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Opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline takes center stage in Monroe County, West Virginia



The alternate route would run down the wooded hillside, bisecting the scenic meadows and hayfields. It would pass the small barn and quaint home within several hundred feet, and cut a path through the grave site of a cat named Tessa and a beloved hound dog named Elvis.

That’s the fear Bryan and Doris McCurdy have harbored since the Monroe County couple first found out a 42-inch gas pipeline might be laid through the piece of property they have called home since the 1980s. The steel pipe, capable of carrying 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day, would be buried just above their house and freshwater spring.

After being notified surveyors wanted to plot a route past their secluded home, the couple unexpectedly found themselves consulting with attorneys, addressing their county commissioners and traveling from one courthouse to another in an attempt to make sure the Mountain Valley Pipeline didn’t become a permanent fixture in their backyard.

In doing so, the couple have been thrust into the center of a precedent-setting lawsuit over whether EQT, the pipeline developer, and other corporations can use eminent domain to survey the property of unwilling landowners in West Virginia.

Less than a week after the 2016 election, the West Virginia Supreme Court issued a ruling in the McCurdys’ favor, arguing EQT and other gas transmission companies planning billions of dollars worth of interstate pipelines out of West Virginia cannot survey land without a property owner’s permission.

The opinion was welcomed by property rights groups and environmental advocates, but it was seen as a legal setback for the gas companies, which have become powerful players in West Virginia politics of late. Those gas companies lobbied the West Virginia Legislature last year to change state law before the Supreme Court could rule on the eminent domain issue.

That industry-backed legislation was ultimately defeated in the state Senate, but rumors of possible efforts to resurrect the bill and overturn the McCurdys’ favorable ruling through legislative fiat have already begun to circulate at the state Capitol this year.

Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for EQT, said the company will make a decision in the coming days as to whether it will ask state lawmakers to overturn the legal ruling. But she said the court opinion isn’t expected to delay the $3.5 billion project in the meantime.

Bryan McCurdy opens the gate that leads to his hayfield and several dozen acres of his land in Monroe County. (Photo: Sam Owens, Gazette Mail)

In many ways, last year’s debate in the Legislature was cast as a choice between protecting the property rights of West Virginians or conforming to gas industry requests in the hope it will improve a portion of the state’s lagging economy.

The suggestion that state lawmakers might seek to overturn everything the McCurdys and their attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates have fought for in the past two years leaves Bryan McCurdy exasperated. The former utility employee said most of his thoughts on that possibility aren’t fit for print.

“If our Legislature changes the law, they, as far as I’m concerned, are making a statement to the world that the profit that private companies make and what incidental money happens to come to people in this state is more important than the rights and interests of the citizens,” he said, as he sat in his living room on a recent rainy afternoon.

The McCurdys’ fight over the pipeline survey highlights a new era of energy development in the Mountain State, as natural gas production in the northern counties has surged and the coal industry in Southern West Virginia continues its historical decline.

Cox said the Mountain Valley Pipeline is primarily needed to fuel the increasing number of gas-fired turbines out-competing the country’s aging coal-fired power plants.

Many lawmakers and business officials in West Virginia have been quick to support expansion of the growing industry, especially at a time when the state is facing increased unemployment and a budget shortfall currently estimated at half a billion dollars in the next fiscal year.

The half dozen new interstate pipelines being planned in West Virginia, industry representatives say, are needed to increase the flow of natural gas to markets in states like Michigan, Louisiana and North Carolina.

EQT and the other pipeline developers that have requested federal approval to lay thousands of miles of steel under streams, over hilltops, through national forests and around people’s homes have emphasized the jobs and tax revenue the large pipelines would provide.

Those projects include the Rover, Leach Xpress, Mountaineer Xpress and Atlantic Coast pipelines. Industry officials hope those lines will lead to increased production in the Marcellus Shale region of the state.

Combined, the new pipelines will be capable of carrying more gas per day than the entire state of West Virginia is currently producing, which has caused groups to question whether all of the lines are needed.

The projects, however, could get a boost from President Donald Trump’s new administration, which has already shown an interest in pushing large pipeline projects throughout the country.

Earlier this week, Trump signed executive orders that could advance the delayed Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines that have been at the center of national protests. A planning document obtained by national news organizations also lists the Atlantic Coast pipeline as one of the Trump transition team’s top infrastructure priorities.

But for homeowners and residents in areas like Monroe County, which has been left relatively untouched by the state’s coal industry, the possibility of a large-diameter pipeline being constructed in their community is unsettling.

