Saturday, July 19, 2008

Judge keeps northern gray wolf on endangered list

A federal judge in Montana ordered yesterday that gray wolves in that state, Idaho and Wyoming remain on the endangered-species list until he can rule on a lawsuit by environmentalists to block federal officials' de-listing of the species "after what they termed a successful 20-year effort to reestablish the wolves," Tami Abdollah of the Los Angeles Times reports.

District Judge Donald W. Molloy of Missoula said his injunction will "ensure the species is not imperiled," and that the Fish and Wildlife Service "provides no new evidence or research to support its change of course. Congress does not intend agency decision-making to be fickle. When it is, the line separating rationality from arbitrariness and capriciousness is crossed." For example, he said there was no proof of genetic exchange among groups of wolves, which would enhance the species' viability.

Molloy's order "also will trigger a federal rule that was modified in January to allow the wolves to be killed if they threaten 'property.' That allows ranchers to shoot wolves when they believe their livestock are at risk," Abdollah reports. "Wildlife officials said the rule was revised so that states or ranchers could deal with wolves that were affecting livestock if delisting was tied up in court. That rule is also being challenged in Molloy's court. . . . Since delisting went into effect at the end of March, ranchers, state officials and others have killed more than 100 wolves." (Read more) The region is estimated to have 2,000, reports The Missoulian, quoting Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold: “There were fall hunts scheduled that would call for perhaps as many as 500 wolves to be killed.” (Read more)

Friday, July 18, 2008

SPJ asks editorialists to promote shield law, calls

Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists are urging editorial writers to beat the drum for a shield law that would give reporters a federal privilege to protect confidential sources.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said early this month July that S. 2035, the Free Flow of Information Act, would be a priority before the Senate recesses Aug. 1. Procedural obstacles could delay it further, but SPJ hopes editorials will to encourage readers to write to or call their senators and urge passage of the bill.

In October, the House version of the bill, H.R. 2102, passed 398-21 and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Senate version 15-4. In early April, both presumptive presidential nominees endorsed the bill, and Sen. John McCain is now a co-sponsor. Attorneys general of 42 states also support it. All states but one (Wyoming) recognize a reporter’s privilege through laws or judicial decisions, but no uniform federal standard exists to govern when confidential source information can be sought from reporters.

“This bill is not a 'free pass' for the press,” SPJ said in a release. “A federal shield bill will ensure that reasonable ground rules are established for when reporters can be compelled in court to reveal their confidential sources. The current 'ground rules' are crafted and 'enforced' by the Department of Justice – the very entity that subpoenas reporters. ... This bill does not create a privilege for journalists putting them 'above the law.' The privilege belongs to the sources they are protecting. ... A federal shield law is necessary to ensure that sources feel free to speak to reporters and disclose information for the public good without fear of retribution. Without protection for their identity and the information they provide, sources will stop disclosing information and the inevitable 'chilling effect' will cut off the free flow of information to the public.”

Exceptions to the privilege would include information about for acts of terrorism or other significant harm to national security; eyewitness observations of a crime; or if the information is needed for the prevention of death, kidnapping or substantial body harm. "Over the last year, sponsors of the Free Flow of Information Act have made additional changes to the committee-passed bill in a good faith effort to address Bush Administration concerns," SPJ said. "Additional changes will be made to the legislation before the bill goes to the floor." For more information, click here.

Tenn. weekly beats dailies in overlapping category

UPDATE, Sept. 10, 2010: The Standard won the category again in 2009, but in 2010 the prize went to the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, a daily edited since August 2009 by Kent Flanagan, former Tennessee bureau chief for The Associated Press.

Most newspaper contests have separate categories for dailies and weeklies, but the Tennessee Press Association abolished those categories last year in favor of total weekly circulation. The middle category, where large weeklies and small dailies competed against each other, was won by a weekly -- the Southern Standard of McMinnville, a thrice-weekly with a circulation of 9,900. The awards were handed out today in Nashville. (By industry convention, "weekly" means a newspaper published less than four times a week.)

