Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pa. oil and gas operations have damaged water supplies 209 times since 2008, records reveal

An open-records battle between news media and oil-and-gas operators in Pennsylvania has yielded the release of a report by the Department of Environmental Protection saying the operations have damaged water supplies 209 times since 2008, Laura Legere reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The report, which will be released later this month, gives "the date regulators concluded that activities related to oil or gas extraction were to blame for contaminating or diminishing the flow to a water source." (Post-Gazette graphic) 
"After initially fighting news organizations’ requests for the determination letters and arguing it would be too difficult to find all of them in its files, DEP has increasingly provided access to the documents in the last year after courts required their release and as public interest in the information has grown," Legere writes. "When DEP posts the tally of damaged water supplies this month, it will mark the first time the agency has released its official accounting of drilling-related pollution and diminution cases on its website."

"The DEP spreadsheet reveals that oil and gas operations have affected water supplies in nearly every region where drilling occurs, from the shale-gas sweet spots in northeastern Pennsylvania to the traditional oil-and-gas patch in the state’s northwest corner," Legere writes. (Read more)

More than 1,100 miners told their black-lung claims may been wrongly denied; Senate panel has hearing

The U.S. Department of Labor had told more than 1,100 coal miners that their compensation for black-lung disease may have been wrongly denied, Chris Hamby reports for The Center for Public Integrity. Dr. Paul S. Wheeler, the head of the unit at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions who interprets X-rays in black-lung claims, failed to find a single case of severe black lung in more than 1,500 cases decided since 2000 in which he offered an opinion. In June officials were ordered to stop using Wheeler's opinions.

A Senate subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday in response to an investigative series earlier this year by the center and ABC News on black lung. The series won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. (Associated Press photo: Retired coal miner Robert Bailey, left, speaks with committee chairman Robert Casey, D-Pa.)

During testimony Tuesday "witnesses testified about the difficult process miners encounter when they attempt to file black lung claims," Chris Lawrence reports for MetroNews of Charleston, W.Va. John Cline, an attorney from Piney View, W.Va., "provided committee members with five examples of deceptive practices he had encountered in representing coal miners attempting to qualify for benefits," Lawrence writes.

"He spotlighted the case of Gary Fox, a longtime coal miner from Bluefield who died in 2009," Lawrence writes. Cline said the West Virginia Black Lung Review Board certified he suffered from black lung, but Elk Run Coal Co. appealed the case. Two pathologists hired as expert witnesses by Elk Run concluded Fox had black lung, "but the evidence in their report was suppressed." (Read more)

Robert Bailey of Princeton, W.Va., who worked for more than 36 years in coal mines, told the committee "it took him about four years to win black lung benefits, but that he’s still trying to get insurance to cover the cost of a lung transplant," reports The Associated Press. "There is currently a backlog of roughly 3,000 black lung cases pending before the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges, according to the Labor Department." (Read more)

Bailey "asked Congress to help streamline the process of obtaining black lung benefits, and the Obama administration insisted it is taking steps to fix longstanding abuses," Ken Ward reports for The Charleston Gazette. Bailey told the committee, “Living with black lung is thinking about every breath you take. Policies and laws need to be changed to give hope and life to those who don’t have time for stall tactics.” (Read more)

Maine town wants to block export of tar-sands oil via reversal of pipeline now sending crude to Canada

The city council in South Portland, Maine, "gave final approval Monday night to controversial zoning changes that are expected to block the potential export of Canadian tar sands oil from the city’s waterfront," Kelley Bouchard reports for the Portland Press Herald. The zoning proposal prevents the bulk loading of crude oil, including tar sands, onto marine tank vessels and blocks construction or expansion of terminals and other facilities for that purpose, Bouchard writes. Opponents have 20 days to collect the necessary 950 signatures from registered voters to attempt to overturn the ban. There is no active proposal to export tar-sands oil through Maine, but the Portland Montreal Pipeline Corp. has "expressed interest" in reversing the flow of an oil pipeline between the two cities "to carry Canadian crude, including tar-sands oil, in the opposite direction — from Montreal to Maine — for delivery to the world market," Susan Sharon reports for NPR. (Boston Globe map)

Concern has grown in many rural areas about the transportation of crude oil by railway. A year ago, 47 died from a derailment in Quebec of a train running from North Dakota to Maine. In the U.S. in 2013 more oil was spilled than in the previous 37 years combined. The surge in accidents has led to new safety rules in Canada and a demand for new rules and upgrades in the U.S. as well as more readily available information on what trains are hauling.

Shipping tar-sands oil by rail is twice as expensive as using a pipeline, and there is particular concern about the pipeline in Maine, David Abel reports for The Boston Globe. "The pipeline runs through the Sebago Lake watershed, which provides about a quarter of the state’s population with drinking water." Abel notes, "By itself, removing the Portland pipeline from the equation will not make that much of a difference, oil analysts said. Oil would only flow through Maine if it exceeded the capacity of refineries in Montreal and Quebec city, which use roughly about 400,000 barrels a day."

Owner starves, shuts rural groceries in Colorado

Many rural areas are forced to travel long distances to reach a full-service grocery, but some northeastern Colorado residents faced a different problem — their local grocery stores remained open, but the shelves were bare. That was a harbinger; Bella's Markets in Akron and Wiggins closed Tuesday and the one in Walden will close Thursday, Jacyln Allen reports for KMGH-TV in Denver. (KGMH image: Empty shelves in Akron)

Samuel Mancini, who owns eight Bella's Markets in Colorado, "cited legal and financial troubles as reasons for the 'temporary' closures," and told the Wellington store it would remain open, but business is slow considering there's barely any food to purchase, Zahira Torres reports for The Denver Post. Mancini said he would re-stock shelves by Aug. 5. Wellington mayor Jack Brinkhoff told Torres, "It means we have to spend another week and a half with nothing on our shelves."

Mancini, who filed for bankruptcy in 2012, "paid himself $1.4 million between 2010 and June 2013," according to bankruptcy documents, Torres writes. "He used about $700,000 of that to pay off judgments and claims against him, bankruptcy documents said."

Undercover video shot by KGMH "found no fresh meat, no eggs and few staples on the Akron store's shelves," Allen writes. "It was the same case in Wellington during July." After Allen's initial story on Bella's last month, people sent the town food donations. Akron Town Clerk Annette Bowin told Allen, "We got boxes of food, which we donated to a food bank. We don't need handouts. We need a grocery store."

Colleen Conroy, Jackson County's assistant county administrator, "said it has been two years since Walden has had a fully stocked grocery store, and they have to drive 60 miles one way to go shopping elsewhere," Allen writes. (Read more)

Remote Iowa schools find creative ways to participate in Safe Routes to School program

Safe Routes to School was created "by parents, schools, community leaders and local, state, and federal governments to improve the health and well-being of children by enabling and encouraging them to walk and bicycle to school," says the organization.

About 14,000 schools in the U.S. participate in the program, but one rural region in northeastern Iowa realized that the program offered no alternatives for rural students, many of whom live too far from school to walk or bike, or who would need to traverse dangerous ground to complete the journey, Tanya Snyder reports for Streetsblog. So officials in the Upper Explorerland region (right) are re-writing the rules and finding innovative ways to allow their students to participate in the healthy initiatives.

Ashley Christensen of Safe Routes to School for the Upper Explorerland, told Snyder, "We know no other region in Iowa had worked on one when we started and are pretty confident that statement holds true for the rest of the U.S., too."

