Thursday, April 24, 2014

Canada announces new safety rules for train cars carrying crude oil; still no deadline for rules in U.S.

The U.S. has been slow to update safety measures after several deadly crude-oil train explosions, Canada is moving forward. On Wednesday the Canadian government "ordered the country’s railroads to phase out tens of thousands of older, puncture-prone tank cars from crude oil transportation within three years," Curtis Tate reports for McClatchy Newspapers. In the U.S. the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has refused to set a deadline for new tank-car rules, even though the railroad industry petitioned for new rules three years ago. (McClatchy graphic)

In January the National Transportation Safety Board recommended tougher standards for shipping oil after more oil was spilled on U.S. railways in 2013 than in the previous 37 years. That doesn't include a crude oil derailment in Quebec, 10 miles from Maine, that killed 47 people. The train originated in North Dakota. The Association of American Railroads also urged U.S. regulators in November to require retrofits and upgrades for nearly 100,000 cars.

Read more here:

"Transport Canada didn’t just require the retirement or retrofit of older tank cars. It also banned 5,000 DOT-111 rail cars made of inferior steel from carrying crude oil and ethanol within 30 days. Such cars could continue to haul those commodities in the U.S.," Tate writes. "Canada also required railroads to develop emergency response assistance plans for communities through which they ship hazardous goods. Such efforts are generally voluntary in the U.S." (Read more)

Read more here:

Texas jury awards $2.9 million to family that claimed gas-drilling operations made them sick

YouTube image of Bob and Lisa Parr
"who sued Plano-based Aruba Petroleum, claiming that natural gas operations near their 40-acre ranch made them sick, has won a $2.9 million award from a Dallas jury," Jim Fuquay reports for McClatchy Newspapers. "It is believed to be one of the few cases filed by landowners claiming harm from Barnett Shale gas operations to have gone to trial. Most are dismissed or settled, attorneys said."

"Plaintiffs Bob and Lisa Parr had sought more than $9 million in the lawsuit, filed in 2011, alleging that Aruba's drilling operations at one point forced them to move from their Decatur property," Fuquay writes. "In a 5-1 verdict Tuesday, the jury found that the company created a nuisance that substantially interfered with the Parrs' use of their land."

"The jury's award included $275,000 in damages for lost property value; $2.4 million for past mental anguish, pain and suffering by the couple and their daughter; and $250,000 for future pain and suffering," Fuquay writes.. The Parrs presented medical evidence that the family's health issues began about the time Aruba drilled the wells in 2008." (Read more)

FDA wants to regulate e-cigarettes, a rural favorite

The federal government is proposing regulations for e-cigarettes that "would force manufacturers to curb sales to minors, stop handing out free samples, place health warning labels on their products and disclose the ingredients," Brady Dennis reports for The Washington Post. "Makers of e-cigarettes also would be banned from making health-related claims without scientific evidence." (Post graphic)

While smoking rates have declined in some wealthy areas, smoking rates have remained stable or even risen in poor and working class rural counties. Rural teens' e-cigarette use has also risen in recent years.

The proposal by the Food and Drug Administration "stops short of broader restrictions sought by many­ ­tobacco-control advocates," Dennis writes. "Regulators at this point are not seeking to halt online sales of e-cigarettes, curb television advertising, or ban the use of flavorings such as watermelon, grape soda and piña colada — all tactics that critics say are aimed at attracting young smokers and that have been banned for traditional cigarettes. Those restrictions might come eventually, FDA officials said, but not before more rigorous research can establish a scientific basis for tougher rules." (Read more)

Study: Rural hospitals are cheaper, faster than urban ones, and patients are just as satisfied

Patients at rural and urban hospitals are equally satisfied with their care, but rural hospitals charge an average of 63 percent less than urban ones and rural patients spend an average of 56 minutes less in the emergency room, according to the 2014 Rural Relevance Under Healthcare Reform Study by iVantage Health Analytics.

The study found that "quality, patient safety, outcomes and satisfaction are equal, while price and efficiency in the emergency department are better" and "spending per beneficiary for rural hospitals could save $6.8 billion if adopted by all."

John Morrow, executive vice president of iVantage Health Analytics, said in a release: "The study findings challenge the assumption that rural hospitals are more costly, inefficient, and have lower levels of quality and patient satisfaction." (Read more)

The study also includes iVantage's list of the top 100 critical access hospitals. For a complete list click here.

'Constructed documentary' has cast members follow the same path illegal immigrants take to U.S.

While Congress continues to flounder on immigration, and the fate of millions of undocumented workers remain in limbo, a new documentary series tries to take a firsthand look at the plight of immigrants trying to cross the border illegally. The Al Jazeera America series "Borderland" takes six Americans with varying backgrounds and opinions on immigration, and has them follow the same path in which three immigrants -- Omar Lopez, Claudeth Sanchez and Maira Zelayadied -- died while trying to cross the border from Mexico. (AJAM map: path the immigrants and cast members took)

The series, which premiered April 13 and airs on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, "starts out in the Pima County Morgue in Arizona—which handles more migrant remains than anywhere else in the country—then follows the participants as they visit Lopez, Sanchez, and Zelaya’s families, and board La Bestia (The Beast), the train many undocumented immigrants hitch a ride on to the U.S. border," Edirin Oputu reports for Columbia Journalism Review. Halfway through "Washington farmer Gary Larsen becomes increasingly grim. 'Every politician should go on this trip,' he says. 'They need to see what these people go through.'"

Co-executive producer Ivan O’Mahoney calls the series a "constructed documentary," a "hybrid between traditional documentaries and factual entertainment that alternates between people in real, unscripted situations, and contributions from experts and talking heads," Oputu writes. O’Mahoney told Oputu, “A lot of people have very pronounced opinions on a lot of issues, but these opinions are not necessarily based on any experience that people have had themselves, or any real exposure to the issue that they’re commenting on.”

“When you meet people one on one (you discover) that often, the situation is more complicated than you thought it was, and all the cast members will tell you that they’ve learned things that they never knew existed,” O’Mahoney told Oputu. “My hope is that the series leaves no one unaffected. I don’t want any viewer to walk away feeling the same way about the issue as they did when they started watching.” (Read more)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The most rural counties ranked at or near the bottom in almost all of the County Health Rankings

The annual County Health Rankings released last month by the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute show that the "nation’s most rural areas rank dead last in a majority of the measurements used to evaluate the health status of U.S. counties," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder.

"Noncore" counties, which are "located outside metro areas and have no towns of 10,000 residents or more, were last in 18 of 34 measurements used in the study," Marema writes. "That’s the worst record of any group of counties when they are sorted by urban-rural status." Noncore counties only ranked first in two categories, having less violent crime and fewer housing problems. (Yonder map of healthiest and least healthy counties)
The map above shows health outcomes. There is a separate rank, within each state, for the factors that contribute to outcomes. Those rankings are based 30 percent on health behaviors (tobacco and alcohol use, diet and exercise, sexual activity), 20 percent on clinical care (access to care and quality of care), 40 percent on social and economic factors (education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety) and 10 percent on physical environment (air and water quality and housing and transit).

