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If you don't live in Nebraska... UPDATE...or Kansas

maybe you haven't paid much attention to Keystone XL, the pipeline destined to bring Canadian heavy oil through the U.S. to refineries and ports in Louisiana (where some of you do live) and Texas (anyone there?). Nebraska rose up to prevent the pipeline from running through a major aquifer and stalled its construction while President Obama thinks about it.One of the by-products of the refining process is something called "petroleum coke," left when the oil is released from the tar-like substance that is heavy oil. Where does that petroleum coke end up? At the moment, a huge pile of it is sitting in Detroit, the leavings from a nearby refinery that began processing Canadian heavy oil last winter. According to a story in the New York Times, the pile will eventually be shipped to China and Mexico where it is burnt in lieu of coal. Who owns that pile? The Koch Brothers (yes, those Koch Brothers). The stuff makes a hefty contribution to the pollution in both countries. And how many U.S. refineries will be sitting on piles of it. Detroit today! Tomorrow??? Story here.See photo below.UPDATE: Continuing on the environment, a story in the Times about the aquifer under Kansas being depleted by over-irrigation use, in particular to produce more corn for ethanol additives to gasoline. What once seemed a reasonable idea is now producing unintended consequences in high prices to farmers for corn and depletion of the water table. You'd think they'd have some self-interest in rethinking their crops. Story includes a good graphic of Midwestern water table and its states of depletion. 

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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It's a quadrennial custom to rue that kicking off presidential campaigns with the Iowa caucuses requires every candidate to make obeisance to ethanol subsidies.

Even should the equivalent amount of ethanol costs more per gallon than gasoline? Can I say: that would make the rest of us look pretty stupid. I guess one of the problems with "advances in x" is that we can never call them off.

Building tomorrow's nightmare.

Jim P. ==Yes, the Iowa campaign is a problem, for more reasons than one. If Iowa were a demographically typical state the caucuses might serve as indications of what the people's interests were at the time, but Iowa is a relatively homogenous state, and so is New Hampshire which comes next. AS it stands, the hopeful politicians end up committing themselves to more extreme positions than they really hold, and the debates are disfigured from the beginning.Couldn't the problem be solved if a couple of more typical states held their primaries before Iowa and NH?? You'd think that the Democratic and Republican national committees would encourage that. But I don't expect rationality from either of those committees.I wonder if the pipeline threat will be resolved before the next presidential election. Caucuses do educate the people to some extent, and some real debate about energy policy might help put some rational politicians in office.

How are Kansas farmers with their ethanol wealth different from the Koch brothers with their petroleum coke? (Apart from the probability that the farmers aren't quite as rich as the Kochs.)See Jane Mayer's piece in this week's New Yorker on their relationship to PBS!! And according to David Koch's Park Avenue doorman--a piker.

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