Posted March 28, 2017 by Tara Ritter   

Used under creative commons license from lorriemcallister.

An Executive Order issued by President Trump today begins the process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan is the first regulation in the U.S. to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants, but the rule has been stalled in the courts since February 2016. The Executive Order also revokes a requirement to factor climate change into environmental reviews, rescinds the Department of the Interior’s moratorium on new coal mining leases on federal lands, and tosses out the social cost of carbon in evaluating regulations. This is a disastrous setback for addressing climate change and for rural communities across the country that stand to benefit from the rapidly developing clean energy economy.

Climate change is already disproportionately impacting rural communities, which are often economically dependent on agriculture, forestry, fisheries, or other natural resource-based industries. These industries are dependent on the weather, and will become increasingly volatile and risky as climate change worsens. Furthermore, rural communities have higher average poverty rates—18.1 percent compared to the urban poverty rate of 15.1 percent. Lower average incomes in rural areas mean that residents spend a larger percentage of their income on energy costs, which will be exacerbated as climate change leads to more extreme temperatures throughout the year. At the same time, much of the production in the new climate friendly economy will occur in rural areas through renewable energy deployment, reinvigorated local food economies, and other food and fuel production. Rural communities will play an integral role in responding to climate change, and stand to benefit from a climate policy that includes their concerns.

Ignoring the long-term interests of the rural populace that largely voted him into office, Trump filled his cabinet with climate deniers and fossil fuel industry representatives. Rex Tillerson, former ExxonMobil CEO, said during his hearing for Secretary of State that climate science was “inconclusive.” Scott Pruitt, who is heading up the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump and is leading the charge to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, has denied the scientific consensus on human contributions to climate change. Furthermore, as Oklahoma’s attorney general he filed at least twelve lawsuits against environmental protections. And Sonny Perdue, the Secretary of Agriculture pick, has mocked concerns about climate change, writing that those calling for climate action are “so obviously disconnected from reality.”

The deep connections to the fossil fuel industry pervasive throughout the Trump administration makes the Clean Power Plan rollback unsurprising, and guarantees there will be no new climate policy to take its place. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget underscores his desire to wage an all-out assault on climate action. It proposes a 31 percent cut for Environmental Protection Agency funding, nixing funding for Clean Power Plan enactment, climate change research, and international climate change programs. The budget cuts all funding for United Nations climate change initiatives, and for programs supporting research on clean energy technology. On the other end of the spectrum, the proposed budget increases funding for oil and gas drilling on public lands. This vendetta against climate action extends beyond the Clean Power Plan and will have dire consequences worldwide.

The Clean Power Plan is also the basis of the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Trump has frequently threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement—a move that could take years, but is not impossible. Regardless of criticisms that the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement do not go far enough to adequately address the climate crisis, the fact remains that addressing climate change requires global cooperation, and the Paris Agreement is the biggest step forward the global community has taken to date. Repealing the Clean Power Plan and removing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement would undermine global cooperation.

The dismantling of the Clean Power Plan and other federal climate change initiatives presents an imperative opportunity for states to step up on climate action. One of the strengths of the Clean Power Plan was that it left compliance up to the states, allowing each state the flexibility to choose how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many states have already put together compliance plans, and can continue creating and implementing them with or without the Clean Power Plan. Climate change will continue to impact rural people, natural resources and economies if it continues to worsen. Regardless of federal action or inaction over the next four years, states can and must move forward with climate change and clean energy initiatives to create a future that is fair and equitable for all communities. 

Posted March 22, 2017 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Jeremy Vohwinkle.

The assessments of the new healthcare proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from House Republicans and the Trump Administration are rolling in. And they are not good, particularly for farmers and rural Americans. After a firestorm of criticism, Republican lawmakers have made some minor revisions to the initial proposal, but none address the plans’ core weaknesses. The bill is slated to be voted on by the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Health care has long been a major challenge for farm families, with many spouses forced to get off-farm jobs largely to gain access to health care. In an article on the Daily Yonder, Missouri farmer Darvin Bentlage described a common situation for farm families after he suffered a series of health problems without health insurance. “I had to go back and refinance the farm,” he said. “By the time the two years was up, I had run up between $70,000 and $100,000 in hospital bills.”

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that 14 million Americans will lose their health insurance immediately, and another 10 million will lose their insurance over the next 10 years under the new health plan. The plan would substantially cut Medicaid, which had been expanded under the ACA, and reduce the value of tax credits that had allowed more people to buy health insurance. The CBO projects that premiums will rise in the short term, but ultimately become lower by 2026. But there is a downside to those lower premiums. The New York Times reports, “One of the biggest reasons premiums will go down is because insurance will become expensive for older people, causing them to leave the market, improving the risk pool.” In other words, by pushing older people off insurance, premiums become cheaper for everyone else.

