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Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

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This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

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Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit Montgomery-ed.org

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.

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EPA Says Its Ethanol Rules Aren't Driving Up Food Prices

Nov 16, 2012
Originally published on November 18, 2012 3:47 pm

The ethanol industry is happy with the Environmental Protection Agency today. If you're worried about the price of meat, though, you may not be so pleased.

Even though corn is in short supply, because of this summer's historic drought, the EPA just announced that it will keep in place a federal rule that requires more than a third of the nation's corn to be converted into ethanol and blended into gasoline.

Meat producers and anti-hunger advocates were outraged. Because the law protects the flow of corn into fuel, they say, it drives corn prices higher for everyone else. Kristin Sundell, from ActionAid USA, predicted that "people around the world will go hungry due to spiking food prices while the EPA stubbornly clings to its misplaced faith in biofuels as a sustainable energy solution." A coalition of dairy, poultry, and livestock producers asked "how many more jobs and family farms have to be lost before we change this misguided policy."

Critics and supporters of the "ethanol mandate" both believe that, for better or worse, the law matters. So the most surprising thing about the EPA's announcement today was that it flew in the face of that belief. The agency rolled out economic analyses showing, essentially, that the federal rules don't actually accomplish anything. According to the EPA, gasoline companies would use just as much ethanol even without a federal rule. They're doing it because a) ethanol still is an affordable additive to gasoline, and b) even if ethanol got more expensive, oil companies can't easily reconfigure their refineries to replace ethanol with something else.

Two leading economists who've studied this question — Bruce Babcock at Iowa State University and Wally Tyner at Purdue — agree with the EPA's analysis. "If you look at where gas prices are right now, it looks like it's in the interest of the gas companies to use ethanol," says Babcock.

Babcock says the agency made one additional assumption: That ethanol would have to get a lot more expensive before gasoline company decided to use less of it. The companies are locked in, at least for the short term, by their technical infrastructure: "The oil companies were told that they faced this mandate. They've done the best job possible to comply. They've configured their refineries to use that amount of ethanol, and it's costly for them to switch out of it."

So if this is all true, maybe you can't blame ethanol for that expensive pork or milk at your supermarket. Blame the drought. Oh, and your car, for its contribution to high oil prices.

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