Rural households across the United States spend a disproportionately high share of their income on energy bills — about 40 percent more than their metropolitan counterparts, according to a new report released today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) coalition. The problem is most glaring in the East and Southeast, and among low-income households across all regions. Overall, rural households have a median energy burden — the percentage of a household’s income spent on home energy bills for needs such as air conditioning, heating, lighting, appliances, and cooking — of 4.4 percent, which is one-third higher than the national burden. Those with low incomes have a median energy burden of 9 percent, which is almost three times that of higher-income counterparts. In several rural regions, this burden exceeds 15 percent for one of every four low-income households.
In cities we know how to keep houses from burning. We have to relearn that in areas where human developments mingle with forests. It will need to be a local task, not just a federal one. So far, the 2018 fire season has produced a handful of big fires in California, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado; conflagrations in Oklahoma and Kansas; and a fire bust in Alaska, along with garden-variety wildfires from Florida to Oregon. Some of those fires are in rural areas, some are in wildlands, and a few are in exurbs. Every major fire rekindles another round of commentaries about “America’s wildfire problem.” But the fact is that our nation does not have a fire problem. It has many fire problems, and they require different strategies. Some problem fires have technical solutions, some demand cultural calls. All are political.
When Massachusetts and Kentucky residents from politically polar-opposite regions met, it was “love at first sight.” Led by Paula Green, who has led “conflict transformation” efforts for decades in Bosnia, Rwanda and other trouble spots around the world, Hands Across the Hills has included more than a dozen hours of direct dialogue — last October in Leverett and then in April in Whitesburg, Ky. The exchange included home stays with participants and a “show and tell” of the cultural treasures of each group — like a visit to a Hazard County coal mine and a bakery to rehabilitate former inmates in the community. The dialogues, deeply personal and direct, featured one Kentucky woman’s emotional sharing regret over an abortion she’d experienced and stories of family members who’d died in mining accidents, while some Leverett members recounted stories of relatives who had died in or fled the European Holocaust — the first immigrant stories some Kentucky guests had encountered. There were also stark differences, such as those over guns, and, of course, disagreements about Trump.
“I had always said if there’s a woman who runs for president, I don’t care who she is, I’m voting for her,” said one Letcher County woman. But Hillary Clinton “shot herself in the foot” with her comment on the campaign trail promising to “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” What seemed to matter more, though, were bonds over the opioid crisis in both regions, over the hopelessness among young people and the future of a nation where even observable facts themselves are contested.
An active summer pattern continued over the central and northern Plains and into the upper Midwest, with several areas seeing well above normal precipitation associated with thunderstorms. Along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, precipitation was plentiful and widespread as ample moisture continued to be transported into the region. The precipitation along the Gulf also helped to keep temperatures 1-3 degrees cooler than normal for this time of year. Some monsoon activity started up in the Southwest with some scattered precipitation while most of the rest of the West remained warm and dry with an increase in fire danger and active fires throughout the region.
Squabbles over a government contract may prevent low-income families from having easy access to farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. At issue: The ability of low-income Americans on government assistance to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to buy food at farmers’ markets. Farmers’ markets have to be equipped to accept the EBT cards. If markets are not able to operate devices that can handle EBT payments, vendors must use manual paper vouchers instead. Congress has approved $4 million each year so the USDA can provide EBT equipment to markets and farmers, the USDA said. It previously worked with a third-party technology company called Novo Dia. But in November 2017 their agreement ended and, as of this month, they won’t provide support to the markets that used their technology. “The Food and Nutrition Service was recently informed by a major provider of mobile EBT technology for farmers’ markets and farm stands that it will discontinue this service,” Brandon Lipps, the administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service, which is part of the USDA, said in a statement. “With few providers in this marketplace, this is of great concern. Farmers’ markets play an important role in providing Americans with access to nutritious foods.”
The consequences of America’s swelling wildfire problem are traveling well beyond blackened, ashy forests. They're now tainting the air in cities and towns over vast regions of the western U.S. Since the mid-1980s, fine bits of air pollution that have been repeatedly linked to heart and lung diseases have diminished in a good portion of the United States — except in an expansive zone of the western part of the country. In this region, which extends north from Utah to Montana and west from Oregon to Wyoming, the most polluted days — when the air quality is at its most harmful — are getting even worse.
Missouri — long the easiest state in the nation for 15-year-olds to wed — has outlawed the practice. Gov. Mike Parson on Friday signed into law Senate Bill 655. Before, Missouri was one of 25 states with no minimum marriage age. And Missouri was the only state that allowed children age 15 to marry with only one parent’s approval, even if the other parent objected. Children younger than 15 needed a judge’s approval.
Wisconsin farms use and dispose of hundreds to thousands of pounds of plastic items each year, but only a small portion of it is accepted by many recycling centers. That is why Revolution Plastics has stepped up to accept agriculture plastics like silage bags, bale wraps and oxygen barriers that other recycling centers are unable to. "Ag plastics used on Wisconsin dairy farms come covered in silage, mud and sometimes manure." said Price Murphy, director of operations for Revolution Plastics. "Feed, in particular, leaves distinct aroma on the plastics that is hard to get out. So, many recycling centers just don't have the technology to clean these plastics, but we do." Revolution Plastics is a nationwide business with a chapter in Madison that collects those hard-to-clean agriculture plastics and re-purposes them as trash liners or other products for restaurants or hospitality businesses.
Governor Scott announced that more than $1.6 million has been awarded to support projects in rural communities across the state. This grant funding was provided through the Rural Infrastructure Fund to help with the planning, preparation and financing of infrastructure projects in rural communities. These projects will result in job creation, capital investment and the strengthening and diversification of Florida’s rural economies. During Gov. Scott’s time in office, every county has had a decrease in unemployment and every region in Florida has experienced job growth.
Massachusetts, like the rest of the country, is experiencing growing disparity between rural and urban centers.To reverse this trend, Massachusetts requires a rural strategy for economic growth. We must do more to attract investment that retains and expands existing jobs, stimulates the creation of new jobs and attracts new business and industry in these parts of the commonwealth. Between 2010 and 2017, the nation’s population grew by some 17 million people. But while cities grew, it was the first extended period on record with population decline in rural areas as a whole.The same was true in Massachusetts. Between 2010 and 2017, the population of the commonwealth grew by some 312,000 people, while the population fell in three of our most rural counties: Berkshire, Franklin and Barnstable.As elected officials representing rural western Massachusetts, we’ve worked together to reverse this trajectory. Specifically, we’ve fought to bring high-speed internet and improved rural transportation to the region as well as links to regional economic centers. We’ve worked to bring more money to our rural schools. And, we’ve supported our regional employment boards and a middle skills manufacturing initiative, which trains people in our region the skills they’ll need to get jobs in advanced manufacturing firms.But there is more we can do.We have introduced the Rural Jobs Act for Massachusetts. This legislation is aimed at attracting private capital investment to the small communities that help make up our commonwealth. This month, the state House of Representatives and Senate are debating an economic development bond bill, and this should be a part of that effort.