Several other assessments point out that older, rural people will get hit with rising costs. The Republican plan offers tax credits primarily based on income with some credits phasing out for those who make over $75,000. But according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the plan doesn’t account for people living in high premium areas. Rural communities tend to have fewer insurers, less competition and ultimately higher premiums. People living in low income, high premium areas will see a sharp rise in premiums. Older people already have the highest premiums, and the plan will give insurers more flexibility to raise premiums on older Americans even further, one of several reasons that AARP opposes the bill.

The Kaiser analysis found, “Generally, people who are older, lower-income, or live in high-premium areas (like Alaska and Arizona) receive larger tax credits under the ACA than they would under the American Health Care Act replacement. Conversely, some people who are younger, higher-income, or live in low-premium areas (like Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Washington) may receive larger assistance under the replacement plan.” This approach would ultimately expand, not reduce, the wealth gap in the U.S.

While some of the outcomes of the Republican plan are murky, one is crystal clear: it will provide significant tax cuts for the wealthy. The plan includes an estimated $883 billion in tax cuts, mostly to the very wealthy. According to the Tax Policy Center, 40% of the tax cuts would go to the highest income 1%. The plan also reduces taxes on health insurers, drug companies and medical device companies.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), who have many members in rural communities around the country, strongly oppose the Republican plan. They are concerned the plan reduces or eliminates funding for immunization programs, childhood lead poisoning prevention, heart disease and stroke prevention and diabetes prevention. “Congress continues to invest the nation’s health resources in a sick care system, while severely scaling back investment in programs that prevent people from getting sick in the first place,” said NACCHO’s Chief of Government Affairs Laura Hanen, MPP. Many of the cuts in the Republican plan, particularly in Medicaid, will likely have to be made up by the states, counties and local governments, says NACCHO.

The National Rural Health Association also has concerns with the Republican plan. NRHA points out that while the ACA had problems, those problems could have been addressed. Under the ACA, a higher percentage of uninsured live in rural areas, rural hospital closures are rising, and rural citizens have a shorter life expectancy and more chronic diseases. The Republican plan does nothing to address these concerns and “is simply not the right prescription for rural Americans.”

Aside from premiums, the Republican plan could reduce access for rural communities to mental health and addiction services. Currently, Medicaid is required under the ACA to cover basic mental health and addiction services. But under the Republican plan, that requirement would be phased out in 2020. A new Center for Disease Control report found that suicide rates continue to be higher in rural areas, at least partially because people have less access to mental health services. As rural America struggles with an epidemic of opioid addiction, the loss of addiction services could put many of these critical programs out of reach. “This would hit rural parts of the United States the hardest, since the ACA allowed treatment providers to expand services in those areas.” says Michael Botticelli, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Republican plan also de-funds Planned Parenthood. The CBO estimates that by cutting access to birth control for women on Medicaid for even a year would increase the number of births by thousands and increase spending by $21 million in the first year and $77 million by 2026. The Daily Yonder reports that is one of several reasons why rural women are particularly vulnerable to service cuts and rising costs under the plan.

Beyond the national health care debate, the challenge of affordable and adequate care for farmers is becoming a priority for farm organizations. In Minnesota, the Land Stewardship Project is actively campaigning for a proposal from Governor Mark Dayton to expand a state health program called MinnesotaCare, designed primarily for low income residents, to allow anyone in the state to buy into the public program. Expanding the program would be particularly helpful to the state’s farmers as farm income has dropped for three straight years, Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson points out. Frederickson writes, “As farm profitability has gone down, individual health insurance market premiums in rural areas and across our state have skyrocketed.”

During the election, President Trump promised “insurance for everybody.” If the bill passes, it will add healthcare to the growing list of broken promises and contradictions that are defining his administration. States are already taking initial steps to offer a better healthcare solution to their people, and they will likely have to do more if the Republican plan goes forward. 

Used under creative commons license from croise.

President Trump’s proposed budget, released last week, includes massive cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a series of other programs important to rural communities. The budget sets benchmarks for major cuts across the board, while increasing defense spending and allocating $1.5 billion to start work on a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is ultimately Congress’ responsibility to write and appropriate money for the nation’s budget, but President Trump’s budget proposal reflects a troubling development of not prioritizing or even understanding farmers and rural communities.

