Wednesday Roundup: Rural/Anti-Wall Street Coalition

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President Barack Obama says he will make the decision on whether to issue a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry oil sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline needs a permit from the State Department before it can proceed.

President Obama said he would receive a report from the State Department “over the next several months,” reports InsideClimate News. The pipeline is receiving strong opposition in Nebraska, where it will cross the Ogallala Aquifer, a major source of water for the Great Plains. 

“My general attitude is, what’s best for the American people? What’s best for our economy both short term and long term? But also what’s best for the health of the American people?” Obama said in an interview with Nebraska television station KETV, discussing the criteria he would judge when making a final decision.

“We need to make sure that we have energy security and aren’t just relying on Middle East sources, but there’s a way of doing that and still making sure that the health and safety of the American people and folks in Nebraska are protected,” Obama said.

“And that’s how I’ll be measuring these recommendations when they come to me.”

• Meanwhile, a special session of the Nebraska legislature has begun to consider new regulations that would govern the Keystone pipeline. A bill introduced on the first day would give the state’s public service commission authority over the siting and routing of oil pipelines. 

• Nearly two-thirds of Colorado voters cast ballots against a proposal to raise nearly $3 billion for public education. 

The proposal would have slightly raised personal and corporate income tax rates to replenish school budgets that have been cut. The new rates would have expired in 2016.

• The Omaha newspaper is reporting that rural telecoms are less than enthusiastic about plans to shift money from a fund used to help pay for basic telephone service in rural areas to expanding broadband service. Ross Boettcher reports on the recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission:

But smaller rural telecoms and the interest groups that represent them are concerned about changes slashing the subsidies they’ve come to rely on and hoping the final rules will mean a less dramatic change for them.

Members of the Great Disconnect, an interest group created by the Iowa Telecommunications Company Coalition and many of the state’s independent telecoms, say the changes will undercut their ability to afford investments in their infrastructure and cost their customers more in the long run.

Chuck Deisbeck, chief executive officer of Western Iowa Networks, which provides cellular, cable television, Internet and telephone services to Iowa communities — including Carroll, Pacific Junction, Auburn and Farragut — said revenue for companies like his come from three places: customer charges, intercarrier compensation (the fees companies pay one another to transport voice and Internet traffic) and subsidies from the Universal Service Fund.

Under the revised fund — renamed the “Connect America Fund” — the proposed annual payouts from taxes that consumers pay on their phone bills will be capped at $4.5 billion, compared with this year’s $8 billion.

In addition, intercarrier compensation fees will be phased out over five years.

• More people die of overdoses involving prescription painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

In 2008, 36,450 people died from overdoses. Prescription drugs were involved in 20,044 of those deaths. 

People in rural areas were twice as likely to die from a prescription painkiller overdose as people in large cities.

•Big investment groups — pension funds and corporations — continue to show an interest in buying farmland. 

Marcia Zarley Taylor at DTN tells about big black Suburbans hauling investors around the Delta looking at land and an investment group (a life insurance company) that is thinking about spending $5 billion on farmland.

Nothing like losses in the stock market to get people looking for alternative investments.

• An interesting, don’t-see-it-everyday lead sentence in a Politico story this morning: 

Rural and anti-Wall Street politics came together for a moment Tuesday as the Senate approved an estimated $182 billion spending bill after rejecting conservative demands for still deeper appropriations cuts beyond the August debt limit agreement.

The coalition came together over a spending bill that Republicans wanted to curt further. Republican Rep. Mike Lee of Utah argued that any appropriation must be below 2011 levels, even if it is a benefit program such as food stamps that is has more beneficiaries. Politico reports:

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) countered that Lee’s motion was “extremely misleading” and would force cuts of as much as $7 billion just from agriculture and rural programs. This threat helped to rally support from Republicans from rural states such as Maine, Mississippi and Missouri on the Appropriations panel and helped the chairman get a 60-vote supermajority — an important marker for the future, given the Senate’s procedural rules.

• Members of Congress hoped to have a farm bill draft finished Tuesday. They didn’t make the deadline, reports Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register.

The Ag Committee members know they need to cuts farm program costs and they want the bill to be a part of what the “super” debt reduction committee will propose later this month. But there are conflicts, Brasher reports.

“Right now it’s trying to resolve these differences between crops grown in the South and crops grown in the northern Plains and other parts of the country, so it’s a work in progress,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a Senate Agriculture Committee member.

 

 

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