Wednesday Roundup: The Rural Olympics?

London Olympics will begin with rural scenery • Ethanol's long boom has stalled • A scholarship program for rural kids • North Dakota decides to keep its property tax

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Lots o’ farm bill news as the Senate takes up the measure.

Chris Clayton is keeping track of the amendments that are appearing. The Senate took up two amendments late Tuesday and will likely vote on them today. One would phase out the federal sugar program and other would turn the supplemental food program into more of a block grant to states.

Clayton reports that Senators have filed 230 amendments so far. They will probably only debate a couple. He lists a sampling. 

Andrew Grossman, in the Wall Street Journal, finds New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s fingerprints all over the farm bill. She is the first New York senator in four decades to sit on the ag committee. Her state has no dominant crop but does have over 3 million food stamp recipients. 

She is against cutting food program money and she is for funding programs that support groceries in so-called “food deserts.” She also wants crop insurance programs for specialty crops, such as apples and onions.

An analyst for a “free market grassroots organization,” Americans for Prosperity, writes in The Hill that the farm bill “is shaping up to be a big, expensive, $969 billion boondoggle—just like its predecessors—and it needs some serious changes.” 

An editorial in the New York Times bemoans the $4.5 billion cut to the food stamp program over ten years that is contained in the Senate version of the bill. The paper writes:

That amount is a small fraction of the nation’s spending on food stamps, currently nearly $80 billion a year, but would, nevertheless, be devastating for nearly half-a-million households that would have their benefits sliced by an average of $90 per month, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Such a cutback in food benefits for struggling families and children is unconscionable in a bill containing plenty of unnecessary giveaways for corporate farming interests. 

AP reporter Jim Abrams explains the battle going on between Midwestern and Southern farmers. Rice and peanut farmers don’t like the crop insurance program in the proposed bill. 

Rice farmers, for example, don’t worry about variations in yield caused by natural disasters that would be compensated by crop insurance. The do worry about wide variation in price and production costs.

•The Federal Communications Commission is moving from the old Universal Service Fund, which subsidized land-line phone service to remote areas, to the new Connect America Fund, which will help pay for broadband in unserved regions. 

Politico reports that these “reforms” could cut broadband service to remote areas. 

Politico reporter Brooks Boliek goes to Alaska’s Adak Island in the Bering Sea 1,200 miles from Anchorage. As it stands now, subsides for the island will drop from over $136,000 under the old service to just over $22,000 with Connect America.

• The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics will be set in the English countryside.

Yes, there will be cows, sheep, meadows, horses and lots and lots of green. See pictures here. 

• The AP reports that the “fuel that powered the U.S. from the industrial revolution into the iPhone era is being pushed aside as utilities switch to cleaner and cheaper alternatives.” 

The news agency is talking about coal, of course. The AP notes that coal will be used to produce less than 40 percent of the nation’s electricity, its lowest level since World War II. “The peak has passed,” says Jone-Lin Wang, head of Global Power for the energy research firm IHS CERA.

Coal is being replaced by natural gas. That is having a large impact on Appalachian coal counties, where mines are closing and miners are being laid off. The “War on Coal” that coal state politicians say is being waged by the federal government is being most effectively prosecuted by gas drillers.

• A pioneer of “micro irrigation” won the 2012 World Food Prize

Daniel Hillel, 81, was born in Los Angeles, but he did his work in the highlands of the Negev Desert in Israel during the 1950s. Hillel found that plants responded best to a continuous drop of water, not fluctuations of flood and then dry conditions. Crops produce more food with this micro irrigation, and less water is used.

• Ed Week’s Diette Courrege tells us that there is a new scholarship for young rural students. The program will send 120 rural middle schoolers to three-week residential summer programs. Courrege reports: 

Research has shown more needs to be done for gifted rural students. A 2005 study by the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, showed rural gifted students thought their academics were less challenging than those of their suburban or urban peers. The study also revealed rural students were less likely to be identified as gifted, to have access to a well-developed variety of programs, and to have classmates with similar intellectual interests.

• Maria Gunnoe wanted to show a picture of a young girl taking a bath in water tainted by coal mining to a Congressional committee. Instead, she was questioned about the possibilities she was showing child pornography.

We’ve carried clips from several stories about this incident. Now the president of the Goldman Environmental Prize, which Gunnoe won for her campaign against coal strip mining, has written Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican, about the incident. (We’ll put the entire letter on the Yonder Facebook page.) He wrote:

To take an innocent and poignant depiction of a gross injustice and profanely turn it into an inappropriate and unjust charge of pornography is not only unacceptable but un-American in its chilling effect on both the freedoms that all of us citizens are accorded and the willingness of our citizens to strongly and candidly testify before our Congress. 

• The Wall Street Journal is reporting that ethanol’s “long boom” has stalled.  Mark Peters writes:

America’s ethanol boom is stalling, and the effects are starting to spread across a Farm Belt that had grown accustomed to soaring growth. Annual U.S. production of ethanol more than tripled from 2005 to 2011, driving up crop prices and pumping money into rural communities from Nebraska to North Dakota.

Now, ethanol demand is topping out. The amount used in gasoline is near federal mandates, and gasoline consumption is declining. After 15 straight years of growth, ethanol production this year will fall slightly and will be roughly flat next year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s May forecast.

This could weigh down the price farmers get for corn. It has already led to layoffs and bad investments in a number of rural communities.

• North Dakota is keeping its property tax

The vote to get rid of the statewide property tax wasn’t even close. More than three out of four voters cast ballots against the proposal to remove the state property tax. The measure was opposed by the Republican governor and the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce.

“I think North Dakotans understand that government isn’t free,” said Andy Peterson, president of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce.

 

 

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