Tag Archives: standards

EPA to keep strict gas mileage standards in place

The EPA has decided not to change government fuel economy requirements that force automakers to significantly increase the efficiency of new cars and trucks.

The decision announced this week follows a mandatory review of the standards established in 2012, when gas averaged $3.60 a gallon and small cars and hybrids were gaining favor.

The standards had required the fleet of new cars to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But there was a built-in reduction if buying habits changed — and they have, dramatically. Now, gas is averaging close to $2 a gallon and three of every five new vehicles sold in the U.S. are trucks and SUVs. As a result, the 2025 fuel-economy number drops to 50.8 mph.

That decline isn’t enough to satisfy car companies. They say they’re building small cars and electrics to meet the standards, but few consumers are buying them. Automakers had petitioned the government to lessen the standards.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement that based on the agency’s technical analysis, automakers have the technology to meet emissions standards and mileage through 2025. The requirements will increase the new-vehicle fleet’s average gas mileage requirement from 34.1 mpg this year while cutting carbon pollution and saving drivers billions at the pump, the EPA said.

“Although EPA’s technical analysis indicates that the standards could be strengthened for model years 2022-2025, proposing to leave the current standards in place provides greater certainty to the auto industry for product planning and engineering,” McCarthy said.

The EPA will take public comments on the decision until Dec. 30, meaning McCarthy could finalize the standards before President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated in January, even though a decision wasn’t required until April 2018. Trump has said he wants to get rid of the EPA and Myron Ebell, the leader of Trump’s EPA transition team, is director of a libertarian think tank that gets financial support from the fossil fuel industry and opposes “global-warming alarmism.”

The EPA, however, denied the rushed timetable was due to Trump’s election.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group that represents 12 automakers, including BMW, Ford, Toyota and General Motors, called the quick decision a “premature rush to judgment” and said it has asked Trump to review post-election regulations.

Ford Motor Co. called the EPA move “eleventh-hour politics in a lame-duck administration” and said it will work with the new administration and Congress. Ford has been a frequent target of criticism by Trump due to its plans to move some production to Mexico.

Environmentalists backed the EPA’s decision. Daniel Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said the standards already have pushed average new-vehicle gas mileage up by 5 mpg since 2007, reducing America’s oil use and helping to drive down gasoline prices worldwide.

Janet McCabe, EPA’s acting administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, said automakers have multiple technological pathways to meet the standards, from direct-injection gas engines to hybrids and electric vehicles. The industry is ahead of schedule, she said. More than 100 vehicles on the market are already meeting standards set for 2020. But electric vehicles still haven’t caught on. Last year EVs were less than 1 percent of U.S. new car sales.

“Leaving the standards as they are would give automakers the time they need,” McCabe said.

Automakers have warned that meeting the standards would result in additional costs that would be passed on to the consumer. McCabe said Wednesday that the estimated cost of the standards has fallen. The cost per vehicle to meet the 2025 standards is now $825, down from $1,100 in 2012, she said. Owners can easily make that back in savings at the pump, she said.

The industry has argued that the costs and consumer reluctance to buy the smallest, most efficient vehicles mean the industry will have trouble complying. “The evidence is abundantly clear that with low gas prices, consumers are not choosing the cars necessary to comply with increasingly unrealistic standards,” the Auto Alliance said.

Even if Trump rolls back the standards, the industry will continue to sell fuel-efficient cars in the U.S. because it has to meet mileage standards in other countries and California. “Automakers will still be on the hook to develop and produce these vehicles and will need economies of scale to make them profitable,” said Autotrader Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs.

Farmers, consumers want new management of organic program

Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute delivered to the USDA more than 5,000 letters from farmers and consumers calling for new management of the National Organic Program.

The food and farm policy research group collected the letters from concerned organic advocates across the country.

“This is one more indication of the growing dissatisfaction with deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy’s direction and oversight of the rapidly growing organic industry,” said Mark Kastel, Cornucopia’s senior farm policy analyst.

The Cornucopia Institute, along with many other public interest groups, has been critical of what they describe as a “corporate takeover” of the regulatory process that Congress designed specifically to protect organic rulemaking from the influence of agribusiness lobbyists.

“Under the direction of deputy Administrator McEvoy, the independence of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert policy panel convened by Congress to act as a buffer between lobbyists, like the powerful Organic Trade Association, and USDA policymakers has been seriously undermined,” said Dr. Barry Flamm, a Montana farmer, scientist and past chairperson of the NOSB.

