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Prairie dog endangered-species plan eases rules under Trump

The Salt Lake Tribune | Posted on January 17, 2018

Wildlife managers under the Trump administration are moving to loosen endangered-species protections for Utah prairie dogs, flipping the script in a long-running conflict over federal policies in a town where residents say they’re overrun by the creatures.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan would allow prairie dogs to be killed or removed from private property more often, relaxing regulations designed to protect the species.

US Supreme Court Won't Hear Prairie Dog Protections Lawsuit

US News and World Report | Posted on January 17, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from Utah property owners challenging endangered-species protections for prairie dogs, but the plaintiffs say the case has nevertheless made a mark as the Trump administration moves to loosen the rules.The lawsuit was a key driver of the new federal plan that would make it easier to remove or kill prairie dogs when they interfere with development of homes and business, lawyers for the residents of the southwestern city of Cedar City said Monday.

Nearly all members of National Park Service advisory panel resign in frustration

The Washington Post | Posted on January 17, 2018

More than three-quarters of the members of a federally chartered board advising the National Park Service have quit out of frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year. The resignation of 10 out of 12 National Park System Advisory Board members leaves the federal government without a functioning body to designate national historic or natural landmarks. It also underscores the extent to which federal advisory bodies have become marginalized under the Trump administration. In May 2017, Zinke suspended all outside committees while his staff reviewed their composition and work. In a letter to the secretary on Monday, departing board chairman Tony Knowles, a former Alaska governor, wrote that he and eight other members “have stood by waiting for the chance to meet and continue the partnership . . . as prescribed by law.” All of the signatories, who serve as unpaid volunteers, had terms set to expire in May.,

Interior plans to move thousands of workers in the biggest reorganization in its history

The Washington Post | Posted on January 16, 2018

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.

FCC uses bogus data to show big increases in broadband access

Daily Yonder | Posted on January 11, 2018

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.

USDA Asks What Regulations to Cut

DTN | Posted on January 11, 2018

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.

Report from Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity

USDA | Posted on January 11, 2018

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

NAFTA- Recent Developments as President Trump Addresses AFBF Members on Monday

Farm Policy News | Posted on January 11, 2018

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.

Slower speeds, less access: the public agency response to rural broadband

Daily Yonder | Posted on January 10, 2018

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.


Agriculture firms warn of unintended impact of tax law

Wall Street Journal | Posted on January 10, 2018

 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.