This Week’s Columns


Economic Growth Misses Virginia

By Jim Bacon

Nvirginia-outline-150ot only has job creation and new business formation been weak in the current business cycle, it has been more concentrated geographically than in the past. Unfortunately for the Old Dominion, between 2010 and 2014 that concentration did not occur here.

This analysis points to very different futures for American communities, suggesting that the gains from growth have and will continue to consolidate in the largest and most dynamic counties and leave other areas searching for their place in the new economy,” writes the Economic Innovation Group in a new publication, “The New Map of Economic Growth and Recovery.” READ MORE


What is Ag Stormwater & Is It Regulated?

By Gary Baise

What is Ag Stormwater & Is It Regulated?

What is Ag Stormwater & Is It Regulated?

Agriculture’s stormwater runoff is in the news almost every day. Des Moines, Iowa, has filed a major law suit against drainage districts (farmers) and counties alleging that runoff water from farmers’ fields discharged through farm tiles into local rivers must be regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

EPA has recently won a major case against the American Farm Bureau (AFBF) and claims it now has the authority to regulate agriculture stormwater runoff using the Clean Water Act’s authority to regulate Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) of pollutants which run off farmers’ fields and into waters of the state or the United States. This is a problem for tillage agriculture!. READ MORE


Platooning and Dedicated Truck Lanes

By Bob Poole

Platooning and Dedicated Truck Lanes

Platooning and Dedicated Truck Lanes

Interest continues to grow in making use of partial automation to enable big-rigs to travel close together in platoons on long-distance highways. In addition to reduced accidents from partial automation (lane-keeping and connected adaptive cruise control), platooning offers significant reductions in fuel consumption.

Two platooning demonstrations have been carried out recently in Europe. Daimler Trucks in March operated a three-truck platoon on an active German autobahn, with 15-meter (50-ft.) separation between them. The video showed that when a car cut in between platooning trucks, the automation system quickly increased the spacing to 165 ft. And in April, the first cross-border truck platooning took place, as six platoons from several countries converged on the port of Rotterdam. READ MORE 


The Calm Reality of Climate Change Hysteria


By Paul Driessen 

The Calm Reality of Climate Change Hysteria

The Calm Reality of Climate Change Hysteria

Employing his college degree in fiction writing, White House communications strategist Ben Rhodes wrote deceitful talking points on the Benghazi attack and one-sided Iran nuclear deal – and later bragged about manipulating “clueless reporters.” Perhaps he’s also orchestrating administration climate spin.

Rising ocean tides will bring “waves of climate refugees” to America and Europe, President Obama has declared. “Environmental migrants” are already fleeing shrinking islands in the Pacific, and it is a “dereliction of duty” for military officers to “deny the reality” of dangerous man-made climate change. READ MORE


The Luckiest Generation in U.S. History?

By Jim Agresti 

Luckiest Generation In U.S. History?

Luckiest Generation In U.S. History?

In his annual letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett—the world’s third richest person—remarked on the state of the U.S. economy and current political fracas by writing:

It’s an election year, and candidates can’t stop speaking about our country’s problems (which, of course, only they can solve). As a result of this negative drumbeat, many Americans now believe that their children will not live as well as they themselves do. That view is dead wrong: The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history. READ MORE

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Economic Growth Misses Virginia

Economic growth virginia

Not only has job creation and new business formation been weak in the current business cycle, it has been more concentrated geographically than in the past. Unfortunately for the Old Dominion, between 2010 and 2014 that concentration did not occur here.

virginia-outline-150This analysis points to very different futures for American communities, suggesting that the gains from growth have and will continue to consolidate in the largest and most dynamic counties and leave other areas searching for their place in the new economy,” writes the Economic Innovation Group in a new publication, “The New Map of Economic Growth and Recovery.”

The report buttresses an argument familiar to Bacon’s Rebellion readers: that larger metropolitan areas enjoy a significant competitive advantage in the Knowledge Economy. Skilled and educated employees seek large labor markets that provide a diversity of employment opportunities, while corporations seek larger, deeper labor markets that provide access to a diversity of skilled and educated employees. The dynamics of labor markets outweigh factors that confer competitive advantage in the old industrial economy such as access to transportation and natural resources, lower labor costs, low taxes and a low cost of doing business.

In summary: Large metros enjoy a major competitive advantage, smaller metros are teetering on a knife’s edge, and rural areas and small towns are hosed.

“The U.S. economy is becoming far more reliant on a small number of super-performing counties to generate new businesses,” EIG says. “A mere 20 counties accounting for only 17 percent of the U.S. population were responsible for half of the net national increase in business establishments from 2010 to 2014.”

The report does not speculate whether the trend is the result of temporary economic or political factors or is an irreversible long-term trend.

