[imgcontainer] [img:Wendy%27s.jpg] [source]Chad Ottman[/source] This woebegone Wendy’s is outside Percival, Iowa, on Highway 2. The preparations for the flood in Iowa and Missouri continue. We know there are disasters all over, from the fires in Arizona to continual flooding in Vermont. Lots of rural America is just having to hunker down, like the folks at this hamburger joint. [/imgcontainer]

The Obama administration announced today that it would establish a White House Rural Council.

It was unclear exactly what the council would do, even after a press conference held by phone with Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack, the co-chairs of the council. In a press release, the White House said the council “will coordinate programs across government to encourage public-private partnerships to promote further economic prosperity and quality of life in rural communities nationwide.”

(The executive order creating the council can be found here.)

This appears to be a kind of coordinating body within government. No new staff will be hired. There is no committee appointed to oversee the work of the council — if, indeed, there is any work to be done.

(Your thoughts?: Talk about what the council should be doing at the DY’s Facebook page.)

During the phone press conference, Vilsack and Salazar talked almost entirely about what the administration had already done. The two cabinet officers promoted money spent to extend Internet broadband and funding that has been put into dams, tribal communities, renewable energy, housing, etc. 

Vilsack did mention that cabinet officials would go out across the nation to “listen.” The administration has had several of these “listening tours” in rural America — one about rules governing livestock markets and one by officials with the Appalachian Regional Commission.

One reporter asked if this council was the first sign of the Obama re-election campaign in rural communities. Vilsack and Salazar said that it was not.

Other cabinet officials chimed in about the new council, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan. 

“Increasing college and career training for rural students of all ages is a rural imperative and a national priority if we, as a nation, are to continue strengthening our economy in all communities,” Duncan said in a statement. “Rural students are as smart, talented, and ambitious as children and adults anywhere in the world. We must work in a coordinated way to support rural schools, colleges, and career training organizations as they prepare the next generation of leaders who will stay to strengthen and in some cases reinvent their local economies.”

(We at the Yonder are certainly glad that Duncan believes this to be true, but can you imagine him saying this about white students?)

The press conference ended without much else being said — or promised. What the council will actually do — or who the council is — is all still a mystery. 

Lynda Waddington at the ever-useful Iowa Independent has some suggestions for what the council might take up. Go to her story for all the links: 

For more than two years, The Iowa Independent has been reporting on the impact the health care industry can and does have on rural economies and rural residents. No doubt Obama’s Rural Council will also take note of how brain drain is negatively impacting rural areas, how it is difficult to find qualified physicians and therapists with the understanding and willingness necessary to serve the demographic and how even positive government or regulatory changes may not be enough to aid rural America. Recommendations by the panel will be made even more difficult by the fact that as each year passes, the face of rural America is changing.

•Jill Burke reports in The Alaska Dispatch of an innovative housing deal in Atka, near the tip of the Aleutian island chain. Burke describes the community:

Imagine one block of a residential street in any Midwestern city. Pluck from the homes the families that dot either side and drop them into box-like structures on a small island more than 1,000 miles away from the nearest urban area, raise the cost of gas and groceries sky high, eliminate jobs, teach people to learn to live off the land and the sea, and you start to get the idea of what life on Atka and in many of Alaska’s rural communities is like.

Burke describes a project aimed at designing homes appropriate for the place and the people.

•The Arizona fire had taken nearly 400,000 acres by this morning and the L.A. Times reports that it shows no sign of relenting. Good photos and story here

• The U.S. Senate yesterday did not delay a limit on credit card swipe fees. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana tried to delay the implementation of the rules for a year, saying it was unclear how the limit on fees would affect smaller banks

• American Electric Power says it would close five coal-fired power plants to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new pollution rules. 

Three of those plants would be in West Virginia, one each in Ohio and Virginia. 

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