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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

The Grand Island Independent. Feb. 20, 2015: Court’s immigration ruling may free Homeland funding logjam

At the heart of the federal government’s failure to draft a workable immigration policy is a humanitarian crisis for millions of immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally. In fact, the government’s failure to enforce existing immigration laws has effectively extended the humanitarian crisis as far away as Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador as immigrants flee from abject poverty and gang violence to a better life in America.

Thousands of immigrants are exploited, murdered and otherwise lost in their journey each year. If they are lucky enough to reach the border, most are turned back by the U.S. Border Patrol. With little to lose, the most determined immigrants will continue crossing attempts until they succeed. Many who succumb to dehydration and exhaustion are rescued by the patrol and by humanitarian aid groups. Despite increased efforts to provide aid to immigrants in distress, hundreds of men, women, and children die each year in the Arizona and Texas deserts.

According to a Pew Hispanic Center report, some 5,595 immigrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border between 1998 and 2013. More than 300 died just last year.

A constant stream of drugs and criminals follows the same routes taken by immigrants who seek only honest work. The tide of illegal immigration has stemmed for the time being; however the border remains porous. A secure southern border is essential to the mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Neither Republican nor Democratic leadership has demonstrated the will to indoctrinate true immigration reform. This past November President Obama took executive action to suspend enforcement of immigration laws for millions of illegal aliens.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a Homeland Security funding bill that carries a provision to reverse the president’s executive order. Senate Democrats have blocked debate on the bill because of the immigration provision. With funding for the DHS set to expire on Feb. 27, Congress must find a compromise. Neither party wants to take the heat for failure to fund DHS.

In a new twist to this matter, a federal judge in Texas, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, issued an injunction to halt the president’s executive order in response to a lawsuit brought by the attorney generals of 26 states who are challenging the constitutionality of the president’s action. The disposition of the immigration portion of the security appropriation bill will likely be delayed past Feb. 27. This may force Democratic leadership to allow for an open debate of the House bill in the Senate.

In his 123-page opinion, Judge Hanen expressed concern over the constitutional implications of the president’s action: “The DHS does have discretion in the manner in which it chooses to fulfill the expressed will of Congress. It cannot, however, enact a program whereby it not only ignores the dictates of Congress, but actively acts to thwart them.”

Immigrants without legal status living in the U.S. are once again left adrift; however, there is little likelihood that deportation proceedings will be pushed while the matter of establishing legal work and benefit status for 4 million immigrants is left to be debated. That debate must take place in the light of day in Congress, soon.

In related news, Fracking water disposal plan draws more Nebraska opposition

Lincoln Journal Star. Feb. 22, 2015: Update rules for fracking boom

Lawmakers should take a long look at whether state government is providing adequate oversight of the disposal of wastewater from fracking operations.

The regulations that have been in place for decades may not be sufficient to handle the new boom in fracking, which is generating wastewater by the millions of barrels.

State Sens. John Stinner of Gering and Ken Schilz of Ogallala have introduced a bill (LB512) that would strengthen the Oil and Gas Commission’s authority over the disposal of the wastewater, and establish a 20-cent-per-barrel tax to be used for road maintenance and monitoring.

Judging by the experience of the residents of Sioux County when a Colorado company proposed to haul wastewater to Nebraska from out of state, current regulation is minimal.

For example, the state does not require insurance to cover an accident that would contaminate soil or water. The only requirement is a $10,000 bond to cover the cost of plugging the well.

The application from Terex Energy to the Oil and Gas Commission says that the company plans to inject wastewater into a disused oil well, with as many as 80 trucks a day hauling 10,000 barrels a day. The wastewater would be injected about a mile underground, with a thick layer of impermeable shale separating the wastewater from the groundwater that residents use for drinking and irrigation.

The wastewater, which contains salt and heavy metals, is considered an environmental hazard.

Jane Grove, who owns a ranch across the highway from the disposal well, told the Journal Star, “I feel the risk for above-ground spills or leaks or accidental spills is quite high.

“There is always human error, and there is always equipment malfunction. If there is a spill or malfunction in the casing, going through the aquifer, then it is awful hard to clean up.”

While the company’s plans, as stated in the Nebraska application, portray an operation that would pose little risk, it’s disturbing that papers filed by Terex with the Securities and Exchange Commission gave an estimate 50 percent higher for the amount of wastewater destined for Sioux County.

It’s also disturbing that NET News turned up an SEC filing in which Terex claimed, “The State of Nebraska has given us preliminary verbal approval for disposal well development” in Sioux County. Commission director Bill Sydow disagreed with the claim, which implies that the commission decision was a foregone conclusion.

