October 5, 2015

UNL leads $13.5M research project into use of sorghum to make ethanol

UNL Center for Biotechnology Director Daniel Schachtman with samples of sorghum

UNL Center for Biotechnology Director Daniel Schachtman with samples of sorghum

University of Nebraska researchers will lead a major research effort to improve sorghum as a new source for ethanol.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman made the announcement.

“Please to announce today that the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a $13.5 million grant to a partnership of nine U.S. institutions, led by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to improve sorghum as a sustainable source of biofuels production,” Perlman told an audience gathered at the Beadle Center Atrium on the Lincoln campus.

The Department of Energy has awarded the five-year grant to fund a comprehensive approach to better understand how plants and microbes interact to determine what sorghum varieties grow best with less water and nitrogen.

Varieties of sorghum

Varieties of sorghum

UNL leads a team of scientists at Danforth Plant Science Center, Washington State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Boyce Thompson Institute, Clemson University, Iowa State University, Colorado State University, and the DOE-Joint Genome Institute.

Most ethanol is made from corn. Sorghum holds promise to create more biomass for cellulosic ethanol. Sorghum also can grow on marginal land. Cellulosic ethanol also doesn’t compete with food crops. The research seeks to increase plant biomass and to increase the efficient use of water and nutrients.

UNL Center for Biotechnology Director Daniel Schachtman, professor of agronomy and horticulture, is the project leader.

Schachtman says sorghum grown for biofuels could fit well into Nebraska agriculture.

“There is sorghum grown in the state and there is a small industry here right now for sorghum that this energy sorghum work could quickly plug into,” according to Schachman.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

TransCanada shifts Keystone XL strategy, drops legal challenges, reverts to old procedure

keystone_broll_video_thumb_rdax_150x118[1]TransCanada has announced it will abandon legal efforts to uphold a route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline through Nebraska and, instead, will revert to previous procedures for pipeline approval.

The company will drop legal proceedings in Holt County both to validate the state law used to settle on the Keystone XL route and to use eminent domain against landowners who have refused to settle with TransCanada for an easement through their property.

It’s a change of strategy for TransCanada on Keystone XL.

“I think you could call it that,” TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper tells Nebraska Radio Network. “After seven years we need to be nimble in the decisions that we make as a company and we believe that going through the PSC process at this point is the clearest path to achieving route certainty for Keystone XL in Nebraska.”

TransCanada had been battling a legal challenge to the Keystone XL route evaluated by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and approved by Gov. Dave Heineman in 2013.

Critics had challenged the law in court, claiming it violated the Nebraska Constitution which requires common carriers to go through the PSC.

Cooper says TransCanada concluded the shift back to the PSC would provide a quicker process to settle on the Keystone XL route.

“You know, that process was likely to carry on,” according to Cooper. “I think it’s fair to say that whoever was unsuccessful in the bid in the lower court would appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court. And we just felt like this was the process that would ultimately save time and reduce conflict with those who oppose the project and set some pretty clear rules for the state.”

Cooper acknowledges the move won’t silence all of the Keystone XL opponents.

“There are some, a vocal minority of folks, that will oppose the project and continue to oppose the project,” Cooper said. “I think it’s also fair to say, though, that this process through the PSC is a process that many of those people have argued that would be the most appropriate process to move forward in.”

TransCanada reports it has reached voluntary easement agreements with 96% of 2,600 Nebraska property owners along the previously approved Keystone XL route.


Gov. Ricketts denies being a sponsor of the death penalty petition drive

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts denies he was a sponsor of the referendum petition campaign that seems to have placed the death penalty on the ballot.

Ricketts dismisses suggestions by the group, Nebraskans for Public Safety, that the nearly 167,000 signatures gathered should be thrown out, because organizers didn’t list the governor as a sponsor.

“No, I’m not a sponsor of this referendum drive. Certainly, I’ve been an advocate. I believe very strongly that Nebraska ought to retain the death penalty,” Ricketts tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln, on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “It’s certainly one of the ways that we help protect the people who protect us, our law enforcement officers and, in particular, our Corrections officers.”

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty spent more than $900,000 on its apparently successful petition drive. Though the Secretary of State has yet to officially certify the signatures gathered, it appears the drive gathered enough signatures to not only put capital punishment on the November 2016 ballot, but also to block the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty from taking effect.

