[imgcontainer right] [img:6a00d8341c630a53ef014e8b5f2982970d-400wi.jpeg] Last night’s Republican debate didn’t mention rural America. The two-hour affair featured former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (left) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. [/imgcontainer]

We watched the Republican debate last night with interest. As always, we were looking for any specific reference to rural America. As usual, there were nearly none.

We stand open to correction, but the closest thing we heard to a comment about specific rural policy came from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. We swear we heard Gov. Romney say that the Obama administration was “strangling” development of the Marcellus shale formation. Natural gas drillers are very active in that formation, which stretches from New York to West Virginia. 

And the drillers have quite a bit of opposition from local landowners, who say the drilling — and, particularly, the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques to dislodge the gas — is ruining underground water supplies.

We thought we heard this and even wrote down Romney’s observation that Obama environmental policies were “strangling” development in the Marcellus. We don’t see that in the transcript, however. 

Did we just make this up? Or does Romney have some explaining to do the next time he comes to rural New York and Pennsylvania?

Meanwhile, a report released Wednesday by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said drilling in the Marcellus formation would create jobs, but at a price, the New York Times reports.

The report was released in advance of new regulations governing drilling and hydro-fracking. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo generally supports shale gas development.

• Turns out that the USDA is doing very little to enforce COOL, the country of origin labeling program.

Capital Press reports that the USDA has not imposed any penalties on retailers who have failed to follow the requirement that certain foods show where they were produced. 

• The State Bar Association of South Dakota wants more lawyers in the rural parts of that state.

The Argus Leader reports that two-thirds of the state’s attorneys are in just four cities. “A lot of our rural attorneys are nearing retirement and looking for someone to carry on the practice,” said bar president Pat Goetzinger. “We just don’t have anyone to take their place.” Some small towns are having to pay to transport lawyers in for special services. 

So, the state bar is working with smaller towns to find incentives that might lure lawyers. 

• It’s been a while since we wrote about the construction of new electric transmission lines across rural America. We got a reminder this morning that they are still being built. 

State regulators yesterday approved a $312 million line from western North Dakota to Grand Forks. The line will carry power generated by a coal-fired plant and from wind powered turbines. 

We also read that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is “embarking on a massive loan program to upgrade rural electric cooperative utilities.” Some $900 million in loans will go to 14 states. 

• The AP has a long and not very informative story about Virginia’s efforts to revitalize rural communities. 

We learn that “Virginia typically spends more than $36 million each year for revitalization programs to help localities redevelop cornerstones of their communities in the hope of sparking new investments and helping thousands who lost jobs find new employment.” However, “no study has been done on the economic impact or effectiveness of the programs….”

We are assured that “those closest to the projects say they’ve been a huge success.” No surprise there.

There are some examples here of the kind of things some towns are trying. In South Boston, for example, some old tobacco warehouses have been “transformed into a high-tech campus for cultural, educational, job training and work force development opportunities for the region.”

• There are 7 billion people on the Earth today. By 2050, there will likely be 9 billion, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This means that grain production in the world will have to double. 

• The Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress has issued a short report titled “Make Rural Schools a Priority.” 

The report notes failures in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the largest source of federal funding for schools. The report finds:

Two of Title I’s four complex formulas, however, unfairly steer more funds to large districts, despite some districts’ comparatively lower concentration of poverty. And some evidence exists that rural high schools receive less funding than high schools in suburban or urban areas due to the ways in which high schools can be funded in Title I allocations.

• A blog post at Fast Company echoes the Yonder’s Bob Bowman, who has warned that a mandatory cut in Medicare spending will hurt rural health care and economies. 

The FC writer notes that the health care industry has been a reliable creator of jobs, especially in rural areas. We need more jobs, but the country is also concerned about debt. Cuts in health care spending will reduce the debt, but also hurt the one area of the economy that’s adding lots of employment. 

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