Among the Standard's awards in the 15,000-to-50,000-circulation category were first prize for news reporting. It also won an award for public service, for holding a candidate forum in a special state Senate election, reviving the Warren County spelling bee after more than 20 years and running a series of historical articles to mark the county's 200th birthday. The paper, owned by Morris Newspaper Corp. of Tennessee, has won the cumulative points-based award for general excellence in its category seven times out of 20 since the award was established in 1999.

The general-excellence winners in other circulation categories were The Erwin Record, 5,000 or less, for the sixth straight year; the Memphis Business Journal, 5,001-15,000; The Leaf-Chronicle of Clarksville, 50,001-200,000; and The Tennessean of Nashville. The contest was judged by members of the Nebraska Press Association.

The Newport Plain Talk, a daily, won first prize for public service in the medium-sized category, for promoting a local Relay for Life. The small-category winner was the Humboldt Chronicle, for successful advocacy of a local higher-education center. Between those two categories, the public-service winner was The Standard Banner of Jefferson City, for its coverage of political dithering over a counstruction plan for the Jefferson County schools.

The weekly Mount Juliet News and The Wilson Post, both in Wilson County, won in the small and medium categories for investigative reporting, respectively doing series on school bullying and an increase in dog bites. The Post also won for best single editorial in the medium category, declaring that it was no longer going to cover a spat between the Lebanon mayor and a council member. The Milan Mirror-Exchange won in the small category for an editorial blasting the local childrens'-services office for mishandling a case and endangering a child's life. The editorial was written by Publisher Bob Parkins, who died several weeks later. His son, Victor Parkins, is TPA president.

Iron-ore firm buys Alpha Natural Resources; could be biggest purchase of a U.S. coal company ever

In "the largest acquisition of a U.S. coal company in recent memory and possibly ever," Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., the nation's biggest producer of iron ore, is buying Alpha Natural Resources, is one of the biggest producers of metallurgical coal in the U.S.," and the leading exporter, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"Tight supplies of both commodities have put miners and steelmakers on an acquisition spree to secure deposits and active mining operations," Kris Maher writes. "Experts expect consolidation among U.S. producers -- which had been among small and midlevel producers -- to continue, with growing interest from big international miners and steel companies."

The new company will be called Cliffs Natural Resources and Alpha shareholders will own 40 percent of it. "Alpha has expertise in extracting high-quality metallurgical coal using smaller operations in difficult underground conditions found throughout Appalachia," Maher reports. The company, based in Abingdon, Va., has 3,640 employees and mines in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. (Read more)

"The global headquarters as well as the iron-ore operation will remain in Cleveland, Ohio, while the headquarters for the coal operations will remain in Abingdon," Keith Strange reports for The Coalfield Progress in nearby Norton, Va. There's a strong local angle, Strange notes: Cliffs President and CEO Joe Carrabba "began his career in Wise County in 1974" and met his wife there. “I still own a home in Wise where my mother-in-law lives to this day,” he told Strange. (Read more; subscription may be required)

UPDATE, July 22: Strange reports that Harbinger Capital Partners, a hedge fund that is the largest single stockholder of Cleveland-Cliffs, with 18 percent, "threatened to block the $8.06 billion purchase, saying it is not in the best interest of its shareholders." (Read more)

Meanwhile, Chris Kraul of the Los Angeles Times says high oil and gas prices may spur demand for coal, despite doomsday warnings from environmentalists. Read more here.

Indiana and New Mexico officials seek rural ideas; focus in N.M. is on renewable energy

Officials in New Mexico and Indiana are holding town meetings to collect information on rural community needs. Perhaps local and state leaders in your rural community should partner with rural-serving organizations to determine the greatest needs of rural citizens.

In New Mexico, the sessions will focus on renewable energy and partner state and non-governmental groups with New Mexico State University's Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project. Sponsors will discuss the concept of "rural stewardship institutes," as a way to coordinate work in small towns and rural areas. Other topics will include previously identified sources, renewable technology, regulatory issues and local needs regarding economic development and costs offsets for utility-scale power. Information gathered will add to a plan of action for future education efforts, Web sites and research demonstrations.