The solution "was to do similar activities to other Safe Routes locations: walking school buses and bicycle trains chaperoned by parents; bike rodeos to teach bicycle safety and road skills," Allen writes. "But they also use techniques that might not be needed in denser areas, like remote drop-offs. A remote drop-off functions like a park-and-ride, where parents meet in a parking lot and walk their kids the rest of the way to school. All told, the programs reach 10,000 students from 20 school districts and six private schools in a rural area the size of Connecticut." (Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission photo: Students unable to bike to school can use the human-powered bike blender)

Students are also able to join mileage clubs, where they "earn rewards for walking around a track or in the gym," Allen writes. "Some teachers try to fit physical movement into their regular lesson plans, using techniques like 'Story in Motion,' where students act out stories. Some schools take school-wide activity breaks for the Chicken Dance or push-ups." (Read more)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Southeast Colo. drought makes some farmers think about packing it in, if only they could afford to do so

Drought in southeastern Colorado is causing nightmares for rural residents, pushing some to the brink of packing it in and giving up on farming life, Lydia DePillis reports for The Washington Post. "The lingering dryness combined with the loss of access to the irrigation systems that used to make up for it is one of the biggest forces dragging America’s rural areas further behind its dynamic cities: While the poverty rate stabilized for metropolitan areas in 2012, it kept growing on farms and in tiny towns. With climate change shortening the wet times and prolonging the dry ones on into the future, it’s unclear that they’ll ever truly recover."

"And it’s not just the weather," DePillis writes. "Over the years, the farms have also lost a war with fast-growing urban centers: There’s already much less water than there used to be trickling through the surrounding fields, since investors had bought up their water rights—which are normally attached to the land, entitling the owner to take a certain percentage of the water flowing through a river—and profited by flipping them to thirsty cities." (Post graphic)

Colorado farmer Anita Pointon, along with her husband Chuck, has struggled to keep their 500 acres watered in an areas where "less rain fell in the 42 months before May of last year than in the stretch in the mid-1930s now called the Dust Bowl," DePillis writes. Speaking of urban centers' demand for water, she told DePillis, “It’s a threat to us. It’s one of those things where they get their foot in the door. Just little ways that they’ve come in, and it affects your water.”

"Last year, farms fed by the Fort Lyon Canal in the Arkansas Valley got less than half the volume of water they usually do and almost no rain, leaving the land bone-dry," DePillis writes. "The Pointons sold half the cattle off their land and leaned on the insurance on their failed corn crop for income. If the crops fail again this year, they’ll likely go further into debt. Chuck could go work at the fish hatchery, which he did during a bad spell in 2003, and Anita might focus harder on the joy she feels in watching calves grow up every spring rather than whether she can afford to keep raising them."

Pointon told DePillis, “There’s a lot of things in play. After you start laying it out, it’s like, why are we farming?” Chuck added, “Because we don’t have enough money to move away." Others in the area say they feel the same way as they wait patiently for the drought to end and the rain to begin. (Read more)

EPA's proposed restrictions on emissions from wood-burning stoves draws sharp rural criticism

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed restrictions on emissions from wood-burning stoves are being criticized in rural areas, where residents are more likely to rely on the stoves for heat and water, Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. Rural areas burn twice as much wood for heat as urban areas, according to a report by George Mason University. (Flickr photo by Ed Suominen)

"The proposed rule will lower the emissions standard for all new woodstoves to 4.5 grams per hour of operations, according to Chimney Sweep News," Marema writes "The standard is currently 7.5 grams per hours for stoves without catalytic converters and 4.1 for catalytic stoves. The new standard will not differentiate between the two types of stoves. Five to eight years after the new rule is implemented, the standard would drop to 1.3 grams per hour."

Stonehill College economics professor Sean Mulholland wrote in an opinion piece in U.S. News and World Report that "the claim that the tighter standards will improve human health doesn’t take into account that most wood for heat gets burned in rural areas. Most of the emissions reductions will take place in rural areas with low population densities. The rule overestimates total health benefits realized by averaging these reductions across all U.S. residents. So a reduction in particulates in the rural community of Forest City, Maine, has the same estimated value as a reduction in the densely-populated urban city of Oakland, Calif.”

Jack Goldman, president and CEO of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, said at an EPA hearing, “This is an industry populated overwhelmingly by small businesses. All but a handful of our manufacturers qualify as a small business. Because our industry’s health is very closely tied to new home building and remodeling, these businesses are just beginning to emerge from a horrendous recession. They are in no position to invest the relatively huge amounts that this proposal will require for research, testing, certification and retooling plants.”

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota wrote: “The rule would have a disproportionate impact on South Dakota families who rely on wood stoves to heat their homes.  . . . With the recent propane shortage throughout South Dakota and many areas of the country, the last thing the EPA should be doing is making it harder and more expensive for families to heat their homes.”

But advocates say new rules will be good for consumers. John Ackerly, president of the Alliance for Green Heat, wrote on the group’s Facebook page: “Few people argue that the 1988 regulations were bad for consumers, and in five years, few will argue that these were. Cleaner, higher efficiency appliances will end up selling much better, even if they are a little more expensive, because fuel savings in any appliance always outweigh a bump in purchase price.” (Read more)

Last month was the world's hottest June on record

The earth continues to experience record-breaking temperatures. Last month was the hottest June on record, following a trend in which the previous month was the hottest May on record, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Primarily, it was the oceans of the world that pushed the mercury into the red zone," Angela Fritz reports for The Washington Post. "According to the report, June was the first time that the monthly global ocean temperature difference from average was higher than 1.08 degrees. In other words, in no month on record have ocean temperatures deviated more from normal than June." (NOAA graphic)

"The oceans achieved this record warmth prior to the declaration of El Nino, which would signal substantial warming of the tropical Pacific," Fritz writes. "Should the Pacific achieve El Nino conditions, it would push ocean temperatures even higher."

The past five Junes have ranked among the top 10 warmest on record, and June 2014 was the 38th consecutive June and 352nd straight month to have above average temperatures, Fritz writes. "The June heat was felt across the globe, with record warmth being felt in Greenland, northern South America, eastern and central Africa, and southeast Asia. New Zealand also recorded its warmest June since records began in 1909." (Read more)

Rural Iowa hospital pitches to Des Moines residents

In an attempt to reverse the trend of rural residents traveling long distances to seek medical care in cities, a critical-access hospital in northern Iowa is trying to draw patients 90 miles from Des Moines to use its new operating rooms for weight-loss surgery, Tony Leys reports for The Des Moines Register. "The Iowa Specialty Hospital in Belmond (Wikipedia map) is partnering with a Des Moines surgeon to provide the operations, which reduce the size of patients’ stomachs so they can’t eat as much."

"The new arrangement represents a rare effort by a rural hospital to compete directly for business with big-city counterparts," Leys writes. "Most Des Moines-area residents wanting bariatric surgery go to Iowa Methodist Medical Center or to Mercy Medical Center." Dr. Todd Eibes, a former employee of Iowa Methodist, now runs a clinic in West Des Moines, Leys writes. While he and his staff see patients at that facility, surgeries will be performed in Belmond, where patients will on average spend two days in the hospital. Eibes said he was impressed with the hospital's high patient satisfaction surveys and its inviting and modern setting. He told Leys, “That’s the kind of thing our patients are looking for. They don’t want to get lost in a huge system.” (Read more)

Western wildlife refuges will phase out neonicotinoid pesticides harmful to birds and pollinators

Federal wildlife refuges in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Hawaii "will phase out a class of pesticides that are chemically similar to nicotine because they pose a threat to bees and other pollinators key to crop growth," Jeff Barnard reports for The Associated Press. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Mike Corbett told Barnard the goal is to phase out pesticides by January 2016. (Statesman Journal photo by Danielle Peterson: A blue heron at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge) 

"The agency's pest management policy calls for pest-killing methods that pose the least risk to wildlife, and there is scientific evidence that neonicotinoids kill bees and other pollinators, said Kim Trust, the agency's deputy regional director of refuges," Barnard writes.

