Political Notes – Sheffield says she’ll run in the 12th District

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Atlanta attorney Maria Sheffield said Thursday she will run in the Republican primary for the 12th Congressional District seat held by Democratic Rep. John Barrow.

Sheffield, who once worked for former insurance commissioner John Oxendine and handles insurance regulatory matters in her law practice, said she’ll focus her efforts on stopping the federal healthcare reform act, which she called “a clear and present danger” to the U.S.

“I have the experience to lead on stopping Obamacare, and I have the experience to lead on fighting for our small business owners and farmers against oppressive Obama-Barrow taxes and regulations,” Sheffield said in her campaign announcement.

She joins a Republican primary field that already includes state Rep. Lee Anderson (R-Grovetown), Augusta businessman Rick Allen and Augusta lawyer Wright McLeod. Barrow is currently unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Sheffield has practiced with the Atlanta law firm Burr & Forman and has lived with her husband in Cobb County for several years, well outside the boundaries of the 12th District. In her campaign statements she has cited her family’s “deep roots” in Laurens County, which will be a part of the redrawn 12th District. There are no residency requirements to run for Congress.

“She made a commitment that if she made the decision to run, she will have a home in GA 12,” said Sheffield’s campaign consultant, Kathryn Ballou. “That process has begun.”

Sheffield ran for state insurance commissioner in 2010 but lost to Ralph Hudgens in the Republican primary runoff.

The 12th District has been redrawn twice in the past five years by Republican legislators in their attempts to defeat the Democratic incumbent Barrow. Barrow moved from Athens to Savannah after the lines were first redrawn in 2006, but the latest district map cuts Chatham County entirely out of the district.

Barrow says he will move to another city within the 12th District after the boundaries have been reviewed and finalized at the federal level.

Lake Lanier bounce-back? Not likely

Drought-ravaged Lake Lanier, whose water levels have been dropping steadily in recent months, does not have much chance of bouncing back to full pool in 2012, according to a group of climate and water experts who gathered recently at the Lake Lanier Islands Resort.

As reported by Ashley Fielding in the Gainesville Times:

Bailey Craine, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water management official who spoke to the group this morning, said that even with normal rainfall in North Georgia in the coming months, Lanier has little chance of refilling in the next year.

Climatologists and meteorologists at the forum predict the drought in Southwest Georgia will continue to plague the river basin through spring.

But no one is willing to guess what might happen beyond spring.

Between the months of November and March, river basins are supposed to enter a “recharge season,” in which rainfall and lower temperatures allow lake levels and streams to recover from hot, dry summers, said Victor Murphy, a representative of the National Weather Service.

That won’t happen this year, however.

“The ACF basin is pretty much dancing on the edge of a significant, long-term drought,” Murphy said.

The impacts of the drought have hit particularly hard in the agricultural sectors of the economies in Southwest Georgia and Southeast Alabama, said Brenda Ortiz, a professor of agronomy at Auburn University.

There, cotton, corn and peanut growers were forced to irrigate much more than normal, she said. Peanut growers, who normally don’t need to irrigate for germination, had to irrigate this year, according to Ortiz. The drought also caused a higher incidence of aflatoxins, a fungus that affects grains, in southern Alabama.

The basin is experiencing its second year of a La Nina weather pattern, which produces drier than normal conditions.

Deal and teacher pensions

At a meeting of the Georgia Research Alliance a couple of months ago, Gov. Nathan Deal told the group he would be willing to consider ending Georgia’s prohibition on its public pension funds making alternative investments in such things as venture capital funds.

That statement prompted some teacher groups to go back and review the materials that Deal’s campaign released last year when he was running for governor.

One of the campaign pledges in a Deal campaign brochure was headlined “Protect the Teachers’ Retirement System for all educators” and included this verbiage:

Teachers invest their lives in Georgia’s youth and work hard to make a difference. To be able to attract new teachers as well as keep the promises made to our current and retired teaching workforce, Georgia must have a governor who will work hard to protect their benefits. The Teachers’ Retirement System provides the means for approximately 87,000 teachers who are in retirement. As governor, Nathan Deal will work to ensure the solvency of the TRS and will not subject the program funds to unnecessary risk through high stakes investments. Retirement portfolios should be structured for long-term, stable growth, not in manner that introduces avoidable risk in lieu of short-term, unpredictable booms and busts.

“I’m pretty sure our 82,000 members took this to mean he wouldn’t be supporting taking TRS funds and putting them into venture capital,” said Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE).

Range Fuels goes under

The Public Service Commission may be voting Tuesday on a proposal to provide a ratepayers’ subsidy to encourage the development of solar-generated electric power in the state.

Before they take that vote, they may want to consider the fate of another alternative energy project that was highly touted just a few years ago: a facility that Range Fuels planned to build in Soperton to convert wood chips into ethanol.

The Macon Telegraph’s Heather Duncan reports that the Range Fuels ethanol plant, which never achieved its hoped-for success, is being foreclosed upon by its major lender:

AgSouth Farm Credit, the bank that loaned Range Fuels $80 million to launch its Soperton ethanol plant, is foreclosing on the plant.

That leaves taxpayers on the hook for the $64 million portion of the loan that was guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

AgSouth advertised the foreclosure sale of the plant in Thursday’s Soperton News.

Repeated phone calls to Range Fuels over several days were not returned. The company’s website disappeared in October.

Justin DeJong, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, said in a statement Thursday night: “We are disappointed that this company did not succeed, and we will be working on behalf of the American people to protect the federal government’s interest in the loan.”

In its statement, the Department of Agriculture said it had worked with AgSouth “on options to revive operations, but on October 27th notified the lender that it was moving forward with liquidation, because liquidation is seen as the best way to preserve U.S. assets and reclaim funding.” The department said it anticipates that there are “a number of companies” that could be interested in the site.

State and federal documents show that a new corporation has been seeking to take over the Range Fuels plant and its loan guarantee. But that effort seems to have fallen through.

In 2007, the Colorado-based Range Fuels was awarded a $76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy under the Bush administration, plus the loan guarantee and a state grant, in order to build and start operating the country’s first cellulosic ethanol plant. Cellulosic ethanol is made from the woody or fibrous plants — in this case wood chips — rather than from food crops such as corn.

But the plant, which was scheduled to open in 2008, never scaled up to full operation and shuttered early this year after making one test batch of fuel. About 30 workers were laid off, said John Lee, executive director of the Treutlen County Development Authority.

Plea for heating funds

U.S. Rep. John Lewis has asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to release more federal funds for the LIHEAP program that provides financial assistance to low-income families trying to pay their heating bills.

“I would like to thank you for your October 28th, 2011 release of more than $1.7 billion to help low income citizens with their heating and home energy costs,” Lewis said in a letter to Sebelius.

“Unfortunately, the appropriate spending measure to continue LIHEAP funding has yet to pass through Congress and many of the state agencies in my district have already exhausted the funds which HHS released early,” Lewis added.

“With the current price of oil and possible budget cuts to programs that serve the neediest, every dollar for programs like LIHEAP can make or break many families in my district,” Lewis said. “To that end, I urgently request that you release as much additional LIHEAP funding as possible.”

© 2011 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: 12th Congressional District , alternative invesments , heating bill assistance , John Barrow , John Lewis , Lake Lanier , Maria Sheffield , Nathan Deal , Range Fuels , TRS