Firms graphic bacon
Graphic credit: EGI

Two trends contribute to the sharp decline in the number of businesses: a higher rate of firm deaths (more companies getting acquired or going out of business) and a collapse in new business formation, as can be seen below.

establishmen graphics bacon

What could account for these trends? One logical possibility: In a blast of creative destruction associated with the digital economy, a relatively small number of new companies are displacing many established businesses. Another possibility: A wave of economic regulation in recent years has hobbled large swaths of the economy — the banking industry, the Internet, health care, energy, and so on — and has created new economies of scale that favor large, established corporations, encourages mergers and consolidations, and throws up barriers to entry to new firms. Most likely, both are at work.

Weakness in the national economy means that everyone is swimming upstream. Only a small number of metropolitan areas are strong enough to make any progress swimming against the current. Mega-trends favor the mega-metros.

But mega-trends won’t tell the whole story. Some large metros bungle their opportunities though corruption, business-hostile policies and mal-investment of public resources. Some smaller communities buck the broader trends by building defensible economic niches. The news from the EIG report is discouraging, but short-term trends need not dictate our long-term destiny.
(This article first ran in Bacon’s Rebellion on May 24, 2016)


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Posted in Economy, Latest | 1 Comment

What is Ag Stormwater & Is It Regulated?

epa-150x150Agriculture’s stormwater runoff is in the news almost every day. Des Moines, Iowa, has filed a major law suit against drainage districts (farmers) and counties alleging that runoff water from farmers’ fields discharged through farm tiles into local rivers must be regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPA has recently won a major case against the American Farm Bureau (AFBF) and claims it now has the authority to regulate agriculture stormwater runoff using the Clean Water Act’s authority to regulate Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) of pollutants which run off farmers’ fields and into waters of the state or the United States. This is a problem for tillage agriculture!

Agriculture’s stormwater runoff from fields is viewed as significant and pernicious cause of water pollution in the nation’s waters. Many opponents of agriculture claim state efforts to improve water quality impacted by agriculture have met with little or no success. EPA and its supporters constantly argue that present day agricultural practices cause serious adverse impacts to surface water and ground water.

Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) is claiming that the groundwater coming from farm fields carries high levels of nitrates. DMWW claims farmers’ agricultural stormwater runoff is harming its citizens’ drinking water.

Many of you may ask what is agricultural stormwater runoff and is it regulated?

The federal statute entitled “Clean Water Act” has addressed agricultural stormwater runoff since 1972. One would think defining agricultural stormwater runoff is pretty simple. I can assure you courts have wrestled with this issue for decades and in nearly every case have come to the correct conclusion declaring in every case there is an agriculture stormwater exemption and that farmers as of this date do not need a CWA federal permit to discharge water running off of their fields and from around their concentrated animal facilities.

Federal courts have written extensively on what constitutes agricultural stormwater runoff; what is exempted from federal permitting and what is not. The granddaddy of agricultural runoff cases occurred in 1994 involving a dairy farm in New York State in Concerned Area Residents for the Environment v. Southview Farm. This case involved the farmer applying dairy manure on a field shortly before a substantial rain. The Court ruled “We agree that agricultural runoff has always been considered nonpoint-source pollutants exempt from the Act.” In the Southview Farm case, some manure ran into surface waters while it was raining and some ran in while it was not raining. The Court looked at the common sense meaning of agricultural stormwater. The Court said quite simply that discharges of agricultural stormwater runoff caused by “precipitation” would be exempt from CWA permitting. So the Court clearly ruled that runoff from a farmer’s field “caused by” rainfall would be exempt from the permitting requirements of the CWA.

Another key decision in 2005 also came from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. That case also protected agriculture stormwater runoff from being regulated by EPA. It said “There is an impropriety of imposing liability for agriculture-related discharges triggered not by negligence or malfeasance, but by the weather – even when those discharges came from what would otherwise be point sources;” (The attorneys for DMWW might want to read this case carefully.)

Another decision in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals against Closter Farms ruled that “…agricultural stormwater discharge exemption applies to any discharges [that] were the result of precipitation.” It is clear federal courts have supported agriculture’s stormwater runoff exemption.

A second issue has arisen regarding stormwater runoff from around the buildings of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Many have argued runoff from the barnyard area surrounding CAFO buildings is from a point source and must be regulated by EPA or a state. EPA claims that it can regulate runoff from the production area and that includes the animal confinement area, manure storage area, raw materials’ storage area and waste containment areas. It is also clear that barnyard areas which are landscaped and surround the buildings constitute none of these activities, so the farmyard where stormwater runs off is also exempted under the agricultural stormwater runoff exemption.

EPA, in 2003, agreed that its regulations requiring a permit only regulated activities within the farm production area.