The proposed cuts to the USDA concern discretionary spending and are among the highest of any agency – a 21 percent proposed cut ($4.7 billion). The proposed cuts do not impact mandatory spending programs like farm commodity programs or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); details on mandatory programs will come in May. But the budget does hit programs with discretionary funding like rural development, research and international food aid. The agency heads will have some discretion to determine how the cuts will take place, but because Trump has been so slow to select a USDA Secretary (the last of his cabinet picks), and to get the required information to the Senate Agriculture Committee needed for confirmation hearings to proceed, there was no voice representing farmers or rural communities, many of whom supported Trump, in the writing of his budget.

One of the budget’s targets within the USDA is the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, which supports business development and job opportunities in rural areas (the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture has a good breakdown of those programs). It also eliminates an important rural water and wastewater grant and loan system, and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, which distributes food aid to children living in poverty around the world. The budget cuts USDA’s “statistical capabilities,” which likely refers to the Economic Research Service – an indispensable resource for understanding the agriculture economy. And it proposes to reduce staffing and services in county offices around the country.

The proposed budget received strong criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. Agriculture Committee member Collin Peterson (D-MN) slammed the budget: “it demonstrates a lack of understanding of farm programs and their impact on rural America….Cuts to the water and wastewater loan grant program are wrongly portrayed as duplicative when they are the only ways for small rural communities to update their water systems. County offices are already under-staffed.”

Aside from the USDA, many other programs that effect rural areas are targeted to be slashed or eliminated by President Trump. Rural communities would lose the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, the Weatherization Assistance Program, and support that helps keep rural airports open. The budget would completely eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority – both designed to spur economic developed in some of the most economically depressed parts of the country. The Daily Yonder has a good breakdown of cuts to a number of programs important for rural communities.

Some of the sharpest cuts would be in the Environmental Protection Agency (a 31% cut), which protects the nation’s air, water and public health. The proposed budget eliminates all funding for the Clean Power Plan, an important opportunity for rural communities to lead in the transition toward clean energy. It would also cut resources for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance. The budget would also slash programs focusing on cleaning up the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

Finally, in keeping with the Trump Administration’s denial of global climate change, funding would be eliminated for international climate change programs, including funding for the Green Climate Fund which supports climate projects around the world). On climate change, Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney said, “We’re not spending money on that any more. We consider that to be a waste of your money.” The budget also includes cuts to the United Nations and foreign aid, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID) – which coordinates international food aid programs, most of which is purchased in the U.S.

There are a number of good analyses of the entire budget and related cuts, including by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

President Trump’s first budget was troubling and telling about his priorities. But as Collin Peterson saidin his statement,“The good news is this budget will be ignored, as it should be. I urge the Administration to spend more time in rural America to gain an understanding of how things work.” 

Posted March 16, 2017 by Josh Wise    Karen Hansen-Kuhn

Fair TradeTradeGlobalization

Used under creative commons license from Hector Garcia.

 Vina Del Mar, Chile

As representatives from the Pacific Rim gathered in Vina Del Mar, Chile, this week, the United States was on the sidelines. The death of the US-driven Trans-Pacific Partnership should be a wakeup call that we are paying attention to globalization and demanding a trade regime that works for all people, not just multi-national corporations. Over two hundred of our organizations in 15 countries sent a letter to the negotiators in Chile, telling them that a way forward on trade must reject the principles on which TPP was based. Countries should look to Fair Trade for guidance, and even further to their own domestic policies, for a sustainable way to build the global economy.

The stakes could not be higher. The backlash to corporate led globalization has been sharply felt around the world as Nationalist leaders from Donald Trump to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Narendra Modi in India have risen to power, while others in the EU and around the world are gaining prominence. In this era of growing nationalism, it is time for government trade officials to get back to basics. Instead of first asking how trade agreements can increase trade volumes, lower non-tariff barriers, or harmonize regulations, they should start with the question, “Will a trade agreement improve the quality of life for the people in my country?”

Civil Society has been prolific about what Fair Trade should look like. Fair prices for farmers. Fair treatment of workers. Harmonizing regulations upwards to protect consumers and the environment in all countries. Fair access for all concerns to be heard in negotiations. But even if all the principles of Fair Trade were adhered to, a market based system is always going to create winners and losers. This is a fundamental principle of capitalist economic theory going back to Adam Smith. This is generally accepted because of the assumption that the overall benefit that comes in the form of economic growth and products that should  more efficiently meet consumer demands. But the flip side of the idea that international trade enhances efficiency by increasing overall economic activity, is the fact that it often accelerates the creation of the gap between the winners and the losers.

