Thursday Roundup: TOTN and Legal Aid
Legal Aid of North Carolina is closing three offices in rural counties and eliminating 30 positions. The offices serve Johnston, Harnett, Sampson, Allegheny, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, Vance and Yancey counties, reports the News and Observer.
The NC Legal Aid has had its budget cut by 10 percent and the organization says it is simply more efficient to close the rural offices. The group can serve more poor people in its more urban outposts.
“We serve poor people, and in the rural areas we have to travel a much greater distance to serve fewer people,” said George Hausen, the group’s executive director. “In order to keep the numbers high and serve as many poor people as we possibly could we decided that we needed to circle the wagons in the big, urban offices.”
Perhaps you can begin to see a trend here. As federal and state governments cut budgets, rural areas will be affected first. Yesterday, we reported that ag programs at California colleges were being curtailed. College farms were being closed. Post Offices are also being shuttered all across rural America.
It’s just the beginning.
• A reminder that today (Thursday) National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation will have a show on rural America. We know that Yonder publisher Dee Davis will be on, as will Yonder correspondent Kelley Snowden, from East Texas.
Go to the TOTN site to see when the program will be aired in your area, or listen to it online.
• Reporters are saying that a key Energy Department advisory panel will give a qualified OK to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the technique used to extract natural gas from shale formations. The committee’s report is to be released today, says Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post.
Shale gas exploration has been a huge environmental issue throughout rural America as energy companies have moved to exploit deposits found across the country. Residents contend, however, that as massive amounts of fluids are pumped underground in the fracking process that pushes the gas to the surface water supplies are damaged.
Eilperin reports that the committee will ask that companies disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process and that drillers adopt “best practices.” The group, however, does not say who should regulate this activity.
Energy companies praised the committee while environmental groups lambasted it. Over at the Center for Public Integrity, Evan Bush reports:
All but one member of a government advisory panel weighing the safety of one of the most contentious forms of energy development, known as fracking, have financial ties to the natural gas industry, scientists and some environmental groups are asserting. The scientists called for the ouster of its chairman, former CIA director John Deutch, who sits on the boards of two energy-related companies.
The group, which reports to Energy Secretary Seven Chu, is concluding that development of shale gas can be done safely provided that companies fully disclose the chemicals used in fracturing liquids, and that they face monitoring of their activities and rigorous standards for emissions of airborne contaminants.
• NPR had an interesting report yesterday on the effect of farm crop subsidies on the price of food. It’s assumed in many circles that subsidies have lowered the prices on generally unhealthy food (corn syrup; red meat) and that this has led to the obesity tsunami.
Frank Morris at KCUR says this ain’t necessarily so. Americans do spend less on food. That’s largely because farmers have gotten more productive. Productivity has doubled, so the cost of food has dropped in half compared to 40 years ago.
Morris quotes economists who say that the net effect of all farm programs is to actually make food MORE expensive, discouraging obesity. Not that anyone believes this line of thinking. Morris reports:
Robert Paarlberg, who teaches political science at Wellesley and Harvard, has tried pointing this out. “Farm subsidies have nothing to do with it,” he says. “You almost never get any interest in trying to make the counter-argument. People assume that you’re a crank if you dare to challenge what everyone knows to be true.”
Others say it is food processors and marketers who are primarily responsible for Americans’ poor eating habits.
• Farmers are relieved. The Department of Transportation announced that it would not implement new regulations that would have required farmers to get commercial driver’s licenses in order to use trucks or farm machinery on the roads. DTN has the full rundown.