. And it wasn't just motorists who turned the trend around, as industrial sources also increased their consumption of petroleum products.
So, the behavior that made us more self-sufficient in the age of expensive oil has slipped into sleep mode now that prices are falling. We are buying big vehicles again, thinking nothing of fueling up at bargain prices. While the institutionalized efficiencies will continue to help, our old impulses probably won't in the short term.
History screams that we will certainly learn the lessons again, as these price spirals and spikes go in cycles. Make no mistake, we certainly love these low prices, which are a direct economic stimulus and seem to unshackle our urge to roam. But when the high prices return, we will rediscover the conservation sensibilities that ultimately make for a stronger national energy policy. Like it or not, that's the gain we get with our pain.