There was a meeting this week in Eastern Kentucky about the future of coal country.
It's a topic of some importance in the eastern mountains, where it has become fairly clear over the last few years that the amount of coal mined in the region will continue to dwindle. A federal agency estimates that coal production will drop by about a third from 2010 to 2015.
What happens when a one-industry region sees its one industry slowly disappear? The Center for Rural Strategies called a meeting in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to discuss the future of the coalfields without coal. (We should note here that CRS is the Yonder's publisher.)
Bill Estep, a very good reporter with the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader attended the meeting and wrote this story. The ideas were flying -- from things as simple as providing fresh water to every resident (still not done in many parts of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia) to setting up a regional endowment funded with a tax on coal.
"We've got to come up with new ways to approach things," said CRS president and Yonder publisher Dee Davis.
We hope to have more on the outcome of this meeting in the near future.
• Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond reminds us that American children attending public schools in low-poverty areas score as well on international tests as any students in the world.
The low scores are recorded by children who have grown up poor in America.
Her point is that we have a poverty/inequality problem, not a public school problem.
• The Farm Bill came out of the Senate ag committee Thursday. Chris Clayton has the details at DTN.
There were only five votes against the bill, four from Southern Republicans. They don't think rice, cotton and peanuts were treated fairly.
The bill would do away with many traditional safety net payments, creating "the tightest payment limits ever," said Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
• Thursday evening the Labor Department called it quits, withdrawing proposed federal rules that would have tightened restrictions on the work children can do on farms.
The regulations were a nightmare from the beginning for the Obama administration, attracting opposition from farm groups and farm state legislators in the middle of an election year. Labor weakened the regulations, allowing the children of farmers to do more work on farms than was allowed in the original regs. That didn't satisfy anyone. And so yesterday Labor withdrew the entire section dealing with children of farmers "and the portion of the rule that would affect neighborhood youths and migrant worker children who are employed on the farm," writes DTN's Jerry Hagstrom.
The regs were opposed by nearly everyone — from the Farm Bureau to Democrats like Montana's Sen. Jon Tester. "Montana is a world leader in agriculture because our farmers learn the values of responsible, safe work at an early age," Tester said in a news release. "I appreciate the Department of Labor listening to my concerns and those of hard-working Montana farmers and dropping these rules so we can continue our way of life and keep feeding America."
Labor released this statement:
The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations. The Obama administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations.
As a result, the Department of Labor is announcing today the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations.
The decision to withdraw this rule -- including provisions to define the 'parental exemption' -- was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms.
To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration. Instead, the departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders -- such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H -- to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.
• If you check out the Yonder Calendar, there on the right hand side of the page, you'll see that the Department of Education will hold a "National Rural Education Technology Summit 2.0" Monday beginning at Noon, eastern time. It's all on the web and everyone can listen in.
Just go to the Calendar for details.
• Food and Water Watch has issued a new report on corporate influence over university agriculture research. Here's the full version.
By 2010, according to the report, private money provided a quarter of the ag research funding at land-grant universities.
The report contends that this private "funding steers land-grant research toward the goals of industry. It also discourages independent research that might be critical of the industrial model of agriculture and diverts public research capacity away from important issues such as rural economies, environmental quality and the public health implications of agriculture."
The report continues:
Private-sector funding not only corrupts the public research mission of land-grant universities, but also distorts the science that is supposed to help farmers improve their practices and livelihoods. Industry-funded academic research routinely produces favorable results for industry sponsors. Because policymakers and regulators frequently voice their need for good science in decision-making, industry-funded academic research inﬂuences the rules that govern their business operations.