High Crop Prices, Subsidies Called Destructive

  Washington, D.C. - (EWG) - 8/30/2012 - Responding to high crop prices and unlimited insurance, growers plowed under more than 23 million acres of grassland, shrub land and wetlands in order to plant commodity crops between 2008 and 2011, a new report by Environmental Working Group and Defenders of Wildlife shows.
   The analysis, titled “Plowed Under,” uses U.S. Department of Agriculture satellite data to produce the most accurate estimate currently available of the rate of habitat conversion in the farm belt. It shows that more than 8.4 million acres were converted to plant corn, more than 5.6 million to raise soybeans and nearly 5.2 million to grow winter wheat. Most of the destroyed habitat was in states in the Great Plains and Upper Midwest, but some of the highest rates of habitat conversion to grow crops were in drought-plagued portions of West Texas and Oklahoma.
   “Policymakers are right to attend to the short term crisis created by the current drought, but what we’ve lost sight of in recent years is the long term crisis,” said Ken Cook, president of EWG. “A generation of conservation gains has been wiped out because costly, misguided government policies have caused ten of millions of acres of fragile land and wildlife habitat to be plowed under."
   Using a sophisticated mapping technique, “Plowed Under” found that 11 states had habitat losses of at least 1 million acres each over the three-year period, and a total of 147 counties lost at least 30,000 acres each. The losses were greatest in counties that received the largest amounts of crop insurance subsidies.
   According to USDA, widespread destruction of grassland is threatening habitats for important wildlife species such as the swift fox, as well as putting at risk sage grouse, the lesser prairie chicken, whooping cranes and mountain plover.
   The comprehensive analysis underscores the need for Congress to fully fund conservation programs designed to mitigate the devastating effects of severe weather and restore wildlife habitat, and to reject proposals to extend unlimited insurance subsidies without environmental protections. The full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have each approved competing 2012 farm bill versions, and both would expand insurance subsidies, while cutting conservation programs by more than $6 billion over 10 years.
   Extravagant crop insurance subsidies are not only a threat to wildlife and the environment, but they also take a heavy toll on American taxpayers. Today, USDA pays, on average, 62 percent of farmers’ premiums for crop insurance and lavishes $1.3 billion a year on the insurance companies and agents that sell the policies. At current rates, taxpayers can expect to send another $90 billion to farmers and insurance companies over the next decade.
   “When Congress returns from recess and considers the 2012 farm bill, it should pass reasonable reforms to crop insurance subsidies, such as payment limits, and require every recipient to carry out basic conservation practices to protect the health of our land, water and soil, as the Senate version does,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s vice president of government affairs. (Read the full report)
   Source: EWG release of August 6, 2012

Report Details Health, Status of Older Americans

   (NIH) - 8/19-2012 - Today's older Americans enjoy longer lives and better physical function than did previous generations, although, for some, an increased burden in housing costs and rising obesity may compromise these gains, according to a comprehensive federal look at aging. The report, Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being, tracks trends at regular intervals to see how older people are faring as the U.S. population grows older.
   In 2010, 40 million people age 65 and over accounted for 13 percent of the total population in the United States. In 2030, the number and proportion of older Americans is expected to grow significantly — to 72 million, representing nearly 20 percent of the population said the report, by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics.
   Older Americans 2012, the sixth report prepared by the Forum since 2000, provides an updated and accessible compendium of indicators, drawn from official statistics about the well-being of Americans primarily age 65 and older. The 176-page report provides a broad description of areas of well-being that are improving for older Americans and those that are not. Thirty-seven key indicators are categorized into five broad areas — population, economics, health status, health risks and behaviors, and health care. This year's report also includes a special feature on the end of life.
   Highlights of Older Americans 2012 include:
   Increased labor force participation by older women — Participation of older women in the labor force has increased significantly over the past 40 years. In 1963, 29 percent of women aged 62-64 worked outside the home; in 2011, that had increased to 45 percent. In 1963, 17 percent of women aged 65-69 were in the labor force; in 2011, that had increased to 27 percent. For women 70 and older, 6 percent worked in 1963, increasing to 8 percent in 2011. Some older Americans work out of economic necessity. Others may be attracted by the social contact, intellectual challenges or sense of value that work often provides.
   Declines in poverty, increases in income since 1974 — Older Americans are in better economic shape now than they were in 1974. Between 1974 and 2010, the proportion of older people with income below the poverty thresholds (less than $10,458 in 2010 for a person 65 and older) fell from 15 percent to 9 percent. The percentage with low income (between $10,458 and $20,916 in 2010 for people 65 and older) dropped from 35 percent to 26 percent. There were also notable gains in income over the period, as the proportion of people 65 and older with high income ($41,832 and above in 2010) rose from 18 percent to 31 percent.
   Increased housing problems — The most significant issue by far is housing cost burden, which has been steadily increasing over time. In 1985, about 30 percent of households with householders or spouses age 65 and over spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing and utilities. By 2009, the proportion of older people with high housing cost burden reached 40 percent. For some multigenerational households, crowded housing is also fairly prevalent.
   Rising rates of obesity — Obesity, a major cause of preventable disease and premature death, is increasing among older people. In 2009-2010, 38 percent of people age 65 and over were obese, compared with 22 percent in 1988-1994. In 2009-2010, 44 percent of people age 65-74 were obese, as were 29 percent of those age 75 and older.
   More use of hospice — The percentage of older people who received hospice care in the last 30 days of life increased from 19 percent in 1999 to 43 percent in 2009. The percentage of older Americans who died in hospitals dropped from 49 percent in 1999 to 32 percent in 2009. The percentage who died at home increased from 15 percent in 1999 to 24 percent in 2009. In 2009, there were notable differences in the use of hospice services at the end of life among people of different race and ethnicity groups.
   Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being is available online at http://www.agingstats.gov.