Organized protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline have grabbed the nation’s attention, but the battle over pipelines and property rights in places like Monroe County have gone on relatively unnoticed.

A message condemning construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is painted on an abandoned house located on the side of U.S. 219 in Monroe County. A faded message against the building of “high power towers” in the 1990s can be seen as well. (Photo: Sam Owens, Gazette-Mail)


The McCurdys and many of their neighbors are opposed to the Mountain Valley Pipeline altogether. They question the need for the half dozen new gas lines in the region — several of which have similar destinations to the southeast — and they are suspect of the number of jobs EQT and other pipeline builders say the projects will create.

They don’t want this new wave of energy development to leave their home county the way surface mining operations have left a large portion of Southern West Virginia with irreparable changes to the mountainous landscape.

“It’s going to be a repeat of the coal industry at the turn of the century,” Bryan McCurdy said. “It’ll be a repeat of mountaintop removal. It’s just another chapter in the rape of West Virginia. I mean, plain and simple.”

It would be one thing to build a 42-inch pipeline through the Kanawha Valley, where there is a history of development and chemical manufacturing, Bryan McCurdy said. But it’s another thing to build that type of pipeline through the cattle farms and corn fields of Monroe County, he said.

The McCurdys’ lawsuit showed the gas being pumped through the Mountain Valley Pipeline wasn’t currently expected to be used by residents in West Virginia. It’s bound for Virginia, where it will be pumped into another large gas line that serves parts of the East Coast.

Not everyone in the region is vehemently opposed to the pipelines. Some people, Bryan McCurdy said, support the project and hope it might provide economic stimulus to the rural county, which had about 13,500 residents in 2015.

They’re for any and every type of development, he said.

The dispute over the Mountain Valley Pipeline, however, is not the first time Monroe County residents have come out in opposition of a major utility project. In the 1990s, they successfully resisted a high-voltage power line that would have run through the county.

That local organization has started anew. County residents have formed an opposition group to resist the pipeline, called Preserve Monroe, being reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Signs protesting the pipeline can be seen all along U.S. 219, a winding highway, dotted with old barns and small antique shops, which runs the length of the county. One of the McCurdys’ neighbors has even painted the rusting metal roof of an abandoned home next to the roadway in protest.

“Tell M.V.P No Frackn Pipeline!!!” it reads. It’s painted over the faded lettering of a similar message against the high-voltage power line that had been proposed more than two decades earlier.

Several people in the community have asked Doris McCurdy why she and her husband continue to put up such a fight. They think the pipeline is coming through no matter what, even if EQT can’t force the McCurdys and other landowners to allow surveyors onto their property.

“If it does, it does,” she’s told those people. “But they will know we’re here, and they will know we do have a voice in things.”

The McCurdys didn’t want to be at the center of a major state Supreme Court case or at the center of an ongoing political debate over the role of the natural gas industry in West Virginia.

They just wanted to be left alone to enjoy the home they paid off after a lifetime of work. They don’t want to have their property, which has an unobstructed view of Peters Mountain just across the border in Virginia, altered by a gas pipeline.

Bryan McCurdy, who was a geotechnical technician at the Bath County hydroelectric station in Virginia, has been working in recent years to develop better habitats on his land for wild turkeys and monarch butterflies.

He has a 200-yard shooting range on another piece of his property, where he is working with a neighbor to improve the fields for hay production.

All of that work could be ruined, he said, if FERC decides the alternate route running through his land is the best option for the proposed pipeline.

Doris McCurdy is a retired Monroe County librarian who enjoys yoga classes in the nearby town of Union. She helped organize the Monroe County Quilt Trail that constructed the colorful patterns on barns throughout the county. Her own hand-painted quilt square, named “The Farmer’s Daughter,” hangs on the side of the couple’s barn, within feet of the proposed pipeline right-of-way.

She’s still unsure whether she would want to live next to the gas line if it is approved.

“I’m a Monroe County native, and I love it here,” she said. “The question is, where would I go?”

She’s hoping she won’t have to answer that question.

This piece was originally published by The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

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Rural Drivers Can Save the Most From Clean Vehicles



Photo: Shutterstock/Standret

This post was written in collaboration with Maria Cecilia Pinto de Moura

The transition to clean vehicle technologies such as electric vehicles will benefit consumers everywhere, promising lower operating and maintenance costs, along with less pollution and a cleaner environment.

