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Rural News

Still Waiting for FEMA in Texas and Florida After Hurricanes

The New York Times | Posted on October 25, 2017

According to interviews with dozens of storm victims, one of the busiest hurricane seasons in years has overwhelmed federal disaster officials. As a result, the government’s response in the two biggest affected states — Texas and Florida — has been scattershot: effective in dealing with immediate needs, but unreliable and at times inadequate in handling the aftermath, as thousands of people face unusually long delays in getting basic disaster assistance. FEMA has taken weeks to inspect damaged homes and apartments, delaying flood victims’ attempts to rebuild their lives and properties. People who call the agency’s help line at 1-800-621-FEMA have waited on hold for two, three or four hours before they even speak to a FEMA representative.Nearly two months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25, and six weeks after Hurricane Irma hit Florida on Sept. 10, residents are still waiting for FEMA payments, still fuming after the agency denied their applications for assistance and still trying to resolve glitches and disputes that have slowed and complicated their ability to receive federal aid. One of the most significant problems FEMA has had in Texas and Florida is the backlog in getting damaged properties inspected. Contract inspectors paid by the agency must first inspect and verify the damage in order for residents to be approved for thousands of dollars in aid. FEMA does not have enough inspectors to reduce the backlog, and the average wait for an inspection is 45 days in Texas and about a month in Florida, agency officials said.

In Congress, an effort to curtail national monuments

High Country News | Posted on October 25, 2017

On Oct. 11, the House Natural Resources Committee approved a proposal from its chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to overhaul the Antiquities Act. Bishop’s “National Monument Creation and Protection Act” would severely constrain the power of the president to designate national monuments. It would limit the size of monuments a president could designate as well as the kinds of places protected. The 1906 Antiquities Act allows a president to act swiftly to protect federal lands facing imminent threats without legislation getting bogged down in Congress. Many popular areas, including Zion, Bryce and Arches national parks in Bishop’s home state, were first protected this way. Under Bishop’s legislation, any proposal for a monument larger than 640 acres — one square mile — would be subject to a review process: Areas up to 10,000 acres would be subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act, while those between 10,000 and 85,000 acres would require approval from state and local government. The bill would allow emergency declarations, but they would expire after a year without congressional approval. It would also codify the president’s power to modify monuments — a power that has been contested in light of the Interior Department’s recent recommendations that President Donald Trump reduce the size of several monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. 

US manufacturing growth rate at a 13 year high

Global Manufacturing | Posted on October 23, 2017

The US manufacturing industry grew at the fastest pace in 13 years last month according to new statistics from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM). 17 of 18 sectors within the manufacturing industry reported growth within the month of September, with only furniture makers showing a decline.

Bill banning use of performing elephants passes both houses of NY legislature

New York State Senate | Posted on October 23, 2017

The bill was passed by the Senate on May 23rd by a unanimous vote of 62-0. The Assembly version of the bill, A464B, sponsored by Assemblywoman Paulin, was passed on June 6th by a vote of 56-6, and is now set to be delivered to Governor Cuomo.

Indiana's largest solar project moving forward on 800 acres

Perry County News | Posted on October 23, 2017

While not set in stone, the odds of Spencer County becoming home to the state’s largest solar project are about as good as they can be following a productive meeting between the county council and representatives from Orion Renewable Energy Group. The project, operating under the name Troy Solar LLC, would see a massive investment in solar panels on 800 acres of leased farmland between the communities of Troy and New Boston along Indiana 545. At a Sept. 19 meeting, the council agreed to move forward on designating the selected farmland, which local property owners are leasing to Orion Renewables for the project, as an Economic Revitalization Area. A public hearing on this matter, as well as proposed abatements to expedite construction, was conducted Monday evening with Justin Wolf of Orion Renewables and legal representative for the project Eric Schue making their case for Troy Solar.The proposal has changed, somewhat since the last meeting. Wolf explained that the solar market has been shaken somewhat by the expectation that new tariffs will be levied on imported solar panels, owing to a trade case brought by a number of American manufacturers. Though not yet settled one way or another, companies are factoring in those tariffs in their decisions, buying up panels and reducing available stock.
While there is some fear in the industry that many projects will be put on hold due to this federal action, Wolf explained that the proposed project north of Troy should not be among them. Instead, the expected completion date for Phase 1 has merely been pushed back to 2021. Anticipated equipment shortages have also pushed the upper range of the project’s first phase up about $10 million, with the costs projected anywhere from $50 to $80 million. This is a sizable shift to be sure, but one Wolf believed would not overcome the market forces behind the push for new solar power.

