News Day: Subsidizing corn for a sacred cow / The professor is a man / MN Job Watch / Around the world in 90 seconds, more

Subsidizing corn for a sacred cow A 107-page report (PDF) from the state legislative auditor’s office says the state should stop subsidizing ethanol and questions the potential for increased environmental benefit from increasing production of corn-based ethanol.

The recommendation to end public subsidies for ethanol producers is based on strictly economic analysis that shows increased profitability for ethanol producers has eliminated the justification for subsidies. The state program, begun in 1987, is a producer payment program. The Job Opportunity Building Zones (JOBZ) program has also provided subsidies for recently-built ethanol and biodiesel facilities. According to the report, “the producer payment program has paid $93 million over the last five years to companies that have earned profits of $619 million” during the past five years, and “about $44 million is scheduled to be spent on the producer payment program from fiscal year 2010 through 2012.” The report recommends ending the subsidy and “redirecting the funds to programs designed to further reduce fossil fuel energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.” That, of course, is not going to happen because the ethanol industry has a lock on legislative support, as well as the support of the governor.

The environmental analysis of corn-based ethanol production: Among the problems with reliance on ethanol and biodiesel, long cited by environmentalists : degradation of soil and water resources by intensive row-cropping; heavy use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to support corn and soybean production; conversion of non-cropland to corn and soybean production, including clear-cutting forests in other parts of the world; use of large amounts of water in ethanol production.

The legislative auditor’s report warns that “environmental impacts of corn-based ethanol and soy biodiesel are unclear in some respects and more complicated than is often acknowledged by both supporters and detractors of these biofuels,” but details significant critiques, and notes that there is also a concern about the impact on global food production:

About 31 percent of the corn crop and 7 percent of the soybean crop harvested in the United States in 2008 is expected to be used for biofuels. These usage levels have raised concerns about the impact of biofuels on world food supplies and prices. Yet, we estimate that only 5.2 percent of gasoline use and 0.6 percent of diesel use would be replaced by these biofuels in 2009.

The professor is a man The Minnesota Daily reports that men outnumber women four-to-one in the ranks of full professors at the University of Minnesota. That’s consistent with national findings from the “On the Brink” report of the American Association of University Professors. While still outnumbered by men, women are better-represented in lower (and lower-paying) ranks of assistant and associate profs. Is anyone surprised?

Going green – now more than ever The PiPress reports that many people are going green to save green. Instead of going green by “switching to super-efficient appliances, buying hybrid cars and investing in other eco-friendly products,” they are planting recession gardens and “doing a few things our grandma and grandpa used to do, like capture rainwater and use a pushmower instead of a gas-powered motor, or composting food scraps.” More on all of that at the Living Green Expo May 2-3 at the State Fairgrounds. Free — and with 270 exhibitors and workshops on topics such as canning, composting and seed-saving.

The EPA gave the green movement a big boost last week, ruling that global warming, due to fossil fuel use is a danger to human health and the environment, the Washington Post reports

But activists such as Emily Figdor, federal global warming director for Environment America, said the administration is simply recognizing its obligations under the law. ” ‘Duh’ may not be a scientific term, but it applies here,” she said. “EPA has embraced the basic facts on global warming that scientists around the world have acknowledged for years.”

The significance of the official ruling is that it puts the EPA — finally — on track to order emissions reductions. Congress could act first, but the EPA will act if they don’t.

State of St. Paul today Mayor Chris Coleman will give the annual State of the City address today — 1 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

MN Job Watch The fire that destroyed the North Star plant in St. Charles, MN last week cost the jobs of 250 workers, reports the Strib. That’s a major blow to a the town of 3600, especially as it’s unclear whether the company will rebuild in St. Charles or elsewhere. Back to the Strib:

The plant’s demise also eliminated one of the city’s largest customers for water, power and sewer services, straining a $7 million budget that will also have to absorb the costs of fighting Friday’s fire. “We had a major loss of a cornerstone business,” said St. Charles Mayor Bill Spitzer.

He said he expects the bill for the city to be “staggering.”

Justice for janitors, writes David Brauer in MinnPost, is nowhere in sight at the Strib. Strib janitors gave back six jobs and half a million in compensation last year, leaving the 23 full-timers and 10 part-timers earning full-time salaries between $25,000 and $32,000 per year. Now the Strib is trying to ditch its liabilities to the janitors’ underfunded SEIU pension plan:

The labor negotiators I’ve spoken with (management doesn’t comment), see the Strib’s refusal to fork over even bare-minimum amounts as evidence the paper is being prepped for sale. (Of course, there has to be a buyer.)

The pension issue is complicated, and Brauer lays it out in detail. As he notes, the issue reaches beyond the janitors to other Strib union workers and beyond that to the underfunded Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp., “which liquidates crappy funds. As many an airline worker knows, you still end up with nickels and dimes on the dollar.”

Other local headlines SPPS chief of staff (and former journalist) Suzanne Kelly has been named acting superintendent in St. Paul as SPPS gears up for a superintendent search.

The legislature is considering lifting a moratorium on nuclear power in Minnesota, reports MPR.

The public gets a chance to comment on Xcel’s plan to expand its Prairie Island nuclear plant at apublic meeting Tuesday at the Red Wing Public Library , according to AP. Comments on the Minnesota Office of Energy Security draft environmental impact statement can be made until May 8.

Around the world in 90 seconds

Iranian judicial chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi has ordered a full and fair review of U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi’s case, reports NPR. The pronouncement comes after a call for “fairness and justice” by Iranian president President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Commentators speculate that the case is being used by hardliners in Iran to block moves for dialogue between the U.S. and Iran.

In Sudan, Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi has been stopped from leaving the country to seek medical treatment. Aides said he was stopped at the airport by security guards who confiscated his passport.

Now that’s a stimulus plan Afghanistan, reports BBC, plans to recruit and train 15,000 police officers in the next three months – before the scheduled August elections. The police force currenlty numbers 82,000.

According to BBC, “Early reports from an investigation by Zimbabwe’s MDC suggest that a car crash which killed PM Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife may not have been accidental.”

In Somalia, two more aid workers from Doctors Without Borders were kidnapped last week. BBC: “The UN estimates 35 aid staff were killed last year and 26 abducted in the Horn of Africa nation, which has not had a functioning government since 1991.”

Just a week before South African elections, 90-year-old former president Nelson Mandela appeared along with ANC presidential candidate Jacob Zuma, lending his substantial prestige to Zuma. Zuma has been accused of corruption and racketeering, but charges against him were dropped earlier this month, reports BBC, and the ANC is expected to win the elections by a substantial margin.

Despite the Pakistan government’s deal with Islamist fundamentalists in the tribal areas giving them control of the courts and legal system,
a suicide bomber near the northwestern town of Hangu blew himself up
, killing 27 people at a police checkpoint and wounding 60+ others. The Taliban said suicide attacks will continue in retaliation for U.S. bombing.

Torture and reactions A U.N. officials says that President Obama’s guarantee of no prosecution of CIA employees who engaged in torture is illegal. BBC: “The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, says the US is bound under the UN Convention against Torture to prosecute those who engage in it.”

Paul Krugman in his NYT blog:

…there is now no way to view the people who ruled us these past 8 years as anything but monsters. We had all these rationalizations of torture over the “ticking clock” and all that — then we learn, for example, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month.

I really don’t even want to think about all this. But this was our government — and these people might be back.

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