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S. Dakota’s energy boom: Is it too much too soon?

S. Dakota’s energy boom: Is it too much too soon?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mitchell Daily Republic, Austin Kaus


But some people have concerns about the state’s rapid progress of energy development.

“Industry wants things to happen fast (and) a lot of times, environmental concerns and safeguards are an afterthought,” said Carr, press secretary for agriculture and public lands for an organization called the Environmental Working Group. Carr also is a former communications director for the South Dakota Democratic National Committee. “We are constantly fighting the idea that environmental safeguards come second.”

The debate about South Dakota’s energy boom has caused something of a split. Both sides of the issue, and the political spectrum, wonder about the speed with which the state should embrace new energy industries.

Ethanol debate

Since the boom of ethanol production began in South Dakota, 16 plants have been constructed, including Poet Biorefining near Loomis, which, according to Johnson, “is doing some of the best research in the world on cellulosic ethanol.”

Carr acknowledges that ethanol has been good for South Dakota’s economy, but he’s still waiting for proof that the federally-subsidized industry is environmentally friendly. That, Thune said, is “bogus science.” “There is no question that ethanol is better environmentally than traditional fuels,” Thune said. “You cannot tell me that something that comes from a product like corn isn’t better than something that comes from petroleum for the environment.”

As for the question of subsidies, Thune said the amount saved by not having to pay as many countercyclical and loan deficiency payments to farmers because of increased corn prices is much more than the tax incentives offered.

More wind farms can mean less reliance on other, more carbon-heavy, methods of energy production, Carr said.

Carr is concerned that increasing acres of fuel crops such as corn reduces the number of conservation acres, like those in the Conservation Reserve Program.

That, he said, also could have detrimental effects on the environment.

“The worry is … that when land is taken out of CRP or these other conservation programs and plowed under and used to plant fuel crops, those lands are not replaced,” Carr said. “When you plow them under, you release carbon in the atmosphere and you also take away land that cannot sequester carbon.”

Thune, a longtime advocate of increasing CRP acres in South Dakota, said he’s concerned about the decreased number of CRP acres but doesn’t believe ethanol is a major factor. The increased price of corn simply makes it more logical for farmers to plant corn instead of enroll in the program, he said.

“I don’t think you can say that because of ethanol, everybody’s pulling their land out of CRP,” Thune said.


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