Gerald Chacon, associate vice president for outreach services at NMSU, told New Mexico Business Weekly that rural communities will be included in decision-making on policy issues, economic development and appropriate technologies for homes, ranches and small communities. "There are economic opportunities, approaches to conservation and appropriate technologies that can be shared through collaborative efforts with our many partners," he said. "There may also be concerns surrounding renewable energy affecting rural New Mexico that we are interested in hearing about." Read more here.

The Indiana meetings will be similar meetings to a series conducted in 2005 that allowed the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs to determine its priorities after rural residents identified issues to a diverse array of rural-serving organizations, an OCRA press release said. Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman said she and Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is running this year for a second term, are committed to making all parts of the state share in an economic comeback. Read more here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mo. town first in U.S. to get all its power via wind

Rock Port, Mo., is the first U.S. town to generate from wind all the power it needs, Kelsey Volkmann writes for the St. Louis Business Journal. "That's something to be very proud of, especially in a rural area like this, that we're doing our part for the environment," says Jim Crawford, University of Missouri Extension natural resource engineer. "Anybody who is currently using Rock Port utilities can expect no increase in rates for the next 15 to 20 years." (Photo by Steve Morse, MU Cooperative Media Group)

Rock Port, population 1,300, is located in northwest Missouri, which has "the state's highest concentration of wind resources and contains a number of locations potentially suitable for utility-scale wind development," Volkmann writes. Four wind turbines will supply the small town, which uses approximately 13 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year, with all its electricity. The turbines will produce an anticipated 16 million kilowatt hours each year. "Excess wind generated electricity not used by Rock Port homes and businesses is expected to be moved onto the transmission lines to be purchased by the Missouri Joint Municipal Utilities for use in other areas," Science Daily reports.

Extension specialists estimate the wind farms will generate more than $1.1 million annually in county real estate taxes, which will be paid by Wind Capital Group, a St. Louis wind-energy developer. "This is a unique situation because in rural areas it is quite uncommon to have this increase in taxation revenues," said Jerry Baker, MU Extension community development specialist. Landowners, who can make between $3,000 to $5,000 leasing part of their property for wind turbines, will also benefit from the alternate energy source.

"It's a savings for the community in general, savings for the rural electric companies, and it does provide electricity service over at least a 20-year time period, which is the anticipated life of these turbines," Baker explains. The wind turbines will also generate tourism revenue, Baker adds. Crawford says the per-acre payback "is generally quite good" compared to other crops. "We're farming the wind, which is something that we have up here," he says. "It's as simple as getting a cup of coffee and watching the blades spin." (Read Volkmann's story here and the Science Daily story here.)

Program to examine China connections with Ky.

Here's an example of how journalists in rural areas and rural states can, and should, explore their connections with other nations. KET will air "Citizen Kentucky/Citizen China: Hope for a New Century," an exploration of the Kentucky-China connection, at 10:30 p.m., Sunday, July 27. The program, sponsored in part by the the University of Kentucky's Scripps Howard First Amendment Center, features a public forum during which speakers focus on four main points: dispelling misconceptions, confronting fears, improving schools and seizing opportunities.

According the show's executive producer, Buck Ryan, the program is the accumulation of a two-year exploration of how Kentucky is connected to China through commerce, education, the arts, religion, adoptions, health care, news and sports. "There is a growing web of connections drawing Kentucky and China closer together day by day," says Ryan, an associate professor of journalism at the UK and director of the Citizen Kentucky Project of the First Amendment Center. "Unlike the 1970s when U.S.-China relations were determined by Nixon and Mao, today the relations are changing through a multitude of interactions by citizens across borders." Read more here and here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Report details four types of places in rural U.S.

"Rural America is as varied and nuanced as the landscape it inhabits," the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire says in touting its new report, based on telephone polling of 8,000 Americans in 19 rural counties. The report "identifies four distinct, often disparate, rural Americas," Carsey says:
· Amenity-rich areas that draw vacationers, retirees, and second home-owners with their mountains, lakes, coastlines, or forests.
· Declining resource-dependent areas that once thrived on agriculture, timber, mining and manufacturing industries which, threatened by globalization and resource depletion, no longer support a vibrant middle-class population.
· Chronically poor regions where residents and the land have suffered decades of resource depletion and under-investment.
· A transitional type of locale, characterized by amenity-driven growth and resource-based decline. While traditional resource-based economies in these areas have weakened, these transitional regions show potential for amenity-driven growth.

