Monday Roundup: Obama on Rural
President Obama talks about his rural accomplishments • What happened to coal mine safety legislation? Nothing. • The Union Pacific and Nebraska • 60 Minutes finds the good in Texas hunters
• The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader editorial page says a U.S. Representative owes an apology to environmentalist Maria Gunnoe from Boone County, West Virginia.
A Yonder Roundup item last week noted that Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican, called in Capitol Police to question Gunnoe after his staff saw a presentation the West Virginian planned to make to a congressional committee. Gunnoe wanted to show the problems with coal strip mining, and one of her photos was of a four-year-old girl taking a bath in water the color of strong tea. The photo was provided by the child’s parents. The staff thought it was pornographic. The Herald-Leader writes:
The episode serves as a perfect metaphor for what we have seen time and again: Those in power, notably elected officials but also state regulators, refuse to see what extreme mining is doing to people and the region.
They’d rather trump up distractions or sling around contrived catch phrases like “war on coal” than talk about how to ameliorate the destruction. They have no plans for diversifying the economy.
They shut off concerned citizens such as a delegation of Kentuckians who tried to meet with U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers last week at his Washington office to talk about mountaintop removal. Seven of them were arrested.
Our so-called leaders would rather blame President Barack Obama for what competition from cheaper, cleaner natural gas is doing to demand for Appalachian coal than engage in an honest discussion of how to mine without ruining water.
The editorial was accompanied by a cartoon from Joel Pett, which you can see above.
Gunnoe was questioned by police for about 45 minutes and then released.
• James R. Carroll in the Louisville Courier-Journal tells how nothing — newspaper reports or mine explosions — seems enough to move Congress into passing new coal mine safety laws.
It’s been two years since a mine explosion killed 29 men in West Virginia, with no response by Congress. Carroll also notes that his newspaper found that federal agencies weren’t collecting fines for mine safety violations, a report that sparked no action by Congress. Carroll explains:
There are myriad reasons for that: mining industry opposition to some provisions, ideological differences between Democratic and Republican lawmakers over how much additional power the federal government should have to regulate coal-mine safety, the desire to collect more research on safety issues, and a crowded legislative agenda where there are always other, urgent issues to address.
And let’s be blunt: coal-mine safety is not a national issue in the way that, say, consumer protections or food safety is. Mine safety is a concern only in places where coal is being mined.
Out of sight, out of mind.
• James R. Carroll also notes that the House rejected a proposal that would eliminate five regional development groups, including the Appalachian Regional Commission.
• Good story last night on 60 Minutes about how Texas ranchers and hunters are saving a large number of African animals that are becoming extinct in their home continent.
This drives the animal rights folks crazy, but it’s true. Decades ago, Texas ranchers began saving and then breeding species that were endangered in the wild. The animals (about 125 species in Texas) thrived.
The ranchers paid for the animals by selling hunts. The number of exotic animals increased and the ranchers made a living by collecting fees from hunters. The system worked. (And, by the way, ranchers do the same with domestic animals, such as deer or dove.)
Now animal rights groups are trying to block the hunts of these animals. If they do, say ranchers, the numbers of exotics will drop. The rights activist interviewed by 60 Minutes said she would rather have none of these animals in the U.S. if they are to be hunted.
• Erin Golden of the Omaha World-Herald reports that Nebraska and the Union Pacific railroad grew together. Here is a story of a railroad — and of a nation. Golden writes from the huge rail yard in North Platte:
The train cars loaded with coal and grain and shipping containers and headed east and west to distant places pass the cities formed along the tracks as Union Pacific pushed west in the second half of the 19th century. Completion of the transcontinental railroad transformed not only the way the country moved people, products and information, but also how the West was settled.
A full century and a half after it all began, Union Pacific’s impact on many of those places is as immediate as ever.
Union Pacific Railroad, headquartered in Omaha, now has more than 44,000 employees across a 23-state network — the largest of any railroad in the United States. It operates 8,200 locomotives over 31,900 route miles and is a financial powerhouse. Last year, net income was $3.3 billion.
In Nebraska alone, U.P. employs 8,000 workers — 2,500 of them in North Platte.
Looking out over the rail yard in that city, retired railroader Deloyt Young said the relationship is simple.
“If the railroad pulled out, we’re done,” he said. “And that includes Kearney and Grand Island too. Whether we like it or whether we don’t, the railroad built this community.”
• The Denver Post notes that the Sierra Club liked natural gas (as opposed to coal) until the country began a boom in gas development. The editorial reads:
We are dismayed that this group is repositioning itself as an anti-gas group, going as far as to proclaim that it will lobby to stop all new gas-fueled power plants.
It seems to us that as market conditions and technological advances have led to a boom in availibility of cheap natural gas, the backtracking is born of fear — fear that this nation will come to rely on this “transitional fuel” as a long-term solution.
We happen to support continued subsidies and favorable government policies for renewables, but we cannot condone efforts to beat back all natural gas development.
• The National Weather Service says it will have to furlough up to 5,000 employees for 13 days between July and September if it cannot find $36 million to balance its budget.
The Weather Service had a practice of using money allocated by Congress for other purposes for salaries. That practice has been stopped, resulting in the deficit — and the potential for furloughs in the middle of hurricane season.
• Two interesting editorials in Sunday’s Kansas City Star.
In the first, the paper applauds Gov. Sam Brownback for supporting extension of the federal tax break for wind energy.
In the second, the paper’s editorial page warns that a blanket crop insurance program (envisioned in the new farm bill) would encourage farmers to plant marginal land.
“The ecological damage resulting from such a policy is likely to be considerable,” the paper wrote. “Beefed up crop insurance will mean the loss of more grassland and native prairie to the plow — which might make sense if the point were to raise more food. But encouraging farmers to plant unproductive acreage merely to collect subsidies is inexcusable.”
• Last week we ran a report by Minnesota extension professor Ben Winchester on the rural “brain gain.” Winchester found a steady increase in the number of 30- and 40-somethings in many rural counties.
The Minneapolis paper ran a story about this report. See it here.
• Jeff Biggers has been writing for years about coal, coal mining and the environment. He’s collected all his posts in one place. You can see them here.
• Young Greeks facing unending unemployment in the cities are returning to their rural communities.
It’s not exactly a return of choice. But people are flooding programs that teach farming because do it yourself is the only way things are getting done in Greece these days. Besides, it’s cheaper than living in the city.
In a survey of 1,300 Greeks in March, over 68 percent said they had considered moving to the countryside.