Roundup: Neb. Judge Stymies XL Pipeline

Ruling prevents TransCanada from using eminent domain under current law • Meat companies put squeeze on farmers, new book says • “Gotham” reporter takes gratuitous swipe at dairy farmers • Program seeks to reward farmers for reducing nitrogen emissions • Will private companies make good on Massachusetts’ public investment in broadband backbone?

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TransCanada, the company that wants to build a tar-sands oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, can’t go around Nebraska. And it can’t go around the Nebraska Public Service Commission, either, a Nebraska district judge has ruled.

The ruling on the Keystone XL pipeline is unlikely to kill the project, and it won’t affect the current review of the pipeline being conducted by the federal State Department, experts say. But it does mean a delay.

 “The pipeline project is at a standstill in this state,” said David Domina, the Omaha attorney who represented landowners who won in yesterday’s ruling. (Domina announced last month that he’s running for the Senate.)

Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy said a 2012 state law that took authority for routing the pipeline away from the Public Service Commission and gave it to the governor, Dave Heineman (a pipeline supporter), was unconstitutional. The law improperly assigns a legislative function to the executive branch, she ruled.

The pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels a day of “heavy oil-sands crude” from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, the Omaha World Herald reports.

TransCanada has negotiated deals for about 70% of the land it needs in Nebraska for the pipeline, according to the World-Herald. The ruling means the company won’t be able to use eminent domain to force holdout landowners to sell.

Nebraska landowners have figured prominently in the pipeline debate and the events that led to it becoming a nationally contentious issue. 

Nebraska’s attorney general has filed notice that he will appeal the court ruling.

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America’s meat companies have amassed enough market power to pay farmers less and charge consumers more, says Christopher Leonard, author of a new book The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business. That means the companies are capturing “outsized profits” as the middle man, Leonard tells the Wall Street Journal in a video interview.

Leonard, a fellow at the New America Foundation, says today four companies control 85% of the beef market. In the early 1980s, the top four companies controlled only a quarter of the market, he said.

“One of the most troubling abuses I found in writing this book was just how Tyson [Foods] treats [chicken] farmers,” Leonard said. “Because Tyson operates as a virtual monopoly in most of the towns where it operates [in Arkansas], it can put the squeeze on these farmers. … I met a couple who owned a $2 million farm who could not afford health insurance. They couldn’t afford to fix their driveway.”

Leonard says Tyson, a pioneer in modern meat-producing systems, uses farmers to raise chickens but owns the chickens, feed and other supplies. The virtual monopoly means it can depress the price it pays farmers to raise chickens. Farmers have little choice but to go along if they want to stay in the chicken-raising business, Leonard says.

“What Tyson likes to say is that they offer farmers stability with a contract and the opportunity to be in the meat business where jobs are few and far between. But those arguments really fall apart when you get out onto the ground where this company operates and see how things work.”

The interview starts with a reference to the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Leonard says comparing the cable giants’ market power of large meat companies is apt.

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A New York Times columnist takes a gratuitous slap at dairy farmers in a story about a Brooklyn apartment building.

Michael Powell, whose column “Gotham” covers New York City politics and government, described one of the apartment building’s owners as “a politically savvy fellow who has a dairy-farmer-like appreciation for the teat of public subsidy.”

It’s an odd sort of slur, completely unrelated to the rest of the story, buried two-thirds of the way down. If Powell hadn’t thought better of it, an editor with common sense could have changed it with no effect on the story.

Does Powell know any dairy farmers? Does anyone at the New York Times? Perhaps someone would have thought twice if the categorical insult were leveled at a group more familiar to Manhattan reporters and editors.

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A McDonald’s worker in southwest New York has lost her job the day after she bought breakfast for a group of first responders who had just put out a house fire.

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The number of rural workers in China climbed 2.4% in 2013, according to the nation’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

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Farmers who reduce emissions of nitrous oxide from the application of fertilizer could see some rewards from a new program launched by the Climate Trust and Delta Institute.

The Delta Institute will measure, verify and list farmers’ nitrous oxide reductions on the American Carbon Registry. The Climate Trust will purchase and retire the credits, with profits from the purchases going back to participating farmers, according to a press release.

The project is the first to use credit transactions to reduce agricultural nitrous oxide emissions, the release said. The work is designed to help farmers maintain yields while reducing the use of nitrogen fertilizers.

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To get more doctors into rural South Carolina, an advisory group says the state should look at more rural residencies and recruiting medical-profession students from rural areas. South Carolina ranks 40th in the nation in the number of primary-care physicians per capita. Nearly every county in the state has at least one area designated as having a “primary care shortage.”

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The New Hampshire Legislature is voting on a bill to establish a state commission on rural affairs. “With this commission we can dig deeper into the policy that will make life better for rural people and rural communities,” says a supporter of the bill, state Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Democrat from Dalton.

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Massachusetts is ready to flip the switch on a new broadband network that will deliver high-speed Internet to “town halls, police stations, fire departments, libraries, schools and other municipal buildings” in 120 central and western Massachusetts communities.

The completion of the “middle-mile” project now shifts discussion to whether commercial providers will take the next step and build out services to individual homes and businesses.

“The state has made a very big commitment in hopes that the private sector would step up,” said Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, “The time is now.”

The Berkshire Eagle reports on debate about whether there’s sufficient demand to attract commercial providers into underserved areas:

Want of an assured market may be holding up private companies like Comcast or Verizon from anteing up, Pignatelli said….

Wagering that western Massachusetts consumers, many of whom already have satisfactory Internet service, would pay more for high-speed could be viewed as a dicey bet, he added.

“It’s going to come down to consumer choice and economics,” Pignatelli said.

Towns like Savoy — one rural Berkshire community many consider underserved — could provide the market desired by potential investors.

John Tynan, chairman of the Savoy Select Board, said many people who live off Route 116, the town’s primary road, are seeking a better connection, or any connection at all.

But Tynan agreed with Pignatelli’s point.

“A lot of people in town are interested, but they’re waiting on some information like rates from potential providers,” he said.

Cariddi, on the other hand, said the market’s there.

“I think there’s a healthy and growing market,” Cariddi said. “Businesses and young people demand good Internet, and our schools and students require it.”

 

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