The report surveyed residents in amenity-rich Park and Chaffee counties in Colorado; Jewell, Osborne, Republic and Smith counties "in the declining heartland of Kansas;" Harlan and Letcher counties in southeastern Kentucky; Coahoma, Tunica and Quitman counties in the Mississippi Delta; Choctaw, Clarke, Marengo and Wilcox counties in Alabama's Black Belt; Clatsop County in Oregon and Pacific County in Washington, both on the Pacific coast; and Coos County, N.H., and Oxford County, Maine, "in the Northern Forest."

Journalists in those localities and states may find interesting some poll questions that get at tough issues, such as "For the future of your community, do you think it is more important to use natural resources to create jobs, or to conserve natural resources for future generations?" In three of the four major types of areas, conservation was preferred; not so in chronic-poverty areas, where 38 percent chose using resources, 37 percent chose conservation and 25 percent volunteered that they were equal, that there should be a balance, or a similar reply.

The report says "Populations in all but the amenity-rich regions are aging, as young adults leave, older residents remain, and reproduction rates fall. Amenity-rich areas, on the other hand, are attracting both retiring boomers and young professional families. The natural environment is a significant, although varied, force on rural America, attracting residents to amenity-rich areas and leading to their departure from declining areas where natural resources have been depleted and economic shifts have diminished employment opportunities." Drugs and crime are the chief concerns in persistently poor places, population decline is most worrisome in the declining-resource Heartland, and growth and sprawl are the top concern in high-amenity areas.

For a PDF of the report, click here. For a video of Carsey Institute Director Cynthia "Mil" Duncan describing the “four rural Americas” concept, go here. She wrote the report, "Place Matters: Challenges and Opportunities in Four Rural Americas," with Carsey senior fellow and UNH professor of sociology Larry Hamilton, writer Leslie Hamilton, and Chris Colocousis, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at UNH.

Rural police 'lifeline' shutdown to hit 1,500 users

A federally funded computer service that connects rural police to vital Internet and e-mail discussions, will shut down at the end of the month, writes Kevin Johnson for USA Today. Police officials say the program's closure will jeopardize service for 1,500 users in at least 20 states. "For some departments, this service is a lifeline," says Jim Harper, the Dallas, Ore., police chief and 10-year program member. "People don't realize how many small agencies are trying to take care of business day-to-day with very little."

The Tribal Rural Law Enforcement Internet Project, originated in 1995 and is based at the National Center for Rural Law Enforcement at the University of Arkansas. Program manager Jimmy Nobles estimates that 60 departments rely on the project for basic Internet access, several of whom have no alternative provider. "Police agencies that find Internet access elsewhere still can't replace the project's list-serve, a special e-mail group that allows its 1,500 members to seek counsel on such things as enforcing curfews or searching for more fuel-efficient patrol vehicles," Johnson writes. The program also allows departments to alert colleagues about surplus equipment, such as bulletproof vest or tires, that is available. "I use this every day," Scappoose, Ore., Police Chief Douglas Greisen told Johnson. "I don't know how you replace it."

Sarah Matz, a Justice Department spokesperson, says the department provided at least $1.4 million to support the program and the grant period for the program is finished. The law enforcement center is free to pursue alternative funding, which Nobles said may come from a corporate sponsor. Regardless, he instructed members to prepare for a shutdown. Read more.

Rural recruits admitted despite criminal histories may pose risks for their hometowns upon return

Given disproportionate military recruitment from rural America, crimes committed by returned soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are a growing concern in rural jurisdictions -- especially because the services have been admitting more recruits with criminal records that normally would disqualify them.

"Experts said that since crime is not a typical symptom of PTSD, their subsequent crimes more likely were a product of their backgrounds than of the war," but those with criminal histories were more likely to suffer PTSD, Russell Carollo writes for The Sacramento Bee. Carollo examines cases of recruits from several states who had criminal histories prior to their service and were charged with crimes after returning from the war. Read more.