Pesticides known as neonicotinoids have been blamed for wiping out 40 to 50 percent of honeybee hives, while the tobacco ringspot virus has been blamed for the deaths of honeybees, which pollinate about 90 crops worldwide, generating $14 billion a year. 

Some refuges aren't waiting until 2016 to phase out pesticides, Tracy Loew for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. Three Oregon refuges created to protect Dusky Canada Geese—Baskett Slough, west of Salem; Ankeny, south of Salem; and William L. Finley near Corvallis—"already prohibit application of neonicotinoid pesticides and don't allow genetically modified crops . . . but neonicotinoid-coated seeds for sorghum and possibly corn are used in the complex." Farmers in the refuges have been given until the end of the year to stop using the seeds out of concern that birds and small mammals will eat them. (Read more)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rural town opens city-run gas station, selling cheaper gas from local refinery to lower prices

A rural Southern Kentucky town has found a way to beat high gas prices. The city of Somerset ventured into the retail gas business, "opening a municipal-run filling station that supporters call a benefit for motorists and critics denounce as a taxpayer-supported swipe at the free market," Bruce Schreiner reports for The Associated Press. The station opened Saturday with prices set at $3.36 a gallon, three cents lower than competing stations. (Schreiner photo: Filling up at the city-run station)

Somerset is able to supply residents with the gasoline because the city purchases gas from a hometown supplier, Continental Refining Co., Schreiner writes. "The city purchased a fuel storage facility for $200,000 a few years ago. Now, up to 60,000 gallons of regular unleaded gas can be stored there for the retail business."

The local refinery has struggled to stay open because of competition with Marathon Oil Corp., which makes most of the gas consumed in Kentucky. Marathon has paid haulers of Southern Kentucky oil extra incentives to take oil 172 miles away to a Marathon refinery near the West Virginia border, instead of to the shorter distance to Somerset. 

While townspeople have responded positively to the station, there are plenty of critics, Schreiner writes. Convenience store owner Duane Adams called the move a slap in the face that could hurt his business. He told Schreiner, "They've used the taxpayer money that I have paid them over these years to do this, to be against us. I do not see how they can't see that as socialism."

But Girdler, a Republican in his second term, "said the city isn't looking to put anyone out of business," Schreiner writes. He told Schreiner, "We don't care if we don't sell a drop of gasoline. Our objective is to lower the price." A local economic-development coordinator told Schreiner that Somerset gas prices are often 20 to 30 cents a gallon higher than in nearby towns, and Girdler said many visitors to nearby Lake Cumberland "fuel up elsewhere, costing Somerset millions of dollars in retail sales," Schreiner reports.

Coal goes bust in E. Ky. and booms in Wyo., but even there some wonder for how long

The U.S. coal industry is under perhaps its greatest stress ever, from natural gas and environmental regulations, but some areas still boom while others bust. Eastern Kentucky miner Henry Gibson told Bloomberg writer Mark Drajem, "We've gotten so dependent on coal, it's like we're on drugs." But while Central Appalachia is going through withdrawals, Wyoming is living the high life. "The reason: Kentucky’s coal costs three times as much to mine as Wyoming’s," Drajem writes in a detailed examination of the factors in both places.

"In the wide, vast plains of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, where coal can be scooped out and piled high onto railcars headed for Texas and Midwest power plants, production is on a modest upswing," Drajem reports. "That’s sparked a boom in the town of Gillette, where the local unemployment rate is 2.9 percent, less than half the nation’s 6.1 percent, and the median family income is $77,000, more than 40 percent higher than then national average. Within the past year four new frozen yogurt shops opened, along with the $5.5 million Jordan’s Western Dining steakhouse."

"The scene is very different along Kentucky’s jagged eastern edge," Drajem writes. "The cheapest, easiest coal to mine was carved out decades ago, and now mining companies are shedding workers and seeking bankruptcy protection. The unemployment rate is 14.8 percent, and doctors are drug-testing their own patients to make sure they are taking—rather than hawking—pain medication."

Wyoming coal production doubled from 1990 to 2008, and nine of the nation's 10 largest mines are in the state, with the other one in neighboring Montana, Drajem writes. In southeastern Kentucky's Harlan County, only 27 of the 87 licensed mines are active, and "Harlan produced 4.6 million tons of coal last year, the lowest total since 1920. The county shed more than half its population in the past six decades, and locals say one of the only booming local businesses is renting U-Haul trucks for those fleeing."

"The coal industry sees the Appalachian travails as a warning signal," Drajem writes, quoting Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett: "Eastern Kentucky is ground zero for what the coal industry is going through in this country." Clean Energy Action of Boulder, Colo., says U.S. mining will become increasingly expemnsive. “As they extract more and more of the coal, the cost of producing it rises,” Zane Selvans, author of a report for the group, told Dragem, who writes, "What Kentucky is experiencing today, many mines in Wyoming may face in the next seven to 20 years, he predicts." (Read more)


EPA moves to block Alaska's planned Pebble Mine; House moves to stop EPA from blocking project

The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to block the controversial Pebble Beach mine project in Alaska, while the House is trying to block the EPA from doing so. (MCT photo by Luis Sinco: To transport ore and equipment, the gold and copper Pebble Mine would require a 104-mile road along Alaska’s Pedro Bay, above, and Lake Iliamna, the state's largest body of fresh water, cutting through undeveloped forest and wetlands.)

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/07/17/4240897/controversial-alaska-mine-project.html#storylink=cpy

On Friday EPA announced "it’s proposing tough new limits for gold and copper mining in the Bristol Bay watershed—a move that would greatly diminish the scale of the controversial Pebble Mine project," Linsdsay Abrams reports for Salon. "The proposal, issued under the Clean Water Act, is necessary 'to protect the world’s greatest salmon fishery from what would most certainly be one of the largest open pit mine developments ever conceived of,' EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran told reporters."

While the move "won’t block the mine outright, it will effectively rob it of that largest-ever status, protecting Alaska’s important sockeye salmon fishery in the process," Abrams writes. In January EPA said building the mine would destroy between 24 to 94 miles of salmon-supporting streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes. In March the agency began taking steps to block the mine.

Lawmakers have already responded to the EPA, with House members "pushing a bill to keep the EPA from blocking the mine, despite opposition from Washington state lawmakers who say the project could be devastating to the fishing industry in their state," Sean Cockerham reports for McClatchy Newspapers. The mine developer, Northern Dynasty Minerals, which lost most of its financial support when backers pulled out of the project, "is suing the EPA, seeking an injunction to prevent the agency from moving to stop the project."

