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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

July 1, 2019

Omaha World Herald. June 29, 2019

U.S. beef sector faces challenges but also major opportunities

Ranchers transfer several hundred yearling steers along Nebraska Highway 92 on a 40 plus mile cattle drive over three days to summer grass in Tryon, Nebraska, on May 17, 2018. The McNutt family has made this a tradition as this year marks the 50th annual cattle drive.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call to rein in beef consumption in our nation’s biggest city has triggered complaints from the U.S. beef sector and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. De Blasio’s Green New Deal would reduce beef purchases by 50% at all New York City-controlled facilities including schools, correctional facilities and hospitals. The city also would phase out all purchases of processed meat products by municipal agencies.

Supporters of the policy — which Ricketts termed a “War on Beef” — express concern about the environmental impact from cattle production, a growing theme in activist circles. Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, responds that “the truth, which is backed by peer-reviewed science, is that U.S. beef producers are producing far more beef with fewer inputs and contribute fewer greenhouse gas emissions than what they are blamed for.”

Nebraska rightly prides itself on its high-quality beef. The state’s annual beef sales top $6 billion, with an estimated total economic impact of $12.1 billion. Iowa producers’ total yearly sales exceed $4 billion and have an overall economic impact of $6.8 billion.

Recent years have been generally positive for many beef producers in terms of prices, and it’s important that producers have a realistic understanding of the challenges as well as the opportunities ahead.

Americans’ consumption of beef is likely reaching its peak, says beef-sector analyst Will Sawyer, with CoBank, a Colorado bank specializing in agricultural needs. A new report from CoBank concludes that U.S. producers will need to look abroad: “With limited future upside for domestic consumption, and with higher economic and consumption growth abroad, the U.S. animal protein sectors must increasingly look to international markets for growth.” Increased exports are imperative “if U.S. producers are to expand output in the coming years.”

Future global demand fortunately is expected to be robust. Globally, 140 million to 170 million people now move annually into middle-class economic status, giving a powerful boost to meat demand. The U.S. beef sector has responded accordingly, with a sharp increase in the percentage of U.S. beef sold abroad since 2004, when concerns about mad cow disease sent overseas sales plummeting. In 2006, 4% of U.S. beef was exported; last year, it was just under 12%.

“Long term, the profitability of our industry is tied to trade,” says Randy Blach, CEO of CattleFax, which analyzes the U.S. beef sector. “We must have open markets and science-based trade standards for our products if we’re going to continue the run of profitability we’ve experienced in recent years.”

The favorable market demand overseas won’t mean much, unless the U.S. government reaches trade agreements with major Asian markets such as Japan and China. Japan traditionally has been the No. 1 beef export market for Nebraska and Iowa, but at the moment, Australian and New Zealand producers enjoy far lower tariffs in Japan than do U.S. producers. That’s because our country rejected inclusion in a trans-Pacific trade agreement and has yet to complete a bilateral trade agreement with Japan. Meanwhile, the U.S. is still working to stabilize its trade relations with China, the world’s largest domestic market.

Another concern expressed by U.S. producers is lab-grown meat, which is making news with high-profile startups. The developing product poses a potential long-term threat to conventional beef’s market share. Still, the artificial-meat sector at present faces many technical challenges, and that’s on top of the difficulties of achieving large-scale production to meet global demand.

Plus, researchers from Oxford University recently published a journal article saying that lab-created meat wouldn’t necessarily have a smaller climate impact than conventional beef production. “It is not yet clear whether cultured meat production would provide a more climatically sustainable alternative,” the researchers wrote.

Our country’s beef sector faces challenges, no question. But with a realistic understanding of the positives and negatives, beef production can move forward with continued success.

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McCook Gazette. June 25, 2019

Are environment, energy compatible? Only time will tell

Can an agency designed to deal with energy issues deal effectively with environmental concerns?

Nebraska is about to find out.

As a result of the passage of LB 302, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the Nebraska Energy Office will become the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy on July 1.

“This merger will make state government services more efficient, effective, and customer-focused,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said.

“The two agencies have a number of related functions and similar goals, and their services to Nebraskans will be enhanced by combining their efforts. The newly consolidated agency will be able to take a longer-term, more strategic approach to helping grow Nebraska as we work to be a good steward of our natural resources and promote energy efficiency.”

Jim Macy, who has run the DEQ for four years and has been acting head of the energy office for several months, echoed the governor’s thoughts.

“The two agencies have many common purposes, and we expect to see many positive benefits by combining and unifying our efforts,” Macy said. “Merging the two agencies will create greater depth in staffing and minimize duplication of jobs. It also improves the delivery of environmental and energy programs and policies statewide.”

The merger was celebrated at a construction site in the Fallbrook area of Lincoln, which will house all of the new DEE agency’s employees in about a year, with room for expansion. The central location is also expected to create cost savings over the current multiple offices.

The move takes the idea of merging and consolidation of governmental functions one step farther than the recent combination of the Nebraska Department of Roads and the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics.

While that merger was natural — both agencies served to advance transportation — does the same shared purpose exist between one agency designed to advance energy and another designed to preserve and enhance the natural environment?

Will one purpose come to dominate the other? Only time will tell.

It falls to this and future administrations, Legislatures and the citizens themselves to make sure a proper balance is achieved and the public interest served.

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The Grand Island Independent. June 28, 2019

More government and more taxes?

Paying income taxes is not a favorite activity for most Americans. Thus, “vote for me and I’ll increase your taxes” is rarely heard from candidates running for president of the United States.

As today’s Democrats compete for their party’s presidential nomination, however, taxes are a prominent part of their efforts to attract attention. Most often the message is “vote for me and I’ll increase taxes on the rich.” In addition, an extraordinary amount of “free” stuff is being promised. We say “free” because voters are led to believe the aforementioned rich will pay for all kinds of new government benefits.

Medicare for everyone, free college education, subsidized child care, guaranteed incomes — you name the benefit and it is being touted as not only necessary and attainable, but sometimes a “human right” (to quote Sen. Bernie Sanders).

Considering the various proposals, we have two concerns. One is philosophical, and the other is practical.

First, the philosophical. All of these ideas require a huge expansion of government’s role in our lives. This means new bureaucracies, new regulations and new delivery systems. Which leads to many questions, including: How big do we want the federal government to be? How much government control over our lives should we allow? What are the eventual consequences for our independence and freedoms?

These aren’t small questions, and the government’s record in these matters isn’t without cause for concern. Medical providers, farmers, business people, educators and all kinds of other people complain about coping with thousands of constantly changing federal rules and requirements. Some are necessary for the common good, while others defy sound reasoning and seem only to obstruct what sensible people are trying to accomplish.

Second, the practical. Claims that rich people will pay for everything run into an inconvenient truth: There aren’t enough rich people to pay anywhere near what would be required, so huge tax increases on the middle class would be necessary. Politicians surely know this, but so far they’ve addressed it by offering vacuous platitudes or illogical tax proposals. The average taxpayer deserves straightforward information on likely tax increases.

This isn’t to imply that federal programs aren’t desirable, and even essential. But the economic system of the United States has provided unparalleled levels of opportunity, prosperity, convenience and comfort for millions of people.

Before making massive changes in it, we should understand the risks as well as the rewards.

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