In the cover letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the organization cited several areas where it says the USDA management is failing. These include:

A lack of enforcement activities on major fraud and alleged violations of organic regulations occurring with “factory farm” livestock activities — all cloaked in secrecy.

Ignoring the questionable authenticity of the flood of organic imports coming into this country from China, India, a number of former Soviet Bloc states and Central America that have effectively shut American organic grain farmers out of the U.S. market.

Allowing, in violation of the law, giant industrial-scale soilless production of organic produce (hydroponic and other management systems), along with ignoring NOSB prohibitions on nanotechnology, using conventional livestock on organic dairies, and other issues.

Usurpation of NOSB governance and authority by USDA/NOP staff and other violations of the Organic Foods Production Act (Cornucopia has a federal lawsuit being adjudicated that charges the USDA with appointing agribusiness executives to the NOSB in seats Congress had specifically earmarked for stakeholders who “own or operate an organic farm”).

Unilateral changes to the Sunset review process for synthetic and non-organic materials, making it difficult for unnecessary or harmful substances to be removed from organics when agribusinesses lobby for them (the USDA is currently involved in litigation with Cornucopia and other stakeholders on this Sunset issue).

“We want organics to live up to the true meaning envisioned by the founders of this movement,” Kastel said. “For both organic farmers and organic consumers, that means sound environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry, wholesome and nutritious food derived from excellent soil fertility, and economic justice for those who produce our food. The USDA needs to act to preserve consumer trust in the organic label.”

Due in part to the issues that Cornucopia is spotlighting, Consumer Reports has downgraded the credibility of the USDA organic label from its previous top-tier ranking.

 

Feds investigating claims WDNR fails to enforce water pollution regs

Federal regulators planned to visit Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources headquarters this week to investigate claims the agency is failing to enforcing water pollution laws and regulations.

Midwest Environmental Advocates and 16 individuals petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review water regulations in the state to ensure the DNR is complying with the Clean Water Act.

The EPA in 2011 cited 75 deficiencies in how DNR handles water regulation.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports four EPA regulators planned to spend four days this week at DNR headquarters in Madison paging through the agency’s water pollution files beginning Tuesday.

DNR spokesman Jim Dick called the review standard procedure, although the review could result in the EPA stripping the state’s authority to enforce federal regulations.

Minnesota’s model: State sets broadest limits on chemicals blamed for bee declines

The governor of Minnesota has ordered the broadest restrictions yet in a U.S. state on the use of agricultural pesticides that have been blamed for hurting bees.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order that requires farmers to verify that they face “an imminent threat of significant crop loss” before using the chemicals, called neonicotinoids.

Details of how farmers would prove their need have not yet been determined.

Minnesota, the country’s third-largest soybean producer, carried out a special review of neonicotinoids that prompted the new limits, the first U.S. state to do so.

Honey bees have been in serious decline in the United States for three decades, threatening billions of dollars in crops. In recent years, their death rate has become economically unsustainable, according to the U.S. government.

A survey of more than 20,000 honey beekeepers conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and released in May showed there were 2.59 million or 8 percent fewer honey bee colonies on January 1, 2016 than the 2.82 million a year earlier for beekeeper operations with five or more colonies.

Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans.

“Minnesota just became the national leader in protecting pollinators,” said Lex Horan, an organizer for Pesticide Action Network, a U.S. activist group.

EU LED THE WAY

Restrictions on neonicotinoids come two years after the European Union limited use of the chemicals, made and sold by companies including Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, after research pointed to the risks for bees.

Neonicotinoids are used worldwide in a range of crops and have been shown in lab-based studies to be harmful to certain species of bee, notably commercial honeybees and bumblebees.

The chemicals can be sprayed on crops to fight insects, but it is more common for U.S. farmers to plant seeds treated with neonicotinoids to keep pests, such as aphids, off crops.

State officials said they want Minnesota lawmakers to grant them the authority to regulate the sale and use of such seeds, a power that now lies with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Removing the pesticides would leave farmers more dependent on a smaller number of chemicals to control bugs, said Seth Naeve, an extension soybean agronomist for the University of Minnesota, thereby making it more likely that pests would develop resistance to those chemicals.

“We’re concerned about losing tools and a lack of flexibility to address issues,” said David Kee, director of research for Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

Farmers said they hoped other U.S. states would not follow Minnesota’s lead.

Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the governor was “restricting the ability of farmers to use all the tools the EPA has said they can use.”

“I don’t think that we’re aware of any other state that’s going to start taking away tools from farmers,” Schlegel said.

Reporting by Tom Polansek.

Justice Department announces Milwaukee Police Dept. review

The U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services this week announced the start of the “collaborative reform initiative” with the Milwaukee Police Department.

“The COPS Office will conduct a thorough, independent and objective assessment of the Milwaukee Police Department’s policies, practices and accountability systems,” said COPS office director Ronald Davis in a news release. “The findings and recommendations that come from such an assessment will empower the community to hold the department accountable to the best standards of the law enforcement profession.” 

Following the assessment, the COPS Office will issue a public report detailing the findings, along with recommendations for improvement.

The COPS Office will assess implementation of recommendations over an 18-month period following the initial assessment.

The Justice Department said the program is an independent way to transform a law enforcement agency through an analysis of policies, practices, training, tactics and accountability methods.

The initiative is designed to provide technical assistance to agencies facing significant law enforcement-related issues.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, a Democrat from Milwaukee, said in a prepared statement,  “I am encouraged by Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn’s decision to request this investigation and I am hopeful that the recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice will help the Milwaukee Police Department better serve our community. Given the number of high profile incidences in my district, including the deaths of Dontre Hamilton and Derek Williams, change in our current system is long overdue. We must do everything we can to strengthen the relationship between the citizens of Milwaukee and those who have sworn to protect them.”

Moore added, “However, I remain deeply concerned about allegations of racial profiling and ‘stop and frisk’ style policies that I fear are deeply imbedded in our current policing strategy. While this Office of Community Oriented Policing Services review represents a promising step forward, it does not involve the type of in-depth legal investigation I have called for through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. In the past, I have advocated for a full ‘pattern and practice’ review of the Milwaukee Police Department to broker the change many of my constituents feel is needed.”

The COPS Office is providing a review and recommendations in Spokane, Washington; Philadelphia; St. Louis County; Salinas, California; Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Calexico, California, and has completed the process in Las Vegas. 

The COPS office is a federal agency responsible for advancing community policing nationwide.

Animal welfare groups urge USDA to improve standards of care for dogs at commercial breeding facilities

Animal welfare groups this week urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the standards of care for dogs kept in commercial breeding facilities.

The Humane Society of the United States, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association filed a legal petition with the USDA, which regulates such facilities under the federal Animal Welfare Act, but current AWA regulations fall far short of ensuring the humane treatment of dogs. 

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS said in a news release, “It’s common sense that dogs should have water, space, exercise, and other basic care, and responsible dog breeders and pet industry groups should welcome these improved standards to restore consumer confidence and deal with the outliers who cut corners and treat puppies like products. The current standards are insufficient and outdated, and need to be fortified to crack down on abusive puppy mills.”

The requested changes would create more specific standards for veterinary care, housing, breeding practices, socialization and placement of retired breeding dogs.

“Dogs are not products that can be simply warehoused without appropriate regard for their welfare,” said Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA. “The public overwhelmingly agrees that the current USDA standards for dogs kept in commercial breeding facilities do not amount to humane treatment for dogs. The USDA needs to recognize this, and step up to ensure these vulnerable animals have proper care to maintain their health and well-being.”

Among other things, the petition urges the USDA to adopt the following rules for licensed dog breeders:

Restrict the use of wire flooring in the dogs’ primary cage space. Wire flooring is routinely used in commercial breeding facilities, often in cages stacked on top of each other, and is highly detrimental to the dogs’ welfare;

Require breeders to provide dogs with access to an exercise space. Current regulations do not mandate even daily or weekly exercise, and many dogs are kept in their cages day in and day out, for years on end;

Require that dogs be physically examined by a veterinarian at least once per year, including a determination that breeding dogs are fit to endure pregnancy and nursing;

Restrict the frequency of breeding.  Currently there are no limits on how frequently dogs may be bred, and commercial breeders routinely breed female dogs at every heat, with no rest between litters, contrary to the recommendations of most breed clubs;

Require breeders to provide dogs with constant access to potable water;

Increase the minimum cage space requirements so that dogs have adequate space to move around freely and to stand on their hind legs without touching the top of the cage; and

Require breeders to make reasonable efforts to work with rescue groups to adopt out retired breeding dogs and “unsellable” puppies, rather than euthanizing or abandoning the dogs.