"After a long series of setbacks, the mine won a small victory Wednesday when the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the bill for a vote in the full House," Cockerham writes. "The measure would have scant chance of making it through the Democratic-controlled Senate and surviving a likely presidential veto. But mine opponents fear it might become a platform to revive the project’s fortunes, particularly if Republicans take control of the Senate after the November midterm elections." (Read more)

Independent journalist says drones can be used to skirt 'ag-gag' laws and obtain aerial footage

An independent journalist says he has found a way to get around ag-gag laws by using drones to fly "over large livestock operations to document animal welfare problems and pollution," Peggy Lowe reports for NPR. Based in Washington, D.C., Will Potter has raised $75,000 to buy drones and other equipment. He told Lowe, "I was primarily motivated by what's happening outside of those closed doors, but is still invisible and hidden from the public spotlight. In particular, I was motivated by seeing these of farm pollution, of waste lagoons, of sprawling industrial operations."

Agricultural groups are not happy with Potter's plans, Lowe writes. Emily Meredith, a spokeswoman for Animal Agriculture Alliance, a livestock industry group, told Lowe, "It's unfortunate that the media and others see Mr. Potter and other detractors and activists as having more expertise than the folks with their boots on the ground every day, growing and raising our food. It's even more unfortunate that people contribute to campaigns like this on Kickstarter instead of investing in any of the other myriad of worthy causes—including working to end hunger."

It's not clear whether or not using the drones would be against the law, since commercial drone operations remain a contentious subject, Lowe writes. Potter said "he will focus on the states where anti-whistleblower laws are being debated. He pledges to share his findings in an e-book and a short documentary. But Potter admits the drones he plans to deploy won't be able to get the same, close-up footage of livestock operations that groups like Mercy for Animals and the Humane Society obtained through undercover investigations. Instead, he says, he'll focus on showing the magnitude of the operations and the pollution they generate." (Read more)

Some trustees quit college named for fundamentalist crusader after it makes Adam and Eve article of faith

Four of the 12 trustees of Bryan College, a small, Christian, liberal-arts college in Dayton, Tenn., have resigned, saying they are unhappy with recent developments at the college, which include President Stephen Livesay's decision to amend the school's statement of faith "to say that humanity descended only from Adam and Eve," Tim Omarzu reports for the Times Free Press in Chattanooga. (Press photo by Dan Henry) 

While board members said they resigned because of poor leadership by Livesay, not the amendment, which they helped write, one wrote in his resignation letter, "The ongoing narrative from the president's office presents interpretations of facts that differ significantly and regularly from what I believe to be true. Second, I do not believe I could contribute anything substantive to the board that would be heard. . . . Third, the president indicated that those on the board who do not support his presidency should resign."

Another said he "didn't have a problem with the doctrine supporting creationism, but he didn't like the manner in which the clarification was made," Omarzu writes. The trustee told Omarzu, "In my opinion, it was pushed through at a time when it didn't need to be pushed through."

Bryan College was named for William Jennings Bryan, a presidential candidate who in the 1920s "led a fundamentalist crusade to banish Darwin's theory of evolution from American classrooms," getting the practice banned in 15 states, says the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Bryan was part of the prosecution in "the monkey trial" of 1925 in Dayton, in which John Scopes was found guilty of illegally teaching evolution. The verdict was overturned on a technicality, and Bryan died six days after the trial ended. (Read more)

Woman at free medical clinic calls Medicaid expansion in Virginia a handout she doesn't want

Federal health reform is a complex topic that was made more complex by the Supreme Court ruling that made it easy for states to reject the law's main device for helping the poor, expansion of the federal-state Medicaid program. That added political complexity to a subject that has philosophical complexity, which showed up at the end of an recent article in The Washington Post about Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's campaign to expand Medicaid against the wishes of the Republican-led legislature.

To illustrate the need, McAuliffe attended a free medical and dental clinic in Wise, in Virginia's southwestern coalfield. The Post's Laura Vozzella ended the story with her interview of Gilda Mountcastle, who had been waiting in line since 5:30 a.m. Mountcastle said she would not have access to a dentist or eye doctor without the free clinic, but said "she did not support Medicaid expansion, which she saw as a government handout." She told told reporters, “We’re hardworking, hillbilly mountain people. We’re too proud to beg and bum.” From the government, at least. (Read more)

Writer challenges data-based approach of article naming her county America's hardest place to live

Anne Shelby
Writer Anne Shelby, a longtime resident of Clay County, Kentucky, has responded to Annie Lowery's New York Times article “What’s The Matter With Eastern Kentucky?” in which six Eastern Kentucky counties were among the 10 judged hardest in America to live, with Clay at the top. In an article that was rejected by the Times but appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Shelby challenges the story's reliance on data.

"Lowery reports on a study that compiled data by county in six categories: education, median income, life expectancy, unemployment, disability and obesity," and the hard facts they illustrate are not to be ignored, Shelby writes. "But does the average of these six data points really mean these are, 'the hardest places to live in the United States?' The Times piece uses statistics both to define the problem and to solve it."

Shelby notes the story suggests that "The thing for us to do—and the government should help us do this . . . is to relocate to places with better numbers. We could, for example, head out to Los Alamos County, N.M., and get jobs in the nuclear-weapons industry. Since Los Alamos County boasts the best statistics, it should, by the article's logic, be the easiest place in the country to live. Moving into a suburb of the nation's capital might be nice. Six of those counties made it into the top 10."

Shelby suggests people might want to take a cue from a play she co-wrote, in which one character says: "Maybe we need to come up with a different quality-of-life index for little country places. How many points could we get for each hill? How much is a river worth? Can we add a category for walking on ground your ancestors walked? Or for the percentage of neighbors who'd show up in five minutes if you needed them? How can you measure that? And how can you measure how much you'd miss a place if you had to leave?" (Read more)

Eastern Kentucky author Silas House previously responded to the Times article.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Distillery planned in Eastern Kentucky to capitalize on history of moonshining and Hatfield-McCoy feud

Kentucky is known for bourbon whiskey, and its Appalachian region was once known for illegal whiskey. Now a legal distillery will be built in a major coalfield town, in an apparent attempt to capitalize on the burgeoning interest in bourbon and the ways of making it, and on the history of the area, which includes the Hatfield-McCoy feud.

Google map locates Pikeville and Pike County, Kentucky
Alltech Inc., a Kentucky-based manufacturer of animal feed and additives that has expanded into brewing and distilling, will "turn a large section of buildings on Second Street in Pikeville into a brewery and distillery business," with new product lines, Russ Cassady reports for the Appalachian News-Express.

“We’re going to develop more products that we see as suitable for this area, something that’s unique to this area, something that ties in a lot of history to the area,” Alltech Master Distiller Mark Coffman told a local gathering. “We’re now trying to focus a little bit more on trying to bring visitors into this area. There’s a lot to see with this area, there’s a lot of history with this area.”

On a hill above Pikeville is the grave of Randolph McCoy, leader of the Kentucky family in the late-1800s feud with the Hatfields of West Virginia. Counties in both states have tried to cash in on the history, with such devices as a Hatfield-McCoy Trail for all-terrain vehicles, much of it through reclaimed surface coal mines. The area's coal industry has sharply declined, generating more interest in tourism jobs.

UPDATE, July 21: Gov. Steve Beshear told the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's Business Summit and Annual Meeting that the distillery would have a name playing off the feud. He also announced that Alltech will locate an aquaculture facility and an egg laying and processing plant near Pikeville.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Paddling remains legal in all or part of 19 states; critics say minorities, disabled bear the brunt

While some may view paddling in schools as a long-abandoned practice, corporal punishment remains legal in 19 states, mostly in rural areas. Paddling continues to have its fair share of critics, who say corporal punishment harms students mentally and physically, while studies say the majority of corporal punishment "is used disproportionately on minority students and those with mental, physical and emotional disabilities," Rachel Chason reports for USA Today. But some in rural areas say the practice not only works, but is supported by parents. (Map: Paddling is legal in red states)

The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights says the number of students paddled has decreased in recent years, from 342,038 in 2000 to 217,814 in 2009-10, Chason writes. And five counties, three in Florida and two in North Carolina, have banned paddling for this school year.

