2016 in rural America

Dec 30, 2016  | 6 min  | Ep4219

Barack Obama took 45 days to fill his cabinet in late 2008. Two positions remain open for the Donald Trump presidency – Veterans Affairs and Agriculture.

 The transition of power will dominate the news in January, and the thumbprint of the new leadership remains to be seen.

We do know policy made news in 2016 as did other events outside any one person’s control.

Paul Yeager looks back at the year that was 2016 in rural America.


El Nino was the houseguest that wouldn’t leave as the calendar flipped in January.  

The rainy weather pattern helped ease drought in the western U.S. At the start of 2016, 100 percent of the Golden State was in some form of drought. By year’s end, the same figure dipped below 85 percent lead by improved conditions in northern California.

Rick Santorum: “You will kill RFS and Iowa will have her fingerprints on the weapon.”

As winter’s chill settled in on reporters from around the world covering the Iowa Caucus, presidential aspirant Donald Trump led a cavalcade of candidates defending the Renewable Fuels Standard.

Ted Cruz -- who would eventually win the Iowa Caucus’ republican sweepstakes -- was not invited to the Summit based on past statements to discontinue the RFS. Trump would connect with renewable supporters this day and eventually use rural America as a springboard to a general election victory.

Donald Trump, Republican Candidate for President: “The RFS, the Renewable Fuels Standard, is an important tool in the mission to achieve energy dependence for the United States. I will do all that is in my power as President to achieve that goal.”

While the political landscape rumbled all year, the ground in one southern Plains state was also shifting.

The Sierra Club sued four Oklahoma energy companies over claims fracking was leading to earthquakes. After more than 900 tremors above 3.0 magnitude in 2015, the process of waste water injection moved to the center of the investigation and litigation in 2016 -- all while the ground kept shaking.

A 5.8 tremor struck near Pawnee in early September and was felt throughout much of the Midwest. The Sooner State’s government body charged with regulating the oil and gas industry, ordered 37 wells near the epicenter to be shut down because of previous connections between injection wells and earthquakes.

The Senate delayed in late February the markup of a bill to invalidate individual state rules mandating labels on food with genetically modified ingredients. Congress would kick the can past July 1 – the day a bill in the Green Mountain State became law.

More lenient than Vermont’s law, the Senate eventually reached a compromise requiring any foods that include GMOs to carry a text label, symbol or an electronic label where information could be scanned and accessed via a smartphone.

Sen. Thom Tillis/R – North Carolina: “This is something that my friends on the right do not necessarily like and I know some of my friends on the left don’t like, but it’s right.  And it’s necessary no so that we can protect the people who don’t know, if this bill doesn’t get passed, they are going to be paying more food for no more value.

In March, President Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge. The administration aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries in hope of expanding trade.

Obama also traveled to Vietnam and Japan in the name of enlarging the U.S.’s financial footprint in the Pacific Rim through the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP was signed but never ratified by Congress. Both presidential nominees denounced the pact as being harmful to domestic companies. President-elect Trump has vowed to withdraw from the 12-nation treaty which took seven years to negotiate.

Kevin Paap, Chair, American Farm Bureau Federation:  “The TPP makes important changes to trade rules for agriculture, addressing the non-tariff barriers that reduce trade.”

The president elect campaigned under the banner of making America great again through improving U.S. interests in trade deals. This included tariff talks with our major trading partners of China, Mexico and beyond.

Oil hovered around the $50 per barrel mark for much of the year as increased exports of U.S. crude help keep a lid on world prices. OPEC announced a production cut that’s still not realized.

Winter setting in didn’t deter activists in North Dakota over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Construction along the 1,200-mile route is nearly complete except for a single mile portion under the Missouri River. By December, the drumbeat of protest crescendoed and celebrated a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt construction of the last mile.   

The usual calamity of weather involving floods, fires and tornadoes plowed on this year. Drought in Southeastern U.S. strengthened while winter’s chill started early in the High Plains.

A later summer deluge inundated portions of the Corn Belt delaying harvest for some farmers. The fields dried enough to combine what’s expected to be the biggest corn and soybean crop ever harvested.

For Market to Market, I’m Paul Yeager.

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