A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:
The Denver Post, Dec. 1, on pending FAA action on commercial drones:
Those in favor of having the federal government regulate the Internet like a public utility might take a moment to look at how another potentially transformational technology under Washington's control is being handled by federal bureaucrats.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Federal Aviation Administration's long-awaited proposal on commercial drones, to be issued by year's end, is expected to require operators to have a pilot's license for manned aircraft. And operators will be required to keep the drones in sight at all times.
If the report is true (and the FAA is not commenting), the proposal would severely limit the rollout of commercial drones. It could even undermine the use of drones outside of heavily populated areas — in agriculture and for pipelines, for example — where they would be least controversial.
The FAA's proposal could still be tweaked after review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, and its release will begin a lengthy comment period. So the final word has not been written on drone regulation.
Even so, the FAA's apparently ultra-conservative approach to unmanned aircraft — seven years after the agency declared the commercial use of drones illegal without special waivers — threatens U.S. leadership in a fast-changing industry with tremendous potential to lower costs and increase productivity.
Commercial operators should have to get some sort of license and liability insurance, of course, and there should be clear rules of the road to ensure safety. But as Businessweek points out, "If regulators regard the person at the controls as akin to a private pilot, it would mean upwards of 40 flight hours at a cost of up to $10,000, limiting (the) pool of workers qualified for the job."
The FAA's go-slow approach is often justified by reference to near-miss accidents that have occurred between manned aircraft and small drones. But those incidents are occurring because rogue drone owners are ignoring existing law, not because commercial drones are flooding the skies. Grounding commercial operators isn't going to reduce that danger.
The Gazette, Dec. 3, on fracking, cheap energy and energy production:
We don't need disco, Pet Rocks or eight-track tapes. But we could use that gallon of gas that sold for 60 cents in 1976, as the country headed toward the innovative '80s. Just think what cheap gas could do for the American economy.
Analysts predict gas prices throughout the country will drop to $2.50 or lower by Christmas. If we adjust for inflation, that's the same as 60 cents in 1976 — a full 38 years ago. At $2.50, we'll effectively pay 38 cents less than we paid in 1980 — the year we were shocked to see gas reached $1 a gallon.
This isn't a temporary decline caused by a troubling lack of demand, as seen in the 2008 recession. It's a supply-side coup, driven almost entirely by domestic fracking.
Declining fuel prices provide an extraordinary break for consumers, especially those who struggle to afford food, shelter and clothing. Low gas prices ultimately translate into lower prices for most commodities and goods, which are driven up directly by fuel costs. Lower energy overhead may free up capital for new employees in trade and production sectors.
The boom in domestic production, which has the United States on track to become the largest single energy producer in the world, isn't all it could be. If a future administration allows more exploration and production on federal land, output could grow even faster.
As the low cost of fuel facilitates more domestic innovation, invention and production, expect faster progress in the renewable energy sector. Inventing, producing and deploying wind, solar and geothermal products requires an abundance of conventional fuels. A proliferation of renewable energy options should, in turn, reduce demand on conventional fuels, creating even more downward price pressure on oil, gas and coal.
The bad news: Declining fuel prices can cause their own demise, as they reduce the ability of producers to explore and drill. A reduction in supply tends to spike prices just as quickly as an increase will lower them. But the United States becomes more suited by the day to sustain low-cost fuel. That's because extraction technologies are advancing at a record pace, lowering the price per unit needed for our competitive fuel producers to sustain profits.
Imagine a world with lower-priced food, a growing economy that adds millions of good-paying jobs and a dearth of oil wars. Affordable fuel is a fundamental ingredient to a higher standard of living, for rich and poor alike around the globe.
Energy independence for the United States used to be a futuristic fantasy. Not anymore. Investment and innovation in exploration and extraction stand to make our country a net exporter of fossil fuels as early as 2015.
Let's allow this to happen, without needless obstruction. It's a game changer that could mean happy days lie ahead. As they would say in '76: Dig it.
The Pueblo Chieftain, Dec. 1, on Colorado's draft water plan:
It's officially December, which means after months of gathering public input and synthesizing information, the Colorado Water Conservation Board will soon be presenting its draft water plan to Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The board has been soliciting public input on the plan, and an overwhelming number of Coloradans responded. In fact, more than 13,000 unique comments poured in, as did 11,800 pages worth of form letters from residents who wanted to see their concerns represented in the water plan.
Topping the worries on a statewide level were two that we wholeheartedly support: The development of conservation programs that reduce the need to bring water from other sources to serve growing populations along the Front Range and preserving farmland in Colorado.
Long have we here at The Chieftain sounded the alarm about greedy bullies to the north raiding the Arkansas River basin for precious water supplies. As Colorado Springs and other growing communities farther up the Front Range grew, they turned to their agrarian neighbors south of the El Paso-Pueblo County line for resources.
The next threat will come in the form of so-called "leases." But when you get down to it, these aren't leases we're talking about, they're sales. Because let's face it, once the water leaves the basin, it doesn't come back.
We strongly encourage the conservation board to put in place a prohibition on further transbasin water transfers. We in Southern Colorado must be water warriors for the long-term health and security of our region — for our way of life, for our farmland and for our future.
The Durango Herald, Dec. 1, on companies saying no to government agencies seeking content access:
The most forceful push back against law enforcement's quest for easy access to cellphone-call data and content is not always coming from privacy groups, but from the manufacturers of the phones and the telecommunications companies that have grown in popularity. Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo are, to varying degrees, saying no to the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and others who claim the need to easily trace calling and receiving locations and to be able to search stored communication content.
The companies say that their customers want the assurance of privacy, especially overseas customers where the who-cares-what-everyone-knows attitude has much less of a following and where governments may be aggressive in identifying troublemakers. Apple, for example, is now earning about two-thirds of its revenue overseas.
In a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, cellphone makers Apple and Google have made it clear that they are pushing ahead with embedding encryption techniques that prevent anyone but the phone owner from determining what was said. The FBI, for one, has responded by saying that those encryption conversion keys should be available to law enforcement.
It was an NSA contractor's clerk, Edward Snowden, who revealed the breadth of the NSA's communications scanning, which put the spotlight on the communications companies. After having to acquiesce to the NSA's demands individually, and secretly, after Sept. 11, the companies now are publicly voicing their opposition to the federal demands.
For them, it is a matter of what the customer wants and, for Americans, the Fourth Amendment.
At the same time, AT&T is now opposing what has been relatively easy for law enforcement to do: gain the approximate location of an individual from phone, text and email signals that are picked up from nearby cell towers. The Journal also reports that easy access - AT&T and Verizon received 265,000 law-enforcement requests in the first six months of 2014 - has triggered a negative reaction from those companies' CEOs.
Now, a judge can approve the data-search request, rather than issuing a warrant. A warrant, the Journal points out, requires a higher standard of proof, and while the telecommunications companies have not been specific, a warrant could be closer to what they want.
In other conversations about privacy, there have been suggestions that raw phone data should be held by only the telecommunications companies, not law enforcement, and only as long as the companies usually retain it. That could be six months, or three.
Telecommunications companies are masters at generating revenue for themselves through product improvements and pricing, and bit by bit, they are developing databases about our shopping choices and our habits. But in forcing federal law-enforcement authorities to set a higher standard for its intelligence needs, a standard that should include far fewer phone users, the companies deserve praise. Their motivations may be largely financial and to protect their own credibility, but the spinoff is a benefit to all.
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