"A 2008 Human Rights Watch report showed that although African-American students made up 17.1 percent of the student population nationwide, they made up 35.6 percent of those paddled," Chason writes. "The report also notes that children with disabilities in Texas made up 10.7 percent of the student population in the 2006-07 school year, but accounted for 18.4 percent of those paddled."

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) who has reintroduced a public-school paddling ban each year since 2010, told Chason, "Most people don't even know that corporal punishment is still going on in this country. It's not just harmful physically but also psychologically. There are so many other ways of handling discipline."

The states with the highest number of students being paddled are Mississippi, Texas and Alabama; a report by the Office of Civil Rights said more than 100,000 students were paddled in those states during the 2009-10 school year, Chason writes. George Holden, a psychology professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, "said those numbers are mostly coming from smaller, rural districts. He said the practice is banned in Texas's largest cities: Houston, San Antonio and Dallas." He calls paddling "counterproductive," saying it has negative long-term effects, making "students angry, less likely to communicate with teachers and less motivated to succeed."

But some rural school districts say paddling has had positive results, Chason writes. "In Coffee County, located in southeast Georgia, Superintendent Morris Leis said his school district allows paddling because it's an effective form of punishment." Leis told her, "We won't paddle a student if a parent doesn't want us to, but we don't get a lot of complaints." (Read more)

Senate passes bill requiring Federal Reserve to have board member with community-bank experience

The five-member Federal Reserve Board could soon be required to have at least one member with community banking experience. The Senate approved an amendment introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R.-La.), who "said it would help introduce balance to a Federal Reserve that has come to lean too heavily on officials with academic and 'megabank' experience." Vitter said, “There’s an unmistakable trend away from having adequate representation from folks with community bank experience." The amendment was to the Terrorist Risk Insurance Act, which passed and went to the House.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said she would welcome a community banker on the board but opposed  legislation to require one, reports Pedro Nicolaci De Costa of The Wall Street Journal. Yellen said, “The board has many different needs. I think if we were to sit down and make a list of all of the kinds of expertise that are needed and are useful, there would be more than seven items on that list. And I would, you know, prefer to see appointments made in light of the priorities, including for a community banker, rather than for the indefinite future locking in and earmarking particular seats for particular purposes.” (Read more)

Colo. governor vows to do 'whatever it takes' to beat anti-fracking initiatives if they reach ballot

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday that he will "do 'whatever it takes' to ensure the defeat of the two ballot initiatives that aim to give local governments more control over oil and gas drilling," Jennifer Yachnin reports for EnergyWire. (AP photo by Brennan Linsley: Hickenlooper speaking Thursday)

On Wednesday Hickenlooper announced that he didn't have enough support from state lawmakers to pass a compromise law that would give localities more control over hydraulic fracturing, which would send the issue to the ballot box, as long as proponents of the initiatives get the required number of signatures by Aug. 4. As of Wednesday the proposals still needed about 40,000 signatures.

Hickenlooper, who is facing stiff competition in his re-election bid, said, "With November's elections fast approaching, we all agree we now must turn our full attention to defeating these ballot measures. These measures risk literally thousands and thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment and hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local tax revenue," Yachnin writes.

Hickenlooper said that if towns are able to ban hydraulic fracturing, it could cost the state around 2,000 jobs, reports Ivan Moreno for the The Associated Press. But while the oil and gas industry said the measures could lead to fracking being banned, supporters of the measure disagree. Mara Sheldon, a spokeswoman for Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy, the group behind the initiatives Hickenlooper is opposing, told Moreno, "These initiatives are not a ban on fracking; they are the right balance needed for responsible energy development. It simply doesn't belong where we live, where our food grows and where our children play." (Read more)

Rural Oregon county has spent 20 years trying to get rural areas better connected to the Internet

While the Federal Communications Commission considers a huge number of comments on its proposal to limit Internet neutrality, Camilla Mortensen writes a story for Eugene Weekly that takes a look at how rural residents in Lane County, Oregon (Wikipedia map) began bargaining in the 1990s to get fiber-optic cable in their county, and how nearly 20 years later some in the county still lack broadband.

Former Lane County commissioner Cindy Wood-Weeldreyer said "when she was first elected commissioner representing East Lane County in 1995 she focused on health and human services issues and on improving communication between the County Commission and its rural residents," Mortensen writes. "One issue Weeldreyer was dealing with was that while people in the metro area could attend commission meetings or watch them on community television, the broadcasts were not available to rural residents. With this in mind, she went to a telecommunications conference in 1997 thinking she would learn more about expanding community TV. What she got was a crash course in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the need to expand Internet services."

"Weeldreyer became a 'rural telecommunications evangelist,'" Mortensen writes. "Two regional consortiums were formed: Regional Fiber Consortium and Fiber South Consortium, which later merged into one consortium under the name of the Regional Fiber Consortium in 2007."

"Weeldreyer spearheaded an effort to bring fiber optic to Eugene and surrounding towns in the late ’90s when she discovered that a private telecommunications company was laying fiber-optic cable from Seattle to San Diego," Mortensen writes. "At that time Eugene was developing what some called a 'Silicon Forest,' with high-tech companies like Hyundai (Hynix) and Sony moving in, but Weeldreyer feared the high-tech movement would only benefit towns along the I-5 corridor, not the small timber communities she represented" in and beyond the Cascade Mountains.

"The fiber itself is the least expensive component in the effort, she says, so the question was what kind of proposal could local communities make that would induce the private company to lay dark fiber for them," Mortensen writes. "Dark fiber is simply fiber-optic cable that has not been lit up — connected to the Internet. "Communities from Coburg to Oakridge quickly adopted ordinances to join the fiber consortiums and prepared to trade right-of-way access for fiber. But Weeldreyer says when the time came to negotiate — they were thinking of asking for maybe six strands of fiber — the telecommunications company responded 'in true corporate fashion, ‘We don’t need your right-of-way.’”

"The fiber route would follow the railroad’s right-of-way, which is why there is a major fiber-optic route running through Oakridge and down to Klamath Falls," Mortensen writes. "Luckily, Weeldreyer says, Pam Berrian, telecommunications program manager for the city of Eugene, found that the city still controlled the right-of-way where the railroad crosses High Street, since the street existed before the railroad."

"Cities can charge fees for telecommunications companies to use their rights-of-way, and while Weeldreyer says most towns are reluctant to give up those moneymaking fees, this time they offered to expedite the permit and let the company have the right-of-way in exchange for 12 strands of fiber and access points to members of the consortiums along the way," Mortensen writes. "The company, then called Pacific Fiber Link, faced with a roadblock to its fiber optic network, agreed."

Milo Mecham of the Lane County Council of Governments, who has been working on the broadband issue since the late ’90s, said they received an $8.3 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant "to enhance the existing fiber-optic backbone and add 124 miles of fiber-optic network to deliver broadband capabilities in Lane, Douglas and Klamath counties," Mortensen writes. "The project, which wrapped up in the fall of 2013, installed fiber in every city in Lane County with the exception of Westfir and Dunes City," where there were no anchor institutions that qualified. (Read more)

Fla. farmer posts sign warning potential home-lot buyers of animal 'noise, odors and outdoor sex'

Residents in a rural Florida town have found a unique — and colorfully descriptive — way to fight a proposed housing development in their neighborhood. In an attempt to deter the proposed 80-home project, Englewood resident Sue Young, one of 20 farm owners in the area, has posted a sign warning potential buyers of the myriad of sounds and smells farm animals make, including the fact that anyone living near a farm is bound to witness animals having sex, Josh Taylor reports for WWSB My Suncoast.