The Bee picks up where the Los Angeles Times left off. David Zucchino wrote for the Times about Cody Morris, a 19-year-old veteran diagnosed with PTSD. Morris was "eager" to leave Bardwell, Ky., and recalls "a turbulent upbringing." He was sent to a military-themed reform school at 15 for serving as a lookout while a friend robbed a store and earned a GED at 17. Zucchino's article did not mention whether or not Morris received a waiver because of his criminal offense, but says Morris met the National Guard's standards. Morris and his best friend since the fourth grade, Casey Hall, 18, joined the Guard together. "Morris seemed to find a home in the military, with its codes of honor and discipline," Zucchino writes. But he was convicted of reckless homicide and tampering with evidence following Hall's death on Oct. 18 from a gunshot placed perfectly between his eyes.

Zucchino writes of Morris, right, "His base near Baghdad was attacked almost daily. He described shooting an insurgent in the chest and seeing his face as he died. He spoke of seeing bodies floating in a canal and stepping on human brains during a house raid." A military psychiatrist diagnosed Morris with PTSD after Morris' disturbing personality changes were cited by his team leader. Read more. (Photo by Stephen Lance Dennee, The Associated Press)

In September 2006, the state of California authorized state judges to sidestep sentencing guidelines and decide between treatment or jail for veterans convicted of any crime. Other states, including New York, Montana and Minnesota, contacted California officials as word of the law spread, and Minnesota became the second state to pass similar legislation in May.

All rural areas are potential victims of crimes committed by war veterans, and perhaps more so because of higher recruitment rates. Has it happened in your community? If not, it might be coming soon, and the medical community still has a lot to learn about the disorder and how to treat it, a West Virginia psychologist told the Charleston Rotary Club, Rusty Marks of The Charleston Gazette reports.

Ky. venture-capital firm ends energy-entrepreneur boot camp; application deadline for next one is Aug, 25

A nine-month "boot camp" for energy entrepreneurs in part of Appalachian Kentucky concluded yesterday with a showing of their wares to potential investors at a symposium in Somerset. The program is sponsored by Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp., a venture-capital firm that was created during the War on Poverty and now serves 22 counties in southern and southeastern Kentucky.

“We're hoping to come out of this boot camp program with some new companies that will be in Appalachian Kentucky and try to access the energy market and be the solution to our nation's energy problems,” KHIC President Jerry Rickett told Kimberly Burcham of Hazard's WYMT-TV. (On-screen identifications of Rickett and consultant Bob Wilson were transposed in the report.)

Burcham had a sound bite from the owner of a lubricating-oil firm and reported, "Wind power for electricity and coal ash for ceramic additives in cars are just some of the other ideas presented at the symposium." To watch Burcham's report, click here. To read it, click here.

The deadline for applying for admission to the second boot camp is Aug. 25. KHIC calls it an "intensive, performance-based entrepreneurial training and mentoring program" that "focuses on helping energy-related researchers, inventors and entrepreneurs create a fundable, sustainable and profitable business model that will help create jobs in the region." For details, go to

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Analyst says GateHouse stock may be worthless

GateHouse Media Inc., a privately held firm that had been buying up small to mid-size newspapers left and right, is in trouble. The Morningstar stock-analysis firm "released a trenchant report declaring shares of the acquisitive community newspaper publisher 'could be worthless'," Mark Fitzgerald reports for Editor & Publisher. "Morningstar also said GateHouse is close to violating one or more of the covenants on its huge debt." Stock analyst Tom Corbett wrote, "Should that happen, its debt could become due immediately, resulting in a possible liquidation scenario."

The company's stock hit a 52-week low of 98 cents a share today. It had traded as high as $19 in the past year. "Corbett said GateHouse's concentration in small markets with long-established monopoly papers has not insulated it from a flawed strategy of taking on big debt for acquisitions, and paying out large amounts of free cash flow for higher-than-average dividends," E&P reports. (Read more)

Gate House says it has 98 daily newspapers; the E&P International Yearbook database lists it with 103. The 10 largest are the Journal Star in Peoria, Ill., rounded circulation 65,000; The Repository of Canton, Ohio, 64,000; the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star, 56,000; the Patriot-Ledger of Quincy, Mass., 51,500; the State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., 50,000; the Observer-Dispatch of Utica, N,Y., 40,000; The Enterprise of Brockton, Mass., 30,000; the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin, 22,600; the Metrowest Daily News of Framingham, Mass., 22,500; and The Times-Reporter of New Philadelphia, Ohio, 22,100. About 50 of the compoany's dailies have circulations of 5,000 or less.