But the drivers with the greatest economic potential to gain by purchasing an electric vehicle are the residents of small towns and rural counties. Drivers living outside of urban areas often have farther to travel to work, shop, and visit a doctor. They have to repair their vehicles more frequently, they produce more carbon emissions per capita, and they spend more money on gasoline. As a result, rural drivers have the greatest potential to save money by making the switch to an electric vehicle.

Overall, rural residents have the potential to save up to twice as much as urban residents by making the switch from a conventional sedan to an electric vehicle. In addition, rural residents who drive pickup trucks and SUVs have the potential to dramatically cut their fuel costs and emissions through programs to encourage efficiency and electrification.

Rural drivers’ potential to save money and cut emissions

Using data from the 2017 National Highway Traffic Survey, we created a model that approximates what vehicles are being driven, and for how many miles, in every county in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. This data allows us to approximate the average cost and emission savings from an electric vehicle in each county. We also mapped out some of the differences in vehicle miles traveled that form the basis of these calculations (see below, our full methodology is here).

Annual average fuel savings, miles driven and emissions reduction for a typical driver in 12 states and the District of Columbia

Overall, we find that in our most rural counties, the average driver will save $870 per year and cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 3 metric tons per year by choosing an electric vehicle over a conventional sedan. That is almost twice the average emissions reduction from an EV in our most urban counties.

Bringing clean vehicle technologies to rural areas will not only benefit rural drivers, but it will also improve whole rural economies. Nearly all the money that we spend on gasoline and diesel fuel ultimately leaves our towns and our region, for other parts of the world. As electric vehicles replace the internal combustion engine on our roads, there will be more money in consumers’ pockets – which means more jobs, and more local development for our small towns.

Obstacles to rural electrification

Unfortunately, although rural residents have the greatest potential to save from purchasing an electric vehicle, currently EV sales are concentrated in urban areas and inner suburbs. As of 2017, people in urban areas and inner suburbs report that they are about three times more likely to own a plug-in vehicle compared to people in rural areas.

Rural drivers share many of the same challenges in selecting an electric vehicle as urban and suburban drivers: not many consumers are aware of how easy it is to make the switch to an electric vehicle, and the charging infrastructure is inadequate. These concerns are particularly acute for rural drivers, who on average need to travel greater distances between charging stations and destinations. Rural drivers do have one major advantage over urban drivers: they are much more likely to have access to offstreet parking, which should make installation of a home charging station easier.

In addition, rural drivers may have additional concerns about electric vehicle technology, such as the ability of electric vehicles to provide adequate performance in cold weather climates (hint: EVs are great in cold or inclement weather) or to provide enough range to deal with rural driving distances. Some of these concerns are being addressed through improvements in technology: at 200+ miles, cars like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 can serve the daily driving needs of residents of all areas. But even as the technology improves, cultural assumptions about what kind of vehicle is appropriate in what kind of area may remain.

As more electric vehicle models come to market, and vehicle costs continue to drop, rural drivers will have increasing choices in vehicle types from SUVs to pick-up trucks. But an EV may not work for every rural household today. Fortunately, automakers compelled by vehicle efficiency standards have been bringing more efficiency gasoline and diesel cars and trucks to market. Upgrading to a newer, more fuel efficient vehicle is another strategy available for every household today.

The Northeast needs a rural electrification strategy

Increasing growth of EV sales in rural areas will require states of the Northeast region to take a more proactive approach towards electrification in rural areas. We need a targeted strategy to reduce the barriers to adopt electric vehicles in our outer suburbs and rural areas. Such a strategy should include:

  • Increased incentives for rural & low- and moderate-income drivers. Overcoming the high purchase price of the vehicles is critical to achieving mainstream penetration of electric vehicles. Northeast states should consider adding additional incentives to make electric vehicles affordable for rural drivers. These incentives should include not only additional upfront rebates to reduce the purchase price of the car, but also financing assistance to help people with insufficient credit to purchase a new car. By targeting rural drivers, we can use incentive money most effectively to achieve our goals for emission reduction and cost savings.
  • Vehicle retirement programs to take the most inefficient trucks off the road. Many rural drivers are stuck driving some of the dirtiest, most inefficient vehicles on the road. A 10 year old Ford F-150 gets as little as 14 mpg, for example. A rural driver who trades an old F-150 to a new model can save up to $1,000 per year. Programs such as California’s Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program have helped retire some of these low-emission vehicles and in the process saved money for drivers of all kinds of vehicles.
  • Build rural charging infrastructure. Addressing rural range anxiety will require increased investment in rural charging stations. Utilities should target rural areas for support, both for public charging and for support in constructing home charging stations.
  • Support grassroots education outreach and marketing efforts. Bulk purchasing programs such as the Drive Green program run by Green Energy Consumers Alliance can reduce costs and help consumers address the complex decisions necessary to purchase an electric vehicle. Utility programs such as Green Mountain Power’s electric vehicle program can negotiate good deals from the auto industry and help their customers make the switch to electric vehicles. These programs should be encouraged to target rural communities and drivers.

