Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Politics of drought

As drought wreaks havoc on America's heartland, including Ohio, lobbyists are leaning on Congress to pass a flawed, trillion-dollar farm bill. Lawmakers should not wait until after the November election to enact the needed legislation, but they also should not use the drought as a pretext to approve a bad bill.

The current farm bill expires Sept. 30. If a new bill is not in place by then, crop insurance will cover most major drought-related losses among farmers.

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The crop most affected by the drought is corn for animal feed, not sweet corn that people consume. Supplies of the former were tight before the drought began in March, so livestock-grain prices would have risen anyway. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates food prices will rise no more than 1.5 percent higher than they would have without the drought.

The version of the farm bill preferred by House Republicans is too rich with unneeded subsidies and would do too much harm to the food stamp program. Congress can do better.

The current drought is the most widespread in the lower 48 states since 1956. Northwest Ohio is abnormally dry, yet not as parched as Indiana and other states to the west.

Gov. John Kasich's attempt to get a federal emergency declaration for Fulton, Williams, Defiance, Paulding, and Van Wert counties may be a tough sell unless the situations worsens. But farmers in these counties still may need the sort of low-interest loans now offered to farmers in Michigan and Indiana.

In some parts of the country, the drought has caused building foundations and pavement to crumble from dried soil and sinkholes. In this region, Great Lakes water levels have fallen below average. Every lost inch means shippers must leave behind millions of dollars of cargo.

Utilities need water to cool power plants, especially as the demand for electricity peaks during heat waves. Some people wonder whether gasoline prices will rise if the drought makes less water available for hydraulic fracturing of shale bedrock to drill for oil.

Drought is hard to predict, let alone prevent. But this has been the warmest period since the 1880s. A debate over the extent of man-made climate change should not stop Congress from mitigating change with pollution controls.

In the coming weeks, northwest Ohio should promote water conservation. Earlier this month, amid its longest dry spell in 104 years, the City of Indianapolis announced fines of $100 or more on homeowners who water lawns, fill pools, and violate other new restrictions.

This drought has hit home. But Congress should not use it as an excuse to pass a bad farm bill, or take other counterproductive measures.

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