After public hearings that attracted overflow crowds of opponents to the project, Sioux County and Scotts Bluff County boards voted to voice their concerns and objections to the Oil and Gas Commission, which has set a public hearing for March 24.

The level of concern should be a sign to the Legislature that stricter regulation for fracking wastewater is needed and has public support. The fracking era has brought lower gas prices to America, but it also has created new risks.

Omaha World-Herald. Feb. 20, 2015: The right time to expand trade

Nebraska’s vibrant agricultural sector stands out not only for remarkable productivity but for its many connections to the global marketplace.

Nebraska producers and businesses send processed food, beef and corn- and soybean-related products — to cite only a few — around the globe.

“I can’t overemphasize how important that is,” Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, told The World-Herald. “Without those exports, the effect on our economy would be very significant.”

About one-third of Nebraska’s agricultural sales are made through overseas markets, Nelson said. During 2013, such sales generated more than $6 billion for the state’s economy.

The growth rate in Nebraska’s total exports since 2009 has outpaced the increase for the country as a whole. An estimated 43,000 Nebraska jobs are tied to the export market, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office reports. More than 1,900 Nebraska companies sell products or services abroad, and 81 percent of those are small- to medium-sized businesses.

Nebraska has a real economic stake in an important international trade agreement now in the final stage of negotiation. The deal involves the United States and 11 other Pacific trade zone nations.

U.S. agriculture would see especially important benefits because the agreement would reduce hefty tariffs overseas. Notable, too, is that Japan’s government has begun making concessions to scale back its steep agricultural protections.

In a major step, the agreement would set rules on sanitary requirements for food exports. That’s no mere technicality. Other countries no longer could use bogus sanitary concerns as a way to block U.S. exports — a common headache for U.S. producers now.

Nebraska native Clayton Yeutter, a former U.S. sectary of agriculture and U.S. trade representative, recently wrote that the proposed Pacific-area trade agreement “is a strategic opportunity that should not be ignored or squandered.”

The agreement “is vital for American business and American agriculture,” he writes. “It will create jobs and keep our economy dynamic and growing.”

Congress has a key role to play. Lawmakers should give the president authority to sign the agreement with assurances that no amendments will be added by Congress. Such authority is the first step for any significant trade deal; otherwise trading partners won’t agree to make concessions on their tariffs and other barriers. Ultimately, Congress will have final say on the agreement.

Opening these foreign markets is a key need for Nebraska agriculture and for the state’s economy overall. It’s in the state’s — and nation’s — interest to complete negotiations and expand the opportunities for our products and services overseas.

 

Kearney Hub. Feb. 19, 2015: Reward for crossing political aisle is job loss?

We’ve complained as loudly and as often as anyone about partisan, dysfunctional government. We’ve urged readers to think twice before electing leaders who won’t compromise or reach over the aisle. Until we have representatives in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who put their constituents’ interests ahead of their own selfish political ambitions, we’re never going to enjoy the kind of leadership that’s needed in Washington, D.C.

We actually have that kind of a leader representing Nebraska, but political machines on both sides have declared him a marked man.

Democrats say freshman Congressman Brad Ashford of Omaha had better shape up. Republicans have placed a big red target on Ashford’s back. He’s on the GOP’s most wanted list. Come 2016, when Ashford’s first term as Nebraska’s 2nd District representative approaches its end, he’ll face the ingratitude of his own party along with a feeding frenzy by Republicans intent to cash in on his unpopularity.

So far in his short tenure, Ashford has voted with Republicans on six out of seven bills. He voted to ease employer mandates in the new health care law and to roll back Wall Street regulations. Most notably, Ashford voted to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline, a measure at least 60 percent of Nebraskans favored.

Ashford, a one-time Republican, has said he’s a conservative Democrat and that he’s simply voting his conscience. What will be his reward for such honesty?

The GOP is preparing to paint him as a purely partisan Democrat, while people in his own party express disappointment he’s not towing the party line. Here are two comments from Ashford’s Facebook page:

“I just hate him for fooling me during the election process into thinking he was something better than (eight-term Rep.) Lee Terry. He is even worse, that wolf in sheep’s clothing!”

“Is it too much to ask for the rare Democrat elected in this state to vote like the Democrat we fought to elect?”

Can Ashford win re-election in 2016? It could be a tough fight. With only two years to establish himself with his constituency, he won’t enjoy the power of incumbency. Also, if he continues voting his conscience — as he ought to — the target on his back will only grow larger.

So much for putting constituents’ interests ahead of selfish political ambitions.

This article was written by The Associated Press from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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