The issue appears simple but as you can see, it is not.
(This article first ran in Farm Futures on May 18, 2016)

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Posted in Agriculture, Latest | 45 Comments

Platooning and Dedicated Truck Lanes

FI-vitpho-iStock-Thinkstock-150x150Interest continues to grow in making use of partial automation to enable big-rigs to travel close together in platoons on long-distance highways. In addition to reduced accidents from partial automation (lane-keeping and connected adaptive cruise control), platooning offers significant reductions in fuel consumption.

Two platooning demonstrations have been carried out recently in Europe. Daimler Trucks in March operated a three-truck platoon on an active German autobahn, with 15-meter (50-ft.) separation between them. The video showed that when a car cut in between platooning trucks, the automation system quickly increased the spacing to 165 ft. And in April, the first cross-border truck platooning took place, as six platoons from several countries converged on the port of Rotterdam.

In this country, the legislatures of Florida and Missouri have taken action on truck platooning so far this year. Florida’s new autonomous vehicle law allows testing of semi-autonomous platoons on the state’s highways, but a companion measure that would waive the current minimum following distance of 300 ft. failed to pass. The Missouri Senate gave unanimous support to a transportation bill that includes a truck platooning pilot program; it awaits a decision by the House. James Pflum of Missouri DOT points to I-70 in the state as the logical test-bed for truck platooning.

A Silicon Valley startup company, Peloton Technology, is working actively with truck fleets, manufacturers, and state DOTs to carry out pilot projects using its semi-automation technology in two-truck platoons. The company’s business model offers the system to operators at cost, plus a fee for every mile platooned. It is preparing for on-road tests with several fleets on Texas highways this year.

A recent study of autonomous trucking by consulting firm Roland Berger identified five potential stages of automation, with driver-on-board platooning as stage 3. The firm estimated the incremental cost of equipping trucks for each stage, and its estimate for stage 3 is $6,200 per vehicle, which it thinks could be recovered via savings in fuel use and reduced accidents (with the latter providing the largest share of cost savings).

Another recent study, by Princeton Consultants, found that only 28% of the industry people it surveyed expected automation to have a moderate to large near-term impact on trucking. But Princeton’s Steve Sashihara told Fleet Owner that the longer-term impact could be significant. That’s because the industry confronts an aging workforce and a chronic driver shortage. He thinks automation could transform long-distance trucking, especially when platooning can be done without driver intervention. Current regulations limit drivers to 11 hours per day, after which they must have an eight-hour break—but a fully autonomous truck could operate nearly 24 hours a day.

And that brings me back to the topic of dedicated truck lanes. The FHWA’s Freight Facts and Figures 2015 projects truck freight doubling (in dollar value) between 2007 and 2040. In Reason Foundation’s 2013 “Interstate 2.0” study, we reviewed detailed data from FHWA’s Freight Analysis Framework for every long-distance Interstate highway. Based on FAF’s corridor-by-corridor projections, we identified 11 major corridors in which 2040 truck vehicle miles of travel (VMT) would equal or exceed 40% of total VMT. Seven of these were multi-state corridors, including major portions of I-10, I-30, I-40, I-70, I-80, and I-81. Those would be obvious candidates for dedicated truck lanes, which would be welcomed by motorists and truckers alike.

The impact of those projections is starting to sink in. At an April hearing of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Chairman Bill Shuster (R, PA) suggested that dedicated truck lanes (DTLs) might be needed to cope with this growth. Also that month, Georgia DOT announced plans for what could well be the nation’s first dedicated truck lanes—on I-75 between Macon and Atlanta’s southeastern suburbs. Those 40 miles of DTLs are estimated to cost $2 billion. The funding would come from federal and state fuel-tax funds. But that decision has already raised questions in Georgia. At the same time that nearly all planned widening of expressways in metro Atlanta will consist of express toll lanes for light vehicles, why is Georgia DOT planning to “give” the trucking industry this $2 billion worth of new lanes?

A different conclusion was reached in the four-state I-70 Corridors of the Future study last decade. That aging Interstate needs full reconstruction, and the preferred option is to rebuild it with two DTLs each way. But since the cost of doing that would be far beyond the capital budgets of the four states (MO, IL, IN, and OH), the preferred alternative called for toll financing of the entire project. Missouri has federal permission to do this (by having won one of the slots in a three-state pilot program), but currently lacks state tolling authority.

In the April T&I Committee hearing, the American Trucking Associations’ chief of national advocacy, Dave Osiecki, agreed with Shuster, in a statement worth quoting: “We do have a capacity problem. We don’t have enough funding for our system. I think we all know that. We need to figure out, as a country, as an industry, and as a Congress, a better way to fund our highway infrastructure, going forward.” I fully agree, and recommend customer-friendly toll financing as the best available option.

(This article first ran in the May 2016 edition of Surface Transportation Innovations)


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