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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

Rapid City Journal, Sept. 8

SD needs a plan for higher education

A future lawyer attending a University of South Dakota study group bungled his slogan: "People don't fail to plan," he opined, "they plan to fail."

The mirthful malapropism mixed up fail and plan. People don't plan to fail. They fail to plan.

Unfortunately, the student coinage sums up South Dakota's current approach to higher education. We're planning to fail. And with failure, we'll sacrifice a future of better-paying jobs, better cities and rising opportunities.

South Dakota increasingly charges its good students more money to attend state colleges. Burdened with ever-increasing student debt loads, they graduate to encounter a state economy that can't pay them well or use them well, with predictable results. Graduates flee South Dakota at rising rates, and those who remain delay home purchases or families because of heavy student debt.

This isn't what European settlers had hoped from South Dakota, and it isn't what all South Dakota parents want for their children today. It won't be easy to reverse this trend, but if we don't make plans to change, South Dakota won't prosper. Increasingly, the ability to land better incomes, those that fill state coffers, will depend on college and technical degrees.

More dismal news and reports greeted state students returning to South Dakota campuses this fall:

— The net cost of attending a South Dakota public university is the eighth-highest in the nation. Due to the lack of a needs-based scholarships and other state-funded financial aid, South Dakota's public university students pay an average of $4,000 more per year than students elsewhere.

— South Dakota has the third-least amount of state grant money available to its students and the fourth-least amount of grant aid available from university endowments.

— South Dakota college students routinely rank among the most indebted. Roughly 74 percent of South Dakota graduates carry college debt, with an average of more than $30,000 owed.

— As recently as 2007, South Dakota's taxpayers covered about 55 percent of the cost of a public college education. By 2018, South Dakota public university students paid 56 percent of that cost. The parents of today's college students likely paid just 30 percent.

— South Dakota ranks third-lowest in average annual pay at under $41,000 a year.

— The state also ranks at or near the lowest pay in the nation in several employment categories requiring college degrees, including architecture/engineering, education, life/physical/social sciences, arts/design/sports/media, computer and mathematical, legal fields, community and social services and business and financial operations.

— In every census since 1960, South Dakota has experienced a net loss of people in the top third of educational attainment. In 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, South Dakota had the second-highest rate of gross brain drain in the country.

It doesn't require a college degree to see the hole we've dug and continue to dig. The longtime state strategy that lowest-in-the-nation tax rates will lure manufacturers here hasn't produced results. It would be insanity to continue doing the same things and expect something different.

South Dakota must step up its game in so many ways — increased aid for low-income students, better alignment of the degrees offered with future employment needs, more support for entrepreneurs in high-paying industries, better coordination among higher-ed institutions. Some of these, only the Legislature can address.

It's harder now to reverse course because of the hole we've dug. Incremental change in the current economic environment is the best we can hope to manage. But we need a better plan for success. Otherwise, we're planning to fail.

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Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Sept. 9

Shedding some light on light bulbs

With all due respect to Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who called this topic a distraction from larger climate issues (which, maybe, it is), let's talk for a moment about the lowly light bulb, which has turned to an unlikely political football in our climate and economic conversations.

Where would we be without these bulbs? In the dark, obviously.

Where would we be without the tremendous advances that have been made in light-bulb technology in recent years? We'd all be paying bigger electrical bills using bulbs with relatively short life spans and are also bad for the environment.

So, why did the Trump administration roll back new efficiency standards that were scheduled to take place in January?

The Department of Energy (DOE) last week announced that it was overturning new regulations, passed in the waning days of the Obama administration, that would have instituted new energy-efficiency standards for bulbs such as three-way incandescent bulbs, candle-shaped chandelier bulbs and recessed reflector bulbs. Another rule change would have imposed new efficiency standards for pear-shaped bulbs. The new standards were enacted to promote even greater energy efficiency, which would cut demand and, consequently, reduce carbon emissions that are believed to contribute to climate change.

A DOE spokesman said the new regulations would be deployed "only when economically justified," and it was claimed that the new rules would increase the price of bulbs by about 300 percent. Suspending the rules would allow consumers, not the government, to choose how to light their homes and businesses, the DOE said. That's also the claim of the light-bulb manufacturers, who oppose the new standards in part because the rules would threaten a business model based on planned obsolescence.

But critics such as the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that this action "could cost the average U.S. household more than $100 per year, adding $14 billion to Americans' annual energy bills as of 2025, and require at least 25 power plants' worth of extra electricity annually." It's estimated the move will increase annual U.S. electrical use by about 80 billion kilowatt hours, as well as do nothing to remove the harmful impact the current bulbs have on the environment, since more energy would be needed to produce the additional energy the old bulbs require.

According to CNBC, "The (new) standards applied to about half of the roughly 6 billion light bulbs used in the U.S, and would have prevented millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere."

The Obama-era rule change was an extension of energy rules passed by the George W. Bush administration — back in the days when "energy independence" was on everyone's mind — and it was part of an extraordinary evolution in light-bulb technology.

Since 2010, energy consumption in U.S. homes has dropped by 6 percent after decades of steady growth, and a huge reason for the decline has been far more efficient lighting. Bulbs now can last up to 10 years or more and produce more light with far less energy.

It's true that an LED bulb costs more — about $4 on average for a 12-watt LED compared to $1 for a 60-watt incandescent bulb. But, according to the Department of Energy, the LED, which uses about one-fifth the energy, has an estimated life span of 25,000 hours, compared to 1,000 for incandescent. It's also estimated that, over the course of 10 years, the running cost of the LED is about $18, while it's about $90 for an incandescent.

So, the new rules would have further promoted the use of longer-lasting bulbs that use less energy and produce more light at a fraction of the cost ... AND they help the environment.

And that's what we DON'T want?

Why are we changing course on a process that is clearly working on several fronts and can improve even more?

Last week's decision is not a bright idea at all.

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Madison Daily Leader, Sept. 5

We can do better on boating safety

The U.S. Coast Guard released its 2018 Recreational Boating Statistics Report recently, revealing that there were 633 boating fatalities nationwide in 2018, a 3.8% decrease from 2017. That's good news.

Of course, 633 boating fatalities are way too many. "While these decreases are encouraging, there are still too many deaths and injuries that could be avoided through the use of life jackets and eliminating alcohol consumption while operating a boat," said Capt. Scott Johnson, chief of the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety at Coast Guard Headquarters.

Boating safety is an important issue in our area, with so many lakes and recreational crafts. Counting all watercraft (fishing boats, ski boats, canoes, sailboats, jet skis and others), we wouldn't be surprised if there are more than 1,000 boats at Lake Madison alone.

Alcohol again was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents nationwide in 2018, accounting for 100 deaths, or 19% of total fatalities.

Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure and excessive speed ranked as the next five primary contributing factors in accidents.

With the exception of machinery failure, all other causes appear to be preventable. And while Game Fish & Parks officers do stop boats occasionally for variety of reasons, we see a fair amount of unsafe boat operation throughout each summer, including drinking and boating.

Developing good boat safety habits should start early, and some families teach children the fundamentals. But we see far too many children under 10 years old driving jet skis at excessive speeds.

Nationally, in cases where the cause of a boating fatality was known, 77% of victims drowned, and of those, 84% were not wearing a life jacket.

We can do better than this. Just a few changes would save lives: wear a life jacket, take a boating safety course, attach the engine cutoff switch and boat sober.

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