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Published November 18, 2013, 11:03 AM

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The EPA proposes reducing a biofuel mandate, a farmer is charged with filing false insurance claims and the president signs a SD blizzard disaster declaration.

By: Agweek staff and wire reports,

EPA proposes reducing biofuel mandate

• WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Nov. 15 proposed to reduce the amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply for the first time, acknowledging that the biofuel law championed by both parties in 2007 is not working as well as expected. While the proposal highlights the government’s struggle to ramp up production of homegrown biofuels that are cleaner-burning than gasoline, it is unlikely to mean much for consumers at the pump. The change would require almost 3 billion gallons less ethanol and other biofuels to be blended into gasoline in 2014 than the law requires. Meanwhile, next-generation biofuels, made from biomass such as wood chips and corncobs, have not taken off as quickly as Congress required and the administration expected. EPA officials say they were still committed to alternative fuels as part of a comprehensive energy strategy. If the EPA stuck to the volumes mandated by law, the amount of biofuels required would generate more ethanol than many engines can safely handle, officials say. The National Corn Growers Association says it is outraged by the decision, calling it “ill-advised.”

Farmer charged with filing false claims

• ABERDEEN, S.D. — A South Dakota farmer is charged in federal court with three counts of filing false crop insurance claims. Nicholas Berbos, 52, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Trial is scheduled for May 13 in Aberdeen. The indictment accuses Berbos of filing claims in 2009, 2010 and 2011 for payments from a federal crop insurance program when he knew he did not qualify for the funds. Ace Crawford, community service coordinator with the U.S. attorney’s office in Rapid City, declined to talk about specifics of the case because the investigation is ongoing. Lawyers for Berbos could not be reached for comment. Berbos faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on each charge.

President signs SD blizzard disaster declaration

• PIERRE, S.D. — President Barack Obama has signed a disaster declaration allowing 14 South Dakota counties and two American Indian reservations to get federal financial help to recover from the early October blizzard that closed roads, downed power lines and killed thousands of livestock, says Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Preliminary estimates showed nearly $38 million in damages to public and private nonprofit property. Costs included debris removal, repair of rural electric cooperative power lines and repair of roads and other infrastructure damaged by storm-related flooding. Other costs include snow removal in six counties with record snowfalls. The disaster declaration authorizes the federal government to cover up to 75 percent of eligible costs. Counties eligible for assistance are: Butte, Corson, Custer, Dewey, Fall River, Haakon, Harding, Jackson, Lawrence, Meade, Pennington, Perkins, Shannon and Ziebach, as well as the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge reservations. The presidential declaration also activates a disaster unemployment program, which provides some funds for self-employed people such as ranchers, who have lost their income because of the disaster, Daugaard says. Ranchers will get some help from the disaster unemployment program, but what they really need is for Congress to pass a new farm bill, Daugaard says. The farm bill could revive a federal livestock disaster program that would cover some of ranchers’ losses for dead livestock.

SD AG warns of scams related to blizzard

• PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota State Attorney General Marty Jackley says people should remain cautious of scams that seek to exploit victims of the early October blizzard in western South Dakota. Jackley says his office continues to receive complaints about fraudulent organizations that claim to seek donations to help blizzard victims. He says people should verify the legitimacy of charity organizations, ask specifically how a donation will be used, and beware of operations that use names that sound like those of legitimate organizations. The attorney general says people should consider giving to charitable organizations that have strong records of providing disaster relief. Jackley encourages people to donate to the Ranchers Relief Fund set up by agricultural groups to help ranchers who lost cattle in the storm. Information on that effort is available online at www.ranchersrelief.org.

ND commission OKs spending for disaster recoveries

• BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota Emergency Commission has approved spending requests for weather-related disasters this year. National Guard state commander David Sprynczynatyk brought the requests to the commission. One was to increase spending authority to more than $8.3 million and to accept more than $7.3 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for recovery from an early October snowstorm that hit the southwest and south central parts of the state. The Emergency Commission is made up of the governor, secretary of state, House and Senate majority leaders and budget committee chairmen.

Briefly . . .

• Milk production: North Dakota dairy farmers produced 84 million pounds of milk during July, August and September, down 2 percent from the third quarter of 2012. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the number of milk cows in the state during the three months averaged 17,500 head, down 500 over the year. Milk production nationally during the quarter totaled 49.4 billion pounds, up 1.5 percent from last year.

• Cattle killed: No people were injured but several cattle died in the crash of a semitrailer on Interstate 90 in southeast South Dakota’s Davison County. Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Harr says the truck tipped on its side in the ditch. The semi was hauling 34 cattle and nine are believed to have died. The cause of the crash was not immediately determined. The Texas driver was not cited.

• Elevator fire: Fire destroyed the office and drive-thru garage of a privately owned grain elevator in the southeast North Dakota town of Abercrombie. Several large steel grain bins also were damaged in the early morning blaze Nov. 12. All but one of the bins was empty. Eight area fire departments responded to the blaze. There was no immediate word on a possible cause.

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