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Summary of recent Louisiana newspaper editorials


Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

July 21

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on wood pellets as renewable energy source:

While he's typically called the state's agriculture commissioner, veterinarian Michael Strain is actually head of the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry. That last part is why he has been so enthusiastic about the impact of a growing industry for Louisiana's pine forests, providing wood pellets as a renewable energy source.

In a positive report on the industry to the Press Club of Baton Rouge, Strain pointed to the major construction of a transit center for the pellets at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge in Port Allen.

The two large white domes visible to travelers from Interstate 10 are part of a Mississippi River shipping business for major utilities in Europe. Wood pellet production rose from 2.8 million tons in 2008 to 19.9 million tons in 2013, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It's expected that number could get as high as 25.9 million tons by 2020.

As with any fuel, wood has its critics, including some environmental groups skeptical of claims that burning wood pellets reduces the release of carbon into the atmosphere. There's a related concern that the demand for wood pellets will lead to cutting down of the slow-growing bottomland hardwoods instead of quicker-growing pines.

For the moment in Europe, the wood has the imprimatur of science and government: Investment in Louisiana and the South, where there was an existing infrastructure of forestry products and the river system to move them to market, is going ahead fast.

One large utility in Great Britain, Drax, has two of its six generators burning wood pellets, and the conversion of a third generator is expected to be finished in 2016. The company is proud to boast that it would then produce about 15 percent to 16 percent of the renewable energy in the country.

The EU strongly backs efforts to reduce carbon emissions, the so-called "greenhouse gases" that scientists say are the main culprit in climate change. "Drax in the U.K. is the largest carbon emitter in Europe," said Pete Madden, Drax U.S. CEO. "The hunt is on to find how we reduce our carbon footprint."

These new developments in "biomass" energy have obvious benefits in timber regions, hard-hit by the decline in the housing and paper-making industries because of the 2008-09 recession. Drax sought out areas, like Bastrop in north Louisiana, where a paper mill had closed and the resulting layoffs hurt the local economy — not just plant workers but owners of timberlands.

The fear of harvesting of hardwood lands is not realistic, according to the companies involved and the more objective outlook of LSU scientists. Hardwoods are much more valuable as lumber and other products to be harvested than the lower-priced wood pellets, said Shaun Tanger, assistant professor and extension forest economist with the LSU Agricultural Center. Softwood is preferred because it burns with less ash and generates more BTUs than hardwoods.

We believe Strain and other enthusiasts for this industry are right to boost it, given that EU nations require certifications demonstrating use of renewable resources. Sustainable forestry standards have long been pushed by Louisiana and by the timber industry to ensure long-term benefits and to avoid the clear-cutting that savaged Louisiana's forests more than a century ago. The vast pine plantations of northern and central Louisiana can supply, sustainably, this new industry and continue to support more traditional uses, as well.

Much attention continues to be given to the role that crops such as corn and sugar cane can play as biomass resources for fuels, but the pine tree is one that is clearly getting off to the best start.



July 20

American Press, Lake Charles, Louisiana, on think tank saying U.S. in ecological deficit:

The United States is using more natural resources than can be regenerated within its borders, according to a new report by international think tank Global Footprint Network.

The report, "State of the States: A New Perspective on the Wealth of Our Nation," says the nation is using twice the renewable natural resources than are available within its borders.

"With domestic and global pressure increasing on natural resources, it's more important than ever to manage them carefully," said GFN president Mathis Wackernagel.

Which states need to start managing their ecological budgets?

All of them.

"Although the United States is one of the richest nations in the world in terms of natural capital, it is running an ecological deficit," the report states. "U.S. citizens demand twice the renewable natural resources and services that are available within our nation's borders. Yet the economic vitality of our nation depends on these valuable ecological assets."

The U.S. has the second-largest share of the world's overall ecological footprint, trailing only China, whose population is more than four times that of our great country. The total footprint of the U.S. is also nearly twice that of India, although nearly four times as many people live in India.

