Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke launched an unprecedented effort Wednesday to undertake the largest reorganization in the department’s 168-year history, moving to shift tens of thousands of workers to new locations and change the way the federal government manages more than 500 million acres of land and water across the country. The proposal would divide the United States into 13 regions and centralize authority for different parts of Interior within those boundaries. The regions would be defined by watersheds and geographic basins, rather than individual states and the current boundaries that now guide Interior’s operations. This new structure would be accompanied by a dramatic shift in location of the headquarters of major bureaus within Interior, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation. Moving thousands of employees around the country would require congressional authorization. Zinke said the Trump administration plans to negotiate the reorganization in the upcoming budget approval process. “This proposal is concerning because it appears to eliminate the Navajo Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). “A change of this magnitude should only come after extensive, meaningful government-to-government consultation with the affected tribes. On its face, this looks more like a dismantling than a reorganization.” The politics of moving employees is often difficult, Jewell said. Interior sought to consolidate the BLM offices for New Mexico and Arizona because the topography of the states is so similar. “Congress came after us. You would’ve thought we were ending the world as we knew it. Politicians came out of the woodwork,” Jewell said. “You throw up your hands and say it’s not worth it. If you’re a politician it looks like your district lost and another district won.”At a budget hearing in June, Zinke defended a $1.6 billion proposed budget cut at Interior, saying he planned to shave 4,000 positions from the workforce. In September, he said a third of Interior’s staff was “not loyal to the flag,” meaning the Trump administration.
Across the country, the Federal Communications Commission wants millions of rural Americans to think they have broadband at home and the workplace – when they don’t. The self-reported claims of service are very convenient for large telecommunications companies, which might face more competition otherwise. At the end of the year, the Federal Communications Commission released data that it knows to be inaccurate, which will damage the lives and livelihoods of millions of our fellow citizens who live and work in rural America. In its publication of eligible census blocks for the Connect America Fund (CAF) auction, the FCC excluded 432,302 rural homes and businesses in areas that previously had been eligible to receive public support for broadband service.The vast majority of these areas had been determined by the FCC and the telephone industry to be too costly for the telephone companies to serve with broadband – even with subsidies – so the FCC initially decided to auction financial support for these remote areas. And yet, in the closing days of 2017, the FCC removed 30% of all the eligible rural locations from the CAF auction by applying newly released data regarding the availability of broadband service.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue served as a warm-up act Monday at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting, telling a crowd of roughly 4,500 people that USDA will soon outline the Trump administration's principles for the farm bill. Keeping with a theme of the Trump administration knocking down regulatory burdens, Perdue also called on farmers to tell USDA which regulations should be eliminated.
The task force identified over 100 recommendations for the federal government to consider in order to help improve life in rural America. The recommendations centered around these five areas:Economic Development, Innovation and Technology, Workforce, Quality of Life and 5 Calls to Action: Achieving e-Connectivity for Rural America, Improving Quality of Life, Supporting a Rural Workforce, Harnessing Technological Innovation and Developing the Rural Economy
President Donald Trump spoke at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 99th Annual Convention. The AFBF noted recently that, “After three consecutive years of decline in farm sector profits, President Trump will speak to Farm Bureau members during a period of prolonged economic challenge across farm country.” In fiscal year 2017, the U.S. exported $140.5 billion worth of agricultural products; and, the U.S. Department of Agricultureexplained recently that, “Exports are responsible for 20 percent of U.S. farm income, also driving rural economic activity and supporting more than one million American jobs both on and off the farm.” With this in mind, today’s update focuses on recent NAFTA developments and agriculture.
Only 62 percent of rural Americans have broadband installed in their homes, according to the think tank New America, and those who do often pay exorbitant prices for sluggish speeds. There are similar statistics from low-income urban communities. In rural and urban communities, “Over 70% of small businesses, which include small service firms, retail shops, and healthcare clinics, have less than 4 Mbps upload speed,” according to data collected by Strategic Network Group. The FCC will vote Friday, February 2, whether to lower broadband service standards so that mobile smartphone cellular service is treated as the same as a home landline connection. The FCC majority also wants to officially lower what counts as high-speed broadband from 25 megabits per second (Mbps) to 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. Many states passed “carrier of last resort” (COLR) laws years ago to ensure rural communities got telephone services via wireline connections, which by the default included possible internet access. Deals struck with large telecom and cable companies said, in effect, “We’ll give you money and favorable treatment if you agree to provide service to customers even in sparsely populated areas.” Companies got access to big and lucrative markets in return for saying they would also serve harder-to-reach communities. It was accountability for communities’ tax dollars.Since then, however, incumbents quietly lobbied state legislatures to pass bills to free them of these obligations, or at least let them switch copper landlines for cellular wireless. Rural areas are especially vulnerable when wiring wears out or infrastructure is destroyed in natural disasters such as hurricane Harvey in Texas. They are also vulnerable when the FCC says cellular service is equivalent to landline connections.