As states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic consider new regional strategies to address transportation emissions, it will be critical for states to identify new strategies to help rural residents cut emissions and save money on transportation. One piece of a rural transportation strategy should be to enhance infrastructure that provides an alternative to driving an automobile, through expanded regional public transportation that give them easy access to urban centers, pedestrian and biking infrastructure that create vibrant communities in small towns. We should also consider how to best use innovative new transportation models facilitated by technology, such as vanpools, flexible bus routes, and ride hailing and sharing services to expand clean mobility to rural residents.

At the same time, we know that realistically driving a personal vehicle will remain an important part of the transportation system for rural communities. We need to provide rural residents with the cleanest vehicles that fit their needs. We encourage states to meet the challenges facing rural drivers with bold investments that can save money for consumers and reduce pollution for everybody.

This article was originally published by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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Coal Comeback? Coal At New Low After Two Years Under Trump



It’s been two years since President Donald Trump took office and began rolling back environmental regulations on the coal industry.

At a November rally in Huntington, West Virginia, the president took credit for a coal comeback in front of a cheering crowd.

“We’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal and we’re putting our coal miners back to work,” he said. “That you know better than anybody.”

But federal data about the industry tell a different story.

Mine operators and independent contractors are required to report regular employment information to the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA. Preliminary figures for 2018 show 80,778 people were employed by mine operators and contractors. That’s a record low, and about a thousand fewer than were employed by coal in the last year of the Obama administration.

Graphic: Alexandra Kanik, Ohio Valley Resource

Nationwide, coal plant retirements neared a record high, and overall coal production dropped to the lowest level in nearly 40 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a non-partisan government agency that tracks energy trends.

In the Ohio Valley, things looked much the same. In 2018 two prominent Ohio Valley utilities announced a spate of coal power plant closures, federal data show the region lost 150 industry jobs, and Westmoreland Coal, which has a substantial presence in Ohio, declared bankruptcy.

Graphic: Alexandra Kanik, Ohio Valley Resource

However strong exports of one type of coal continued to support jobs for those who provide metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel. That boosted employment in West Virginia, where the president’s supporters say he is keeping his promise to revive the industry. Elsewhere, others aren’t convinced and are looking for ways to fill the void left by coal’s decline.

Environmental Rollbacks

The Trump administration has leaned heavily on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to try to boost the region’s coal industry. In March, 2017, Trump signed an executive order that kicked off an in-depth review of a series of environmental regulations. Since then, the administration has proposed a series of regulatory rollbacks aimed at helping struggling coal plants and operators.

In August, the EPA proposed a replacement for the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation that aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by one-third over the coming decades in an effort to stem the effects of climate change.

The Trump EPA has also moved to roll back existing regulations that govern the storage of toxic coal ash. In December, the agency proposed a rule revision that would allow coal plants to emit more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity generated by scrapping a requirement that plant operators install expensive technology that reduces emissions. The agency in December also proposed weakening a regulation that limits mercury and other toxic emissions from coal power plants.

The Trump administration last year was also embroiled in an ongoing attempt to bail out struggling coal-fired power plants, which has since stalled.

But many industry analysts believe Trump’s looser environmental rules have not helped the industry.

“So we had some pretty significant regulatory rollbacks in 2018,” said Trevor Houser, a coal analyst at the independent research company Rhodium Group. “And yet, 2018 was a record year in terms of coal plant retirements.” [Story continues below map]

Houser said there is also little indication any utility in the country is planning on building a new coal-fired power plant, even under the current, more relaxed regulatory environment.

Last month, S&P Global Market Intelligence reported Longview Power LLC, which operates one of the newest and most efficient coal-fired power plants in the U.S. just outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, is seeking investment to shift some generation from coal to natural gas and solar. Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited the power plant in the summer of 2017 to tout the benefits of coal in a competitive energy market. 