"At the request of the Daily Yonder, Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute ran an analysis of how rural counties stack up across the country," Marema writes. "Noncore counties ranked last in all seven of the clinical measurements, such as percentage of population without health insurance and the number of physicians, dentists and mental health professionals available to the county’s population on a per capita basis."

Noncore counties were last in several other categories, including the number of adults reporting fair or poor health (18.3 percent), the number of physically unhealthy days (an average of 4 in the last 30-day period) and premature death, Marema writes. Noncore counties were next to last in the number of mentally unhealthy days, averaging 3.6 in the last 30-day period.

Noncore counties also had the largest percentage of residents under 65 who lacked health insurance, at 19.1 percent, Marema writes. "Only 44 percent of noncore residents had access to exercise facilities, while 92.8 percent of the residents of large suburban counties did." (Read more)

Feds split difference on coal dust limit, but new rule will increase sampling and real-time data

Photo by S. Wilkes, Gallery Stock
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Wednesday "announced the final version of a long-delayed rule to reduce coal miners’ exposure to the dust that causes deadly black lung disease," Ken Ward Jr. reports for The Charleston Gazette. The new rule, which will be phased in over two years to give the industry time to adjust, "will increase sampling in mines and make use of new technology to provide real-time information about dust levels, allowing miners and coal operators to make adjustments, instead of letting overexposures continue."

"The changes are part of the agency’s broad effort to end a disease that continues to kill miners, more than four decades after a federal law made eliminating such deaths a national priority," Ward writes. "The final rule steps back from an October 2010 proposal that would have slashed the legal dust limit in half, from 2 milligrams of dust per cubic meter of air to 1 milligram per cubic meter. After intense opposition from industry and congressional Republicans, the final rule sets the dust limit at 1.5."

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the United Mine Workers, other miners’ health advocates and public-health experts all backed a 1-milligram standard, Ward notes, adding: "Since 1968, 76,000 coal miners nationwide have died from black lung. And researchers have warned of a resurgence of the disease, especially in pockets of the Appalachian coalfields, affecting younger miners whose entire careers took place after the 1969 law’s dust limits went into effect." (Read more)

Minimum wage is not enough to rent a decent one-bedroom residence anywhere in U.S.

Nowhere in the U.S. can a single-income household afford a decent one-bedroom residence by working a 40-hour week at minimum wage, Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham report for The Washington Post. The cheapest-housing counties, all in rural Arkansas, would require a salary of at least $7.98 an hour to cover fair-market rent, which is defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as being "rent plus utilities, based on the local market for decent-quality apartments of different sizes—neither dumps nor luxury flats."

"They call this rate a 'housing wage,' and it is, unsurprisingly, much higher than the minimum wage in much of the country," Badger and Ingraham write. The National Low Income Housing Coalition examined how much someone in each U.S. county would need to make to afford a one-bedroom residence. (Read more) The Post details the findings through a county-level map, which shows higher wages are needed for decent housing in many metropolitan areas, but also in rural boom regions like North Dakota's oil-producing Williston Basin and areas where urbanites have many rural retreats, such as New England and eastern New York. has an interactive version.  

Columbia, Mo., paper uses OpenBlock program to connect readers to community happenings

OpenBlock, created in 2009, is a web application that allows users to browse and search their local areas for maps and up-to-the-minute news, including 911 calls, crime reports, restaurant inspections, police and fire department activities, coupons, business and restaurant reviews, local news, sports and photos, open houses, and notifications of new business licenses and local events.

In the digital age the tool is a handy one for media outlets, especially newspapers, allowing them to constantly update the site, while letting users post their own information and photos. And for readers always looking for the latest information, the sites are a perfect place to find out what's happening in your neighborhood.

One paper that has added OpenBlock to their resume is the Columbia Daily Tribune. The newspaper in the town that is home to the University of Missouri recently began an online section called Neighborhoods, which features a wide variety of information that "offers a street-level view of things going on around you," the paper tells its readers.

The site, which has both simple and detailed navigation instructions, allows users to "browse all types of information across the whole city or filter down to just the neighborhood and type of report that interests you the most," the paper says. "Best of all, you can zero in on the area you care most about—whether that's the block where you live, the area around your kids' school or just the place you happen to be using your mobile phone." To visit the site, click here.

Energy industry using drones as monitoring devices

Skycatch photo
Journalists and law enforcement in rural areas are already using drones to obtain hard to reach information. Now the energy industry is following suit.

Skycatch, a year-old start-up based in San Francisco, has raised $3.2 million from Google and other investors and "already signed deals to test its technology with the construction giants Bechtel and DPR; First Solar, a developer of photovoltaic power plants; and SolarCity, a solar panel installer," Todd Woody reports for The New York Times. "Drones from Skycatch and more established companies are monitoring power lines, inspecting oil and gas pipelines, checking wind turbines for defects and pinpointing malfunctioning solar panels."

"Executives at Aeryon Labs, a Canadian company that made headlines for supplying drones to rebels in Libya, say energy is a growth area, as sensor-equipped drones offer a safe, low-cost way to inspect smokestacks, power lines and wind turbines without having to send workers to scale towers or hiring helicopters, which can cost thousands of dollars an hour to operate," Woody writes. "Aeryon has dispatched its drones to look for cracks in wind turbine blades, which can hang hundreds of feet above the ground. BP has deployed Aeryon drones and thermal cameras in Alaska to scan oil pipelines for hot spots that may indicate structural weaknesses."

At remote photovoltaic plants in the desert Southwest, where solar panels can number in the hundreds of thousands, drones can prove more effective in searching for malfunctions than people because the panels "generate a distinctive heat signature as they fail," Woody writes. Some companies have expressed interest in using drones to detect protected wildlife that may wander onto a wind farm or solar power installation, using drones to get the animals safely out or scaring away birds before they get killed by a wind turbine. (Read more)

Study says biofuel from corn stover would boost greenhouse gas; industry, EPA dismiss methodology

Assistant Professor Adam Liska led a University of Nebraska research team that conducted a study with a supercomputer model that predicted the effect of removing stover on 128 million acres across 12 Corn Belt states for biofuel production. "The team said it found that removing crop residue from cornfields can result in up to 7 percent greater greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) than gasoline," reports Agri-Pulse.

The Renewable Fuels Association says the study is both contradictory to current science and "shows a complete lack of understanding of current farming practices." The association's CEO and president, Bob Dineen, called the methodology "fundamentally flawed" and said the results are based on "sweeping generalizations, questionable assumptions and an opaque methodology."

Industry leaders point to other research by the University of Illinois and the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory that "showed removing 30 percent of the reside results in no additional carbon emissions," Agri-Pulse reports. Also, the research revealed that removing corn stalks and leaves will help soil organic carbon stay at more reasonable levels.

