U.S. Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer says President Trump wants to "modernize" America's trade deals, but this week the Agriculture Department is dusting off an ancient New Deal program to assist farm casualties of his trade policy.
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue on Monday announced $5.9 billion as the first tranche of $12 billion in aid for farmers stung by retaliatory tariffs imposed by China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union. Big commodity producers such as soybean, pork, dairy and wheat farmers will receive $4.7 billion in direct aid from the Commodity Credit Corporation, a 1930s program whose time has come again. The handouts are intended to mollify farmers in Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana before the November election.
The Agricultural Marketing Service will also buy $1.2 billion in 30 or so nut, vegetable and fruit crops to distribute through government welfare programs and food pantries. Purchases will supposedly be based on "an economic analysis of the damage" caused by retaliatory tariffs, but members of Congress have been lobbying for farmers in their district.
Oh, and tough luck for fisheries, vintners and producers of maple syrup, mustard, strawberry jam and tomato sauce, which have also been hit with tariffs. They don't qualify for either program.
Farm income nationwide is at a 12-year low due in part to soaring global production, and Chinese retaliatory tariffs have made U.S. producers less competitive while further dampening prices. Farmers fear that trade partners will begin sourcing supply from elsewhere and won't reverse course even if trade tensions subside.
A Commerce report on Tuesday showed that food, feed and beverage exports plunged 6.7% in July. California farmers last month reported that $2 billion in annual exports had been affected by retaliatory tariffs with almond shipments to China and Hong Kong falling by nearly 50% in June. Meantime, taxpayers are getting hit twice — first as consumers by the Trump Administration's tariffs and then as financiers to mitigate the political damage.
— The Wall Street Journal
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Metro-North Railroad blames an engineer for operating a train erratically and falling asleep at the controls, causing a crash that killed four passengers and injuring dozens of others in December 2013.
Experts say if certain technology had been installed as promised, the accident would have been prevented.
Yet Metro-North and many others in the rail industry have still not completed those upgrades and could, in fact, miss another deadline.
Experts say implementing GPS-related technology — including wireless radio and computers to monitor train positions — could greatly reduce the chances of accidents across the country. More to the point, the National Transportation Safety Board has said if such a system were in place, it would have prevented this particular derailment in the Bronx.
As these legal matters play out, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Railroad, is under a deadline to improve its technology — a deadline that has been extended before by Congress. So-called "positive train control" can slow down or stop a train as a fail-safe against engineer error. The industry is supposed to have new safety equipment in place by the end of the year, but the semantics become important here. Congress, which has made its own mistakes in this process, is being overly generous again. If railroads can show they have the equipment installed and employees trained and meet some other criteria, they get another two years to fully activate the system.
Remember that it was in 2008 when Congress mandated all railroads install the system by 2015. That deadline now will be 2020, at least in some cases. And, as recently reported in the Journal, once positive train control is up and running, there likely will be initial schedule issues and perhaps longer trips as the system gets worked out. All the more reason to expedite this process - one that is about a half decade behind schedule and has inspired absolutely no confidence to date.
— The Poughkeepsie Journal
We nostalgically remember the days — about two years ago — when the Environmental Protection Agency worked diligently to protect our environment for the benefit of our long-term health.
But while most of us were absorbed this past week with trials and plea deals for those closely connected to President Trump, the EPA was announcing the Affordable Clean Energy rule to overhaul the pollution restrictions on coal-burning power plants.
The Trump administration says the new rules will create new jobs and eliminate burdensome regulations, but EPA research reveals the new rules could lead to as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030, up to 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems, a rise in bronchitis and tens of thousands of missed school days.
"Short-term morbidity endpoints mean EPA expects more people to die prematurely from breathing sulfur dioxide," said the Adirondack Council's Executive Director Willie Janeway in a written statement. "That's a pretty casual way to talk about letting people die from preventable diseases."
The Clean Power Plan would have required 32 percent cuts in carbon dioxide from power plants by 2030. The plan enacted this past week contains a 1.5 percent cut in pollutants.
The Adirondack Council, the Adirondack Park's largest environmental organization, condemned the new rule for its failure to protect the Adirondacks from climate change while hindering its recovery from decades of acid rain.
If you thought the acid rain problem in the Adirondacks had been rectified, think again.
According to the Adirondack Council, pollution cuts since 1995 have helped some Adirondack lakes and ponds to recover, but others will take centuries to regain their health at current emission rates.
— The Post-Star