Smith was explicit in the acknowledgement that markets create inequality. He conceded that society needed to cover “whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without.” That means taking the profits the winners earn from being the most efficient actor in the market place, and redistributing a portion of it to those in need. Indeed, even the cabal of businessmen who conspired to kick farmers off their land and into “more productive industries,” as exposed in one of IATP’s precursor reports, advocated for a form of Universal Basic Income as a safety net for the farmers and workers they were seeking to displace.

Society is much more than economic interactions. We care for one another, using the market as a tool to deliver benefits to all people. The inconvenient truth, however, is that the benefits from trade have not nearly been enough to compensate for concentrated loss through globalization, nor the pace at which new losers from trade are being created. In the US, advocates of Fair Trade have been saying that the Trade Adjustment Assistance program is more like a kind of burial insurance than any kind of real transitional assistance. Retrained workers end up making sometimes only a third of what they made before, if they find work at all. That means greater reliance on social programs, which are being eroded right before our eyes. The GOP bill to replace the Affordable Care Act would result in the loss of health insurance for an estimated 24 million people, and President Trump’s draconian new budget proposal is a far, far cry from caring about those in need.

Winners and losers, of course, aren’t static labels. Many successful entrepreneurs were dependent on the safety net after losing out in previous career bids. At the circus, the safety net is what allows the trapeze artists to take incredible risks and achieve amazing feats. It is an apt metaphor.

To bring it back to the talks in Chile, it appears that countries are eager to at least act like they are moving forward, despite the US’s lack of involvement. The same broad-based civil society movements that opposed TPP are demanding that their governments shake up their thinking and approach trade agreements from an entirely different perspective. None of those groups have ever opposed trade per se, but they have vigorously opposed the rules included in the current set of “free” trade agreements.

As negotiators eye the APEC Summit in May for the next round of talks, we caution simply this: Do not fall into the trap of previous agreements. Put the well-being of all your people above the well-being of a few multinational corporations. If you do expand trade, make sure your domestic policies are adequate to deal with the consequences. Use trade as a tool to improve the quality of life in your country. Your success will hinge on your country’s ability to make trade work for everyone. Your people are paying attention. 

Posted March 9, 2017 by Shefali Sharma   

AgricultureChinaIndustrialized MeatIndustrialized Meat and TradeGlobalization

A few years ago, IATP published four reports on the Global Meat Complex: The China Series. Today, we are pleased to launch the Chinese translation of these reports to contribute to the ongoing debate within China about meat consumption. These reports illustrate China’s path to becoming one of the biggest producers of pork, poultry and dairy and the biggest importer of soy, which is critical for the mass production of food animals. These reports provide an overview of China’s production and trade of meat and feed grains and what these trends mean for China’s food security, its environmental quality and its agriculture. They address the emergence of transnational corporations and how this has dramatically changed the fundamental nature of meat production and trade. The series highlights the consequences of these changes on China’s environment and rural makeup as well as impacts on other parts of the world. 

In introducing the series, we write:

Aside from operating in the U.S., the global meat industry is increasingly interlinked with emerging economies. China and Brazil are now not only big agricultural producers and consumers but they have spawned a new set of agribusinesses that is shaping the global meat complex.

In The Need for Feed: China’s Demand for Industrialized Meat and Its Impacts (Chinese translation/中译版, English version), we examine China’s strategy of “going out” to secure and procure feed grains from Brazil, Eastern Europe and elsewhere—not only soy, but also maize, sorghum and other crops to meet China’s growing appetite for animal feed. In addition to exports, this also entails investing in agriculture infrastructure in other countries. For instance, in 2016, China signed a deal with Brazil for US$1 billion to create an agricultural development investment fund—this will help China gain a stronger foothold in Brazil to facilitate storage, logistics, ports and transfer of feed grains and meat.

In China’s Pork Miracle?: Agribusiness and Development in China’s Pork Industry (Chinese translation/中译版, English version), we analyze China’s emergence as the largest producer and consumer of pork in the world. We examine the government’s policy to support “Dragon Head Enterprises”—large vertically and horizontally integrated agricultural firms—that have since changed the make-up of the global trade of pork. When the Chinese company Shineway acquired Smithfield,the largest pork company in the world, to form WH Group, we predicted that pork imports were soon to come. In 2017, China has become the biggest pork importer in the world, while maintaining its position as the number one producer.

As IATP documents in its forthcoming report on Brazil’s meat and feed grain industry, these changes have in turn led to dramatic shifts in Brazil as well.