Young told Taylor, "We are hobby farms. People come to see our animals. We raise our own animals. They want to put 80 homes on what used to be an equestrian farm. We just don't want to be changed in the zoning. We are farms, and Englewood should have farms." Young said people have responded positively to the sign and no one has been offended by it.

 City-Data map
"She says it's meant to catch some eyeballs and meant as a warning," Taylor said. "They’re concerned that once those in a gated community move in, they'll work to get rid of the annoyances around them." Young told Taylor, "It's like moving next to an airport and complaining about the traffic patterns. If you move next to a farm, we have animals that make noises and they smell. A lot of people enjoy them but they are not meant for everybody." (Read more)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Net-neutrality comment period extended until Friday

After receiving nearly 700,000 comments about its net neutrality rules, the Federal Communications Commission has extended the comment period to midnight Friday. The original deadline had been Tuesday, but after receiving so many comments, including a flurry that crashed the website, the deadline was extended, and it appears "likely that net neutrality will become the most-commented-on issue in FCC history," Gautham Nagesh reports for The Wall Street Journal.

Among those keeping close watch on the rules are rural Americans. Net neutrality "could have unintended consequences here in the hinterlands, where customers are relatively few and far between and providing broadband services at all is still an issue in some localities," the McCook Daily Gazette warns. Some rural areas already lack high-speed Internet, or any service at all, but net-neutrality could slow things down even more, with companies like Netflix, which uses as much as 34 percent of Internet traffic at peak times, being blamed for slowing down networks.

"Net neutrality rules have been sold for a decade as a way to keep the Internet 'open and free' by keeping Internet service providers (ISPs), such as phone and cable companies, from blocking or degrading Web sites," former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell writes for The Washington Post. "Its advocates have argued that ISPs have an economic incentive to act anti-competitively toward consumers and competitors. In a common hypothetical they cite, ISPs would slow — or buffer — traffic for Netflix unless it unfairly pays for more access points, or “off ramps,” and better quality of service."

"In truth, however, market failures like these have never happened, and nothing is broken that needs fixing," McDowell writes. "If consumers were being harmed by ISPs, ample antitrust, competition and consumer protection laws already exist to fix the problem. And major broadband providers have pledged, in their terms of service, to keep the Net open and freedom-enhancing. Why?  Because it is good business to do so."

Columbia law professor Tim Wu testified before Congress that the goal of net-neutrality is to give the FCC oversight of the Internet, McDowell writes. "State manipulation of the Net would shape 'not merely economic policy, not merely competition policy, but also media policy, social policy' and 'oversight of the political process,' according to Wu’s testimony. Current regulations simply do not 'capture' the Net the way more government powers would through powerful new rules, he argued."

"Wu’s vision of more government 'capture' strongly resembles old broadcast regulations spurred by a 'scarcity' of outlets in the mid-20th century — the legal rationale for government regulation of speech over the airwaves, which would never be tolerated by, say, newspapers," McDowell writes. "Even in today’s competitive and digitized media markets, broadcasters must adhere to strict rules dictating speech, or risk losing their licenses. This Supreme Court-blessed government speech control operates under aliases such as 'regionalism' and 'localism' as invoked by Wu. These rules compel broadcasters to tailor their content to serve properly (in the eyes of regulators) their 'communities of license' That could include mandates ranging from sufficient local news, sports and weather, to a minimum amount of programming for children." (Read more)

Nuisance judgment could encourage more such lawsuits against oil and gas drilling companies

Lawsuits alleging water contamination and illnesses from natural-gas wells have often led nowhere. But an April decision by a Texas jury to award a couple $2.9 million, because the company created a nuisance that interfered with the homeowners' use of their land, could encourage similar lawsuits across the country. (CNN image: Bob Parr's frequent nosebleeds helped him win his case)

"The facet of common law has existed for centuries, originally to address, say, foul odors from a neighbor's pig sty," Ellen Gilmer reports for EnergyWire. "Today, nuisance is much the same, except neighbors now fight over a towering drilling rig, or the flood lights from a fracking operation, or the slew of truck traffic trudging across their rural roads."

University of Cincinnati law professor Jim O'Reilly told Gilmer, "Whether we like fracking or not, we have to say it's a major transformation of what had been a quiet agricultural area into a major industrial area." Gilmer writes, "The extent of that transformation, which certainly varies depending on the site, plays into the nuisance test. Though the law varies state by state depending on precedent set by judges, the test for a claim remains fairly standard: Does an action unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment and use of one's property?"

But proving a nuisance claim is often difficult, Gilmer writes. Attorney Brannon Robertson told her, "You can put the same set of facts in front of two different juries, and one will do one thing and one will do another."

Companies have also found ways to get around nuisance claims, Gilmer writes. One way is to create a good relationship with people living in the vicinity of a well by keeping wells "as far from homes as possible, use sound barriers, hire contractors with safe driving records and erect fences to hide anything that might be deemed an eyesore." Another way is to follow the lead of Pennsylvania gas companies, which offered residents $50,000 to release the company from any legal liability, now or in the future. Environmentalists have criticized that approach, calling it "hush money." (Read more)

Colo. drilling and fracking controls likely headed to ballot, with possible ripple effects elsewhere

Colorado's "battle over local control of oil and gas drilling ... swung from the statehouse to the ballot box" Wednesday, reports Greg Jaffe of The Denver Post.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said "he did not have enough support to pass a compromise law" that would give localities more control over hydraulic fracturing," Jack Healy reports for The New York Times. "The announcement left energy developers and environmental groups girding for battle over two measures proposed for the November ballot that would outlaw drilling within 2,000 feet of homes and schools and give communities more power to restrict drilling with environmental laws." The proposals, which need 86,105 signatures to be put on the ballot, currently have about 42,000 signatures.

"These would be some of the first statewide votes on whether to rein in oil and gas drilling, and the results could ripple through other states trying to balance energy development against concerns about air and water quality," Healy notes. Some Democrats, including Hickenlooper, have feared that fracking bans could hurt them in their election, or re-election, bids. Hickenlooper said he would oppose the measures, Jaffe reports.

"For weeks, Hickenlooper and other leading Democrats have tried to broker a deal supported by energy companies, business groups and  [U.S.] Rep. Jared Polis, a wealthy Democrat from Boulder who is a leading backer in the campaign to put drilling restrictions on the ballot," Healy writes. "If Hickenlooper had been able to get a deal through the legislature, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats, Polis would have withdrawn his support for the ballot measures."

"A compromise to allow towns to pass stricter health and safety rules related to drilling won support from Polis, two major oil and gas companies and an assortment of environmental and business groups," Healy writes. "But that was not enough to convince Republicans in the state legislature or a handful of reluctant Democrats. On Wednesday, Polis said the deal had been thwarted by 'personal attacks and scare tactics.'” (Read more)

Higher education facilities should focus more on the rural-urban interface, researchers say

"Most Americans—taxpayers, politicians, and policy makers—have an urban-centric world view," Cornell University professors Daniel T. Lichter and David L. Brown write in Choices Magazine. "Big cities and suburbs are where most of us live and work. Urban issues and interests understandably dominate our everyday discussions; they also define America’s problems and policy solutions. Urban America is where culture is shaped and reshaped by politics, media, and money, where new jobs and technology are incubated, and where big ideas start and flourish. Rural Americans—all 46 million of them—are often left on the sidelines, presumably waiting to develop, prosper, and join the American mainstream."