“This petition requests much needed enhancements to existing regulations concerning the treatment of dogs used and bred for commercial sale, including the physical conditions of the breeding facility and the health and welfare of the individual dogs,” stated Dr. Susan Krebsbach, veterinary advisor for HSVMA. “These new regulations would greatly improve the living space, physical health and psychological well-being of literally tens of thousands of dogs in the United States.”

The petition was prepared pro bono by the law firm Latham and Watkins LLP and by attorneys in the Animal Protection Litigation department at The HSUS and by the ASPCA.

Tony Bennett: Truth and beauty are his game

In 1979, with no recording contract, few concerts, a failed second marriage and the IRS on his heels, Tony Bennett nearly died from a cocaine overdose.  The former top crooner, whose iconic 1962 hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” made him a household name, had lost touch with contemporary audiences and lost his way in the changing music scene.

Bennett reached out to sons Danny and Dae, who helped turn his faltering career around and found a way for him to appeal to younger audiences without changing his charismatic musical style. Many new fans had never heard his music before, but they appreciated his enormous talent. Bennett’s star began once again to ascend, and it now shines as brightly once more.

At 87, Bennett is a marvel, as energetic and as strong of voice as ever. He’ll demonstrate his talents June 6 at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theatre. 

Bennett’s also at a point where he can reflect on his life and acknowledge the influences that shaped him and his career.

You’ve managed to transcend style and fashion to create an enduring career. What are the key elements that define Tony Bennett the artist and performer?  I grew up during the Depression …. and every Sunday (my extended family) would come to our house and we would have a big meal. Then all my relatives would sit around in a circle and my brother, sister and I would entertain them. The love and encouragement that I got from my family at that time in my life was so supportive that I knew back then that I wanted to be a performer, and that this was what I am. For the time I am on stage, if the audience can just … forget about their daily problems and concerns and walk away in a good mood, then that makes me feel terrific. I consider it an honorable profession. 

Is there a single song that best encapsulates your career and contributions to the music industry? Wow, that is truly impossible for me to pinpoint. But I can tell you that, for me, I like to communicate truth and beauty in what I do. That’s my game.

What do you look for in choosing material?  Well, when I got home after being a foot soldier in WWII, I was fortunate enough to study at the American Theatre Wing under the GI Bill. The most important lessons that my teachers taught me …  was to do only quality material, never play down to an audience.  For me, there was a golden era of master craftsmen among songwriters in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s that make up what’s called the Great American Songbook. I gravitate to the music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington, Harry Warren and Irving Berlin.

What is essential for me in choosing a song is being able to connect with what the songwriter is trying to convey. If it generates an emotion or feeling that leads me to say, “Yes, I understand that. I have felt that way,” then I know that I can connect with the audience when I sing it.  

You’ve created a second career as an artist. Tell me about that. I have always had a passion to sing and paint and have been drawing and sketching my whole life. It was actually Duke Ellington who inspired me to take painting more seriously. He told me it was always better to be creative in two things rather than just one. That way if you burned out doing one art form, you could switch to the other form for awhile, but either you way you always stay in a creative zone.  

Artistically, I like to focus on nature since it never disappoints, so I tend to find beautiful landscapes to sketch or paint. I am fortunate that as a performer I travel the world and am able to paint in settings I might never have had the chance to visit otherwise.  On the road I travel with a big sketchpad and have a small pad that I always keep in the breast pocket of my suit jacket. I also have a travel watercolor set that I take with me. 

You’ve been a great supporter of liberal and progressive causes. Do you support marriage equality and gay civil rights? I am a humanist, so I support humanity.  Ella Fitzgerald, who was a dear friend, used to say something to me that was so simple, but yet I found it very profound. She would say, “Tony, we are all here.”  And that really is the truth of the matter — that regardless of race, gender, culture or religion, we are all human beings first and we need to respect and support one another.

You’ve performed with a number of gay or gay-friendly artists, including k.d. lang and Lady Gaga. What were those experiences like? I just love working with k.d. lang. The first time I heard her sing, I knew that she had “it,” just like Judy Garland. She has an extraordinary talent, but she makes it seem so effortless and natural. We made an album together, then she sang on both of my duets records, and we toured together. I just adore working with her and being with her. She is a lovely person.  

