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Rail congestion ‘crisis’ related to Bakken oil likely to be long-term problem

Plus: Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig accused of improperly using campaign funds after 2007 sex-sting arrest at MSP airport; U of M and Mayo researchers win money to map the human brain; General Mills laying off more employees; and more.

REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

The rate of North Dakota oil trains crossing Minnesota got another working over yesterday. At KMSP-TV, Tim Blotz says, “Bakken oil now rolls through Minnesota at a rate of more than 15 trains a day, but on a rail system that has limited space, other critical freight — including grain, Taconite, and propane — is often left off track. Rep. Joe Atkins, of Inver Grove Heights, described the issue as ‘a growing crisis’ at a packed legislative hearing. Even so, it’s not a simple blame game. … The troubles for Amtrak aren’t just the delays, but the length of them. Along BNSF lines, the minutes of delays per 10,000 miles of track dramatically jumped from last year — and it’s the same story for the Amtrak trains operating on Canadian National and Union Pacific tracks. However, rail experts told Minnesota lawmakers that building more pipelines won’t solve the problem.”

Speaking of: James MacPherson of the AP says, “A Canadian company that wants to build the largest oil pipeline yet from western North Dakota’s booming oil patch is delaying the project for at least a year due to permitting problems in Minnesota. Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Energy Partners LP disclosed the delay of the $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline in a filing Tuesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.”

Also from the AP: “The oil and railroad industries are urging federal regulators to allow them as long as seven years to retrofit existing tank cars that transport highly volatile crude oil, a top oil industry official said Tuesday. The cars have ruptured and spilled oil during collisions, leading to intense fires. Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters that the institute and the Association of American Railroads were jointly asking the Transportation Department for six months to 12 months for rail tank car manufacturers to gear up to retrofit tens of thousands of cars and another three years to retrofit older cars.”

Revisiting one our all-time favorite stories: Al Kamen and Spencer Hsu of The Washington Post report, “A federal judge Tuesday ordered former senator Larry ‘Wide Stance’ Craig (R-Idaho) to pay the U.S. Treasury $242,000 for improperly using campaign funds to pay for his legal defense after a 2007 sex-sting arrest in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. … Best we were able to determine at the time — judging from what sources told us were the usual arrival and departure gates for his flights — Craig may have passed not one, not two, not three but four bathrooms at the airport along the way before choosing the very one that an airport official called ‘the biggest hotspot’ for sexual encounters. But we digress.” Then remember how, by way of opening his Boise press conference, Craig thanked everyone “for coming out”? Terrific stuff.

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May I suggest several possible subjects? The Strib’s Dan Browning writes, “Research teams at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic will receive nearly $5 million over the next three years in the first batch of grants from the National Institutes of Health’s prodigious initiative to map the human brain. The so-called BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Technologies) initiative, a long-term project that has been likened to the effort behind the United States’ first moon landing, will release $46 million toward 58 projects in fiscal 2014 — three of them in Minnesota.”

“Significant distortions.” That’s WCCO-TV’s PAt Kessler assessment of the ads attacking Eighth District Rep. Rick Nolan’s terror-fighting record. A sample: “After President Obama traded five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, Nolan voted against an amendment forbidding the use of funds for any future terrorist transfers. That’s not a vote to release terrorists. Nolan voted in favor of an amendment to stop funding for a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria. That’s not a vote against funding troops.”

Those Yoplait sales numbers weren’t so good. MPR’s Martin Moylan tells us, “General Mills says it is cutting 700 to 800 positions, primarily in the United States. The cuts are in addition to some 700 the company announced earlier this month. In a regulatory filing, the company says that the new reductions should save as much as $150 million a year. This action will hit people engaged in marketing, finance, human resources and other corporate functions across the country. … General Mills did not say how many Minnesota employees could be affected.”

Was he heading to Wisconsin? The Forum News Service says, “West Fargo man with multiple drunken driving convictions was arrested while driving a lawnmower Sunday. According to court documents, Earl Lee Jahner allegedly had a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.27 and was giving rides to children in West Fargo. Jahner is accused of having a six-pack of beer with him on the lawnmower and damaging the corner of a building.”

Sally Jo Sorensen has a good one today on her Bluestem Prairie blog. Basically, it’s a story of confused identities — with a telling detail. “We were patiently researching independent expediture mailing by Republican operative Ben Golnik’s MN Jobs Coalition and/or its political fund companion, the Minn Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund, when an email came in earlier today from the Jobs Now Coalition. Seems that the JOBS NOW coalition gets the calls the very similarly-named (but much more recently created) MN Job Coalition does because [the latter] doesn’t have a phone number on its website. … The executive director of the JOBS NOW Coalition sought our assistance out of genuine concern for the younger operation. Apparently, Jobs Now was fielding other inquiries as well:

JOBS NOW Coalition is getting more calls than ever this season from persons who are disgusted by MN Jobs Coalition mailings, ads etc. But we just got a call from the Albert Lea Tribune who asked for someone named Ethan because he placed an ad against [DFL] Rep. Shannon Savick for publication tomorrow but the credit card used to pay for it was declined. . . .  .”

Can’t they still charge it to Tony Sutton’s card?