Monday Roundup: Impact of Coal’s Decline

Coal Layoffs Spread to West • Gas Royalties Have Little Impact Beyond Families • Speculation about Tom Harkin's Successor • Rule on Tenderization Labeling Gets Pummeled • China's Leader on a Rural 'Poverty Tour'

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Not only are miners being laid off in coal counties, as the demand for coal declines. Layoffs also mean that coal counties are seeing lower tax revenues. 

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that coal counties are having to cut budgets as coal tax revenues decline. Knott and Letcher counties each has about a $1 million shortfall due to the slack demand for coal.

Western Coal Layoffs — The first layoffs in the coal business were in the eastern fields. Now the AP reports that production cutbacks in the West are leading to layoffs in Montana and Wyoming.

Royalties — Owners of natural gas royalties received $21 billion in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available — money that has changed the lives of many rural residents. But the AP points out that this money means more to individuals than to the overall economy:

For example, the $1 billion for Pennsylvania landowners sounds like a lot, but “it’s just not going to have a big impact on the overall vitality of the overall economy,” said Robert Inman, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school. “I think the issue is, what difference does it make for the individual families?”

Investments by oil and gas drilling companies mean more. For example, the shale oil boom in North Dakota contributed 2.8 percent of gross domestic product growth to the state’s economy in 2011.

Who Will Replace Harkin? — Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin announced that he won’t run for re-election in 2014. So who’s likely to replace the Democrat?

The Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs says that Rep. Bruce Braley is likely to seek the Democratic nomination. In November, the 55-year-old Waterloo attorney won the most votes of any U.S. House candidate in Iowa history. He comes from a district in the state’s northeast corner and was first elected in 2006.  

Who else? Maybe Ag Secretary (and former governor) Tom Vilsack. Maybe former Gov. Chet Culver.

On the Republican side, Jacobs says that U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, in his 19th year in Congress, tops the list. He may be opposed by Rep. Steve King, a favorite of the Republican base.

Women Doctors — Fun fact, not necessarily rural: Idaho has the lowest share of female docs in the nation. 

The President, Rural and Guns — The New Republic asked President Obama if he had ever fired a gun. He answered, “Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time.” 

The magazine asked if this included the whole family. And the President responded:

Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there. And I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake.

Part of being able to move this forward is understanding the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas. And if you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were ten, and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family’s traditions, you can see why you’d be pretty protective of that.

So it’s trying to bridge those gaps that I think is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months. And that means that advocates of gun control have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes.

Labeling Rule Being Tenderized — Mike McGraw at the Kansas City Star reports that a rule that would require labels on beef products that have been mechanically tenderized is now “mired in White House bureaucracy.” 

McGraw has written a lot about how mechanical tenderizing can cause food safety problems. The process uses automated needles or knives “that can drive deadly pathogens deep into the interior of the meat. Those pathogens can survive and cause illnesses if consumers fail to cook the cuts thoroughly.”

The Ag Department proposed regulations that would label tenderized beef, but those rules are stuck in the White House Office of Management and Budget — and have been since September.

Politicians in Rural China — China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, visited Luotuowan, a rural town that has seen better days. He was doing what American politicians sometimes do — take a “poverty tour.” The New York Times reports

The visit to this village in Hebei Province, broadcast on national television, was meant to highlight Mr. Xi’s concern for China’s rural poor. But it was also an important propaganda flourish intended to burnish the new leader’s bona fides as an empathetic man of the people.

“I want to know how rural life is here,” he said at one point as the camera lingered on the unvarnished details of the Tang family’s poverty: a single light bulb, a tattered straw ceiling, a huddle of grimy pots and mounds of detritus. “I want to see real life.”

“The most arduous and heavy task facing China in completing the building of a moderately prosperous society is in rural areas, especially poverty-stricken regions,” Mr. Xi said during his visit to Luotuowan, which is 180 miles from Beijing.

 

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