"For many rural Americans, waiting for rural development is no longer an option," Lichter and Brown write. "Between 2010 and 2012 alone, 179,000 people on balance left America’s rural areas (also referred to as non-metropolitan areas), escaping the perceived cultural and economic disadvantages of rural and small-town life. Rural natural increase (births minus deaths) no longer fully offsets population losses from net out-migration. As a result, for the first time ever, nonmetro areas overall are now experiencing population declines. Rural natural decrease—deaths exceeding births—is the new demographic norm."

"The so-called urban-rural divide is not a divide at all," Lichter and Brown write. "It is a space of intense social, economic, political, and environmental interaction. It also is space where rural and urban interests are sometimes in competition, for example over land use management, while in other instances rural and urban interests are conflated."  

"The new interdependency of urban and rural America is perhaps illustrated best in the agricultural sector. America’s 'food system' cannot be examined in isolation from other aspects of the economy and society," Lichter and Brown write. "The restructuring of the meatpacking industry makes our point. Rather than shipping cattle or hogs to slaughterhouses in faraway cities, such as Chicago and Kansas City, most are now processed close to where they are raised in rural areas. For some small towns, this has been a demographic and economic boon, especially in the Midwest and Southeast, such as poultry and pork processing."

"Research and education focused on the urban-rural interface potentially benefits everyone, rural and urban alike," Lichter and Brown write. "Most college-age young adults today, unlike their grandparents, have had little or no real exposure to rural issues. Higher education, and especially land grant universities, should target social science research at the rural-urban interface, and produce educational and training programs that translate research into innovative applications and public engagement. Colleges and universities arguably must endeavor to provide a curriculum that is spatially inclusive, that views rural and urban as symbiotic rather than competitive or distinct."

"The immediate challenge is that rural issues typically are segregated, both intellectually and administratively, in land grant institutions and throughout the academy," Lichter and Brown write. "By narrowly focusing on rural issues or uncoupling them from urban, national, or global concerns, land grant universities may be missing opportunities to move forward in creative and responsive ways to pressing problems. The land grant university system should not abandon its traditional technical focus on farming and agriculture, but the current disproportionate focus on such issues can be short-sighted if it misses emerging opportunities that acknowledge the shared destinies of rural and urban people and places. Higher education, like other publicly supported institutions, is increasingly accountable to taxpayers. Targeting resources on the highest priority issues is essential for institutional sustainability." (Read more)

After years of mostly record-high numbers, grain farmers will see another decline in income this year

After years of record farm incomes and land values, commodity prices are steadily decreasing and agricultural experts are projecting the lowest average farm income in 10 years, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. (Illinois Farm Business Farm Management graphic)
Gary Schnitkey, with the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, told Agri-Pulse that the average net income for an Illinois grain farmer with a 1,400-acre operation is projected to be $45,000, the lowest number in years. Average incomes have fluctuated throughout the years, from $51,000 from 1996 to 2005, to $185,000 from 2006 to 2008, to $93,000 in 2009, to more than $250,000 from 2011 to 2012, down to $134,000 in 2013, Schnitkey says.

The reasons for lower incomes are lower projected prices of corn, down from $4.65 to $4.20 recently, and soybeans, down from $13.25 to $10.75, Schnitkey writes. Crop insurance payments are also projected to be lower "because the 2013 harvest price of $4.39 was 22 percent below the 2013 projected price of $5.65." (Read more)

John Anderson, deputy chief economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Agri-Pulse, "Obviously, we're looking at lower commodity prices on grains and oilseeds and probably cotton this year, so for areas that tend to be pretty heavy in row crop production, I think we've got to expect lower incomes this year."

In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service predicted that 2014 net farm incomes would be $95.8 billion, a 27 percent drop from 2013 when the total was $130.5 billion, Agri-Pulse writes. Ohio State University extension ag economist Matt Roberts told Agri-Pulse, "It's going to be a brutal conversation. I think that time has come when some producers are literally going to have to walk away from the land they are producing on now, simply because the landowners aren't going to be willing to accept the lower rents that the current market conditions justify." Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

Electricity generator to send carbon dioxide to oil field to boost production, reduce pollution

An electricity producer wants to provide its key greenhouse-gas byproduct to boost oil production, Rebecca Smith reports for The Wall Street Journal. The company, NRG Energy, plans "to capture some of the carbon dioxide produced by one of its coal-burning power plants outside Houston and then pipe the gas to an oil field about 80 miles away. In return, NRG and partner JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp. will get a share of the extra oil that the carbon dioxide helps produce." (Associated Press photo: The Petra Nova Project will strip carbon dioxide from flue gases at NRG's West Virginia Parish power plant in Texas and pipe the gas to an oil field)

While NRG hopes to create a blueprint for success, similar efforts have had limited success in other areas, Smith writes. "Southern Co. is finishing a power plant in Mississippi that will convert coal into a combustible gas and strip out pollutants including carbon dioxide. But the project is expected to cost $5.5 billion, making it the most expensive coal plant ever built in the U.S."

"Stripping carbon from flue gases after coal is burned also has run into trouble," Smith writes. "The process is complex and the captured carbon dioxide hasn't fetched a high enough price to justify the effort. It is cheaper to build a new gas-fired power plant than retrofit an existing coal plant. In 2011, American Electric Power Co. terminated a test project in West Virginia."

But NRG backers say where others have failed they will succeed, because "the cost will be recouped by selling extra oil, not by selling carbon dioxide," Smith writes. "Set to be completed in late 2016, the Petra Nova project will strip carbon dioxide from 40 percent of the flue gases generated by the newest coal unit at NRG's W.A. Parish power plant and then will pipe the CO2 82 miles southwest to the West Ranch oil field in Jackson County, Texas. Injection of carbon dioxide at West Ranch is expected to boost daily oil production to 15,000 barrels from the current 500 barrels. The joint-venture partners will get half the added production." (Read more)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mail carrier rated most at-risk U.S. job, followed by farmer and meter reader, then newspaper reporter

Mail carrier is the most endangered job in America, and farmers and newspaper reporters are not far behind, according to the CareerCast 2014 Jobs Rated projections for 2022. (CareerCast photo)

The report says mail-carrier jobs are expected to decline 28 percent in the next eight years due to "proliferation of online communication and immediate accessibility." The National Association of Letter Carriers has estimated that 25,000 carriers would lose their jobs if the U.S. Postal Service cuts first-class delivery to five days a week. USPS is also moving toward apartment-style mailboxes for neighborhoods to shorten carrier routes.

Technology will cause farming and meter-reading jobs to decline 19 percent (utility meters are increasingly read by remote telemetry) and newspaper reporting jobs to shrink 13 percent, the report says. "Technology allows those already in farming to accomplish more with fewer resources, particularly workers," the report says. "Declining subscription and dwindling advertising sales have negatively impacted the hiring power of some newspapers . . . and the long-term outlook for newspaper reporters reflects the change."

