Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 5
Gov. Scott Walker's evolving views on corn-based ethanol
In the jagged terrain of ethanol politics, Gov. Scott Walker, presidential candidate, is finding it hard to find his footing. And hard not to look politically opportunistic to people who follow this issue.
Walker has shifted his position on the federal ethanol mandate, telling an Iowa audience in March that he would support the federal Renewable Fuel Standard but might phase it out in the future. The program requires transportation fuel sold in the U.S. to contain a minimum amount of renewable fuel — usually ethanol made from corn.
Count us as ethanol skeptics. Ethanol is more expensive to produce and in some cases takes more energy to produce than is saved, though it does cut tailpipe emissions.
There also is a potential effect on the food supply as corn is diverted for ethanol production. We have long supported renewable fuels — and renewable energy of all kinds — but ethanol is an imperfect solution.
And, as the Journal Sentinel's Jason Stein noted in an article Monday, the mandate divides Wisconsin corn farmers and biofuel makers from dairy farmers worried about the price of feed and makers of small engines whose products won't work with higher ethanol blends. Those blends aren't approved for use in motorcycle engines, either, which is why the American Motorcyclist Association opposes the spread of the E15 blend that is 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline.
The ethanol mandate was aimed at reducing American reliance on imports of oil and was based on the idea that ethanol would be better for the environment while helping corn producers in the Midwest including Wisconsin.
But more domestic production of oil, higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles and a reduction in miles driven have all combined to make the use of ethanol less urgent.
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Menomonee Falls Republican, has proposed a bill that would revoke the current government approval for E15 fuel pending further testing.
We support the bill and wonder if it isn't time to eliminate the mandate altogether.
As Walker courts voters in the Corn Belt, he shouldn't lose sight of his principles, which would seem to dictate that he also support the end of the mandate.
Wisconsin State Journal, May 6
70 mph speed limit won't compromise safety
Traffic safety engineers will be in the driver's seat when Wisconsin raises its maximum speed limit to 70 mph.
That makes Assembly Bill 27 easy to support.
The state Senate should approve the bill today, allowing the state Department of Transportation to increase the speed limit on interstates and freeways from 65 mph to 70 mph.
Only divided highways with entrance and exit ramps — not at-grade crossings — will be eligible for the modest change. And traffic engineers must study and agree the small increase makes sense.
The DOT signaled at a public hearing earlier this year that it's open to 70 mph on major roads outside cities.
"Based on prior safety investigations and analysis of various state highway corridors, establishing a maximum speed limit of 70 mph on rural interstates and many four-lane freeways represents an appropriate and reasonable limit for traveling motorists," said DOT Assistant Deputy Secretary Tom Rhatican.
Higher speeds don't automatically increase danger. The variation of speeds among traffic is key. And a higher limit that better reflects how fast most drivers are going can reduce tailgating and other aggressive driving.
A 70 mph speed limit also should allow law enforcement officers to concentrate on truly excessive speeders.
As Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Manitowoc, a lead sponsor of AB 27, has noted, most vehicles on rural interstates are already traveling 70 mph or a little faster. So increasing posted limits would simply reflect reality and could smooth traffic flow.
Critics of the change fear traffic will speed that much faster than it already is. But when Wisconsin raised its limit from 55 mph to 65 mph on more than 500 miles of divided highways in 1996, the average speed of vehicles increased by just 4 mph, according to the DOT. That suggests a 5 mph increase in posted limits today would have an even smaller effect.
Insurance companies, which know how to weigh risk, have registered in favor of AB 27 or are neutral, according to the Government Accountability Board. Tourism and lodging interests favor the change.
Only AAA Wisconsin is actively lobbying against the bill, fearing more crashes involving trucks.
But overall, states such as Illinois and Iowa experienced a drop in road fatalities after they raised their speed limits to 70 mph. And Wisconsin is the only state between New York and Oregon that's still at 65.
AB 27 will do more good than any harm by getting people and products where they need to go in less time. In addition, more fuel-efficient vehicles will offset any decline in gas mileage.