The disparity in results could be a result of the Nebraska study assuming a 75-percent stover removal rate post-harvest, which biofuel advocates assert is significantly higher than that is "recognized through current farming and land management practices as needed to maintain the soil's ability to retain carbon and produce a feedstock that can significantly reduce emissions, when compared to is gasoline equivalent," Agri-Pulse reports.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement saying the study "is based on a hypothetical assumption that 100 percent of corn stover in a field is harvested; an extremely unlikely scenario that is inconsistent with recommended agricultural practices." Agri-Pulse is subscrption-only, but offers a free trial.

Cuts in cops, rise in crime lead communities in rural southern Oregon to form citizen patrols

Budget cuts and the end of a federal timber-payments program have depleted law enforcement in some rural southern Oregon towns. In response, citizens in towns in Josephine County are taking matters into their own hands, using citizen patrols to keep their towns safe, Liam Moriarty reports for NPR. "In rural southern Oregon, high unemployment, the growing use of meth and other drugs and the sudden lack of law enforcement has fueled an explosion of burglaries, vehicle thefts and other property crimes."

Josephine County (Wikipedia map), population 82,000, had an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent in August 2013, Moriarty notes. "For decades, revenue from timber sales on the federal land that makes up 70 percent of Josephine County kept property taxes low and county government functioning. As logging dramatically declined, those payments dried up. After two failed property tax levies, the sheriff's department's budget was cut by more than half. Two-thirds of the staff was laid off. A single deputy was left to patrol the entire county."

That led to the formation of at least four citizen-based safety groups in the county, including Citizens Against Crime in O'Brien, pop. 546, and the North Valley Community Watch Responder Team in Merlin, pop. 2,100, Moriarty writes. The groups do anything from patrolling the area looking for suspicious activity to training exercises, such as one to teach how to search a building where an intruder could be hiding.

Alan Cress, who volunteers in Citizens Against Crime, told Moriarty, "We're not trying to take the place of law enforcement. In fact, we have a great deal of respect for what law enforcement does. We recognize the limited resources they have, and we're just trying to keep a presence out there." (Read more)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Republican leading push for end to Saturday mail snuggles up to like-minded in White House

Rep. Darrell Issa
The push to eliminate mail delivery on Saturdays, except packages, may get a boost from a possible alliance between Republicans and the Obama administration. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, invited the White House Office of Management and Budget to testify before his committee on the postal plan in President Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget, finding that they agree on eliminating "Saturday letter delivery, removing legal restrictions on its expansion into new products and services and reducing the workforce through attrition rather than layoffs," Lisa Rein reports for The Washington Post.

Issa's "tactic appears to be to drive a wedge between House Democrats and the administration," Rein writes. "Many Democratic lawmakers are staunch union supporters who fear that ending Saturday delivery and phasing out curbside delivery — another point of agreement between the White House and many Republicans — would threaten postal jobs." Issa appears eager to pass a bill after several years of roadblocks because he must give up the chair at year's end.

"Even if a White House-friendly bill were to pass the committee, any postal legislation face hurdles in both chambers. For example, some rank-and-file Republicans, particularly those representing rural districts, are leery of service cuts and job losses in an election year," Rein writes. Art Sackler of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, which represents large mailers, told Rein, “Prospects are not encouraging at the moment.”

Issa introduced a bill in January to end Saturday mail and restore benefit cuts for young military retirees, with the change projected to help the cash-strapped Postal Service save an estimated $6 billion over 10 years. He also introduced a bill in July 2013 to save $2 billion by limiting Saturday mail to packages, having newspapers use mailboxes for Saturday delivery, and limit closures of rural post offices to 5 percent of annual total closures. (Read more)

Republicans keep talking about immigration reform

Talk of immigration reform is increasing, but it remains to be seen whether Republicans are giving lips service to donors who favor it or are willing to take on a strong cadre of GOP House members who oppose it. Speaker John Boehner and other senior House Republicans are informing industry groups that they plan to pass immigration bills this year, though many GOP lawmakers are hesitant to deal with this difficult issue before elections, Laura Meckler writes for The Wall Street Journal. (Read more)  Former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and some other Illinois Republicans and CEOs, organized as the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, are asking GOP leaders to pass immigration reform, Matt Fuller of Roll Call reports.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida argues that it's better to act this year than next, when GOP presidential primary politics will intervene, Greg Sargent writes for The Washington Post. Diaz-Balart said if Republicans do not act on the issue now, they could not only lose their chance to influence the reform and make any further reform impossible until 2017, but also risk influencing President Barack Obama to take actions on his own. "I'm convinced that if we don't get it done by the August break, the president, who is feeling a lot of pressure from having not done anything on immigration reform, will feel that he has to act through executive actions," Diaz-Balart said. He even noted that the president could blame the Republicans for Congress' lack of action. (Read more)

"Obama administration officials are considering allowing bond hearings for immigrants in prolonged detention, officials, said, a shift that could low the pace of deportations because immigration courts expedite cases of incarcerated immigrants," Brian Bennett and Christi Parsons write for the Los Angeles Times. This is one of multiple ideas being discussed in an effort to address concerns from Latino groups and other allies. Some Republicans favor passing reform in pieces, starting with bills for agricultural workers.

The left has become frustrated with Obama, saying he is the "deporter-in-chief" because 2 million immigrants have been deported during his tenure, which puts him on track to "have deported more people by the end of 2014 than George W. Bush did in his entire eight years," Dara Lind writes on Vox. On the other hand, the right is angry with the president, too, saying he is not properly enforcing immigration laws. The difference in perspective depends on the number of people who have been sent home without marks on their records and the number who have been formally removed. (Read more)

Despite huge increases in oil trains and spills, crude continues to rides the rails largely in secret

Crude oil deliveries via U.S. railways increased 74 percent in 2013, and more oil was spilled in railway accidents last year than in the previous 37 years combined. With forecasts calling for crude shipments to keep rising this year, there are growing safety concerns in many small towns about crude-oil trains passing through. But there is little they can do about it, because "Federal interstate-commerce rules give them little say in the matter and railroads are exempted from federal 'right to know' regulations on hazardous material sites," notes Jad Mouawad of The New York Times.

"Under pressure to act, the Transportation Department said in February that railroads had agreed to apply the same routing rules to oil trains that they already apply to other hazardous materials, such as explosives, radioactive materials and poisonous substances like chlorine," Mouawad writes. "This voluntary agreement, which takes effect in July, was among commitments that also included lowering speed limits to 40 miles per hour when traveling in large metropolitan areas, and providing $5 million to develop training programs for emergency responders."

"Still, the railroads remain particularly secretive about how they determine the precise routing of their hazardous cargo. The rules that apply to that cargo, which came into effect in 2008 during the Bush administration, give railroads a lot of leeway," Mouawad writes. "Railroads are required to look at 27 factors before they determine the “safest and most secure” route for hazardous shipments. But the system provides little transparency, and outsiders cannot find out why a particular route is favored, for instance. Railroads do not provide any information on their route selection, citing safety concerns."