The first time I saw Lady Gaga was when we both performed at a New York City event for the Robin Hood Foundation, which supports the homeless.  I was completely amazed at what a very good singer and piano player she was. We are working on a collaborative jazz album together that I hope will come out later this year.  She has an excellent understanding of jazz and the popular standards, and I think her fans will love getting a chance to hear her sing this genre of music. (The album, currently titled Cheek to Cheek, has no set release date.)

You bring an energy and vibrancy to your performances that would be the envy of a performer half your age. Where do you get your strength and inspiration? Thank you. I can only say that I truly feel like I have never worked a day in my life, because I have been able to make a living doing the two things that I love the most — singing and painting. I think if you have a passion for something — art, music, literature, cooking or whatever it may be — and it makes you feel fulfilled, then it keeps you going.  And I always try to learn something new every day.

Common Core spawns widespread political fights

More than five years after U.S. governors began a bipartisan effort to set new standards in American schools, the Common Core initiative has morphed into a political tempest fueling division among Republicans.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads establishment voices — such as possible presidential contender Jeb Bush — who hail the standards as a way to improve student performance and, over the long term, competitiveness of American workers.

Many arch-conservatives — tea party heroes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among them — decry the system as a top-down takeover of local schools.

The standards were developed and are being implemented by states, though Common Core opponents argue that President Barack Obama’s administration has encouraged adoption of the standards by various parameters it set for states applying to get lucrative federal education grants.

Tea party-aligned officials and candidates want to delay the standards or abandon them altogether in at least a dozen of the 45 states that adopted some part of the guidelines.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence this week signed the first Common Core repeal to make it through a legislature.

“Common Core is like Obamacare: They passed it before they knew what was in it,” said William Evers, a Hoover Institute research fellow and lead author of a California Republican Party resolution denouncing Common Core.

To a lesser extent, Democrats must deal with some teachers — their unions hold strong influence within the party — who are upset about implementation details.

But it’s the internal GOP debate that’s on display in statehouses, across 2014 campaigns and among 2016 presidential contenders.

The flap continues as students in 36 states and the District of Columbia begin this week taking field tests of new assessments based on the standards, although the real tests won’t be given for another year.

Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, has joined seven colleagues, including Texas’ Cruz, to sponsor a measure that would bar federal financing of any Common Core component. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida isn’t among the eight, but he had already come out against the standards. So has Rick Santorum, a 2012 presidential candidate mulling another run.

On the other end of the spectrum is Bush, the former Florida governor and Rubio’s mentor. “This is a real-world, grown-up approach to a real crisis that we have, and it’s been mired in politics,” Bush said last week in Tennessee, where he joined Republican Gov. Bill Haslam at an event to promote Common Core.

Haslam, who is running for re-election this year, is trying to beat back a repeal effort in the Tennessee Legislature. “These are simply guidelines that say a fourth grader should be learning the same things” regardless of where the student lives, the governor said recently. “Historically, we haven’t been good at setting high standards.”

The National Governors Association and state education superintendents developed Common Core.

Among other things, the framework recommends when students should master certain skills. For example, by the end of fifth grade, a math student should be able to solve complex problems by plotting points on x and y axes. A high school sophomore should be able to analyze text or make written arguments using valid logical reasoning and sufficient evidence.

The issue presents a delicate balancing act for some governors. Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana and Scott Walker’s Wisconsin initially adopted the new standards. Now both men — possible presidential candidates — watch as GOP lawmakers in their states push anti-Common Core bills.

Jindal, who was an NGA member during Common Core’s development, won’t say where he stands on repeal.

“When it comes to specific bills, when they get to the issue of standards, we’ll sit down with the authors and provide our thoughts about it. But in general when it comes to standards, we don’t want to weaken the standards,” he told reporters last week.

Before Wisconsin lawmakers convened, Walker announced support for rethinking Common Core.

Establishment Republicans in Georgia, meanwhile, derailed a repeal effort in favor of a “study commission” empowered only to make recommendations. Alabama GOP leaders have held off a repeal measure, as well.

Immediate political consequences of the disputes aren’t clear. GOP officials and strategists say any fallout for them is dwarfed by Democrats’ struggle with Obama’s health care law. In the meantime, conservative candidates use Common Core as a symbolic rallying cry.

Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr, a long-shot primary challenger to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, insists Common Core “is just one more overreach of a federal government that wants to insert itself into everything.”