In Fair or Fowl? Industrialization of Poultry Production in China (Chinese translation/中译版, English version), we discuss China’s appetite for poultry, the food safety scandals linked to it and the role of transnational corporations that help drive both production and consumption. Central to this analysis is the understanding that growing demand for meat is not inevitable but that the industry and its financiers have also helped market and generate demand among the wealthier middle class in China.

Finally, in China’s Dairy Dilemma: The Evolution and Future Trends of China’s Dairy Industry (Chinese translation/中译版, English version), we track China’s evolution from a largely lactose intolerant society with little domestic dairy production to becoming a dairy giant. Chinese companies today produce vast quantities of raw milk for an urban population thirsty for milk. Yet, since the 2008 melamine chemical poisoning scandal, Chinese companies have also acquired ranches and facilities in New Zealand and Australia to cater to a population that now prefers imported dairy products.  With the sharp drop of milk prices in Europe last year, China is now importing nearly 80 percent of its liquid milk from Europe  leading once more to many smaller dairies closing shop in China.

Together, these reports present a vivid picture of the tradeoffs Chinese policymakers have to make between meat and maize production at home and imports and investments abroad to ensure that China’s demand for meat is met. They also raise critical questions about the impacts of these policy choices, which is particularly relevant today as we see the trends highlighted in the 2014 reports come to fruition.

With the Chinese language launch of the four reports Global Meat Complex: China Series and the forthcoming report on Brazil’s meat industry, join IATP with Brazilian and Chinese experts in two upcoming webinars in May and June that address the impacts of the Global Meat Complex and the role of Brazilian and Chinese transnational corporations. Sign up to get updates on the webinars and the release of the Brazil paper

Posted March 6, 2017 by Josh Wise   

Fair TradeGlobalization

Used under creative commons license from Bernard McManus.

Last week we highlighted the contradictions in the Trump administration’s stance on trade in our blog on Robert Lighthizer. The contradictions have only increased this week with the announcement that Andrew Quinn will be joining the National Economic Council. Quinn is a former Deputy US Trade Representative, and was a lead negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) since 2012. Trump bashed the TPP throughout the campaign and withdrew from the trade deal in his first week. 

Quinn is a career civil servant, having worked primarily in Southeast Asia, and was also instrumental in the passage and implementation of the Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). How this appointment will gel with other members of the President’s administration, such as open China and free trade critic, Peter Navarro, remains to be seen, but the lack of a coherent trade ideology within the administration only makes the future more unpredictable for anyone looking for answers on trade, including the base who voted Trump in. Re-negotiating NAFTA within his first hundred days appears to be the first campaign promise Trump has broken – he has yet to notify Congress to  trigger the 90-day period prior to re-negotiation. 

Indeed, the addition of Quinn to the NEC appears to break the administration’s views on trade into three camps. Quinn’s public statements are very much in line with his position in the Obama administration prior to the election. He argued that the TPP actually does, despite the evidence, protect workers and the environment, and that it will increase access to markets for small businesses and farmers. Contrast this with Trump, himself, and Navarro, open critics of TPP in particular and free trade in general. Finally, there’s the CEO wing of the administration, including Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and Quinn’s new boss at the NEC and former Goldman Sachs banker, Gary Cohn, who supported TPP until the election, due to the increase in corporate profits it would generate, but have seemingly got in line with Trump, post-election. 

Of course, the missing element here is anyone who supports an authentic vision of Fair Trade. Though Trump pays lip service to Fair Trade, the only specific policy he’s come out with that points to his interpretation of what fair trade means is that other countries should pay more for American drugs, which he announced following a meeting with PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry trade group. Trump has been an open critic of fair wages for American workers, arguing the minimum wage is too high. His companies have consistently arranged licensing deals with countries who are flagrant violators of human rights. And his highest profile foray into keeping manufacturing jobs, the Carrier plant in Indiana, involved massive tax breaks for only a portion of the jobs protected, while leaving similar companies in the dust.

Nothing has been said about trade policy that fights climate change. Nothing about workers’ rights. Nothing about fair prices for farmers and ranchers. And, above all, nothing about improving transparency in the negotiating process to allow citizens and citizen organizations real, meaningful, binding input into what the agreements end up looking like. 

Quinn’s hire reflects a clear disorder within the Trump administration on trade. In contrast, IATP and others have worked diligently to present the vision for what fair trade actually would look like. Fair Trade, contrary to Trump’s rhetoric does not just mean that one side wins. It means we all do better because we all have the opportunity to make our voices heard. With the defeat of TPP, civil society said loud and clear that our voices will be heard for fair trade. The administration should take this to heart. 

 

 

 




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