Friday Roundup: Subsidies and Black Lung

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The Environmental Working Group has counted up the ag subsidies received by members of the 112th Congress and finds that Republicans get a bunch more than the Ds. (See chart.) Republican members received about $5.3 million while Democrats received just under half a million in federal ag payments.

Only 23 members out of 535 received any agricultural payments between 1995 and 2009. (The EWG included immediate family members in its calculations.) There were 17 Republicans on the list and six Democrats. 

This makes sense, since there are very few rural Democrats left in Congress.  And the totals are skewed because of Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Tennessee Republican. Fincher and his wife received just under $3.4 million in payments for their farm between ’95 and 2009. You can see a full list of recipients here

•The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader reviews the efforts by Republicans and Democrats from energy-producing states to roll back efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate coal and greenhouse gasses. 

“Americans are tired of the White House paying lip service to their struggles while quietly promoting effort after effort, either through legislation or through some back-door regulation, that make it harder, not easier, for businesses to create new jobs,” Kentucky senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. 

(Also, interesting discussion here about numbers of jobs generated by coal mining. Bottom line: The number of jobs Sen. McConnell says coal creates in Kentucky is off by two-thirds. 

• Agricultural commodity prices — most of which we eventually call food — are soaring.

The USDA’s corn acreage estimates came in at 92.2 million acres, up 5 percent from last year. But the extra acres won’t be enough to lower prices as corn supplies are still low. 

In fact, corn prices have surged in the last few days to the highest levels since the middle of 2008. There were rumors that China had bought American corn, and that put a hotter fire under the markets, reports Dan Piller. 

If per-acre yields don’t improve from last year (153 bushels per), there will be “trouble for the marketplace,” said a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association. 

U.S. cattle prices hit all time highs as worldwide demand for beef increased and supplies have been low. Hog futures set new records Tuesday.

• New Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said the nation had done a “pretty good job” in reducing the incidence of black lung, the incurable lung disease caused by breathing coal dust. 

Trouble is, the incidence of black lung has been rising, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. The percentage of miners with 30 or more years on the job who have black lung has gone from 6.8% in the late ’90s to 9.4% by 2004 to 9/9% in 2006. And the incidence of younger miners with black lung is on the increase.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration wants a new black lung law, one that Sen. Paul opposes. 

• This is a great day for yard art.

The city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, cited William Terry for using a toilet as a front yard planter. (Is there anybody who hasn’t seen this a jillion times??) Terry appealed. And the city court ruled in his favor, saying the city’s definition of “rubbish” was too broad. 

• The New Orleans Times-Picayune criticizes the Obama administration for “its blanket moratorium and slowness to issue new drilling permits” in the Gulf. 

Noting the President’s call to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy supplies, the paper’s editorial page said that he is “uniquely positioned to do something about it, though, by more diligently moving his administration to resume safe oil exploration and drilling in the Gulf and to expand production in our region in the future.”

• While we’re talking editorials, the Des Moines Register says it agrees with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack that the health care reform bill is good for rural America.

In particular, the paper likes the bill’s incentives for health care providers to locate in rural areas:

One of the ironic fears about the health reform is that when millions more Americans get health insurance, there may not be enough professionals to treat them. Someone in rural Iowa may have insurance, but that doesn’t do much good if he or she can’t find a doctor within a reasonable distance.

(Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen) Sebelius called the law a “historic investment” in health workers that will help train and support more than 16,000 new doctors and nurses. Many will receive incentives to practice in rural communities. The law also continues investments in “community health centers.” She also talked about increased reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients. That is particularly important to Iowa.

 

 

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