Also on the list are travel agents, a 12 percent decline; lumberjacks, 9 percent, flight attendants, 7 percent; drill-press operators, 6 percent; printing workers, 5 percent; and tax examiner and collector, 4 percent. (Read more)

Report examines role of lobbies in shaping Farm Bill

The face of the Farm Bill was the people who would be most affected by its passage: farmers, ranchers, agricultural workers, food stamp recipients, and others who stood to gain or lose by the decisions in Congress about what to include, or eliminate, from the bill. But behind the scenes, at least 600 groups lobbied between 2012 to 2014 to get their issues included in the bill, reports Harvest Public Media in "Growing Influence," an investigative collaboration with the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. (Bigstock graphic)

"The Farm Bill touches everything from crops to consumers and the massive piece of legislation spends nearly a trillion dollars over the next ten years. But how was it created?" Harvest reports. "With billions at stake, hundreds of companies and outside groups lobbied on issues related to the 2014 Farm Bill and fought for pieces of the landmark legislation."

The report includes a list of reports made by lobbying groups. "With vicious fights over everything from the leveling of funding for the food stamp program to farm subsidies to conservation measures, the drafting of the Farm Bill was fraught with roadblocks at every step," Harvest says.

City council in Denton, Tex., rejects fracking ban, but voters will decide issue in November election

Residents of a North Texas town that has thrived during the oil and gas boom will decide in November whether or not to become the state's first city to ban hydraulic fracturing, Jim Malewitz reports for The Texas Tribune. Last month Denton residents pushed for a fracking ban, citing environmental concerns, and town leaders temporarily halted the practice while considering an ordinance to permanently ban the practice. On Tuesday the city council rejected the fracking ban by a 5-2 vote, sending the measure to the November ballot, where voters will decide the issue. (KDFW FOX 4 photo: Tuesday's Denton city council meeting)

Denton, with a population of 121,000, has more than 270 natural gas wells in the Barnett Shale gas field, Malewitz writes. But "fracking opponents forced the council’s vote after gathering nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban. The proposal would not prohibit drilling outright; it would apply only to fracking, which involves blasting apart rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water." (Read more)

Tuesday's hearing drew 500 people, with 59 registering to speak in favor of the ban and 41 against it, Mike Lee reports for EnergyWire. "Mayor Chris Watts said he expected a fight no matter what the council did, given the opposition from state officials and the oil industry." He told Lee, "This issue is going to be settled in one of two places -- the statehouse or the courthouse."

Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy, a group opposed to the ban, turned in 8,000 signatures on Monday, while Frack Free Denton, the group proposing the ban, collected 1,800 signatures, Lee writes. "Several state officials told the City Council a ban would amount to taking private property, opening the city up to lawsuits. In Texas, the rights of mineral owners trump those of surface owners." (Read more)

Montana program hopes to inspire rural teens to enter medical field, practice in rural areas

Rural areas have tried dozens of ideas to draw much-needed doctors to underserved areas, including incentives such as tax breaks, and college programs that require medical students to spend time at rural facilities in an attempt to encourage them to consider practicing in those areas. But a Montana program is taking its message to high-school students, hoping to inspire students to enter the medical field and practice in the state.

Ten Montana countiss lack any practicing physicians, and almost every county has been designated by the federal government as a primary-care physician shortage area, Derek Brouwer reports for the Billings Gazette. Enter the MedStart Summer Camp. Funded by the Montana Area Health Education Center, the camp "aims to put the wide world of health care within reach of these promising high school juniors and seniors. It’s one way AHEC hopes to encourage young Montanans to study and practice medicine, a field in high demand in the state’s rural areas, AHEC Eastern region director Mary Helgeson said." (Gazette photo by Larry Mayer: Students at the camp)

During the recent weeklong camp in Billings, the 27 participants measured vital signs at City College Billings, shadowed professionals at area hospitals, obtained X-rays of their cellphones and took part in a mock search-and-rescue operation in Red Lodge,  Brouwer writes. "On Tuesday they were at RiverStone Health to learn about the services provided by Yellowstone County’s public health department." Helgeson told Brouwer, “We want to get them excited so they’ll get their education and go back to their communities." (Read more)

Farm Service Agency works through glitches of using technology to collect crop data online

The Farm Service Agency, which has closed many of its local offices in small counties, is trying to catch up with technology. "Sometime in the future, producers should be able to use precision technology to collect all the data used in their farming operations and send verification via the Internet to their local FSA office or crop insurance agent for collection by the Risk Management Agency," reports Agri-Pulse. "That is our ultimate goal, to be able to have our producers download their equipment to an agent or to a Farm Service Agency office," USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse told the Washington newsletter.

When the service will be available everywhere and how well it works are the main questions. While MyAgData is already being used in Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota, the programs in Iowa and Illinois have experienced problems with efficiency, Agri-Pulse writes. "The data was collected and matched to the common land units required by USDA acreage and production reporters, but then was printed and has to be hand-entered at the local FSA office."

Despite the glitches, Scuse said considerable progress has been made made in the past three years toward streamlining acreage crop reporting, Agri-Pulse reports: "Step one was to make sure the agencies that identify parcels of land agree to use a common identifier. Step two was to try and consolidate the crop reporting data because there were so many differences between FSA and RMA. The next step was to improve USDA's commodity tables."

Scuse told Agri-Pulse, "We had to put all those records in a stable environment. That was the most critical part. The second part, which were are currently working on, enables us to make payments and things of that nature. That will be released later this fall." Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

Interactive map displays Appalachian eateries; goal is to boost tourism and economic growth

Where are the best places to eat in Appalachia? Visitors traveling through the region can now find each area's most distinctive eateries through an interactive map that includes about 650 destinations, says Visit Appalachia. "The Bon Appetit! Bon Appalachia! campaign is a project of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a regional economic development agency whose mission is to be a strategic partner and advocate for sustainable community and economic development in Appalachia." The map includes farmers markets, farm to fork restaurants, farm tours, festivals and events, vineyards and wineries and craft breweries and spirits. A printed map is also available that includes 282 locations. (Read more) To view the interactive map, click here.

Rural residents want to secede from Caribou, Maine; committee says city taxes are too high

Rural residents in a Maine town want to secede and return to the way things were in the 19th century before several small communities were annexed into one larger one, Julia Bayly reports for the Bangor Daily News. The group says the move would lower taxes for rural residents, who they say are being overcharged for city costs. (City-Data map)

The group of Caribou residents presented their idea at Monday's city council meeting, saying they want to take about 80 percent of the . . . outlying rural areas and form the new community of Lyndon, reviving an old name. "In 1869, several communities were annexed to Lyndon, which was officially renamed Caribou in 1877," Bayly writes.

Paul Camping, spokesman for the 20-member Caribou Secession Committee, told Bayly, “What we are trying to do is take our land in rural Caribou back away from the city of Caribou. The size and cost of [Caribou] city government is too big and too expensive.”

Lyndon would include all of Caribou except the downtown area, according to a map proposed by the committee, Bayly writes: "Camping said people who live on large lots of land away from the downtown pay a disproportionate amount of property taxes to help fund services that benefit only those who live near or in town." The city's population is about 8,000.

Mayor Gary Aiken said he thinks secession would actually raise rural taxes while lowering city ones, Bayly writes. He told her, “They would take 80 percent of the land and 30 percent of the population to cover all those roads and public works. There is no question the Caribou side would reduce expenses. It would cut our public works budget in half right away.”

"Maine law . . . spells out the process for residents of a territory to secede from a municipality," Bayly notes. In 2007 and 2011 the Maine Legislature refused to let residents in Peaks Island, who also said secession would lead to lower taxes, secede from Portland, she writes.