Railroad officials say they provide local emergency responders with a list of the 25 most hazardous commodities transported through their communities, Mouawad writes. "But the recipients must sign an agreement to restrict the information to 'bona fide emergency planning and response organizations for the expressed purpose of emergency and contingency planning,' a constraint that precludes them from making the information public." (Read more)

Report concludes that more than 100,000 in West Virginia were sickened by January chemical spill

Health officials in West Virginia said Tuesday that more than 100,000 people may have been made sick by chemical exposure following the January spill of the coal-washing chemical 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol into its water supply, Ken Ward Jr. reports for the Charleston Gazette. (Gazette photo by Chris Dorst: Bill Lepp carries a jug of water on the day after the spill)

The number is significantly higher than previous estimates, Ward notes. The state Department of Health and Human Resources had "said that 26 people were admitted to area hospitals and 533 treated at released at those facilities for symptoms that could have been related to the spill. Those figures did not include any data for the day of the Jan. 9 spill or the day after. Also, DHHR tracked only hospital treatments, and agency officials stopped counting after Jan. 23, records show."

The new data, from Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the local health department, and University of South Alabama environmental engineer Andrew Whelton, who was hired by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, "is based on local physicians who reported patient information to the health department," Ward writes. After the spill Gupta had called for more testing, fearing the long-term health effects of the spill.

To obtain the new data "Gupta’s agency received ongoing reports from 10 physicians, and extrapolated that sampling to account for all 1,600 medical providers in Kanawha and Putnam counties," Ward writes. "Also, Whelton had surveyed 16 households in early January. Those surveys provided useful data on how many residents had experienced common spill symptoms -- skin reactions, eye irritation, nausea, and headaches -- but never sought medical treatment. That data was also used to extrapolate further from the physician reports collected by the health department. (Read more)

This way to rural attractions; South Carolina installing highway signs to drive up tourism

In an attempt to draw more tourists to South Carolina's rural attractions and working farms, the state will install highway signs directing travelers to four of the state's local treasures, reports the Orangeburg Times and Democrat: "The program was developed by the Legislature in 2012 to help South Carolinians and tourists find authentic experiences off the beaten path and to drive traffic and business to rural destinations." (Bee City Zoo photo from the blog My Lens Is Ruby Red)

Signs in the Tourism Oriented Directional Signage program will alert travelers to Cottle Farm Strawberries in Columbia, Fire Fly Distillery and Irvin House Vineyards in Charleston County and Bee City Zoo in Colleton County. Requests have been approved for signs for 18 other sites, with the remaining signs expected to be installed by the end of 2014. Business have until April 30 to apply for the program. (Read more)

Monday, April 21, 2014

When writing up this year's graduates, think about noting how many or how few stay in school

The high-school graduation season is about to begin, so local newspapers are full of graduates' pictures and stories about valedictorians and salutatorians. The Hickman County Times of Centerville, Tenn., is taking that a few steps farther, with profiles of students with the five best grade-point averages in each of the county's two high schools, usually headlined with their ambitions—but this year it also did the sort of story that every newspaper could do but is rarely seen: a front-page piece reminding readers in the county 50 miles west of Nashville that most graduates don't continue their education in the year after they get their diplomas. (Click on chart for larger version)

About 55 percent of high-school graduates across Tennessee continue education in the next year, but only 40 percent of Hickman County graduates do. "That's slightly lower than what I would have expected," County School Supt. Jerry Nash told Times Editor Brad Martin.

Some return to school later. Rob Mitchell, a specialist at the Tennessee Career Center, told Martin, "A lot of these students go out of high school and don't do anything for three or four years before they realize, 'I've got to do something.'" Gary Fouts, student services coordinator at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Dickson, said people usually enroll there between the ages of 25 and 35.

The data show that 43.1 percent of the county's 274 high school graduates enrolled in an educational institution in the 16 months after graduation. Only 13.1 percent of those attended a four-year institution, while 51 percent attended a two-year institution. "I think we have the student capacity to go to college and be successful," Nash said. "I'm not sure the culture values it enough."

The workforce seems to require higher skills to earn good wages, but more than half of graduates are not attending higher education institutions, Martin writes. What can be done about it? Martin asked the school board last Monday to think about providing funding for four more guidance counselors pat the high schools. "Each entering class of freshmen would see one guidance counselor for all four years," Martin writes. Nash said the new guidance counselors would be beneficial, though he also said that he "could make good arguments for several other areas that need help."

A factor that often keeps people from continuing their education is the cost. Martin notes, "Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed the Tennessee Promise: that tuition be eliminated from all College of Applied Technology schools, as well as community colleges."

Rob Mitchell, specialist at the Tennesse Career Center, told Martin that when he speaks to senior classes, he asks them, "What is a high school diploma?" Inevitably, they don't know. He then explains that it is a document that means they have the ability to learn. "And when you leave here, that's when you go learn. When they walk across that stage, it's not the end; it's the beginning," he said. (Read more)

Debates surrounding War on Poverty's anniversary can obscure a big fact: poverty is mainly rural

Welch, seat of McDowell County (NYT photo by Travis Dove)
The War on Poverty was started 50 years ago to help all poor Americans, but the anniversary "is being observed with academic conferences and ideological sparring — often focused, explicitly or implicitly, on the 'culture' of poor urban residents," Trip Gabriel reports for The New York Times. "Almost forgotten is how many ways poverty plays out in America, and how much long-term poverty is a rural problem."

Gabriel notes, "Of the 353 most persistently poor counties in the United States — defined by Washington as having had a poverty rate above 20 percent in each of the past three decades — 85 percent are rural. They are clustered in distinct regions: Indian reservations in the West; Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; a band across the Deep South and along the Mississippi Delta with a majority black population; and Appalachia, largely white, which has supplied some of America’s iconic imagery of rural poverty since the Depression-era photos of Walker Evans."

The imagery remains stark in McDowell County, West Virginia, where not much has changed because the coal industry that once provided good jobs for some households has shriveled. Gabriel uses it as his object example, noting that McDowell leads the nation in lowest life expectancy for men, at 63.9 years of age, and is second worst in women, at 72.5. In 2012 the county was chosen as the the site of an experimental five-year project called Reconnecting McDowell to address issues like poverty, technology and transportation that limit educational opportunities in the county. The county was also the site of an award-winning, interactive documentary called  "Hollow".

"McDowell County is in some ways a place truly left behind, from which the educated few have fled, leaving almost no shreds of prosperity," Gabriel writes. "But in a nation with more than 46 million people living below the poverty line — 15 percent of the population — it is also a sobering reminder of how much remains broken, in drearily familiar ways and utterly unexpected ones, 50 years on." (Read more)

Feds' decision on Keystone XL Pipeline delayed; could help Democrats on both sides of the issue

The State Department announced Friday that it is delaying its final decision on the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline "until it has a clearer idea of how legal challenges to the pipeline’s route through Nebraska will be settled," Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times.

