Jeanne Melchior

June 6, 2007

Ethanol production is ramping up. At last count Indiana has 11 ethanol plants either in production or in the planning stage, and E85 (85 percent ethanol to 15 percent gasoline - not to be confused with E10, a much leaner blend of only 10 percent ethanol that has been around for decades) is beginning to show up in local gas stations for use in "cars that use flexfuels."

The owner's manual for my 2000 Ford Focus warns that using ethanol will damage the engine. So clearly, this blend isn't going to help me or the other millions of drivers of older cars. It won't help the poor who will be driving the older models for the next dozen years as well.

In fact, production of ethanol fuel isn't going to help anybody very much, even those who buy FFVs - flexfuel vehicles. And despite the advertising, it won't help farmers either.

The only winners are auto makers, the oil companies and the agri-business monopolies.

July 30, 2006

When my daughter was a child, she liked to play a game she called "Choices." It went from, "Would you rather be an astronaut or a ballerina?" to "Would you rather be a rotten egg or a squashed potato bug?"

Things really got dumb, but her silly game is actually a part of the process of problem solving called "the scientific method." While I'm oversimplifying a lot, the scientific method has long been recognized a good way to get things done.

First, you identify the problem. Then you identify possible solutions. You analyze each of the possible solutions, carefully looking at all the pros and cons. Then you pick one to try, re-evaluating along the way.

July 16, 2006

You know the type. A slick and oily character, quintessentially male, who wears a cheap suit, has greasy hair and talks way too fast as he tries to sell you something you don't want or need. History is full of the breed who unwittingly takes advantage of everyone, but who are easy to finger if you know what to look for.

The problem is, today's purveyors of snake oil are much more sophisticated and harder to spot. They come in all shapes, sizes, and genders, as well as disguised as faceless corporations. They are selling us everything, from stuff we don't need to ideas that will jeopardize our future, and they have been trained in the best techniques that modern psychology has to offer.

By way of illustration, I recently received a copy of the Farm Journal, put out by the Indiana Farm Bureau. It was filled with articles about biofuels, and all of them spoke of it in glowing terms. Always one to question things that sound too good to be true, I began to do a little checking, and came upon a motherlode of information. The Internet was filled with every conceivable viewpoint on the topic, from totally positive to totally negative, with lots in the middle.

July 2, 2006

Remember your Grandma telling you that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is? Well that's the case with ethanol and other biofuels that are being hyped as the great solution to rising oil prices.

Gov. Mitch Daniels has jumped on the bandwagon along with other politicians and is calling for an increase in biofuel production in the state.

"The Indiana State Department of Agriculture's strategic plan calls for Indiana to produce and make available 1 billion gallons of biofuels by 2008," reports the Indiana Farm Bureau. Even some of the major environmental organizations are touting biofuels as a green solution to the oil crunch, as well as a temporary fix to global warming.

June 4, 2006

An expanded turkey processing plant and more Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are coming to rural Southern Indiana. And environmental problems can't be far behind.

Dubois County is already No. 1 in turkey production in Indiana. And it has the highest number of CAFOs in the state.

Often confinement houses are sited on land that is much better suited to other uses. Much of the agricultural land in the county is high quality, designated as prime farmland. The marginal areas are hilly and best suited to forests.

May 21, 2006

Sometimes it seems that Indiana stops at Bloomington and everything south of that is another planet, especially the southeast and south-central parts. Many people think of Southern Indiana as a place of forests and wide open farmland. Much of the Hoosier National Forest is located here, as is Patoka Lake, and many small Amish farms still dot the area.

But over the last two to three decades, rural Southern Indiana has been developed almost beyond recognition. Larger animal feeding operations, as well as ubiquitous corn and soybeans as far as the eye can see, have become an all too familiar sight along the many byways that lace the area.

AK Steel made Spencer County one of the most polluted in the state in just 25 years, and air quality in Vanderburgh and Dubois Counties doesn't lag far behind.

September 19, 2004

by Jeanne Melchior

I recently attended a Vincennes District open house, one of six held around the state in mid-August, at which INDOT unveiled its updated 25-year transportation plan. Filled with plans for quite a few new highways and lots of reconstruction, the INDOT 25-year plan was mostly a dinosaur. While safety and mobility should be paramount in highway planning, INDOT unfortunately used these issues to justify building new highways. Rather than looking at sound predictions of the future and current trends, INDOT looked to the past for its planning base. Even the economics are based on an old model that we can see crumbling even as we read about it.

The plan for the future that INDOT unveiled last month with its tiered "statewide mobility corridors" is based on a model of heavy manufacturing with huge numbers of long distance trucks. This is despite the fact that most of the jobs recently lost in Indiana have been manufacturing jobs, and most predictions are that "knowledge workers" will replace factory workers in the jobs of the future. Many studies, including a Congressional Budget Office study, show that an educated workforce is what brings jobs into a community, not more highways.

August 29, 2004

Recently a FHWA official referred to highway opponents as the "vocal minority." He explained that both the FHWA and INDOT give much stronger credence to what "elected officials" want, believing them to represent the will of the people.

I did my best to try to explain to him that first of all, rural people whose lives are to be most affected by these new highways are few in number and therefore have limited political clout. I reminded him that all too often elected officials represent the handful of special interests who pay for their campaigns and that even given that elected officials might represent the will of the voters (most people don't vote single issues), they don't represent the will of 49% of the voters, nearly half.

And since many people simply don't vote, believing themselves powerless against an unjust system, their voices are not counted either.

August 1, 2004

With all the media attention focused on I-69, few people know that INDOT is quietly planning another NAFTA highway through rural southern Indiana, just a few miles to the east of the proposed new terrain I-69 route. No doubt a major reason for the silence is that INDOT is doing it in segments.

A stretch of US 231 between the new Natcher Bridge near Rockport and I-64 in Dale is under construction now. The DEIS for the Dubois County segment of US 231 was released in March. This section of four-lane highway would bypass both Jasper and Huntingburg either to the east or to the west to end at Haysville, a small town of about 500 people.

March 30, 2003

I have been an advocate for peace, for environmental justice, for citizen's rights for most of my life, and this latest government sponsored terrorist act is one of the darkest moments in a very long history. As I saw photos of a city in flames, a conflagration termed 'shock and awe" by its government perpetrators, I thought about my country and about what America means to me. We are made up of peoples from every country in the world, and I'd like to think that this alone would make us more aware of the fact that we are, in reality, all one people, connected to all nationalities everywhere.

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