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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

By the Associated PressJune 10, 2019

The Detroit News. June 6, 2019

Ethanol is a bad deal for consumers

The government shutdown that Trump says could last “a long time” without funding for a border wall may hurt farmers by delaying the administration’s ability to steer through the approval for year-round sales of a 15 percent ethanol blend for gasoline before the summer begins. That’s up from 10 percent allowed now. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images, file)

The Trump administration announced last month it would honor the promise made to corn farmers in October to allow year-round production of E15, a gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol. Lifting the ban, the administration said, would help corn farmers burdened by tariffs and mass flooding by increasing the price of corn.

That’s likely true. But what’s good for farmers is not necessarily good for consumers or the economy — or for that matter, the environment.

Environmental Protection Agency rules had suspended E15 fuel during summer months, when hotter weather exacerbates its smog-producing qualities. Ten percent blends have always been permitted year-round.

Ethanol is a boondoggle. The crude oil glut has made it unnecessary from an energy conservation perspective. Meeting this year’s federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires refineries to produce 15 billion gallons of ethanol, will add costs at the pump. And production of corn-based ethanol generates perhaps as much carbon emissions as it saves by off-setting oil consumption, according to a 2016 Yale study.

The only purpose ethanol blending serves is to prop up farmers in politically important agricultural states such as Iowa and Ohio.

The fate of those farmers is not an insignificant consideration, particularly this year. Flooding across the Midwest is delaying the planting of crops, raising the possibility of a drastically lessened harvest this fall. In addition, President Donald Trump’s tariffs have limited exports to key markets, namely China.

And while the president coughed up $16 billion in relief to offset the lower exports, that’s no substitute for a free marketplace.

And it’s the marketplace that we should be concerned about if more of the corn crop goes to ethanol.

Currently, 34.5 percent of the nation’s corn harvest is used to make ethanol. An MIT Technology review found that increased ethanol production has contributed to rising prices for foods made with corn, like corn-fed meat products as well as beverages with high-fructose corn syrup.

If weather-related shortages materialize this year, prices will likely soar. In 2012, when a drought choked the Midwest, corn production fell by 25 percent. And domestic corn prices reached as high as $8.24 per bushel.

Ethanol quotas for gasoline have increased corn production since the early 2000s. The increased demand for farmland has encroached on natural spaces, and the fertilizer used to boost the crop is believed to have caused algae blooms in water sources like Lake Erie.

As icing on a very unsavory cake, the Department of Energy admits gasoline with ethanol blends gets less gas mileage than non-blended fuel, meaning that drivers consume more gasoline. And any gasoline blended with more than 10 percent ethanol is corrosive to engines not specifically designed for using biofuels.

Ethanol is a bad deal. And encouraging its use is bad policy.

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Midland Daily News. June 8, 2019

Midland marks 100 years of chemistry, progress

It was 100 years ago, that officials from The Dow Chemical Co. and other local chemists decided to form a chapter of the American Chemical Society (ACS), where professionals could exchange ideas for the betterment of chemistry and progress.

My, how things have changed.

Midland is no longer a small town on the banks of the Tittabawassee River, the remnants of a logging community. Today, Midland is a modern city and a center for the best minds in material science, entrepreneurship and education.

About 800 scientists, educators and students visited Midland this week to indulge in research banter and to bounce ideas off each other at the 50th Central Regional Meeting of the ACS. The ACS is the nation’s largest scientific community with more than 150,000 members among its local chapters. The central region serves 25 of those chapters from Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

At the core of the meeting was a technical program themed “Molecules to Materials” but it also consisted of special symposia, an expo, networking opportunities, educational initiatives and community outreach programs. It took place mainly at the H Hotel in downtown Midland, although other locations for the various, related events included Midland Center for the Arts, Dow Diamond Ballpark, Midland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Michigan State University STEM Facility and the Chippewa Nature Center.

Established in 1919, the Midland Section of the ACS consisted of stakeholders like The Dow Chemical Co. (Herbert H. Dow), Willard H. Dow, William J. Hale, Chester C. Kennedy, Max Y. Seaton and Mark E. Putnam, among others. The local section provided early Dow chemists with a way to exchange ideas and advance new discoveries in chemistry, eventually growing into an award-winning section that encompasses five adjoining counties.

“The whole idea of what chemistry is you have a problem to solve so then you have to design a molecule to make a material that then solves that problem,” said long-time ACS member and former chair, Gretchen Kohl.

From hosting educational programming in our schools to fostering life-changing discoveries in science and chemistry, the Midland Section has contributed to this community and others in numerous ways.

We salute the founders of the local ACS chapter, who had the desire 100 years ago to be the best explorers they could be. And we thank the current leadership that had the vision in more recent years to anticipate this 100th anniversary and to plan this major event in Midland.

This week, Midland marked 100 years of chemistry — and 100 years of progress.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. June 9, 2019

Insurance overhaul will help consumers

Many drivers are cheering action in Lansing that — beginning in about a year — will allow Michigan residents to reduce their automobile insurance costs.

The legislation is a solid step toward reducing Michigan’s highest-in-the-nation auto insurance premiums. Critics of the measure mourn the loss of required unlimited lifetime benefits for personal injuries sustained in traffic crashes. But the change will leave more cash in the pockets of Michigan consumers for things like rent and food.

The measure ends the 1973 state mandate that auto insurance policies cover all medical costs, forever, for car crashes. That mandate is blamed for Michigan’s high insurance premiums, the highest in the nation each of the last five years.

Beginning in July 2020, insurance companies will be allowed to sell policies that pay less-than-unlimited benefits.

The average Michigan annual premium is $2,693, according to insurance comparison website The Zebra. That’s 83 percent more than the national average of $1,470. The average premium for a Traverse City (49684 ZIP code) resident is $2,292. Detroit’s premium on average is $5,464 a year, far more any other U.S. city.

Last week’s legislation will, beginning next July, allow drivers to choose from several tiers of coverage. The lowest tier — no PIP coverage — requires that the registrant have a health insurance policy that covers collision injuries.

In other states, people badly injured in car crashes typically end up receiving some benefits from health insurance they buy through their employer or the Affordable Care Act. In Michigan, they rely on auto insurance, even if they have other coverage.

Michigan auto insurance premiums have risen as medical costs continue to spiral upward. Insurance companies complain the problem is enhanced by the tendency for many care providers to charge more for services when billing auto insurance than they do when billing the same service for patients covered by regular health insurance.

We suspect the new law will result in more drivers actually having coverage when they need it.

The Detroit Free Press reported in 2014 that a common dodge for cash-strapped Detroit residents was to buy a one-week insurance policy so they could show proof of insurance when buying license plates. Then they’d drive without insurance the other 51 weeks of the year. The new law may bring premiums down to an affordable level and make such tactics less common.

Backers of the new legislation said Michigan’s current law is unsustainable because it mandates unlimited services. Every other state in the U.S. has figured out how to care for victims of catastrophic car crash injuries at lower cost to consumers. The new law may help Michigan achieve a reasonable balance between cost and coverage.

Michigan’s 46-year-old system appears to have created an environment that drove up costs in several ways. The new law addresses the practice of health care providers charging — depending on which type of insurance is being billed — outrageously different rates for identical services. It prohibits insurance companies from using non-driving factors such as educational level, occupation, credit score, home ownership or ZIP code when setting rates.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan expects that most Michigan residents will save $500 a year and Detroit residents will save at least $1,000 a year.

Those savings will provide a bit of financial relief for cash-strapped consumers across the state.

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