Gate House says it has 292 weekly papers; E&P lists 278, and categorizes 212 of them as "community weeklies." Almost half those titles are in Massachusetts. The largest are North Shore Sunday in Beverly, Mass., rounded circ. 53,000; the Downers Grove (Ill.) Reporter and its sister Suburban Life, 40,000; The Country Gazette, Milford, Mass., 30,000; the Dover (Del.) Post, 29,000; The Suburbanite, Akron, 26,000; the Woodridge Reporter, Downers Grove, 23,000; and the Brandywine Community News, Hockessin, Del., 23,000. For regional lists of GateHouse publications, from the company's Web site, click here.

UPDATE, July 18: Rick Edmonds, media-business columnist for The Poynter Institute, takes a closer look at GateHouse.

Ailes buys weekly newspaper in new hometown

Not long ago we reported that Rupert Mudoch would remain a small-town publisher because his News Corp. had decided not to sell Ottaway Newspapers, acquired as part of Dow Jones & Co. Now his associate Roger Ailes, the creator and head of Fox News, is also a small-town publisher -- of the Putnam County News and Recorder in Cold Spring, N.Y., where he recently built a home. The town is on the east bank of the Hudson River just upstream and across from West Point, about 55 miles from midtown Manhattan. (Reuters photo)

The paper announced its sale last month, and The New York Times picked up on it today. Brian Stelter writes, “Residents of the area should not expect any sort of makeover, ideological or otherwise. The paper will 'probably stay the same,' said Elizabeth Ailes, Mr. Ailes’s wife, who will be the publisher. 'We bought it not to change it, but perhaps it will evolve over time.' The Aileses do not plan to manage the paper day to day; rather, they will hire a general manager. For now, the seller, Brian O’Donnell, who has been the publisher for 12 years, will stay on as a senior consultant.” O'Donnell declined to comment to the Times.

“It’s a really quaint paper,” Mrs. Ailes told Stelter in a telephone interview. “It reflects the community. We really like it, and that’s why Roger wanted to buy it.” (Read more) The paper is 142 years old but does not appear in the Editor & Publisher International Yearbook database. Stelter reports the paper has a circulation of about 3,000. The paper says the circulation is "100% paid" and it prints the legal notices for Putman County, two towns, two villages and two school districts.

Top college basketball recruits increasingly rural

Major universities "are recruiting more players from small communities, but rural athletes face higher hurdles to compete," the Daily Yonder says in introducing a story by Tom Sexton, a journalism student at Morehead State University in Kentucky who is interning this summer with the Center for Rural Strategies.

Sexton gives anecdotal examples of top recruits from small towns, such as Armintie Price of the University of Mississippi, a native of Myrtle, pop. 407 (Ole Miss photo), then applies statistical analysis: "Five years ago in 2003, 16 of the top 150 college basketball prospects according to were from counties that could be considered rural (according to the Index of Relative Rurality). In 2008, that number has nearly doubled: 30 of the top 150 basketball prospects are from smaller towns. This trend seems to suggest that more and more recruiters are finding quality players away from the city."

Matthew Taylor, assistant men's basketball coach at Pikeville College in Kentucky, told Sexton, “Now ... you have better coaching in rural schools, and there are a lot of coaches, many of them originally from small towns themselves, who are willing to give these kids a chance because the quality of coaching is up, and as a result the quality of play and competition is up, too.” Taylor "also acknowledges that as major NCAA Division One colleges recruit more rural kids," smaller schools "are losing prime recruits," Sexton writes.

But apiring rural athletes still face the obstacles of isolation and, "in these times of rising gas prices and a flailing economy ... more formidable financial obstacles" than their urban counterparts, Sexton reports. “It's harder for families around here and other rural areas to come up with an extra $500 to send their kid to a camp that could help them get recruited to college,” Letcher County Central High School football star Sidney Fields told Sexton. “And with us not getting the same media coverage that Lexington or Louisville kids get, we have to raise money to go to camps and work harder when we get there to get our names out.” (Read more)

Leaking animal-waste lagoons revive worry in Mo.

