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.
Earlier last week it was reported that President Donald Trump is about to issue the next set of executive orders, this time targeting environmental safeguards for water and climate put in place in 2015. The water rule — formally titled the Clean Water Rule, but commonly known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS)—and the Clean Power Plan are two of the most comprehensive environmental rules issued by the Obama administration. The Clean Water Rule stipulates which water bodies are automatically covered under the Clean Water Act. Similarly, the Clean Power Plan was developed under the authorization of the Clean Air Act, which requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take steps to reduce air pollution that harms the public's health. The Plan, for the very first time, provides carbon emission guidelines to existing power plants.
Rural communities vary greatly in their geographies, economies, and politics, but one similarity is that they will all be impacted by climate change, and the people that live there have an important story to tell. The Rural Climate Dialogues (RCDs), co-hosted by IATP and the Jefferson Center, sought to explore how climate change is manifesting in rural communities across Minnesota. A newly-released set of 8 video interviews with RCD participants tells the stories of how climate change has impacted them and their communities.
Many of the stories convey a stark contrast between rural life as a child and present day conditions. Troy Goodnough from Morris said, “I love my state, I love Minnesota, I love being Minnesotan, and I love winter. But I’m not really sure that I’m going to get cross country skis for my son, because the winter’s not really there… The way that my son will experience Minnesota isn’t going to be the same way I experienced it as a kid.”
President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a record of hostility for environmental and public health protection at both state and federal levels. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt may be best known for suing the agency he hopes to lead 14 different times in an attempt to block EPA rules protecting the air and water. In his own state, Pruitt disbanded the Attorney General’s environmental protection unit and repeatedly sided with agribusiness and energy interests over protecting the environment.
In the 2016 election Pruitt supported and, according the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, inserted important language into a resolution that would have changed the state’s Constitution to prevent the state legislature and local governments from protecting their land and water from agriculture-related pollution “without a compelling state interest.” This so-called Right to Farm resolution was soundly rejected by Oklahomans at the ballot box.
Rural communities in the U.S. and around the world are vulnerable to industries, often with headquarters elsewhere, who view local natural resources simply as an asset to be extracted. No global corporation better exemplifies this approach than the oil giant ExxonMobil. Now, President Donald Trump has nominated the company’s CEO, Rex Tillerson, to run the U.S. State Department. Tillerson’s damaging record at ExxonMobil, often at the expense of the public good and even U.S. security interests, should disqualify him from managing U.S. policy around the world.
Tillerson is deeply infused with ExxonMobil DNA, having spent his entire professional career of 41 years working at the company and serving as CEO since 2008. ExxonMobil operates in more than 100 countries. During Tillerson’s time at ExxonMobil the company has: aggressively advocated for corporate-friendly free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); used past free trade deals to sue governments who try to regulate it; done deals with dictators and human rights violators; and all the while leading a multi-decade disinformation campaign to oppose action on climate change.
This week, Congress begins the first round of confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s Cabinet. After a bombastic Presidential campaign that was often short on policy specifics, the Cabinet selections provide an initial glimpse into how first-time public officeholder Trump will actually govern. While the role of rural America in electing Trump has been well documented, the first impression from the proposed Cabinet is troubling and is raising red flags for how the Trump Administration will respond to key rural issues. It is notable that a position very important to rural America, the Secretary of Agriculture, remains vacant and appears at the bottom of the list of priority positions.
In too many rural communities, natural resources and profits are extracted for the gain of outside—often multinational—investors at the expense of the people that live there. The Rural Compact, an effort we contributed to in 2008 as part of the National Rural Assembly, outlines a set of values and priorities for rural America and continues to be relevant today in assessing Trump’s appointees. The Compact states:
Rural America is more than the land…When rural communities succeed, the nation does better, and cities and suburbs have more resources on which to build. Conversely, when rural communities falter, it drains the nation’s prosperity and limits what we can accomplish together.
As Trump’s appointees make their way through the confirmation process, we’ll be looking at how the proposed Cabinet addresses four key challenges particularly relevant to rural communities:
As evidenced in the 2016 election, the long-standing urban-rural voting gap is widening. At least part of this gap comes from the fact that rural communities often have different cultural, economic, and community concerns than urban communities. Climate change specifically will impact rural and urban communities differently, yet many climate solutions and policies focus on urban and suburban perspectives. To address this, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Jefferson Center organized a State Convening of rural Minnesotans, state agency representatives, and nonprofit organizations last September in St. Paul. Participants strategized together to improve the effectiveness of state agency program offerings and make them relevant to rural needs and priorities.
The State Convening was the culmination of three Rural Climate Dialogues that took place from 2014-2016 in Morris, Grand Rapids, and Winona, MN. The Rural Climate Dialogues were created to provide a space for rural residents to think critically and plan strategically to address local challenges related to extreme weather and climate change. All three dialogues identified the need to strengthen connections between local efforts and state agencies and programs.
Earlier this week, the European Parliament approved the Paris climate agreement, joining more than 60 other countries in signing the deal and paving the way for this historic global effort to enter into force. While the Paris deal is truly a major step forward, countries will have to overcome a series of hurdles created by trade agreements to reach their climate goals. An escalating fight at the World Trade Organization (WTO)—attacking renewable energy initiatives in two of the world’s biggest polluting countries (the U.S. and India)—shows why untangling trade agreements from climate goals should be the next big step.
As part of the Paris agreement, countries submitted voluntary climate plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). But the ability of countries to reach those climate goals will depend on rewriting trade rules at the WTO—and a series of regional and bi-lateral trade agreements—that consistently favor corporate rights over the climate.
On 21 September 2016 the United Nations (U.N.) newly convened High-level Panel on Water (HLPW), called for a fundamental shift in the way the world looks at water. Supported by the World Economic Forum and its water initiative, the HLPW was formed to help “build the political momentum” to deliver on the U.N. mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on “water and related targets” that the U.N. member governments agreed to in 2015.
The HLPW is co-convened by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the World Bank Group Dr. Jim Yong Kim. Co-chaired by the presidents of Mexico and Mauritius, the Panel is comprised of 11 sitting Heads of State and Government and one Special Adviser “to provide the leadership required to champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.
But will the HLPW provide this leadership? How do we ensure that the leadership is inclusive, transparent and accountable?
The two-day Minnesota Rural Climate Dialogue State Convening got underway today bringing together citizens from rural communities in the state. Over the past two years, Rural Climate Dialogues held throughout Minnesota in Stevens, Itasca and Winona Counties brought together groups of rural citizens to learn and deliberate about the effects of climate change and extreme weather in their communities, and create plans for how their communities should act to sustain and improve resilience. Over the course of two days, rural citizens from each of the three communities are convening to recall and share their community plans, form statewide rural climate priorities and present them to state agency staff to connect them with existing financial and technical assistance programs.
The day kicked off with introductions. People shared what they do for work—the group included sustainability and healthcare professionals, timber mill and railroad employees, and farmers—but everyone focused primarily on the pride they have for their communities. People talked about the beauty of rivers, bluffs and forests and their towns’ engaged residents. Everyone agreed that their communities had countless assets worth preserving, and that many of those assets are at risk from extreme weather and climate change impacts.