Nebraskans for Public Safety campaigned against the petition drive, spending more than $450,000 on its “Decline to Sign” campaign. The group has filed two lawsuits since Nebraskans for the Death Penalty turned in its signatures. One challenges the ballot language written by the Attorney General. The other claims the petition drive should be invalidated, because organizers didn’t list Gov. Ricketts as a sponsor.

Ricketts used some of his wealth from TD Ameritrade, which his family owns, to donate $200,000 to help finance the petition drive.

“And, while I’ve been a strong advocate and certainly donated to it, that does not make me a sponsor,” Ricketts says. “What you see here is a special interest group who proclaims that they want to protect democracy actually trying to rob Nebraskans of their ability to vote on this important issue.”

Ricketts looks forward to the vote next year.

“I believe Nebraskans should vote on it,” Ricketts says. “I believe when they vote on it, you will see that Nebraskans will want to retain capital punishment, because the vast majority of Nebraskans I talk to believe as I do that it’s an important tool for public safety. And that’s what I would like to see happen here and I’m just surprised some of these special interest groups are trying to stop Nebraskans from voting on it.”

Lt. Gov. Foley sees great opportunity for Nebraska in Japan (AUDIO)

Lt. Gov. Mike Foley speaks with Kathleen Lodl of Nebraska Extension at recent UNL event

Lt. Gov. Mike Foley speaks with Kathleen Lodl of Nebraska Extension at recent UNL event

Lt. Governor Mike Foley says his recent trade mission to Japan convinces him that one of the state’s best trading partners could prove even more lucrative for Nebraska.

Japan buys a billion dollars in agricultural goods from Nebraska each year.

It would likely buy more if it weren’t for an incident in 2003 when the first case of BSE was discovered in the United States. BSE is short for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as mad cow disease. A handful of cases have arisen here and there since. None of the livestock confirmed with BSE entered the food chain.

The USDA and American agricultural groups have been quick to respond that its beef industry is safe, but concerns linger.

“They were buying a lot of beef from us, then that one mad cow got into the food chain,” Foley tells Nebraska Radio Network. “It never was exported to Japan, but anyway, they said, ‘Enough is enough. We’re not buying anymore. We’re done.’ And that was a real blow to the beef industry here in Nebraska.”

Foley led a delegation of 20 agricultural leaders during the trade mission to Japan. He says that allowed him to step out of the way and let actual beef producers discuss their operations.

Foley says that had two positive results: it reassured Japanese importers about the safety of Nebraska meat and it corrected misconceptions that American agricultural operates on an industrial level.

Safety is one thing. Money is another.

Foley says Japan buys a lot of grass-fed beef from Australia, simply because the tariffs are lower. He holds out hope that ratification of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement will lower tariffs on American goods flowing to the Pacific Rim and make Nebraska products more competitive.

Foley points out that while the typical diet of a typical Japanese person once consisted of fish and rice that no longer is the case. Higher personal incomes have led to more diversified diets and Foley says that changing diet opens the door for Nebraska corn-fed beef.

“We’re convinced that the trend that they’re on right now to buy and consume more meat is a very, very positive trend in terms of what we sell.”

Nebraska Congressman says crisis in Middle East is nothing short of genocide (AUDIO)

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

A Nebraska Congressman says the international community must respond or religious minorities will be run out of the Middle East.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry says the Islamic State has ushered in grave human rights abuse in the Middle East.

“So much so that we call it genocide,” Fortenberry tells Nebraska Radio Network. “This is a true genocide against Christians and other religious minorities. We’ve dropped a resolution in the House of Representatives, naming it such.”

The efforts of Fortenberry and others in Congress have drawn the attention of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which supports the bipartisan initiative denouncing the persecution of Yezidis, Christians, Turkmen, Shabaks and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq.

House Congressional Resolution 75 is sponsored by the Congressional co-chairs of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus: Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska, and Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California as well as the co-chairs of the International Religious Freedom Caucus, Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Trent Franks (R-AZ). The resolution denounces the atrocities as “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.”

Also known as ISIS and ISIL, the Islamic State has been systematically persecuting and murdering ethnic and religious minorities. Refugees have flooded out of the Middle East and into Europe. Some estimates peg the number of refugees at near two million.

The West has been slow to act. With European countries clashing over how best to respond.

Fortenberry points out Pope Francis has called the indifference of the nations a scandal of silence.

“This massive persecution going on against an entire group of people based upon their religious faith is wrong. It’s an affront to humanity. It’s an affront to civilization itself,” according to Fortenberry.

Fortenberry says non-Muslims have been told to convert, pay a tax, flee, or die.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]