Last year Republican Gov. Dave Heineman endorsed the pipeline, but in February a state court invalidated the decision. The 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the Alberta oil sands in Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, would join an existing pipeline junction at Steele City, Neb. Critics and advocates of the pipeline say the latest move is politically motivated, accusing Democrats of purposefully postponing the decision until after elections. (The proposed pipeline)

"Approving the pipeline before the election could staunch the flow of money from liberal donors and fund-raisers who oppose the project, like Tom Steyer, a California billionaire, who has personally asked Obama to reject the pipeline," Davenport writes. Steyer "has pledged to spend $100 million to support candidates who back strong policies to fight climate change."

Conversely, "Delaying the pipeline decision until after the election could help Democrats on both sides of the issue," Davenport notes. "Supporters could court voters by calling for its approval, while liberals who oppose the pipeline could still enjoy financial support from donors like Steyer."

Conservative Republicans and environmental groups are criticizing the decision to delay. Republicans say approving construction would create thousands of jobs, but delaying it is keeping those people from working, while environmentalists say the Obama administration needs to work faster to make decisions to prevent climate change. (Read more)

Small biomass power plants on farms are feasible, could help rural economies, study finds

Researchers at the University of Missouri say they have discovered a cost-effective way for farmers to harness bioenergy, a move that could greatly benefit rural economies, Claire Boston reports for Columbia (Mo.) Business. The study, published in the April edition of Biomass and Bioenergy, found that "creating a power grid from a group of small biomass power plants in rural areas could decrease farmers’ electric bills and relieve the national power grid."

The study's author Tom Johnson, an agricultural economics professor at Missouri, told Boston, "Transporting power through power lines to remote, rural areas is very inefficient and can be expensive for farmers and other rural citizens. If (farmers) had access to small biomass power plants, they could become close to self-sustaining in terms of power.”

Biomass power plants would be a cost-effective way of producing power because farmers have plenty of biomass left over after each harvest season, Boston writes. "With an improved grid, the small power plants could even provide power to people outside each farm, which could stimulate rural economies." (Read more) The study is behind a pay wall, but can be found by clicking here.

USDA starts $150 million capital investment fund to help small, rural, farm-related businesses expand

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday the formation of a $150 million Rural Business Investment program designed "to provide investment capital to help small agriculture-related business in rural areas with cash needed to expand," David Pitt reports for The Associated Press. As part of the program the USDA has created the Rural Business Investment Co., "a for-profit firm licensed by the USDA to invest in businesses that otherwise might not have the capital to increase business opportunities."

The Rural Business Investment Co. receives money from Farm Credit Banks and sets up an investment capital fund "that will be managed by Advantage Capital Partners, a New-Orleans-based firm with experience in investing in small rural businesses," Pitt writes. Money comes from eight Farm Credit banks headquartered in Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska and Kentucky. The USDA is seeking applications from more companies, which "must be newly formed for-profit venture capital companies seeking to be licensed as an RBIC and intending to raise a minimum of $10 million in private equity capital." (Read more)

Extension Service holding forums to show telecoms that Mississippi, lowest in Internet use, wants access

Experts say Mississippi ranks dead last in the U.S. in Internet use, but it's not due to lack of interest. Many of the 22 percent who don't use the Internet live in rural areas where they lack access to it, Danielle Thomas reports for WLOX-TV 13 in Biloxi. And in some rural areas where service is available, the cost is steep, sometimes running $70 or $80 per month.

"Most Mississippians live outside the city limits. Because of that, experts say going online can be a challenge. They say in rural areas, Internet access is usually either poor or non existent," Thomas writes. "Experts said until there is better Internet access, Mississippians will continue to be on the wrong side of the digital divide."

That's why the Mississippi State University Cooperative Extension Service "is hosting community forums hoping to gain public support to convince Internet service providers there is enough demand to warrant expanding their coverage areas," Thomas writes. Regional Broadband Coordinator Andy Collins told Thomas, "We're trying to bring them together, and we want to show the providers there are enough people here that are interested that want Internet. If you bring Internet here, there are a lot of people here who are willing to subscribe to it." (Read more) (2011 Census Bureau map)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Push by weekly newspapers leads Newseum to change its policy and publish their front pages

The push by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors to encourage weekly papers to send their front pages to the Newseum paid off quickly. The site has rarely published front pages from weekly papers, but after 130 weeklies sent their fronts to the Newseum on Thursday, the site agreed to change "its policy to include weeklies in its Today’s Front Pages exhibit," Barbara Selvin reports for The Poynter Institute. Now, any newspaper can email for instructions on how to participate.

"The Newseum’s written policy limited participation to daily newspapers, a restriction that has long irked weeklies’ editors and publishers. The U.S. has approximately 1,380 daily and 6,000 weekly newspapers," Selvin writes. Dan Robrish, right, who started The Elizabethtown (Pa.) Advocate in 2010, told her, "The Newseum is supposed to be a museum about news, not about metropolitan news, not about daily news specifically. It seems like a ridiculous decision to make."

Selvin adds, "Especially, perhaps, since the Newseum had allowed newspapers that reduced their print publication schedules to three days a week to continue contributing to the exhibit." By industry convention, papers with a such a schedule have long been classified as weeklies.

Jonathan Thompson, the Newseum’s senior manager of media relations, told Selvin, “When people get together like this and feel strongly about a specific issue, and mobilize and make specific arguments, it does have an impact."

Chad Stebbins of Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, executive director of the weekly newspaper society, "said the larger issue is respect for the passion and energy that community journalists bring to their work," Selvin writes. He told her, “We have forced them to at least start considering weeklies as real, legitimate newspapers that should stand aside their daily counterparts." (Read more)

Feds get money to eliminate destructive feral pigs

There are about five million feral pigs in at least 39 states that are costing farmers and ranchers an estimated $1.5 billion a year in damages and control costs, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. The pigs, which are destroying native habitat and crops and eating endangered species, can "carry and transmit up to 30 diseases and 37 different parasites to other livestock, including the swine population raised for food." They also carry diseases that can affect people and water supplies. (USDA maps show spread of feral swine)

Dale Nolte, feral-swine initiative coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told Agri-Pulse, “Feral swine don’t know boundaries and what happens in one state affects neighboring states. Only through a concerted, comprehensive effort with the public and our state and federal partners can we begin to turn the tide on feral swine expansion and reduce their negative impacts on our economy and environment.”

The problem has gotten so bad that Congress this year appropriated $20 million to find a solution, which includes the 2014 International Wild Pig Conference held this week in Alabama, Agri-Pulse writes. "APHIS aims to have its program operating within 6 months, with about half of the funds going toward state projects. The rest will be used to set up procedures for disease monitoring, including the development of new surveillance and vaccination methods, research and administration. Funding levels for state projects will be based on current feral swine population estimates." Nolte said the goal is to eliminate the problem in two states every three to five years.

Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

After waiting out cold winter, Northeast producers jump into maple sugaring season

The unusually cold winter delayed the start of maple sugaring season in the Northeast. Now that the weather has warmed up, sugaring season is underway. In 2013, the U.S. produced nearly 3.25 million gallons of maple syrup, up 70 percent from 2012, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Forty percent of all maple syrup comes from Vermont, but maple trees can be tapped anywhere. New York produces 18 percent, Maine 14 percent, and Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Connecticut also produced commercial maple syrup. (Read more)

Will Parson, photographer for the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., and white River Junction, Vt., chronicles the process of sugaring through a video of farmer Steve Killam, who has been sugaring for decades. (Read more)

Colder weather, rising natural gas prices led to a resurgence in winter demand for coal

A brutal winter and rising natural gas prices led to a resurgence in the coal market, Sean Cockerham reports for McClatchy Newspapers. U.S. coal use increased 4 percent last year and is expected to keep rising this year. International Energy Agency Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in the agency’s most recent coal market report: “Like it or not, coal is here to stay for a long time to come. Coal is abundant and geopolitically secure, and coal-fired plants are easily integrated into existing power systems.”

Natural gas prices more than doubled "over the past two years in response to a tighter market," opening the door for coal to regain popularity, Cockerham writes. That led to the use of natural gas for power generation dropping in 2013 for the first time in five years. "The Arctic blasts of this year’s winter also pushed power plants to turn to coal in order to meet the nation’s record-setting heating requirements."

Read more here:\

"There’s serious doubt whether the resurgence in coal can last in America with stricter environmental rules coming. But the global outlook for coal is bright, and U.S. coal producers hope to take advantage by increasing exports to other countries hungry for cheap energy. The IEA believes coal will be the No. 1 fuel for meeting the worldwide increase in energy demand."

Illinois, Indiana and Western Kentucky have benefited from the increased demand for coal, with those areas producing 50 percent more than a decade ago, Cockerham writes. Montana and Wyoming have also fared well, but Central Appalachia, especially Eastern Kentucky, continues to struggle. (Read more)

Register by May 28 for free journalism workshop in Oregon, focused on covering rural health topics

The Association of Health Care Journalists has scheduled its seventh annual Rural Health Journalism Workshop for June 6 in Portland, Oregon. The free workshop, which will focus on covering rural health in America, "will bring journalists together with health care and policy experts who focus on the medical challenges of rural areas," AHCJ says.

The workshop, hosted by Oregon Health & Science University and sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Missouri Foundation for Health, will run from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton, and will include lunch and dinner. Some travel assistance is available. The deadline to register is May 28. For more information or to register click here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Coal Camp Documentary Project seeks to glean, share histories of company towns in Eastern Ky.

Lynch, Ky., lives on. (Photo from
The Appalachian Center at the University of Kentucky has launched an interactive website that educates and gathers information about historic coal-company mining towns in Eastern Kentucky. The Coal Camp Documentary Project seeks memories or images related to experiences in company towns or villages in the region.

Coal companies constructed and managed the built environment, which shaped much of the social and economic life of the residents. Each coal camp had a similar structure (housing that residents did not own, stores that used company “scrip” for currency, and alignment with railroad tracks)  but its own way of life. Most coal camps have disappeared but are re-created at reunions of former residents and their descendants. Stories and images shared at those reunions may be found on the website, as well as archived materials.

The site was created in response to community requests for Appalachian Center faculty, postdoctoral scholars, staff members and documentarians to record the memories shared by former coal-camp residents. For more information about the site or to learn more about how to participate, visit the center online or contact program coordinator Shane Barton at

Do you live near a plant with dangerous chemicals?

Exactly one year after the West Fertilizer explosion that killed 14 and injured more than 300, millions of Americans continue to "live near a site that could put them in harm's way if hazardous chemicals leak or catch fire," Jaeah Lee reports for Mother Jones. "The Environmental Protection Agency monitors roughly 12,000 facilities that store one or more of 140 toxic or flammable chemicals that are potentially hazardous to nearby communities. In late 2012, a Congressional Research Service report found that more than 2,500 of these sites estimate that their worst-case scenarios could affect between 10,000 and 1 million people; more than 4,400 estimated that their worst-case scenarios could affect between 1,000 and 9,999 people."

Do you live near one of these sites? (Read more) (Greenpeace map shows chemical sites that put more 100,000 or more people at risk. For a more detailed town-by-town interactive map of sites click here.)

Appeals court upholds new EPA rules on mercury and other toxins emitted by coal-fired power plants

More than three years after the Environmental Protection Agency issued limits on mercury and other toxic substances coming from coal-fired power plants, a federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the decision. The three-judge panel denied "challenges from states, utilities and industry groups that argued the rules came out of a flawed regulatory process and illegally imposed exorbitant costs on power producers that will force dozens of power plants to shut down," Erica Martinson reports for Politico.

"The court upheld EPA’s decision to take into account environmental damage from the pollutants, rather than just health-based harms, when it decided to regulate. And the agency based its decision on the impacts of hazardous pollution broadly, rather than just emissions from power plants — a commonsense approach,' wrote Judge Judith Rogers, to 'statutory ambiguity' that was within the bounds of EPA’s discretion."

EPA originally determined in December 2000 "that it was 'appropriate and necessary' to regulate hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act," Martinson writes. "The George W. Bush administration reversed that decision in 2005, but . . . a court that ruled the move was unlawful." The Obama administration pushed for a new rule, which EPA issued in December 2011.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the ruling "will keep in place a rule the agency has said will eliminate 90 percent of coal-fired power plants’ mercury pollution, 88 percent of their acid gas emissions and 41 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions," Martinson writes. EPA says "The standards 'will save thousands of lives each year, prevent heart and asthma attacks, while slashing emissions of the neurotoxin mercury, which can impair children’s ability to learn.'" (Read more)

Male farmers are four times more likely to attempt suicide than men in other lines of work

Male farmers are four times more likely to attempt suicide than men in other professions, Max Kutner reports for Newsweek magazine, which recently revived its print edition. "For decades, farmers across the country have been dying by suicide at higher rates than the general population. The exact numbers are hard to determine, mainly because suicides by farmers are under-reported (they may get mislabeled as hunting or tractor accidents, advocates for prevention say) and because the exact definition of a farmer is elusive."

The alarming trend can be tracked back three decades, Kutner writes. "The 1980s brought two droughts, a national economy in trouble and a government ban on grain exports to the Soviet Union. Farmers started defaulting on their loans, and by 1985, 250 farms closed every hour. That economic undertow sucked down farms and the people who put their lives into them. . . . Since that crisis, the suicide rate for male farmers has remained high: just under two times that of the general population."

The problem is a global one. Since 1995 more than 270,000 farmers in India have committed suicide, and the suicide rate among French farmers is one every two days, Kutner writes. "In China, farmers are killing themselves to protest the government's seizing of their land for urbanization. In Ireland, the number of suicides jumped following an unusually wet winter in 2012 that resulted in trouble growing hay for animal feed. In the U.K., the farmer suicide rate went up by 10 times during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, when the government required farmers to slaughter their animals. And in Australia, the rate is at an all-time high following two years of drought."