An Alabama congressional hopeful, Scott Beason, casts Common Core as liberal indoctrination. In Georgia’s crowded Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Rep. Paul Broun declared in a recent debate, “I want to abolish the Department of Education and get rid of Common Core forever.” His first goal wouldn’t necessarily accomplish the second.

The arguments perplex the politicians most responsible for the plan.

Democratic Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware told The Associated Press that opponents mistakenly equate a coalition from across the nation with a federal government initiative. Markell co-chaired the NGA’s Common Core panel with Republican Sonny Perdue of Georgia.

Perdue, who left office in 2011, said Common Core actually began as a pushback against federal influence because of the No Child Left Behind law, the national education act signed by President George W. Bush. Perdue said it was “embarrassing” for governors of both parties that Congress and the White House pushed higher standards before state leaders.

Perdue attributes the outcry against Common Core to Obama’s backing: “There is enough paranoia coming out of Washington, I can understand how some people would believe these rumors of a ‘federal takeover,’ try as you might to persuade people otherwise. I almost think it was detrimental … for the president to endorse it.”

Evers, who was a top Education Department appointee during the Bush administration, says it’s unfair to reduce opponents’ concerns to partisanship. He notes insufficient training for teachers expected to use new teaching methods, and he criticizes specific components. For example, some math courses are recommended for later grade levels than in standards already adopted in leading states like Massachusetts and California.

States move forward, Evers argued, because of competition. “It’s by emulation and rivalry that we have always seen advances in public education,” he said. National standards, he added, “will close the door on innovation.”

Mary Burke backs boosting minimum wage to $10.10

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke said on Sunday that she would support raising Wisconsin’s minimum wage up to as much as $10.10 an hour, putting her at direct odds with Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Burke made the comments in an interview that aired on the Wisconsin newsmagazine show “UpFront with Mike Gousha.”

“I think increasing the minimum wage leads to people being able to support themselves and their families, and we can do it in a way that’s not going to hurt job creation,” Burke said.

The state’s minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour.

Walker, a Republican, has spoken out against legislation that would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage, calling the proposals “political grandstanding.” The bills are in committees in both chambers, which are controlled by Republicans.

Burke had earlier said she favored a smaller increase of about 35 cents an hour. But on Sunday she endorsed the Democrats plan to raise the minimum wage in three increments, up to $10.10 an hour in two years.

Burke said: “The research shows in states that have raised the minimum wage above the federal wage that it has absolutely no impact on unemployment rates.”

Farmworkers welcome planned changes to protection standards

Farmworkers welcomed an announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it will soon propose revisions to the Worker Protection Standard, which provides minimal workplace protections against pesticide exposures for farmworkers.

A coalition of farmworker, public health and other nonprofit organizations has long urged the EPA to include stronger protections for farmworkers. More than 20 years has passed since the rules were updated and the EPA has admitted for more than a decade that the standards are inadequate.

Following a review by the federal Office of Management and Budget, advocates expect the EPA will publish the proposed rule for public comment in the next few weeks. The farmworkers want to see updated rules for safety training requirements, safety precautions limiting farmworkers’ contact with pesticides and mechanisms to improve enforcement of workplace protections.

An estimated 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops annually in the United States with the nation’s 1 million to 2 million farmworkers facing the highest threat from the health impacts of the chemicals.

The federal government estimates there are 10,000–20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry annually. Short-term effects of pesticide exposures include stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, nausea, headaches, respiratory problems and even death.

Long-term exposure can increase the risk of serious chronic health problems such as cancer, birth defects, neurological impairments and Parkinson’s disease for farmworkers, their families and their children.

A petition for reform was filed by Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice in November 2011 on behalf of United Farm Workers, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc., PCUN/Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, Farm Worker Pesticide Project, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and the Pesticide Action Network North America.

“While most Americans benefit from broad workplace protections, farmworkers are fundamentally disadvantaged and face dangerous exposure to poisons over the course of their working life,” said Eve Gartner, attorney for Earthjustice. “We urge the EPA to offer farmworkers a more protective safeguard.”

“Each year pesticide exposure poisons tens of thousands of farmworkers and their families, leading to injury, illness, and death,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice. “We applaud the administration for taking this step to help protect the men, women and children who labor to put food on our tables. We hope that the EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard will include important safeguards for farmworkers and strengthen their right to a safe workplace.”