Across the Ohio Valley, utilities announced more coal power plant closures in 2018. After Ohio-based FirstEnergy Solutions declared bankruptcy, it announced it would close two coal-fired power plants, one in Pennsylvania and one in Ohio. Another of its plants in West Virginia will close by 2022. Another major utility, American Electric Power, announced it was moving up the closure date for some units in its Conesville plant in Ohio to 2019.

A report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, an energy think tank, found cost is the biggest force in coal’s decline. Renewables and gas-fired generation continue to provide a cheaper and more flexible alternative.

The Met Demand

With more power plant closing there are fewer places to sell thermal coal, which is burned to make electricity, and that has a major impacts coal producers in the region.

“If you look at the share of where the coal was headed, the domestic utility market for West Virginia coal continues to decline,” said Jason Bostic with the West Virginia Coal Association. “And that’s extremely concerning.”

Nationwide and as well as in the Ohio Valley the amount of coal mined dropped to the lowest level in nearly 40 years. Coal exports, however, were up, driven largely by international demand for metallurgical, or met coal, by Asian countries.

Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky. Photo: Jeff Young, Ohio Valley Resource.

“There’s the kind of continual disconnect between the poor fate of the thermal coal market and a little bit more resilient met coal market,” Houser said.

To meet higher met coal demand, some mines in West Virginia and Virginia have reopened. Federal data from MSHA show West Virginia mines added a little over 500 jobs in 2018.

Tom McLoughlin trains coal miners in southwestern Virginia, where some met coal mines have ramped up production. He said he’s been busy since Trump took office.

“As soon as Trump got elected It was like somebody taking the finger out of the dam,” he said. “There was all kinds of activity including especially the training, and it’s held up fairly well since.”

But even in West Virginia, where things have looked slightly better for the industry, there were also some high-profile mine closures. A mine in Wyoming County shut its doors in October, putting about 400 miners out of work.

There are a lot of indications that the international demand for met coal, especially by China, is cooling off.

“In 2019 we have some pretty troubling signs about the outlook for the Chinese economy this coming year and that could take the wind out of the sails of the metallurgical coal market pretty quickly,” said Houser with the Rhodium Group.

Temporary Bump?

It’s possible that West Virginia’s bounce in production could be a brief one. Elsewhere around the Ohio Valley coal employment has been stagnant, at best. Ohio mines added just 16 jobs last year, and Kentucky lost almost 400 jobs, according to MSHA data.

Retired Kentucky miner Larry Miller said it’s not surprising the data show the industry has not bounced back. He added that he didn’t have a lot of faith in Trump’s ability to revive the industry in the first place.

“I don’t think it’s sustainable,” he said. “The EPA relaxing of the rules might help some, but I don’t think it’s the main driver for the job loss.”

Miller worked for more than two decades underground and said he made a good living. In his own backyard he said he’s seeing first-hand that coal is often no longer an economic source for electricity. For example, near his slice of western Kentucky a group of utilities is installing an 800-acre solar farm, further evidence, he said, of coal’s declining importance.

“It’s not going to be gone but it’s not going to be the economic engine that it once was,” Miller said. “And I made a good living in coal for a long time and I liked it, so I don’t take pleasure in saying that.”

TVA’s new gas fired facility, with the older coal units in background. Photo: Becca Schimmel, Ohio Valley Resource.

Recently, the EIA adjusted downward its coal forecast. It says coal production is expected to hit a record low in 2019. Appalachia will see its overall coal production drop from 201.5 million tons in 2018 to 170.1 million tons in 2020, according to the EIA forecast.

Limited Retraining

That doesn’t bode well for miners. Houser, with the Rhodium Group, said while the Trump administration doubled down to boost coal, it has not offered any additional aid for job retraining.

“The past few budget proposals from the Trump administration have actually reduced the amount of support for retraining and economic diversification and coal retraining in coal country,” he said.

Clemmy Allen has been retraining coal miners for more than 30 years for the United Mine Workers of America.

Since 2012, the UMWA’s Career Training Centers in Appalachia has relied on a Department of Labor grant, which provides $5000 in tuition assistance and a $20 daily stipend to West Virginia miners who have been laid off or lost their jobs. He said thousands of miners have taken advantage of the program, but acknowledged it’s also limited.

“It’s very, very difficult for for a person just to … just shut down and go into training and not have money to, you know, meet their monthly obligations,” he said.

Allen said in previous years the center had more federal grants to retrain miners in other states, and he says there are thousands of miners who have lost their jobs over the years who have since found work, but would like to be retrained to do something else.

“We never have enough resources, never,” he added.

This article was originally published by Ohio Valley ReSource.

