[imgcontainer right] [img:Kid-working-for-Oregon-bean-harvest-rs.jpeg] [source]Dorothea Lange[/source] Children harvested beans in Marion County, Oregon, in 1939. [/imgcontainer]

Farm owners are upset about proposed Department of Labor regulations that would limit the work their children can do. (See stories here and here.)  

The proposed regulations would prevent anyone under 18 from doing many chores for a neighbor or for their own family’s farm if the farm is set up as a corporation or a business partnership. (Most are.) 

The rules would not allow anyone under the age of 16 to operate power-driven machines unless  supervised by a parent or guardian. They would be prohibited from handling any non-castrated livestock older than 6 months, any sows with suckling pigs or cows with newborns. Youngsters couldn’t work in grain silos, fruit or forage bins, nor could they handle pesticides.

Teenagers couldn’t use a cellphone or text while driving a tractor. (Editorial note: Could we add automobile here?)

Labor argues that 41 young people suffer serious farm injuries each day and a child is killed in agricultural work every 3.5 days. “Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America,” the Labor Department says on its website. “The fatality rate for young agricultural workers is four times greater than that of their peers employed in nonagricultural workplaces.”

The reaction to the regs in farm country has been predictably negative. Some 30 Senators (Republicans and Democrats) have sent a letter to Labor saying the proposed regulations do not reflect the reality of farm life or farm ownership. Farms often run by the work of extended families, the Senators argue, and these rules would upset those relationships.

There is also a cultural argument. Farm work teaches an ethic of responsibility and it helps tie young people to the business. 

And farm work puts kids in the real world, something that’s missing today, says Wisconsin farmer Shelly Mayer. “We have raised a generation of ‘bubble-wrap’ babies,” she said. “Parents dote so much on kids, they practically need an oxygen mask to go outside. And we wonder why they can’t function in society.”

• The L.A. Times has a profile of Ken Feinberg, the lawyer who handled restitution funds for both survivors of the 9/11 attacks and those harmed by the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf. Interesting passage: 

“Do not underestimate the emotion associated with financial uncertainty,” Feinberg said, raising a finger to blunt any suggestion that economic losses are less traumatic than fatalities. “The future of your livelihood in the gulf — will there be shrimp five years from now, what will happen to the oyster beds, what about my mom-and-pop hotel where tourism’s down? The common denominator in all of these tragedies is emotional anger, frustration, worry, disappointment.”

• Congress has “quietly lifted” a 5-year-old ban on paying for horse slaughterhouse inspections. The ban on inspections effectively closed slaughterhouses for horses. With the ban lifted, there could be butchering operations up in as little as a month. Most of the meat will be shipped to Europe or Asia. 

Animal rights proponents pushed the ban through Congress in 2006, but there was nothing in place to handle the surplus number of horses. Horses were abandoned. They starved.  Investigations for horse neglect and abuse increased in Colorado from 975 cases in 2005 to almost 1,600 in 2009.

Meanwhile, horses were shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. A government study found that 138,000 U.S. horses were shipped to these plants in 2010 — roughly the same number of horses slaughtered in the U.S. before the ban took effect.

The Humane Society said it would fight the reopening of horse slaughterhouses.

• The head of the Texas Renewable Energy Industry Association (i.e., wind) is bad-mouthing natural gas. Russell Smith said “the low price of natural gas has an automatic negative impact on the development of renewable energy sources. And people in leadership positions know that.” 

Cheap natural gas crowds out renewables. That’s the argument. Natural gas is a competitor with wind and solar to replace coal. And natural gas used in cars and trucks has become a competitor for biofuels. Dan Piller writes:

Advocates of biofuels and wind originally prevailed simply because of the perceived shortage of fossil fuels in the U.S. With the apparent new abundance of both petroleum and natural gas in the Lower 48, the debate will increasingly shift to environmental and climate issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil production and use of tar sands oil piped into the U.S. from Canada.

• Coal reporter Jeff Biggers writes about a coal slurry pond sitting in the middle of a central Illinois town. And he tells of a large strip mine that has received a draft permit for an operation that Biggers calls “quite possibly one of the most egregious, reckless and downright stupid strip-mine proposals in the 150-year history of coal mining in Illinois.” 

• Six Republican Senators are putting together a plan that would require the State Department to grant a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days, unless President Obama finds that it is not in the nation’s interest. 

The bill is to be introduced today. 

The pipeline would carry oil sands oil from near Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast. Its current route has been opposed by the Nebraska legislature, which worries that Keystone is crossing environmentally sensitive areas. 

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