The Influence of Food Store Access on Grocery Shopping and Food Spending

USDA | Posted on October 23, 2017

Six percent of U.S. households are access-burdened: they do not use their own vehicle to travel to the store for groceries and live more than 0.5 mile from the nearest SNAP-authorized supermarket or superstore (SM/SS), which we use to proxy the nearest source of healthy and affordable food. Further analysis showed that: • Seventy-seven percent of access-burdened households reported a shopping event at a supermarket, superstore, large grocery store, or warehouse store during the survey week compared to 87 percent for households with sufficient access. Of those who visited these large stores during the survey week, sufficient-access households had 2.8 shopping events at such a store, while access-burdened households averaged 2.4 shopping events. • Although they average fewer trips, access-burdened households spend almost the same percentage of their weekly food expenditures at large stores as households with sufficient access—57 percent of total spending for access-burdened households and 58 percent for sufficient-access households.The per capita spending of access-burdened households at such stores is slightly lower—$28.77 on average for the survey week compared with $29.97 for households United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Economic Information Bulletin Number 180 October 2017 The Influence of Foodstore Access on Grocery Shopping and Food Spending Michele Ver Ploeg Elizabeth Larimore Parke Wilde Summary with sufficient access. These findings suggest that access-burdened households overcome limited food retail options to spend similarly to sufficient-access households at large stores. Access-burdened households have a median monthly income of $1,240 compared to $4,388 for sufficientaccess households, which may account for some of the differences in spending patterns at restaurants and other types of stores.

Thousands of jobs depend on the wine industry’s uncertain recovery from fires

The Atlantic | Posted on October 23, 2017

When the winemaker Jean Hoefliger arrived at his small Napa Valley winery at 3:30 a.m. on October 9, the morning the Northern California fires broke out, he had a multimillion-dollar business decision to make. Two fires on opposite sides of the valley tore down the hillsides toward nearly $14 million worth of unpicked, almost-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon grapes at some of the vineyards scattered across the valley that supply or are owned by Alpha Omega Winery, where Hoefliger is the head winemaker. Smoke plumed high overhead, snowing ash down on what are Alpha Omega’s most valuable grapes.* That morning, Hoefliger faced a simple question: to pick, or not to pick?It’s a question countless other winemakers across Napa and its wine-producing neighbors, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, have had to answer as deadly wildfires carry on throughout the region for a second week. As he stood near rows of grapes, I asked Regalia how much his grapes had been affected by the smoke. He said he didn’t know, but that his dog Arlo, a yellow lab who followed us around the winery and regularly eats mouthfuls of grapes off the crush-facility conveyor belt, may be the best judge. “He usually loves Malbec and Grenache,” Regalia said. “But I tried to give him some the other day and he spit them right out.”

California fires cause $1B in damage, burn 7,000 buildings

Providence Journal | Posted on October 20, 2017

The wildfires that have devastated Northern California this month caused at least $1 billion in damage to insured property, officials said Thursday, as authorities increased the count of homes and other buildings destroyed to nearly 7,000. Both numbers were expected to rise as crews continued assessing areas scorched by the blazes that killed 42 people, a total that makes it the deadliest series of fires in state history.

3 Kansas sites considered for Tyson poultry complex

Watt Ag Net | Posted on October 20, 2017

Three Kansas communities have been identified as possible sites for a new Tyson Foods broiler complex that was originally planned for the Leavenworth County community of Tonganoxie, in the northeastern part of the state. Those communities have been identified by regional media outlets as Cloud County, in north-central Kansas; Sedgwick County, in south-central Kansas; and Montgomery County, in southeastern Kansas.Tyson Foods on September 5 announced that it would build a $320 million facility in Tonganoxie that would include a poultry processing plant with a capacity to process 1.25 million birds per week, a feed mill and a hatchery.

Michigan announces formation of the Michigan Cleaner Lake Erie through Action and Research Partnership

Michigan Government | Posted on October 20, 2017

Michigan leaders today announced formation of a unique new coalition working to improve water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin. The Michigan Cleaner Lake Erie through Action and Research (MI CLEAR) Partnership includes farmers, agricultural and environmental leaders, universities, conservationists, landscape professionals, energy leaders, tourism and economic development interests, and more. Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Jamie Clover Adams said she was encouraged to call the diverse membership to the table as a new way to tackle the ongoing water quality challenges affecting the basin.“Our mission is to improve the water quality of the Western Lake Erie Basin through open discussion among regional leaders that brings a coordinated perspective to existing efforts,” Clover Adams said. “We will drive support for research that builds understanding of the science around water quality issues, and promote actions that bring long-term, meaningful change.” The MDARD Director said many members of this group already met once in August.