FarmPolicy

August 21, 2019

Ag-Rural Economy; “Green” Jobs- Climate Issues; and Chairman Lincoln

Ag-Rural Economy

Shaila Dewan reported in today’s New York Times that, “In August, [John Hart, a farmer in the hills just east of the Mississippi Delta, and other Southern farmers] thought they had a bumper crop — the best they had seen in years. It was the kind of crop that could put you ahead, for once. Pay off that combine.

But just as the harvest began in September, it began to rain, and it kept raining through October, normally one of the driest months here. The soybeans shriveled and blackened with mold. The rice keeled over into the mud. The cotton hardened into tight little spitballs. The sweet potatoes rotted underground. When the combines could get into the fields, they scarred them with deep ruts that will make next year’s planting more expensive.

“Last year, with commodity prices running at record highs, farming across the nation seemed to be bucking the recession. This year, with the rest of the country in a slow recovery from a man-made disaster, nature forced a crash of its own in the South.

“‘I was counting my money until September,’ Mr. Hart said. ‘I don’t know whether I’m going to be able to farm another year or not.’”

The Times article explained that, “The rain has affected farmers in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, eastern Arkansas and parts of Louisiana. Mississippi and Georgia have requested disaster declarations from the United States Department of Agriculture, and Alabama is likely to follow suit. But help from Washington, in the form of low-interest loans, often takes a year or more to reach the farmers who need it.

“Lester Spell Jr., the Mississippi commissioner of agriculture and commerce, has asked Congress and the Agriculture Department to speed up the process, saying in a news release, ‘I fear many of our hardworking Mississippi farmers will no longer be able to operate due to the excessive losses faced this year.’

“Mr. Spell cited losses of more than 40 percent of the state’s soybean crop, almost 50 percent of the cotton and more than 60 percent of the sweet potatoes.”

A related news release from Friday, issued by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas), indicated that, “[Senator Lincoln] today joined U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee in introducing legislation that would provide timely disaster assistance to farmers affected by this fall’s heavy rains, floods and other weather-related disasters. U.S. Representative Marion Berry, Ark.-01, plans to introduce companion legislation.

“‘Arkansas farmers, like so many producers across the country, have experienced unusually heavy rainfall this year, damaging crops and making it nearly impossible to harvest what little is left standing,’ Chairman Lincoln said. ‘Weather conditions have left many of our state’s hard-working farmers unsure if their operations will survive another year. In these difficult economic times, this measure will help ensure our farmers can continue to meet our food and fiber needs while providing much-needed economic strength to our rural communities.’”

The news item stated that, “The measure would ensure that producers receive relief in a timely manner by providing an estimated $1.3 billion in direct payment assistance to producers in counties declared ‘primary’ disaster areas by USDA. Direct payments, rather than payments from the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), are utilized because SURE is not expected to be available until January 2011. Farmers would not receive relief in time for them to plant the next crop. To date, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated more than half of Arkansas’s counties as primary natural disaster areas.”

Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee will be holding a field hearing today in Little Rock, Arkansas titled, “Revitalizing Rural America.”

Among the three panels of witnesses to present testimony at today’s hearing, one will focus on issues related to production agriculture, this panel is titled, “Production Agriculture’s Role in the Rural Economy.”

In related news regarding portions of the U.S. rural economy, Steve Jordon reported in Saturday’s Omaha World-Herald that, “Significant economic weakness remains in the rural Midwest, a survey of small-town bankers in 11 states indicates, although the resulting index improved for the third straight month.

The survey by Creighton University economist Ernie Goss indicates that job losses continue and that home sales and retail sales are still weak. Also, bankers in the survey were somewhat less optimistic about the economy’s performance six months from now than they were in October.

“‘The decline in farm income related to pullbacks in agricultural commodities from last year continues to weigh on the rural, agriculturally dependent economy,’ Goss said.”

“Green” Jobs-Climate Issues

Some proponents of climate change legislation have argued that passing and implementing a climate related bill could spur “green” job creation that could potentially assist some aspects of the U.S. rural economy.

In related news on this subject, Philip Brasher and Donnelle Eller reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “When the Pella Corp. closed its local factory last year, Story City looked to the booming wind industry to replace some of the nearly 250 lost jobs.

“In came NextEra Energy Resources, which agreed to invest $20 million in a facility at Story City to repair generators for the company’s wind turbines in Iowa and other states. The number of jobs NextEra will create – 25 – represents only one-tenth of what was lost when Pella left.

Green jobs are helping cities such as Story City replace lost jobs and diversify local economies. Ranking 12th nationally, Iowa saw a 26.1 percent spike in green jobs from 1998 to 2007, with a large boost from the state’s biofuels industry.”

