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Don’t have a cow, now

The government’s getting ready to tax cow flatulence and burps.

Sure it sounds ludicrous.

But the government’s involved, a fact which makes plausible even the most hare-brained of schemes.

We certainly won’t try to convince anyone that the government’s incapable of imposing nonsensical and economically ruinous laws.

But neither do we want Baker County ranchers to worry unduly that they’ll lose their operation if they can’t teach their herds some manners.

Here’s what the government has actually done:

Last July the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced what it calls an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” regarding “potential regulatory approaches” to dealing with greenhouse gases.


City plows ahead and does its job

The great thing about snow is that it melts.

Glaciers are rather more persistent, of course, but there aren’t any of those in Baker County.

Yet the temporary nature of snow is small consolation to anyone whose car is marooned behind a chest-high wall of congealed slush.

Or to someone who lives along a street where the blacktop hasn’t been visible for a couple of weeks.

Both situations have happened this winter in Baker City.

Both have happened in plenty of winters past and, barring a radical shift in climate, both will continue to happen.

On balance, though, the snow that accumulates on our streets is more an annoyance than the near-disaster that some critics of the city’s snow-control strategy seem to believe it is.

In general the city deals with snow and ice in an appropriate and competent way.


FOREST’S BIG BITE COULD CHOKE PROGRESS

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has been nibbling for close to two decades now at the problem of overcrowded timber stands that are abnormally susceptible to wildfires.

But now Wallowa-Whitman officials want to take a big bite.

They’re proposing a series of five timber sales on the southern flanks of the Wallowa Mountains that would constitute the largest logging job on the forest since the early 1990s.

The Snow Basin project, which is near Eagle Creek north of Richland, could start in 2010 and result in as much as 70 million board-feet of timber being sold over five years.

The Wallowa-Whitman hasn’t sold more than 30 million board-feet, with all timber sales combined, in any single fiscal year since 2001.


MILEAGE TAX HAS NO TRACTION NOW

For a guy who frets frequently, and publicly, about climate change, pollution and America’s thirst for petroleum, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has a funny way of showing his concern.

Kulongoski’s latest idea might actually discourage Oregonians from driving fuel-efficient cars.

If you’re partial to full-size pickup trucks and similarly hefty rigs, however, you’ll probably second the governor’s motion.

Kulongoski announced this week that he’ll lobby the Legislature, which convenes next month, to jumpstart his plan to replace Oregon’s gas tax of 24 cents per gallon with a mileage tax.

The governor hasn’t suggested an amount. A 10-month experiment last year that involved 300 drivers in the Portland area used a tax of 1.2 cents per mile driven.

If your car gets more than 20 mpg, a mileage tax at that level probably would cost you more than the gas tax does now.

So much for that Prius purchase penciling out.

To be fair to the governor, we’re not suggesting that he’s a hypocrite.


WORK SESSIONS WORKABLE FOR CITY COUNCIL

We don’t care whether the Baker City Council calls its get-togethers “meetings” or “work sessions.”

We care a great deal, though, about whether councilors get answers to all their questions before they vote on matters such as how they’ll spend our money.

Or how much of our money the Council thinks the city needs.

And so we endorse City Manager Steve Brocato’s proposal to change one of the Council’s two monthly gatherings from a “meeting” to a “work session.”

The idea, which the Council probably will discuss during its annual goal-setting session in early 2009, is that councilors would benefit if, once a month, they scheduled a work session to talk over topics but agreed beforehand that they wouldn’t actually cast any votes during the session.

Work sessions would be public meetings, of course, so long as at least four of the seven councilors attended.

During work sessions councilors could not only debate issues, but also query Brocato and other city officials about the purposes and potential effects of items on the Council’s agenda.


E-Cycle: It’s easy, free

For most people an old, obsolete TV or computer monitor is trash, albeit heavy, space-occupying trash.

Trouble is, tossing such stuff into a landfill can cause problems more serious than clogging your closet capacity.

Polluting groundwater with poisonous heavy metals, for instance.

Televisions, computer and computer monitors contain toxins such as mercury and lead.

Americans threw away about 232 million of these devices in 2007, but just 18 percent were recycled rather than landfilled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency estimates that 235 million more are taking up the aforementioned closet space.


Cooperation, not antagonism

The Baker School District needs to save money.

The Oregon School Employees Association wants to protect its members who work for the district as cooks, bus drivers and in other non-teaching jobs.

Both goals are reasonable.

What’s also reasonable is to expect that district and union officials will work together to try to achieve both objectives.

Their relationship is hardly amicable now, though, and we hope they try to mend it before it erodes any further.

The animosity dates to the summer, when Superintendent Don Ulrey, in an effort to curb costs, cut one cook position.

Although the affected employee was transferred to a different job in the district, the decision prompted OSEA to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the district. Union official Mary Kay Brant contends Ulrey should have told the union before transferring the OSEA worker.

Perhaps, but considering the district moved, rather than fired, the employee, the complaint seems unnecessary.


Congress wants to throw around a lot of money next year to improve roads and other publicly owned in

We hope some of those dollars land in Baker County.

Equally important, we hope those dollars not only boost the local economy, but also make the county a better place to live and to visit.

To achieve those goals, local officials will need to compile a list of projects that lack only the money to get them going.

Officials will have to hurry, though.


Compromise needed

The decades-old disagreement over managing America’s public forests has not been fertile ground for compromises.

But occasionally such a chance comes along, and we despair when the rare opportunity seems to be slipping through our grasp.

That appears to be the case, though, with the federal government’s campaign to reduce the risk of summer wildfires by  logging and lighting prescribed fires in overcrowded forests.

What frustrates us is that the basic idea behind that campaign appeals not only to the Forest Service and the timber industry, but also to many environmental groups that have vehemently opposed other types of timber sales.

Groups such as Oregon Wild and the La Grande-based Hells Canyon Preservation Council agree with Forest Service officials that millions of acres of national forests in the West are sickly and vulnerable.

There’s general concurrence, too, on research that shows historic logging of the biggest, healthiest trees, combined with the exclusion of lightning-caused fires, is largely responsible for the problem.

The Bush Administration’s and Congress’ chief strategy for solving that problem was to ease federal environmental laws so the Forest Service can get the trees cut and the fires lit sooner.


No more topping off

Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission has decided you shouldn’t be able to have your car’s fuel tank “topped off” at any service station in the state.

We agree.

Topping off, though a common practice, is a wholly unnecessary one.

Oregon’s a big state, sure, but it’s hardly the Gobi Desert.

The longest fuel-less stretch on Oregon’s highway system is about 70 miles — well within the range of the most voracious gas guzzler with a tank that’s been filled but not topped off.

That extra half-gallon that the attendant can cram in after the pump’s automatic flow shuts off equates to at most an extra 25 miles or so.


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