A provision inserted into the tax code during Senate and House negotiations in December gave farmers more lucrative deductions when they sell agricultural products directly to the farm cooperatives he competes against rather than to businesses like his own.Mr. Tronson, whose four storage facilities handle 17 million bushels of grain a year, said the competition could spell the end of his 76-year-old family-owned business.“We’ve made a big investment. And this law, if they don’t change it, the scenario is that we’ll go broke,” he said.Farm groups and agricultural cooperatives battled last year to preserve a deduction on domestic U.S. production, which manufacturers also received. That deduction went away in the tax rewrite, but lawmakers including Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) won the inclusion of a new deduction. The new provision allows farmers to deduct up to 20% of their total sales to cooperatives, letting some farmers reduce their taxable income to zero. It is a more generous version of a deduction that owners of pass-through businesses, such as partnerships and S-corporations, get in the law.Farmers would get a smaller deduction—about 20% of income—if they sell grain or other farm products to privately held or investor-owned companies like Mr. Tronson’s.Tax lawyers and accountants said the new law will give cooperatives a significant edge over competitors. That stands to benefit co-op giants including American Crystal Sugar Co., Land O’Lakes Inc., CHS Inc. and Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc.
Livestock producers and dairymen got some good news for a change last week from the Environmental Protection Agency when it denied a petition by environmental groups to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations like factories under the Clean Air Act. CAFOs may one day be regulated as sources of air pollution, but that day won’t come anytime soon.The EPA decision, posted in the Federal Register, answers a petition filed in 2009 by The Humane Society of the United States and other environmental groups.The groups sought to bring concentrated animal feeding operations under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act. The section requires stationary sources of air pollution to adopt the “best system” for reducing emissions. The groups said farms with a large number of animals harm human health, poison the environment and cause climate change.CAFOs, however, are open-air operations. How do you measure the emissions of an individual Holstein? Is all manure created equal?
As social scientists who treasure the concept of academic freedom, we were taken aback when we heard that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “had banned seven words.” The seven words: entitlement, diversity, vulnerable, transgender, science-based, evidence-based, and fetus. Upon further examination, it turns out that it is not quite that simple. CDC personnel were not told that they could not use the words. Rather, it appears that they were told to avoid using those words in budget requests that would go through the Trump Administration before being included in the budget document that would be sent to Congress.Whether the concern was the reaction of the administration, the Congress, or both is unclear, but there certainly was concern on the part of some CDC personnel that the use of these words might result in an additional reduction in funding for an agency the administration has already targeted for budget cuts.When a situation like that would arise when we were growing up, someone would roll their eyes and say, “That’s no way to run a railroad.” We can’t say it much better than that. It is beyond our imagination that someone is going to run a word-search of a document and then throw the budgetary proposal out because one of those seven words was used too many times. That’s no way to run a railroad.
The Interior Department's number-two official issued a secretarial order just before Christmas rescinding several climate change and conservation policies issued under the Obama administration, saying they were "inconsistent" with President Donald Trump's quest for energy independence. Secretarial Order 3360, signed Dec. 22 by Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, wipes away four separate directives and policy manuals aimed at showing departmental employees how to minimize the environmental impact of activities on federal land and in federal waters, and calls for the review of a fifth one that applies to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Instead, it directs officials to reinstate and update guidance issued during the final year of George W. Bush's second term by Jan. 22. While the documents in question are highly technical, the move underscores the extent to which Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his deputies are uprooting policies and procedures aimed at factoring climate and environmental effects into the department's decision-making process. The manuals and handbooks include detailed instructions on how officials at the Bureau of Land Management, for example, should minimize activities on the agency's land that could harm certain species or accelerate climate change.