Robert Fetsch, a retired professor of human development and family studies at Colorado State University, told Kutner, "Farmers are extremely self-sufficient and independent and tend to work around whatever they have, because they are so determined to keep moving."

But even those farmers seeking help don't have many options. Sowing the Seeds of Hope, a network of agricultural phone hotlines, was created in 1999 through federal funding from the federal Office of Rural Health Policy. The service, which connected farmers in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin with counseling specialists, received 75,000 calls and trained over 4,400 professionals, before shutting down in 2010 after running out of funds. New York has a state-funded service called NY FarmNet that assigns callers a consultant. Last year the hotline received 6,000 calls for assistance. (Read more)

More moves by Russia against Ukraine could have major impact on U.S. farmers, other exporters

Farmers are watching the clash between Russia and Ukraine because the latter is the world's third largest corn exporter and sixth largest wheat exporter, and Russia is fifth in wheat and a big purchaser of corn and poultry.

"From rising global commodity prices to potential supply disruptions, there’s a lot at stake in the conflict for American farmers and producers," Kevin Hall reports for McClatchy Newspapers. "Before the conflict, Ukrainian corn farmers had access to loans and were on a pace to eventually rival the U.S. corn belt as well as big producers such as Brazil. The loans now come with tougher conditions."

Thomas Sleight, the president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, told Hall, “This is a region where we have been facing stiff competition from Ukraine. Longer term, everyone is waiting to see what effect credit availability will have on Ukrainian farmers’ willingness to plant and continue expanding their acreage of wheat and corn.”

One concern is that Russian and Ukrainian currencies have sunk against the dollar, which makes U.S. exports more expensive there. "The most immediate impact is being felt in the futures market," Hall writes. Wheat futures for July delivery jumped sharply this week at the Chicago Board of Trade on concerns about the broadening Russia-Ukraine conflict. U.S. farmers get a windfall from the rising futures price. But disruption of the global supply is unwelcome and soaring prices mess up the broader planting cycle, since farmers rotate crops. Prices would go much higher if the conflict escalates into warfare, which would likely thwart grains from reaching export markets." (Read more)

Russia’s threat to Ukraine has already already cause wheat prices to soar "18.5 cents to $6.7875/bushel at their Monday close, while May KCBT wheat futures leapt 22.5 cents to $7.42, while May MWE futures jumped 15.5 cents to $7.1725," reports AG Professional.  "May corn closed 4.5 cents to $5.03/bushel Monday afternoon, while December added 4.25 to $5.035. May soybeans gained 13.25 cents to $14.7625/bushel in late Monday trading, while May soyoil edged up 0.16 cents to 42.26 cents/pound, and May soymeal rallied $6.2 to 479.1/ton." (Read more)

N.D. embraces drone use as test site; partnership with university has helped law enforcement

While some states are debating laws to limit drone use, North Dakota has embraced the technology. The state "lobbied to be a drone test site for the federal government, and was one of six sites (Alaska, Nevada, New York, Texas and Virginia) chosen in December by the Federal Aviation Administration to research how to integrate them into the national airspace," Sandy Johnson reports for Stateline. (Associated Press photo: A drone used at the University of North Dakota)

"So far this year, 35 states have considered bills and resolutions regarding unmanned aerial vehicles," Johnson reports. "Most of them are privacy protection measures that would restrict the use of drones and set limits on the collection and storage of data."

The University of North Dakota has expanded its program to airline-pilot training program to train students to operate drones. "It was the first university to offer a degree in this field," Johnson notes. "50 students have graduated and another 100 are enrolled in the program. In a partnership with the university, the Grand Forks sheriff and police departments are already using drones in the northeastern quarter of the state."

Drone flights are overseen by Alan Frazier, a UND associate professor in charge of the Law Enforcement Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Project, and a Grand Forks deputy sheriff, Johnson writes. "Frazier reports to a university compliance panel that specified five situations in which drones may be used: to search for lost people; perform post-disaster assessments; photograph crime and accident scenes; search for crime suspects who pose a risk to public safety; and assist with traffic control at major events."

"When a request comes in, Frazier gets FAA authorization for the flight," Johnson writes. "Then Frazier or another trained operator launches one of four small drones to aid law enforcement." He also trains pilots, "tests the drones during actual incidents and later assesses the effectiveness for the FAA and the two manufacturers."

Drones are cheap. "The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group for the drone industry, says the cost of a small UAV is less than $50,000, or about the price of a patrol car. It estimates operating costs at $25 to $75 an hour, compared to $200 to $400 per hour for a police helicopter."

Since May 2013 drones in North Dakota have "helped search a flooded river for drowning victims, photographed a train collision, photographed river bank erosion and damage to historic buildings, helped search for two suspects accused of auto theft and child molestation and took photos of an outdoor murder scene," Johnson writes. Approval was granted last month to fly drones at night. Frazier told Johnson, “A lot of significant crime activity occurs at night. Now this allows us to respond to incidents, whether it be a search or disaster assessment or a crime scene at night.” (Read more) (University of North Dakota video)

Company that makes some pesticides linked to bee deaths opens $2.4 million bee research center

For years honeybees, which pollinate many crops, have been dying off in record numbers from a deadly virus and probably other causes. The bees are losing about a third of their population each year, with U.S. beekeepers losing 45 percent of their colonies during the 2012-2013 winter. Factors include the Varroa mite, pesticides, lack of genetic diversity, declining forage areas and diseases. Some groups have called for a ban on pesticides.

 Bee Care Center
In an attempt to reverse the deadly trend and save the bees Bayer CropScience, a maker of pesticides linked to bee deaths, on Tuesday held the grand opening of its $2.4 million, 6,000-square-foot Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "Bayer will develop products and technology to control parasitic mites in honey bee hives, help manage a healthy-bees program, and assess the safety of crop protection products to bees." Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

"According to a news release, the company’s new bee center has a laboratory with a teaching and research apiary, honey extraction and hive maintenance space, a learning center, a meeting area, presentation areas, and office space for staff- or student-researchers," reports Laura Oleniacz for the Durham Herald-Sun. David R. Tarpy, an associate professor and extension beekeeper at North Carolina State University, told her, "The overall problem is that colonies are dying off at a greater rate than what is sustainable, and because we need them for pollinators, we need a sustainable honeybee population.” (Read more)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stories on mining, Brian Mann's radio double are rural standouts in Sigma Delta Chi Awards for 2013

Some great rural journalism is included in the Sigma Delta Chi Awards for Excellence in Journalism in 2013, presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Samantha Wright and The Watch of Telluride, Colo., won the award for deadline reporting for non-daily newspapers for her story about miners who risked their lives in an unsuccessful effort to save two co-workers following an accident at a silver, gold and sulfide minerals mine near Ouray.

