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Watertown Public Opinion, Watertown, Dec. 23, 2015
Like Yogi said, it ain't over until it's over
Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, was the king of malaprops. A malaprop, by the way, is defined as an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously.
Yogi was perhaps the best ever at using malaprops to make a point. We doubt anybody knows for sure if his utterances were intentional or not, but as ridiculous as they sometimes sounded, they usually made a point.
One of his most famous malaprops was, "It ain't over until it's over." In a nutshell, that simply means that as long as there's a chance to win, no matter how remote, you keep trying.
That's the case with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission's approach to the Keystone XL Pipeline that TransCanada wants to build across the Canadian border into the United States. If built, the pipeline will carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the United States.
President Obama's administration decided Nov. 6 the pipeline can't cross the U.S. border. Most people thought that for all intents and purposes that was the end of the project.
But as Yogi Berra reminds us, it ain't over until it's over. The Public Utilities Commission could decide as early as its next regular meeting, Jan. 5, that the pipeline is still alive, at least in South Dakota. One of the conditions in the 2010 state permit requires federal approval for the pipeline to proceed. The question before the PUC is can TransCanada still meet the conditions set in 2010 for the Keystone XL oil pipeline project to proceed?
Under state law, because no work has begun in the four years since the PUC first approved the permit allowing it to cross South Dakota, TransCanada must certify the state permit conditions can still be met. That is the step currently pending before the state commission.
The Obama administration's approval was needed because the pipeline crossed the international border between Canada and the United States. Had it been like the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline — which proposes to carry oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota to refineries in the United States — no White House permit would be needed
Even with the president's denial of the Keystone permit, the project isn't dead. PUC Commissioner Gary Hanson said a different president can easily make a different decision.
"Just because it was turned down once doesn't mean it will be turned down in the future," he said.
The Keystone Pipeline has been on the drawing board for years and isn't exactly a time-sensitive project. It's already waited nearly a decade to become reality, so what's another year or so to wait for a new president and perhaps a different decision? In the meantime, oil from Alberta continues to be shipped by rail, where trains hauling tanker cars are subject to derailment. That has happened several times with numerous cars rupturing and exploding causing massive property losses.
Even if a different president approves the Keystone project in a year or so, and even if South Dakota's PUC decides next month that the permitting process here is still alive and allows the permit to stand, that doesn't mean the pipeline will be built. There is still plenty of opposition from environmental groups opposed to its construction, plus opposition from tribal groups, farmers and ranchers concerned about its potential impact on the environment and underground water supplies.
But as Yogi said, it ain't over until it's over and that's the case with the Keystone XL Pipeline. The PUC could kill the project in South Dakota or let it proceed. Nebraska could deny a permit to cross its boundaries or approve one. The next president could agree with Obama's decision to deny the permit needed to begin construction or reverse it and give TransCanada the green light. At this point, there are still questions to be answered and that means the fight for the billion-plus pipeline project isn't over just yet.
Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, Dec. 28, 2015
Redistricting idea worth considering
South Dakotans may have a lot on their plate — or rather, ballot — during the 2016 general election, with up to eight measures possibly awaiting decisions. One measure that is likely to qualify for the ballot merits serious consideration.
Last week, the secretary of state certified the petitions for an initiative that would take legislative redistricting away from the Legislature and put it in the hands of a bipartisan (or, technically, tri-partisan) commission.
The measure would assign redistricting to a commission composed of three members from each of the state's two largest parties (which are Republicans and Democrats) and three people who are unaffiliated with either party.
This is a step that voters should take seriously, for it helps lessen the impact that politicians can have on the very process that gives them power.
South Dakota Democrats have complained that Republicans, who have dominated in Pierre for decades, have solidified that dominance by redrawing district boundaries to bolster that advantage. This is particularly relevant in urban areas such as Sioux Falls where boundaries can be more conveniently reshaped.
Of course, this looks nothing like the wildly creative and disjointed congressional redistricting that's been seen in some states. (This is one of the advantages that South Dakota owns in having just one congressional district.) However, the way Bon Homme County was split up in 2010 might make you wonder about the efficiency of the logic that was used.
Frankly, the ability for lawmakers to reshape districts in order to give their party an advantage is legal, but it also looks improper. It turns this facet of representative government into a perk of being in the majority, not as a nonpartisan function of what should be a neutral democratic process.
This proposal is a far more logical and practical method to handling redistricting. It would increase the odds that such matters could be handled without preference to political benefit.
It could also be a first step toward other, more sweeping reforms. For instance, why does the office of the secretary of state, which oversees elections, politically elected? (This is not a comment on the current secretary of state, Shantel Krebs, or others who preceded her, but rather a comment on the mechanism in general.) Ideally, an election should be overseen in a nonpartisan capacity, so perhaps there's a way to look at that down the road.
But for now, this redistricting measure should be seen as some common-sense fine tuning for the election process. It deserves serious consideration next fall.
Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Dec. 27, 2015
United Way an investment in community
When you are looking to make an investment in your local community, it is hard to find a place where your money will go further than it does when you contribute to the United Way, which distributes donations to numerous programs in the Black Hills.
The beneficiaries range from the youngest to the oldest in our communities.
The Club for Boys, for example, has 1,139 members and many are from low-income families. The club gives them a place to spend time while offering programs that help them with school work, work skills and to discover what it takes to become productive citizens.
The MEALS program allows senior citizens like 88-year-old Mary Jane Wendt to continue living at home. Every weekday the nonprofit delivers a healthy meal to her and 211 others for only $8.25, or less depending on circumstances. Another 212 seniors travel to various sites to enjoy these meals and the company of others.
The Pathway of Hope program administered by the Salvation Army has enabled Whitney Pavich, a 28-year-old single mother, to get back on her feet, further her education and now dream of going to law school.
The BackPack Program allows 1,834 school-aged children from Edgemont to Belle Fourche to take home a meal for the weekend that includes oatmeal, milk, fruit, vegetables and an entrée.
The fuel for programs like these and many, many others are donations from the communities they serve. What makes them a great investment is how far even a few dollars will go. For example, one dollar provides five meals to families in need and $15 a month provides a child in the BackPack program with food for each weekend of the school year. For as little as $25, a mother and her children can spend a night in a shelter and be safe from domestic violence.
A key reason a small donation goes so far is the vast number of volunteers who believe in these programs and dedicate countless hours to improving the quality of life for the less fortunate and others who just need a helping hand at times.
But without adequate funding these programs might have to say no to some of those who need the help. And the clock is ticking for the United Way to meet this year's fundraising goal of $2,382,000. As of Dec. 22, the campaign had raised 95 percent of the goal with only nine days of fundraising left.
When you consider all that the organizations supported by the United Way do and the hundreds of volunteers who are making these programs work in our communities, it shouldn't be difficult to make a least a small donation before Dec. 31.
And if you're on the fence on whether you want to contribute or not, know that a donation to the United Way is not for a handout, it is a for hand-up that reverberates through the entire community.
It could make someone's day or help change a life, which is an investment to be proud of.