A FREE TRADE DO-OVER

The Trump administration has formally notified the United States Congress that it plans to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which governs trade among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The U.S. proposes to modify the agreement, not to dissolve it completely, but the details of the U.S. position are still sketchy.

NPR had a report (see: "Trump Administration Says It Will Launch NAFTA Renegotiation," by Merrit Kennedy). "U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer formally notified congressional leaders in a letter Thursday that the president intends to launch negotiations with Canada and Mexico 'as soon as practicable.' ...It's not clear exactly what the U.S. is seeking to change in the deal, though in his letter, Lighthizer said the Trump administration wants to see new provisions 'to address intellectual property rights, regulatory practices, state-owned enterprises, services, customs procedures, [sanitary] and phytosanitary measures, labor, environment, and small and medium enterprises.'"

Also unclear is how the U.S. bid to rework the NAFTA agreement will affect the existing ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada over Canadian softwood lumber exports to the United States. As in past trade actions, the United States alleges that the terms of timber sales by the Canadian government unfairly advantage Canadian producers. But litigation of that dispute would ordinarily take place in tribunals set up under the current NAFTA agreement, unless the issue can be resolved by a compromise before it gets that far. Canadian officials have said they see no real hope of reaching a compromise before NAFTA renegotiation begins in 90 days, according to a Reuters report (see: "Canada, U.S. unlikely to get lumber deal by mid-Aug: Canada source," by David Ljunggren). "Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told legislators on Wednesday that 'the U.S., when it comes to softwood lumber, has made no offers that any Canadian would consider to be acceptable,'" according to the Reuters report. But for now, at least, tariffs on Canadian framing lumber will stand.

HEAVY WEATHER

Tornadoes ripped across the central U.S. this week, bringing destruction and death. The Weather Channel had this report (see: "Severe Storms, Tornadoes Kill 3 and Injure Dozens More In the Midwest, Plains," by Ada Carr and Pam Wright). In Elk City, Oklahoma, a man was killed in his vehicle while trying to flee a tornado. In Iowa, a trucker died when high winds flipped his rig. In the KOCO-TV report below, a resident describes sheltering with his family, and emerging to learn that his neighbor had been killed.

Tornadoes are likely to do increasing damage in the central United States in coming decades, according to a report in USA Today (see: "Tornado deaths and destruction to triple in coming decades, study finds," by Doyle Rice). The reason, according to a study by Villanova researcher Stephen Strader, is not rougher weather—it's increasing development and sprawl in storm-prone regions. "We're building ourselves into disasters," Strader told the paper. Writes USA Today: "Residents in tornado-prone regions should be more concerned with the construction quality of their homes than possible impacts climate change could bring, such as an increase in the number or intensity of twisters, neither of which have been concretely forecast, Strader said. To minimize the risk, homeowners and businesses should look at building storm shelters or safe rooms, he added." Below: Strader shared government satellite infrared imagery of this week's heavy weather on his Twitter feed.

Codes in the nation's midsection don't require construction that would withstand a direct hit from a strong tornado: the likelihood of that happening is low, and the cost of building to withstand it is considered prohibitive. But experts say that modest structural upgrades and careful attention to construction detail could improve the durability and survivability of many homes in the event of a weak tornado or a near miss by a strong tornado (events that are far more common than a direct hit from a strong tornado). JLC reported on this topic in May (see: "A Texas Tornado: Lessons Learned - Stronger Connections Could Have Saved Homes," by Ted Cushman).

JUST FOR FUN

The English are known for their fanatical relationship with backyard sheds. Here's a look at the finalists in Cuprinol’s "Amazing Spaces – Shed of the Year" competition, as portrayed in a slideshow from The Guardian (see: "Shed of the Year 2017 – in pictures"). We're told that the Tardis is not fully operational (of course, they have to say that).

STATE BY STATE

Connecticut's tony "Gold Coast" is recovering nicely from 2012's Hurricane Sandy, thank you, according to a report in the Financial Times (see: "Connecticut’s Gold Coast bounces back after Hurricane Sandy," by Troy McMullen. “Rebuilding was slow and expensive but buyers were patient and we’re seeing strong investment in the high-end markets,” Colette Harron, of William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty, told the paper.

Alabama's workers compensation law will stand for now, despite being ruled unconstitutional by a county judge, reports the Insurance Journal (see: "Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act to Remain in Place, For Now," by Amy O'Connor. "The Alabama judge who on May 8 declared the state’s workers’ compensation act unconstitutional has issued an indefinite stay to his decision, leaving the current system in place until he rescinds the stay or lawmakers enact reforms," the report says. "The move came in part because the original order was issued just days before the state legislature was about to close its session, meaning there would not be time for lawmakers to change the provisions of the state law the judge criticized."

Texas: State lawmakers have pre-emptively prohibited local governments from applying "linkage" fees on new construction intended to fund affordable housing, according to the Austin American-Statesman (see: "Over Austin's objections, Texas Senate votes to ban 'linkage fees'," by Bob Sechler). "No Texas city has enacted such charges, known as linkage fees," the paper reports. "But Austin Mayor Steve Adler has said he thinks the fees should be a potential tool for municipalities, and an Austin city task force cited the fees last month as a pillar in a plan to raise $600 million over 10 years to help buy and preserve affordable housing for minorities."

California: The seaside community of La Jolla may have found a solution for its problem with remodeling permitting in the state "Coastal Zone," according to a report in the La Jolla Light (see: "La Jollans propose paradigm change for new construction," by María José Durán). The existing rules for remodels relate the area of new construction to the portion of the existing structure that is preserved—a rule that critics say is costly, cumbersome, and vulnerable to being "gamed" by clever work-arounds. The new proposal would use "floor area ratio," which relates the area of new construction to the size of the lot, as a benchmark for approval.