Also on the mining front, among daily newspapers with circulations of up to 50,000, Joe O'Sullivan and Daniel Simmons-Ritchie of the Rapid City Journal won the public-service award for their series, "South Dakota takes a hands-off approach to uranium mining." The award for online investigative reporting went to “Out of Breath: The Untold Story of Big Money, Black Lung and Doctors for the Coal Companies,” by Chris Hamby of the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News. The series won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting earlier this week, but only for Hamby; ABC complained, and CPI replied.

Jim Steinberg, Rachel Luna and Paul Penzella of the San Bernardino Sun won the award for non-deadline reporting by a small daily, for "Ghost Town," a story about Hinckley, Calif., fading away after toxins from a utility company polluted its groundwater. The award for newspapers of up to 100,000 circulation was won by Dave Philipps of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, who won the Pulitzer for national reporting for his series on treatment of veterans with "other than honorable" discharges.

The San Bernardino Sun also won the award for editorial writing in newspapers of up to 100,000 circulation for Jessica Keating's editorials on the city's recovery from bankruptcy. In the same size category, Mark Harmon of the Knoxville News-Sentinel won for column writing.

Louise Knott Ahern, Dave Wasinger and Rod Sanford of the Lansing State Journal won the award for feature reporting by small dailies for "Silence of the Wolves," about the plight of inbred wolves in Isle Royale National Park on Lake Superior.

John Partipilo of The Tennessean won the feature-photography award for dailies up to 100,000 for a package illustrating how rural ways of life are fading in fast-suburbanizing Middle Tennessee. The story by Duane Gang was good, too, and informed the caption below.
In broadcasting, Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio in New York was a double winner among journalists in small markets. His report with David Sommerstein, on the dangers of oil trains in the wake of a catastrophic explosion in nearby Quebec, won the award for public service in small markets, Nos. 101 and larger. He and Natasha Haverty also won for their investigative report “From Birth to Death Behind Bars.” The award for public-service radio in large markets was won by environmental reporter Erica Peterson of WFPL in Louisville for a series on black carbon.

Other rural radio winners included breaking-news coverage of the Moore, Okla., tornado by KGOU, KOSU, StateImpact Oklahoma and Oklahoma Public Media Exchange; investigative reporting of an Oregon county's budget problems by Amelia Templeton, Eve Epstein and Michael Clapp of Oregon Public Broadcasting; small-market by Natasha Haverty and Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio in New York; feature reporting, “Wild Goose Church,” by Robbie Harris and Connie Stevens of Nashville's WVTF and Radio IQ; and the documentary “Kentucky Dam: Power for the People,” by Todd Hatton and Chad Lampe of WKMS-FM in Murray.

Television winners in small markets (Nos. 51 and above) included the staff of KWTX-TV in Waco for breaking-news coverage of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Tex.; for public service, “The Compassion Project,” by Jennifer Livingston, Mike Thompson and Anne Paape of WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., Alex Rozier, Gabe Ferguson and Jordan Caskey of KHQ in Spokane for “The Climb For Closure,” a documentary about a mountain climber; and Mary Sturgill, Patrick Owens, Vanessa Holmes and Chase Conner of KBMT in Beaumont, Tex., for “Asher's Story,” a documentary about a small boy overcoming child abuse.

The award for public service in online journalism by an affiliated site went to John Sutter and Edythe McNamee of CNN for “The Most Unequal Place in America,” about income inequality in East Carroll Parish, Louisiana. The winners will be honored at an awards banquet on June 21 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Hablas español? Rural Virginia school chosen to test innovative online foreign language class

Highland County High School, located in the least populated county in Virginia, faced budget cuts last year that forced the school, which has about 100 students, to eliminate several positions, including the foreign language teacher. That made the school an unlikely but perfect place for the Virginia Department of Education to unveil a prototype Tuesday for online language classes, David Kaplan reports for WDBJ in Harrisonburg. Virginia students will be the first in the country to use the program, which will be introduced into classes in the fall.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright told Kaplan, "Student's don't always have the same opportunities in these localities as they have in other places." Highland County Principal April Goff said, "We had to reduce our force last year, and we lost our live foreign language teacher. So this online is the only opportunity our students have to earn that advanced diploma and to get their exposure to world languages." (Read more)

Courses for beginning, intermediate and advanced Spanish will be available through the education department's Virtual Virginia online learning program, reports The Associated Press. "Wright says the courses are expected to be especially popular in rural school divisions around Virginia. The courses are based on a nationally recognized series developed by John Conner, a long-time Spanish teacher and current dean of faculty at Groton School in Massachusetts. (Read more)

Studies that used same data differ on changes in obesity among children ages 2 to 5

A pair of studies on childhood obesity that examined the same data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for children ages 2 to 5 resulted in different conclusions, with one study saying child obesity has significantly declined and the other saying that's not the case, Sabrina Tavernise reports for The New York Times. A federal study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association claims that child obesity in that age group has fallen dramatically since 2004. While researchers at the University of North Carolina don't dispute that claim, they point to a spike in obesity in 2003 that makes it look like numbers have significantly dropped, and that if one goes back to 1999, there has been no significant change in the past 15 years.

The federal study found that obesity among children ages 2 to 5 dropped from 2004 to 2014 from 14 percent to 8 percent, which is "the first statistically significant decline for any group," Tavernise writes. The North Carolina study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, counters that in 1999-2000 the obesity rate among those ages 2 to 5 was 10.3 percent, meaning the drop from 1999 to 2012 was significantly lower than the drop from 2004 to 2012. The rate was 10.6 percent in 2001-02, then jumped to 13.9 percent in 2003-04, before dropping back to 10.7 percent in 2005-06 and 10.1 percent in 2007-08.

“The bottom line is that there is still a huge amount of obesity,” Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, a professor of medicine and public health at Emory University in Atlanta, told Tavernise. “There may be isolated, individual places where there are decreases, but it’s very hard to interpret that until you get more data points. From a public health action perspective, this debate doesn’t change anything we might do.” (Read more) (NYT graphic)

Poultry industry objects to NLRB plan to cut time between unionization petitions and elections

A proposed rule by the National Labor Relations Board that would reduce the collective-bargaining election process from 42 days to between 10 and 21 days is drawing opposition from the poultry industry, which claims workers won't have enough time to be properly educated about unions, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter: "Supporters claim the current amount of time employers have is being used to essentially 'browbeat' employees into voting against unionization."

The U. S. Poultry & Egg Association, the National Chicken Council and the National Turkey Federation, which "represent 95 percent of the nation’s poultry producers, and their members generate more than 1.3 million U.S. jobs," said the proposed rule would lead to "quickie" and "ambush" elections, Agri-Pulse reports. They say the rule "carries 'the unmistakable appearance of a denial of due process and certainly will serve to increase litigation and delay timely elections rather than speed the election process.'”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka "argues that the proposed rule is needed to reduce delay in the NLRB election process," Agri-Pulse reports. Trumka told the newsletter, “When workers petition for an NLRB election, they should receive a timely opportunity to vote. But the current NLRB election process is riddled with delay and provides too many opportunities for employers to manipulate and drag out the process through costly and unnecessary litigation and deny workers a vote.” Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.