The GFN found the states with the largest per-person ecological footprints are Virginia, Maryland and Delaware; the states with the smallest are New York, Idaho and Arkansas.

The ecological footprint measures a population's demand for plant-based food and fiber products, livestock and fish products, timber and other forest products, space for urban infrastructure, and forest to absorb its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

Louisiana is about in the middle.

The Bayou State's natural resources include varied ecosystems and environments, from oak forest to cypress swamp. We have extremely fertile soil and a long growing season conducive to agriculture. Our state is rich in wetlands and has sizable reserves of oil, natural gas, salt and sulfur. Because Louisiana values natural capital — such as the benefits of wetlands for buffering hurricanes, providing water, reducing floods and increasing fish — GFN says the state is on the right track in developing solutions to the ecological deficit.

"Cities, states and nations shape this future every time they spend taxpayer money, particularly on longer-term projects such as energy and water infrastructure, transportation networks, housing, flood protection and land conservation," the report states. "Tools that recognize the value of ecological assets in the same way that we value infrastructure are needed to guide leaders at all levels of government."

We need to create a resilient future for our children and grandchildren and do our part now. That's the only way to ensure Sportsman's Paradise will continue to exist.



July 22

Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, on public comments about Common Core:

If you want to understand the academic standards your child needs to meet, have suggestions for improving them or just want to see what all the fuss over Common Core is about, now is your chance. After months of debate over whether Louisiana should keep the new standards, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education moved up the first review period by a year.

That includes an online review that was launched this month and is open to anyone. People with school age children are most directly affected by the standards. But the strength of public schools affects all of us, so it is important for a broad range of people to participate.

After months of anti-Common Core rhetoric from Gov. Bobby Jindal, this review provides a way to bring attention back to the substance of the standards. As the Council for a Better Louisiana put it in a recent commentary: A lot of the attention on Common Core "has been focused on the wrong thing - the heated rhetoric of a noisy few. As a result, what we really need to be thinking about - higher expectations for our students - has largely been obscured by an ongoing political sideshow."

Having all sorts of people — parents, grandparents, educators, business people — look at the standards is a valuable exercise. For one thing, the process will be "driven by substance, not grandstanding," as CABL said.

If you agree with a standard as it is written, you can explain why but don't have to do so. If you think a standard would more appropriate for another grade level, you will be asked to choose which grade. If you think a standard should be rewritten or broken into multiple standards, you will be asked to offer suggested rewrites. And if you think a standard should be deleted, you will be required to say why.

That is as it should be. Without those explanations, the reviews wouldn't be meaningful. "If this is intended to be a substantive and constructive process - as it should be - then the criticisms of the standards should also be substantive and constructive," CABL said.

The more people who weigh in, the more helpful it will be for the committee charged with assessing the strength of the standards.

The state Department of Education provides tips for reading the standards, background material and a link to the review portal at http://www.louisianabelieves.com.

There is basic information to fill in: Whether you are a parent, student, school employee, member of a group that is focused on education or fit another category. Where you live. Your name and email address, although those are optional.

The Southern Regional Education Board, a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational research organization based in Atlanta, is administering the online process. That should give people comfort that it is fair.

The standards committee will meet for the first time Aug. 19, and members will get the first batch of comments at that time. To make the cutoff for that meeting, you'll need to make your online comments by Aug. 5.

There is plenty of time after that to chime in as well, though. The online review portal will be open through next spring.

In an effort to make the review process less intimidating, CABL put a guide explaining how to get started on its website (www.cabl.org). The nonpartisan group also suggests some specific standards that might be of interest to business and civic organizations.

One good tip is to start by looking at standards for the grade level of a family member who is a student. That should make it easier to get a feel for whether the standard matches your expectations. And it might make you realize that there is nothing scary about these standards — despite all of Gov. Jindal's attempts to make you think there is



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