U.S., Mexico Sign Agreement on Environment

   WASHINGTON – 8/10/2012 - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson joined Mexico’s Secretary for the Environment and Natural Resources Juan Elvira Quesada recently to sign the Border 2020 U.S.-Mexico Environmental program agreement.
The signing was witnessed by a number of leaders including the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico E. Anthony Wayne, Vice Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation Wavalene Romero, California Secretary for Environmental Protection Matthew Rodriquez, Baja California Governor José Guadalupe Osuna Millán and Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante Anchondo. The Border 2020 agreement, developed with significant stakeholder input, will work to address high priority environmental and public health problems in the 2,000 mile border region. It follows the Border 2012 environmental agreement which ends this year.
    "Addressing the environmental issues along the border has long been a priority we share with our colleagues in Mexico, because we know that environmental degradation, pollution, and the diseases they trigger don’t stop at the national boundaries,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Thanks to help from our partners in government, industry, academia and local communities, the Border 2020 agreement will build upon the significant progress already made, and families on both sides of the border will continue to benefit from cleaner, healthier communities for decades to come.”
    The Border 2020 program works to reduce pollution in water, air, and on land, reduce exposure to chemicals from accidental releases or terrorism, and improve environmental stewardship. It is the latest environmental program implemented under the 1983 U.S.-Mexico La Paz Agreement. It builds on the Border 2012 program and encourages meaningful participation from communities and local stakeholders through regional task forces.
    Over the next eight years, the Border 2020 Environmental program will work towards significant improvements that will focus on five key areas:
  • Reducing air pollution in bi-national air sheds by promoting vehicle inspection programs and road paving, and encouraging anti-idling technologies such as diesel truck electrification at ports-of-entry.
  • Improving access to clean and safe water as well as improving water quality in the bi-national watersheds.
  • Promoting materials and waste management, and addressing contaminated sites as well as management practices for addressing electronics, lead acid batteries, tires, and trash.
  • Enhancing joint preparedness for environmental and emergency response.
  • Enhancing compliance assurance and environmental stewardship.
    The new Border 2020 program also strengthens its focus in regional areas where environmental improvements are needed most: establishing realistic and concrete goals, supporting the implementation of projects, considering new fundamental strategies, and encouraging the achievement of more ambitious environmental and public health goals.
    Border 2012, which concludes this year, resulted in numerous achievements, including connecting households to drinking water and wastewater services benefitting more than 8.5 million border residents. In addition, the program helped remove more than 12 million scrap tires from dump sites border wide and more than 75.5 metric tons of obsolete pesticides from rural areas in California, Sonora, and Tamaulipas.
    As the home to over 14 million people and one of the busiest cross-border trade regions in the world, protecting human health and the environment in the border region is essential to ensuring that the U.S. continues to be safe, healthy and economically productive. The Border 2020 U.S.-Mexico Environmental program will protect the environment and public health for 10 states on both sides of the 2,000-mile border, including 26 U.S. tribes and seven groups of Mexican indigenous people.
    Reference: http://www.epa.gov/usmexicoborder/

The Arms Debate

Not All American's Have the Right to Bear Arms

Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2018