Roundup: Ethanol from Corn Waste

New cellulosic ethanol plant opens in Iowa • VA redefines rural • Former Senators from the South lobby U.S. on behalf of Russian bank involved in Ukraine events • Keystone XL court case moves to oral arguments today. And more …

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A new plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, that will create ethanol from corn cobs and other “waste” material opened Wednesday, ushering in a “new energy future,” according to supporters.

The $275 million facility – a joint project of South Dakota ethanol producer Poet and the Dutch company Royal DSM – will purchase biomass from the region’s cornfields and turn it into ethanol that can be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply. The plant differs from traditional ethanol production facilities because it will use waste products, not corn.

The list of speakers at the plant opening included Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, Governor Terry Branstad, representatives of both partner companies, plus King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, reports the Des Moines Register.

The plant will reportedly consume 285,000 tons of biomass a year within a 45-mile radius.

The Hill reports:

Wednesday’s grand opening was a major milestone for backers of biofuels. It is only the second commercial-scale facility in the country to produce cellulosic ethanol, which is made from woody, inedible parts of plants, in contrast to traditional ethanol.

The project is designed to prove that ethanol can be produced commercially from waste agricultural material without taking away from food supplies or livestock feed.

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The Veterans Administration is changing the way it defines “rural.”

The new definition will use the rural-urban commuting areas system developed by USDA and the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The press release announcing the change says the new definitions will result in “improved reporting of the number and location of rural Veterans and of statistics on their geographic access to sites of care along with improved allocation of resources and improved research on rural Veterans’ needs.”

The press release does not describe the current VA rural definition system. But it does say that 36% (or 3.2 million) of enrolled veterans live in rural areas.

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Two former U.S. senators from the South are lobbying on behalf of a Russian bank that has been targeted with sanctions by the Obama administration over the Ukraine crisis.

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, and former Senator John Breaux, D-Louisiana, are listed as the main U.S. lobbyists for Gazprombank GPB (OJSC). The bank is controlled by Russia’s state-owned energy company, Gazprom, the country’s largest gas producer. Gazprom supplies about a third of Europe’s natural gas, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which reported the lobbying arrangement Tuesday.

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Colorado’s volunteer fire departments take care of a lot more than fires, the Coloradoan reports.

“People see the fire department as that one source for emergencies,” said Daniel Hatlestad, with a Jefferson City volunteer department. “We have assisted in horse rescues, hazardous materials, rope rescues — like in searches near the canyons — and that’s a completely different set of talents and knowledge to complete those kinds of rescues.”

Volunteer departments provide protection to about 70% of the state’s land area. And those agencies are seriously understaffed.

“To give perspective to the size and shape of all volunteer fire departments against their vast responsibilities, they average nine firefighters per 1,000 residents and six per 100 square miles, an area about two-thirds the size of Denver,” the Coloradoan reports.

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Oral arguments will be held today in the Keystone XL oil pipeline case in the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The routing of the controversial heavy-crude pipeline was successfully challenged in a lower court by three Nebraska landowners. They argued that the Legislature and governor sidestepped the state constitution by allowing the governor to approve the pipeline route. The landowners said the constitution requires the Public Utility Commission to approve the route.

Governor Dave Heineman’s administration disagrees and will argue against the lower court ruling.

Oral arguments typically last a half hour, reports Joe Duggan in the Omaha World-Herald.

The pipeline has become a key issue in the Nebraska governor’s race between Democrat Chuck Hassebrook and Republican Pete Ricketts. Hassebrook opposes the pipeline; Ricketts supports it.

The private pipeline is a project of a Canadian energy firm. It would carry heavy crude oil from Canada to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. Landowners who oppose the pipeline worry about its potential to harm groundwater and other sensitive environmental features. Proponents say the pipeline will create jobs and energy independence.

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San Francisco choreographer Alex Ketley says he hopes his work exploring social and concert dance in Vermont will help dispel urban and rural stereotypes.

“When I told people in San Francisco that I was going out West or to the South, they would ask if I wasn’t afraid of running into a bunch of rednecks,” Ketley [told Richard Henke of The Commons of Windham County, Vermont]. “Similarly, in rural areas, the local people intimated that sophisticates in cities cannot understand their way of life. I hope this work helps undermine those preconceptions and show that both groups have a stake in, and can join together through, contemporary dance.”

Ketley spent a month around Bellows Falls, Vermont, collecting and creating material for a presentation, which will occur September 11.

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The New York Times reports on efforts in New Lebanon, New York, to build a tourist economy around being a “living museum of contemporary rural American life.”

Over four weekends … running through Nov. 2, ticket-buying visitors are promised an unvarnished glimpse of present-day country culture, organizers say, which includes being ferried by school buses to working farms, forests, kitchens, corrals and a speedway. There they will “behold” guides like Cynthia Creech, showing off her genetically rare breed of Randall cattle; Eric Johnson, training Border collies to shoo Canada geese off public fields; and Melissa Eigenbrodt, 46, the local postmaster, who can demonstrate the art of tracking deer — without a gun — by following hoof scrapes along the trail.

Part museum-without-walls, part reality show, “Behold! New Lebanon” is being packaged as a deliberate contrast to the stereotypical bonneted butter churners at Old Sturbridge Village and other re-creations of yesteryear, which focus on nostalgic practices.

If the effort succeeds, New Lebanon will join an emerging rural renaissance — a movement that some are calling “rural by choice” — in which small towns are reinventing themselves by embracing local skills and artisanship.

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Job applicants at a container factory in rural Hart County, Kentucky, have trouble passing a three-dimensional accounting test, according to a human resources representative from the factory. The story that reports this finding has some problems seeing in 3-D as well.

The human relations manager for Dart Container, located in Horse Cave, Kentucky, told a multi-county intergovernmental meeting about some of the challenges Dart has finding and retaining good workers. Fair enough. But the story about these remarks is one dimensional and allows overly broad statements about rural residents to pass without question or comment.

The human relations manager, Millie Ortiz, says local workers are slack. And the implication is that it has something to do with the fact that they live in a rural areas.

"People don't know that they have to show up for work," Ortiz said. Potential employees either decline to take a drug test or if they take one, they fail it, she said.

"There's a lack of commitment," Ortiz added, noting employees might start to work at the plant but when their federal tax refund check arrives, they are out the door in March or April.

Dart employs nearly 1,500 workers, so somebody is showing up for work.

The story makes no mention of wages and other factors that might affect employee performance. The only explanation is that the plant is located in a rural area. Stereotypes by definition, are never the whole story. 

In June 2014 Hart County had 7,984 employed workers and about 566 unemployed workers, for an unemployment rate of 6.6%, down from 7.8% the year before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

— Tim Marema

 

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