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Rural News

Meet the Rural Pennsylvania Town at the Forefront of Environmental Law

EcoWatch | Posted on July 27, 2017

In 2012, Grant Township became a target for fracking waste. Oil and gas producer Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE) applied for a permit to pump toxic chemicals used in drilling operations into an injection well beneath the community. Residents were alarmed. Injections can induce earthquakes, and wells can leak, contaminating water supplies. The chemicals used in fracking have been linked to cancer, infertility and birth defects.  "We live in an area that doesn't have public water. We all live off springs and private wells," said Judy Wanchism, 74-year-old native of Grant Township. "You ruin our water, our home is no good anymore. Nothing. You have to have water in order to live, to water your plants, to drink, to bathe, everything … I don't know how else to say it. Water is life, and without water, you don't have a life." Wanchism and her neighbors shared their concerns with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to no avail. Regulators must listen to the public, but they don't have to take those concerns into account. The EPA issued the permit to PGE. The people of Grant Township couldn't win. "We thought they would protect us. They wouldn't," said Wanchism. "You have to figure out ways to protect yourself, and that is basically what we did." In 2015, a federal judge overturned the part of the ordinance blocking the operation of an injection well. Grant Township, she said, had exceeded its authority as a second-class township. Residents responded by adopting a home-rule charter, which gave the community more legal authority.In an ironic twist, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is now suing Grant Township, arguing its home-rule charter violates state law. "We shouldn't be fighting the DEP," said Wanchism. "The DEP should be protecting us and helping us."Grant Township is now countersuing the DEP for failing to protect the community. A state court will hear oral arguments this fall. Residents are also dealing with legal fallout of the original ordinance. PGE claims Grant Township owes the company for damages incurred by blocking the injection well.


Overview of Texas Amendments to Use of Unmanned Aircraft Statute

Texas Agriculture Law Blog | Posted on July 26, 2017

The 85th Legislative Session brought an amendment to the law related to use of unmanned aircraft in Texas.  Importantly for agriculture, the amendment adds confined animal feeding operations (“CAFOs”) to the list of “critical infrastructure” facilities to which additional flight limitations apply for many drone operators.  The amendment will go into effect on September 1, 2017. This post will review, in detail, the current Use of Unmanned Aircraft statute and discuss the most recent amendment.  For those of you not concerned with the specific details, the “Take Away Points” sections at the end of the post will summarize the key points of the post and save you some time. As of September 1, 2017, House Bill 1643 will make three key changes to the Use of Unmanned Aircraft statute.First, there will be modifications to the “critical infrastructure” definition.Of interest for agriculture, the definition will now include “a concentrated animal feeding operation.”  This is defined as “a concentrated, confined livestock or poultry facility that is operated for meat, milk, or egg production or for growing, stabling, or housing livestock or poultry in pens or houses, in which livestock or poultry are fed at the place of confinement and crop or forage growth or feed is not produced in the confinement area.”Another addition that could be important for rural landowners with oil or gas production on their property is that the definition will include an oil or gas drilling site, a group of tanks used to store crude oil, an oil, gas or chemical production facility, an oil or gas wellhead, or any oil or gas facility with an active flare so long as enclosed by a fence or other physical barrier obviously designed to exclude intruders.Additionally, “any structure used as part of a system to provide wired or wireless telecommunications services” is added to the critical infrastructure definition.


Maryland County Considers Ban on Wild Animals Used in Shows

US News and World Report | Posted on July 26, 2017

 The use of elephants, primates, snakes and other wild animals by businesses that profit from their exhibition could be banned in a Maryland county outside Washington, D.C.WTOP-FM reports the Montgomery County Council held the first hearing on Tuesday about a proposal to ban the use of animals in circuses or other business that "exhibit or financially benefit" from them. The bill wouldn't apply to agricultural fairs where livestock is displayed.Humane Society of the United States vice president Nicole Paquette says the bill would focus on prohibiting the use of wildlife in traveling shows. She says the public doesn't see most of how animals are coerced with abusive training.According to the county council, the bill will be heard in a public safety committee work session on Sept. 9.


U.S. Economy Rebounds, But Wages & Salaries Do Not: 10 of 23 Occupations Lost Ground

Creighton University Economic Outlook | Posted on July 26, 2017

The U.S. economy exited the 2007-09 recession in July 2009. Despite consistent, but slow gross domes-tic product (GDP) growth since then, wages and salaries of American workers, adjusted for inflation, have actually declined for 10 of 23 occupations examined. Furthermore since the recession ended, U.S. workers have, on aver-age, increased their inflationadjusted salaries by only $1,000, or slightly less than 2%.


Keep strong safety net for agriculture and rural communities

Independent Review | Posted on July 26, 2017

As commodity prices remain low and rural economies struggle, farmers and rural citizens need a strong safety net to stay afloat until conditions improve.However, the budget proposals from the White House and the U.S. House of Representatives do not address that need. The House Budget Committee recently released its 2018 budget proposal, which called for a $10 billion cut in programs under the control of the House Agriculture Committee. And the 2018 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, released by the Congressional Budget Office, called for $8.5 billion less in agriculture funding than the 2017 fiscal year enacted level. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to eliminate its undersecretary position for rural development. We are deeply concerned about these changes.