The Register article stated that, “But the number of green jobs in Iowa still represents only a tiny fraction of the state’s work force, and it’s not clear whether the potential growth will ever be large enough to be a major factor in the state’s employment, experts say. The list of reasons include:

“Green jobs have been heavily dependent on government policy… The potential for some green jobs, especially in biofuels, is dependent on technologies and processes that haven’t proved economical… There’s evidence the slow economy is discouraging investors from launching new projects…and… Green jobs also come at a cost to state and local governments, which also face economic squeezes.”

Yesterday’s Register article noted that, “Businesses involved in wind, solar power and other new forms of alternative energy almost by definition need relatively few workers for the amount of money invested, said David Swenson, an Iowa State University economist.

“‘What makes something green is an incredible investment in capital and technology and relatively little labor per dollar of investment,’ he said. ‘We’re basically substituting lots and lots of technology for greenhouse gas-consuming industries.’”

Patrice Hill reported in today’s Washington Times that, “‘Green energy’ is proving to be no miracle solution to the nation’s monumental unemployment problems, and it is doing little to help the economy emerge from its deepest recession in decades, economists say.

“A large part of the $786 billion stimulus bill was devoted to green or renewable energy projects, with President Obama, Democratic legislators and their environmental allies repeatedly promising that the money would be used to create an army of home weatherizers, wind-turbine factory jobs and other employment opportunities that would help put to work the nearly 8 million people who have lost jobs during the recession.”

Today’s article added that, “‘This is not the spark’ that will pull the economy out of recession and put it in a lasting expansion that creates millions of jobs, said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University. ‘This is not the solution to the current big unemployment problem.’

Green-energy industries other than wind and hydropower remain mostly in the experimental stages and are not proven enough technologically or economically to be instrumental in pulling the economy out of recession and putting millions of people to work like the Internet boom of the 1990s or the housing boom of the early 2000s, he said.

“‘We need to put 7.3 million people back to work, and none of these ideas can make a dent of more than a few hundred thousand at best, and then after only a long gestation time,’ Mr. Dhawan said.”

Meanwhile, Colin Miner reported on Friday at The Green Inc. Blog (The New York Times) that, “Building green could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the economy, according to a new report released by the United States Green Building Council.

“The study, conducted by consultants Booz Allen Hamilton, predicts that over the next four years, green building practices will create 7.9 million jobs and contribute $554 billion to the gross domestic product of the United States.”

Friday’s Green Inc. update indicated that, “The study argued that the terms ‘green jobs’ and ‘green collar jobs’ are not well defined, and are often limited to professions such as wind turbine designers and architects.

Its own employment estimate, the study stated, includes everyone ‘from the architects who designed the building to the construction laborers who poured the building’s foundation.’

“In figuring out the estimated impact on the gross domestic product of the United States, the study included the direct effects, which includes the contractor who built the building; the indirect effects, such as the companies who provide the supplies to the contractor; and the induced effects, such as when an employee of the supplier uses ‘their additional income from green construction spending to purchase products and services.’”

Tiffany Hsu reported in last week’s Los Angeles Times that, “President Obama has said that he hopes to create 5 million green jobs within a decade. The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that the ‘green economy’ could account for as much as 10% of job growth over the next 30 years.

“The job description casts a wide net. The green ranks can include autoworkers making hybrid cars, building consultants, home energy auditors, environmental studies professors, wind turbine engineers, lawyers for biofuel companies and many more.

“Some will be new positions; others will involve workers from traditional industries tweaking their former skills.”

The LA Times article noted that, “Even before the recession, the green-jobs market was growing at a faster pace than overall employment in most states, with California leading the trend, experts say. The growth rate of green jobs nationwide was 9.1% from 1998 to 2007, compared with a 3.7% increase for all jobs during the same period, according to a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.”

The article also stated that, “Green positions run from the predictable, such as eco-activism work, to more unconventional careers.

“‘Nobody really knows what green jobs are anyway,’ said Tom Savage, a managing partner at Bright Green Talent, a job-search firm in San Francisco. ‘There’s a whole gradient of color between the greenest jobs and the non-green. But it’s more important to get excited that more jobs are greening in general.’”

In other news relating to climate and energy issues, and the potential for jobs, Joe Ruff reported in yesterday’s Omaha World-Herald that, “People listening to policymakers debate the nation’s energy future might think: Just erect a lot of wind turbines, and problem solved. Or install a bunch of solar panels, and let the sun do the work.

But renewable energy alternatives present costs and challenges just like traditional energy sources — coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydropower.”

Yesterday’s article stated that, “Many sources of energy, in fact, are likely to play decades-long roles in generating the power needed to bring reliable, cost-effective electricity to homes and businesses, according to utility executives in Nebraska and Iowa.”