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Rural’s Connection to Environment Means Bigger Climate-Change Impact



Mainstays of rural American culture and economy – such as timber, agriculture, tourism, ranching, hunting, fishing, winter sports – could see major disruptions from climate change. The impact will be big enough to disrupt the national economy, a federal report says.

Rural communities face clear economic and environmental risks from a changing climate, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment.  

The report documents changes in the timing of seasons, temperature fluctuations, increased incidence of extreme weather and change in rainfall – all patterns with the potential disrupt rural economic activities.  

Climate change in rural communities poses an outsized risk to the national economy, the report says. 

Although the majority of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, most of the country is still classified as rural. In this map, counties are classified as rural if they do not include any cities with populations of 50,000 or more. (Figure source: USDA Economic Research Service).

“Rural America’s importance to the country’s economic and social well-being is disproportionate to its population, as rural areas provide natural resources that much of the rest of the United States depends on for food, energy, water, forests, recreation, national character, and quality of life,” the report stated.  

While not all regions face the same impacts due to increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, the assessment explains how increased volumes of carbon, methane and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere will lead to changing climatic patterns. The report’s authors predict that changes will likely increase volatility in agricultural commodity markets, shift plant and animal ranges, increase the number and intensity of droughts and floods, and increase the number and size of wildfires throughout the rural landscape.  

Tourism is often climate-dependent as well as seasonally dependent. Increasing heat and humidity – projected for summers in the Midwest, Southeast, and parts of the Southwest by mid-century (compared to the period 1961-1990) – is likely to create unfavorable conditions for summertime outdoor recreation and tourism activity. The figures illustrate projected changes in climatic attractiveness (based on maximum daily temperature and minimum daily relative humidity, average daily temperature and relative humidity, precipitation, sunshine, and wind speed) in July for much of North America. In the coming century, the distribution of these conditions is projected to shift from acceptable to unfavorable across most of the southern Midwest and a portion of the Southeast, and from very good or good to acceptable conditions in northern portions of the Midwest, under a high emissions scenario. (Source: National Climate Assessment).

For portions of rural America with an economy based on agriculture, climate scientists are most worried about shifting geographic suitability of particular crops and abnormal timing for planting and harvest. These changes may result in additional use of herbicides and pesticides, which could create additional health risks from chemical applications. Crop and pasture yields and profitability could also be affected by changes in rainfall, temperature and extreme weather events. Increased flooding could increase soil erosion and water pollution from agricultural runoff, according to the report.  

Rural communities with an economy based on recreation and tourism also face significant challenges due to climate change, according to the report. Rising seas could damage rural Florida’s multi-billion dollar recreational fishing sector and cause further ecological damage to the Everglades region.  

Coastal erosion and rising oceans throughout the nation could affect wildlife habitat, disrupting hunting, fishing, bird watching, and other wildlife-related activities. 

Rural places with significant winter recreation activities could face risks as snow-pack is expected to decrease.  

Forest-dependent rural communities are likely to face significant change as well. Forest geographies and species composition are likely to shift as the climate changes. The number of pests and disease will increase. These factors could decrease timber and pulp harvests in some places. Forest fires are also expected to continue to increase in number, intensity and cost.  

The report identifies certain demographic trends in rural communities that make climate change adaptation more difficult.  

“Modern rural populations are generally older, less affluent, and less educated than their urban counterparts. Rural areas are characterized by higher unemployment, more dependence on government transfer payments, less diversified economies, and fewer social and economic resources needed for resilience in the face of major changes,” the report states. That combination of an aging population with higher poverty rates increases vulnerability of rural people and places to changes in climate.  

“Emergency management, energy use and distribution systems, transportation and infrastructure planning, and public health will all be affected,” the study states. State, regional, local and tribal governments in rural communities tend to be under-funded and rely heavily on volunteers.  

“Even in communities where there is increasing awareness of climate change and interest in comprehensive adaptation planning, lack of funding, human resources, access to information, training, and expertise provide significant barriers for many rural communities,” the report concludes. 

This report is the fourth National Climate Assessment, and summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States. The report process was established by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 and mandates that the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) deliver a report to Congress and the president no less than every four years.  

A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee developed the report. Scientists and researchers from federal, state and local governments, tribes and Indigenous communities, national laboratories, universities, and the private sector volunteered their time to produce the assessment. Information was gathered through a series of regional engagement workshops that reached more than 1,000 individuals in over 40 cities. Listening sessions, webinars and public comment periods also provided valuable input.  

This article was originally published by Daily Yonder.

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