THE READER
July 2006

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Newsbites

Reprinted with permission.

Penn State Study finds Wal-Mart contributes to poverty

A study focused on the effects that Wal-Mart stores have on poverty rates found that an estimated 20,000 families nationwide have fallen below the official poverty line as a result of the chain’s expansion.

The study—”Wal-Mart and County-Wide Poverty”—written by Stephan Goetz, a professor of agricultural and regional economics at Pennsylvania State University, and Hema Swaminathan for the International Center for Research on Women, was published in the latest issue of Social Science Quarterly.

During the last decade, dependence on the food stamp program nationwide increased by 8 percent, while in counties with Wal-Mart stores the increase was almost twice as large at 15.3 percent, according to the study. Although Wal-Mart employs many people living in its communities, for most the hours worked and the wages paid do not help these families transition out of poverty, the study said.

The study, which sought to identify the independent effect of Wal-Mart stores on changes in U.S. family-poverty rates at the county level, found that one of the greatest effects of a Wal-Mart opening is the closing of mom-and-pop-type operations.
Poverty rates will rise if retail workers displaced from existing mom-and-pop-type operations work for Wal-Mart at lower wages because they have no alternatives, all else equal, according to the study. The demise of mom-and-pop stores leads to the closing of local businesses that supplied those stores, such as wholesalers, transporters, logistics providers, accountants, lawyers and others. Many of these are higher-paying jobs. The study concludes that it is likely that these more highly-educated individuals depart from the rural community in pursuit of better opportunities elsewhere, contributing to the rural-to-urban exodus over the last decade, leaving behind those with fewer opportunities and raising the poverty rate by reducing the number of non-poor households in the denominator.

Wal-Mart is estimated to employ no more than two percent of the average county’s work force. The share of Wal-Mart’s employment in total county retail jobs is substantially greater than only 2 percent. In addition, the Wal-Mart jobs may be part time as opposed to full time, leading to lower family incomes, all else equal, the study said. -Organic Consumer’s Association

USDA proposes robust standard for grass-fed label

On May 12, 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a proposed standard for a new government-certified label for grass-fed meat from ruminant animals like cattle, sheep, and bison. In order for producers to qualify for this voluntary label, animals must be fed a life-long diet consisting of almost 100 percent grass/forage. USDA originally proposed a requirement for an 80 percent grass diet, an idea that was roundly rejected by sustainable livestock producers because it would have allowed animals who spend the last few months of their lives in factory farm feedlots eating grain (as most conventional cattle do) to still be labeled “grass-fed.” The new USDA proposal is a huge victory for producers who raise animals on grass, and consumers who support this “meat with benefits.” The USDA is accepting feedback on this proposal through August 10, 2006. To read the federal register notice of the proposed grass-fed label and to submit your comments in support of this winning standard, visit http://ucsaction.org/ct/t1_Ifnd1wRW1/ and search for “grass-fed.” -Union of Concerned Scientists

Congress may exempt factory farms from pollution laws

Large agribusiness companies are pushing their friends in Congress to exempt factory farms from the pollution reporting and cleanup provisions in key pollution laws. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) provide an essential safety net for protecting water supplies from livestock pollution and for providing warnings of toxic air emissions from factory farms. Over 140 representatives are supporting a bill, H.R. 4341, that would give this sweetheart deal to factory farms. The bill may soon be attached to a “must-pass” spending bill in an effort to speed this ill-conceived measure through Congress. To learn more, read the Sierra Club’s fact sheet about the issue at http://ucsaction.org/ct/g7_Ifnd1wRW_/. To find your representative, visit http://ucsaction.org/ct/57_Ifnd1wROV/. -Union of Concerned Scientists

Top corporate air polluters named

Researchers at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts recently released the Toxic 100, an updated list of the top corporate air polluters.

“The Toxic 100 informs consumers and shareholders which large corporations release the most toxic pollutants into our air,” says James K. Boyce, director of PERI’s environment program. “We measure not just how many pounds of pollutants are released, but which are the most toxic and how many people are at risk. People have a right to know about toxic hazards to which they are exposed. Legislators need to understand the effects of pollution on their constituents.”

The Toxic 100 index is based on air releases of hundreds of chemicals from industrial facilities across the United States. The rankings take into account not only the quantity of releases, but also the relative toxicity of chemicals, nearby populations, and factors such as prevailing winds and height of smokestacks.

The Toxic 100 index identifies the top air polluters among corporations that appear in the “Fortune 500,” “Forbes 500,” and “Standard & Poor’s 500” lists of the country’s largest firms. The Toxic 100’s top five companies are E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., US Steel, ConocoPhillips, GE, and Eastman Kodak. -world-wire.com

Gas price calculator puts price tag to consumer anger over gas prices

Americans in 50 metro areas will pay $83 billion more for gasoline this year at $3 per gallon, compared to the prices they paid in February 2003 —and even more if prices continue to rise as expected, says a new Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis that calculates the increased cost of gasoline per family in the 50 largest metro areas.
Families in sprawling Southern cities with limited mass transit systems drive the most miles per year and will pay more. In Nashville, Memphis, Charlotte, Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta, the average family will pay at least $2,000 more for gasoline this year than in 2003 at $3 per gallon. In those five cities, and including Denver, Oklahoma City and Jacksonville, a two-car family will pay between $4,000 and $4,800 per year for gasoline, a huge bill for the typical family earning the median income of $45,000.

At the other end of the scale, the average two-car family in transit-friendly New York City will pay only $1,164 more this year. Based on the current national average gas price of $2.92, the average two-car family will pay $1,774 more this year than in February 2003.

EWG’s Gas Gouge Calculator is the only tool of its kind available online. To see how your community ranks, go to http://www.ewg.org/reports/gaspricewatchdog/msatable.php.
To calculate your own additional cost of gasoline, based on your car and the amount you drive, go to http://www.ewg.org/reports/gaspricewatchdog/myresults.php.

Congress and the administration have tried repeatedly to cripple Amtrak, the government sacrificed millions of acres of public lands to oil and gas drilling for tiny amounts of energy, and President Bush directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to roll back air pollution safeguards at oil refineries in an ill-conceived effort to increase gasoline supplies.

Nationwide, soaring gas prices amount to a multi-billion dollar tax on consumers. In the largest 50 metro areas, consumers are spending $86.7 billion more per year on gasoline than they did in January 2001.

“Instead of bogus $100 bribes or shortsighted gas tax rollbacks, Congress and the administration need to get real about national energy policy,” said EWG energy analyst Dusty Horwitt. “We need higher gas mileage standards, funding for rail and transit equal to what we spend on new highways, and oil company taxes that reflect their windfall profits.” -Environmental Working Group