In other climate related news developments, Reuters writer Richard Cowan reported on Friday that, “The Obama administration wants a comprehensive plan to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, not one that imposes carbon reduction requirements on just some industries such as electric utilities, a senior White House adviser said on Friday.

“White House climate change adviser Carol Browner told an American Council on Renewable Energy forum that the administration is seeking ‘an economy-wide approach’ to reining in carbon dioxide emissions.

“She was responding to a question from her audience after a speech that mainly focused on steps the Obama administration already has taken to reduce carbon emissions and the need for domestic and international steps over the long-term.”

The Reuters article pointed out that, “Several senators from heavy manufacturing states worry that a comprehensive climate change bill would encourage more companies to relocate abroad to skirt new U.S. pollution controls, meaning further job losses in an economy that has been reeling from severe unemployment.

Some moderate Senate Democrats who do not want to vote on climate legislation next year, a congressional election year, instead want to advance an energy bill. Already approved by a key Senate panel, that measure would expand alternative energy use, invest in new energy technology and improve the U.S. electricity transmission grid.”

Alex Kaplun of Greenwire reported on Friday at The New York Times Online that, “Republican senators in Washington are not the only ones that are overwhelmingly opposing efforts to move a cap-and-trade bill, as the next wave of potential GOP officeholders has near-unanimously come out against the legislation.

In fact, there are virtually no major Republican Senate candidates running for office in 2010 that are in favor of the cap-and-trade climate bill.

“That Republicans in solidly conservative states would run on anti-cap-and-trade platforms comes as no surprise. But the current crop of GOP candidates is primarily running in states that voted for President Obama last year and those states are seen as being somewhere between swing and solidly Democratic.”

Friday’s article added that, “Certainly, experts say, the climate change issue still sits well behind health care and perhaps the stimulus bill on the list of hot-button issues for GOP activists and candidates. But they say it has also become part of a litmus for GOP candidates and those who had previously supported such a policy have had trouble selling their candidacy to the conservative voters.”

In editorial opinion regarding climate change, The New York Times editorial board noted yesterday that, “What the United States can do is assume responsibility for its own emissions, and this the Senate has manifestly failed to do.

“It is asking a lot of the Senate to address health care and climate change at the same time, although the House managed to do both. It is also true that a preoccupied White House has applied almost no pressure. But the indecisiveness of the Senate’s Democratic leaders is worrisome, as is the Republicans’ reflexive and virtually unanimous hostility to anything that challenges the way this country produces and uses energy.”

After additional analysis, the Times editorial concluded by saying, “Though there is no chance the Senate will produce a bill in the next three weeks, we have a modest suggestion. That is for Mr. Obama to appear quickly and publicly with Ms. Boxer, Mr. Bingaman, Mr. Reid, and climate stalwarts like John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham (a Republican outlier) and announce that climate change will be an early order of business next year and that he will not rest until he gets a bill.”

Chairman Lincoln

Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln’s vote on health care reform, as well as her prospects for re-election, was the subject of several recent news articles.

Emily Pierce and John Stanton reported on Saturday at Roll Call Online that, “Senate Democrats and Republicans were left shaking their heads Saturday at Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (Ark.) decision to be the last Democrat to declare her intentions on Saturday night’s major health care reform vote.

“Facing a tough 2010 re-election fight back home, Lincoln was one of three centrist Democrats who withheld their votes on starting the health care debate until shortly before the vote. However, by waiting until after both Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (La.) declared, Lincoln arguably became the decisive vote that put the Democratic bill over the top. Of the three, Lincoln is the only one up for re-election next year.”

The Roll Call article added that, “A Zogby poll released last week showed the two-term Democrat narrowly besting her largely unknown GOP opponent 41 percent to 39 percent, with 18 percent undecided. Her support dropped 4 points when Zogby asked whether Arkansans would vote for her if she supported health care reform.”

Mark Z. Barabak reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “As one of the few senators undecided on healthcare reform, Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln faces a huge headache. Liberals attack her as an obstructionist, even though she cast a key vote keeping the effort alive. Republicans are lining up to run against her — seven, so far, and counting.”

Carl Hulse reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “Of the swing-state Democrats struggling with the health care issue, Mrs. Lincoln, a 49-year-old mother of twins who is married to a physician, is one of the few set to be on the ballot next year. Republicans are lining up to oppose her in a state where President Obama performed badly in the 2008 election.

“Mrs. Lincoln was the Democrat whose vote on opening the debate was most in doubt, though most expected that she would ultimately side with her Democratic colleagues.”

Manu Raju and Chris Frates reported yesterday at Politico.com that, “Lincoln is one of the few swing-vote senators on health reform who is up for reelection next year. Since last year, her approval rating back home has dropped 11 points and now stands at 43 percent, 1 percentage point above Obama’s in the state, according to a University of Arkansas poll released earlier this month.”

Keith Good

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