Economically, it stinks to be us...Michael Doyle
WASHINGTON — The recession has slammed Modesto, Stockton and Fresno harder than almost any other metropolitan areas in the country, according thelates
The three San Joaquin Valley cities rank among the bottom 10 "weakest performing" metro regions nationwide, a Brookings Institution study released today concludes. Plunging house prices, soaring unemployment and viral foreclosures are choking the region more than other parts of the country.
"All metropolitan areas are feeling the effects of this recession, but the distress is not shared equally," report co-author Alan Berube noted.
In March, for instance, Modesto's unemployment rate reached 17.5 percent and Fresno's hit 17 percent, while in the high-tech haven of Provo, Utah, it hovered at 5.1 percent. Stockton house prices fell 30.6 percent since January 2008. In Houston, they have rebounded by 4.7 percent.
Stockton, Modesto and Fresno ranked 93rd, 94th and 95th in the rankings compiled by Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program. The lowest-ranked city was Detroit, savaged by the loss of manufacturing jobs.
The valley cities are long accustomed to poor showings on similar economic score cards, and the general picture has been painted many times before. Berube cautioned, though, that the latest downturn further impedes perennial turnaround hopes.
"While some areas of the country ... may be emerging from the recession already, people living in metro areas that are now performing weakest economically should prepare themselves for a long recovery period," Berube said.
The region's lawmakers are responding symbolically and legislatively to the crisis that's summed up in the 21-page Brookings report. They are acutely aware of the political dangers posed by sustained voter frustration.
Friday, for instance, the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on the valley's dire economic circumstances. Lawmakers will consider, although not vote on, proposals including one by Reps. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and Jim Costa, D-Fresno, that would establish the valley as an "economic disaster" area eligible for special federal aid.
"We are one step closer to seeing the relief we deserve in the valley," Cardoza declared.
In a slightly different rhetorical vein, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, said he will bring more congressional attention to the irrigation water shortages that have aggravated the valley's farm economy. Starting this week, Nunes plans to offer water- related amendments on House spending bills; he conceded that the amendments will lose, but he said he believes they still will serve a purpose.
"We need to draw a clear congressional record of those people who want to cut off water to the valley," Nunes said, adding his belief that congressional Democratic leaders "want the valley killed."
While not addressing the valley's specific water woes, nor the proposals for an "economic disaster" designation, Berube stressed that the region-to-region disparity will complicate the job of "policy-makers seeking to ensure a truly national rising economic tide."
The study, which will be updated every quarter, focuses on the nation's largest metropolitan areas. Collectively, these areas account for two-thirds of the nation's jobs and generate three-fourths of the gross domestic product.
Some of the study's economic indicators are well known, such as the unemployment rate. In Modesto, Stockton and Fresno, analysts noted that unemployment jumped more than 5.9 percentage points.
Other economic indicators are more arcane, although no less depressing. The study, for instance, examines the percentage of mortgaged properties that have been foreclosed upon but didn't sell at auction and so are owned by the lending institution.
In Honolulu, for instance, fewer than one in 1,000 "mortgage-able" properties is owned by the lenders. In Stockton, more than 14 homes in 1,000 are owned by the lenders, and in Modesto more than 13 homes in 1,000 are owned by lenders. The proportion in Fresno is about 6.5 homes per 1,000.
On the Net:
The full report is available at www.brookings.edu.
Los Angeles Times
EPA targets cement industry emissions
The federal agency has proposed regulations that could cut mercury emissions 81% to 93% annually. Industry representatives warn the rules would increase costs and could lead to outsourcing...Amy Littlefield
Environmentalists and industry representatives pleaded their case with federal regulators Tuesday over rules that would slash toxic emissions from cement kilns, the top source of mercury emissions in California.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued proposed regulations for Portland cement kilns earlier this year, after more than a decade of pressure from environmental groups. The rules aim to reduce the industry's mercury emissions by an estimated 81% to 93% annually, as well as cut emissions of hydrocarbons, particulate matter and hydrochloric acid.
The EPA projects that the changes could save billions of dollars and hundreds of lives a year, but cement industry officials say they will drive up the price of cement, and possibly drive the industry to countries that have lower pollution standards.
The rules would "undermine the stability of the domestic cement industry, endangering thousands of jobs and the supply of a basic construction material for uncertain environmental benefits," Andy O'Hare, a spokesman for the Portland Cement Assn., told EPA officials at the hearing in downtown Los Angeles.
"This regulation will help all Californians breathe easier, particularly the dozens of California communities neighboring cement kilns," Otana Jakpor, a Riverside high school student speaking for the American Lung Assn., told the EPA panel. "It will reduce hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic chemicals that harm young people. And it will do so with technology that already exists. . . . As a young person who lives in an area with some of the worst air pollution in the country, I feel especially passionate about this."
Portland cement kilns, which produce the key ingredient in concrete, account for 90% of the state's airborne mercury, which can affect the nervous system, cognitive function and kidneys, and can cause respiratory failure and death at high exposures, according to the EPA.
Cement kilns emit hazardous chemicals as they burn coal, petroleum coke or industrial waste to heat raw materials including limestone ore, which also can contain mercury and other elements. The process produces "clinker," which is cooled, ground and mixed with gypsum. In 2008, high levels of the toxic carcinogen hexavalent chromium were traced to piles of clinker outside the TXI Riverside cement plant, which has since shut down.
"We think of California as not having coal-fired power plants, but we really do," said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We have these cement kilns that basically operate as small coal-fired power plants, and some of them aren't so small."
California is the nation's largest producer of cement, and houses 11 of the nation's 163 Portland cement plants, including the Lehigh Southwest plant in Tehachapi, which has historically been one of the industry's worst mercury polluters.
The EPA is accepting public comments on the proposed rules through Sept. 4. A second hearing will take place in Dallas today and a third in Washington on Thursday.