Who Wants to Run That Mom-and-Pop Market? Almost No One

The New York Times | Posted on July 26, 2017

Across the country, mom-and-pop markets are among the most endangered of small-town businesses, with competition from corporations and the hurdles of timeworn infrastructure pricing owners out. In Minnesota, 14 percent of nonmetropolitan groceries have closed since 2000. In Kansas, more than 20 percent of rural markets have disappeared in the last decade. Iowa lost half of its groceries between 1995 and 2005. The phenomenon is a “crisis” that is turning America’s breadbaskets into food deserts, said David E. Procter, a Kansas State University professor whose work has focused on rural food access, erasing a bedrock of local economies just as rural communities face a host of other problems.In New York or Los Angeles, the loss of a favorite establishment is an event to be mourned. But in this ranch town, where the closest reliably stocked market is 40 miles away, the threat to R&R Market raises questions about the community’s very survival. Those who want to take on these stores can find it impossible to buy. If you’re poor — and many people in these towns are — and interested in a risky deal, few banks will give you a loan.


Editorial: Rural Virginia bleeds; does the state care?

The Roanoke Times | Posted on July 26, 2017

The most critical commentary came from a columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. A. Barton Hinkle wondered whether state government should even bother trying to help rural communities. “If [rural residents] can improve their economic circumstances by moving to urban areas, then why not let them?” he asked.If that means rural communities depopulate themselves, so what? “You could argue that, environmentally speaking, it might be better to keep some swaths of the state unpopulated,” Hinkle wrote. These libertarian sentiments may seem shocking to many rural residents, in much the same way that Parisians were shocked by the quote often attributed to Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat cake.” They aren’t new, though. In fact, the question of whether the state and federal government should even try to save rural economies is one that’s been asked before. The conservative writer Kevin Williamson expressed the same view a year ago in a controversial piece in The National Review, in which he looked at Garbutt, a former gypsum-mining town in upstate New York. Williamson argued that efforts to save the town are “the indulgence of absurd sentimentality” — and a waste of taxpayers’ money. He went on to say that many rural communities “deserve to die.”“Economically, they are negative assets,” Williamson wrote. Residents of rural communities “need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.” Ouch.Unfortunately, President Trump is effectively putting that economic policy into practice, he’s just not saying it so bluntly. His budget zeroes out the very agencies that have paid for economic development infrastructure in rural communities — starting with the Appalachian Regional Commission. Congress probably won’t go along with a lot of those proposed cuts, but Trump’s budget does underscore an important point: Struggling rural communities probably can’t count on Washington, which puts more onus on state governments to intervene.Or not.From our vantage point outside the urban crescent, we naturally disagree with Hinkle’s premise — but he does ask a very good question. Why should state government care what happens in rural Virginia?


Medicaid work requirements could create additional problems in rural

Daily Yonder | Posted on July 26, 2017

The efforts of eight states to enact work requirements for Medicaid recipients could create special problems for rural participants, according to a new study.  Researchers Andrew Schaefer and Jessica Carson at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire found that one in four of potentially impacted Medicaid participants already worked at least part of the previous year or were motivated to work but could not find a job.“As state policymakers consider Medicaid-related work requirements, it is worthwhile to consider the administrative costs of implementing this kind of [work requirement] waiver alongside the benefits of cost savings associated with reducing Medicaid rolls, and the expenses related to increasing the uninsured low income population,” the researchers said. “In both rural and urban places, legislators should consider whether the consequences to families losing health insurance coverage outweigh the relative benefits of enforcing work requirements.” Rural residents participate in Medicaid at a higher rate than metropolitan residents. And rural areas generally have greater unemployment rates or discouraged workers.MaryBeth Musumeci, of the Kaiser Family Foundation, has also studied state-level proposals to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. “The data shows that most Medicaid recipients who can work are already working. There are some additional risks with the work requirements proposals that could complicate the implementation and administration of the program. We’re concerned that many eligible people, especially low and moderate income working people, would fall through the cracks.”


Broadband, maybe small is better

Daily Yonder | Posted on July 26, 2017

When communities sit down to set economic goals, they should expect realistic results. Communities may get excited about attracting data centers, for example, which you can’t entice without high-speed Internet. But data centers don’t require a lot of workers, it’s easy to lose money operating them. On the other hand, such a business could generate other jobs indirectly.


Whitewater Thrills, Chills, and Sills Rejuvenate Iowa Towns

Daily Yonder | Posted on July 26, 2017

In the last six years, three small towns in northeast Iowa have built whitewater courses, creating an unlikely Mecca for paddling and tubing enthusiasts in the Midwest. The projects get credit for helping support local economies and reviving the region’s historical focus on waterways. In all, three towns, the courses run through the middle of downtown, which makes for a unique whitewater experience. “When you’re in the wave, you look up river to the stone bridge and through the waterfalls up river,” says Pollock. “To the right you see the county courthouse clock tower, it’s a really beautiful view.”


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