Heavy rains caused huge animal-waste lagoons in northern Missouri to leak and overflow, Karen Dillon reports for The Kansas City Star. "It's a dire situation," says Karl Fett, regional director of the state Department of Natural Resources office in Lee's Summit. Officials said lagoon levels can be lowered by spraying the waste on fields even though ground was saturated. State officials and environmentalists say the state has never faced such widespread failure of the lagoon and the potential stream pollution that could follow. Premium Standard Farms, a major operator of confined animal feeding operations, reported that lagoon waste spills reached a creek and a ditch.

Many lagoons cover one to three acres, are eight to 15 feet deep and can contain up to 25 million gallons of animal waste. Years of pollution runoffs and odors have created an ongoing dispute in Missouri over "factory farms," but concerns are now heightened. "This could result in an unprecedented environmental disaster," said Scott Dye, national director of the Sierra Club's Water Sentinel Program. A stream flowing through Dye's farm was contaminated by several thousands gallons of waste from a leaking lagoon, but a collapsed lagoon would be much worse, he said. "I have no idea how you clean up 25 million gallons of hog [waste]. This is exactly why people are opposed to them."

Factory-farm animals present significant, increasing threats to humans, animals and the environment, according to a recent study by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, but the Missouri Farm Bureau argues the study only focused on negative aspects of industrial farming -- a phenomenon that it says keeps food affordable and plentiful. Read more here.

Farming: The rich get richer and the big get bigger

The average income of a U.S. farmer is expected to rise to $89,434 this year, up 6.3 percent, in partly because of subsidies in the new Farm Bill. "Most of the bonanza, though, is being scooped up by the big operators," The Economist reports. Patty Coady, whose family has farmed their Nebraska land for more than 100 years, tells the British-based magazine with a huge American circulation, "Small farmers can hardly compete."

Ninety-seven percent of U.S. farms were family-owned in 2006, the last year such figures were available, but "family farm" has an array of translations. Big family farms, those with more than $250,000 annual sales, comprise 7.6 percent of the total and are responsible for 61 percent of the production. Big family farmers earn 68 percent of their income solely from farming, but small farmers must earn most of their income elsewhere. About 63 percent of all farms were owned by retirees or others whose main job was not farming. Twenty-seven percent, including Coady, were small farmers who list their main occupation as farming despite earning most of their income from alternative sources.

"Since the 1930s agricultural innovation and a rise in non-farm employment have driven productivity up and the number of farms down," The Economist reports (with the help of this graph). "Nebraska had 135,000 farms in 1934; last year it had about 47,300. The government's role in this progression is up for debate." Mike Korth, a northeast Nebraska farmer, says, "Change is inevitable, but I don't agree that the government should have a heavy hand in determining that change." Korth and the Center for Rural Affairs, say subsidies aid big farmers in bidding up land prices while making it harder for small farmers to survive.

Young farmers face high entry costs, including land and equipment prices. Approximately 27 percent of farm operators were 65 or older in 2004, compared to 17 percent in 1969. The Council of State Governments says more than 20 states have programs intended to attract young farmers, and the Farm Bill offers assistance, including a program that prioritizes loans for organic farmers. Carolyn Orr of CSG, based in Lexington, Ky., says some niches might help small farmers survive, but the next generation of farmers are likely to face continued consolidation. "If they want to make farming a full-time job, what other options do they have?" she asked. Read more here.

County in coalfield's heart promotes coal-to-liquid plant; illustrates need for journalists to bone up

In the heart of the Appalachian coalfield, a county government has chosen a site for what it says would be a $4 billion plant that would make 50,000 barrels a day of liquid fuel from coal for $61 a barrel and employ 750 people with an average salary of $50,000. Despite all those numbers and fanfare, Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford, right, acknowledged that "County officials have already received several proposals from interested companies, but they have not yet reviewed them," writes Cassondra Kirby-Mullins of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The site in Pikeville was chosen with an $850,000 study funded by grants from the state and the Appalachian Regional Commission, and Rutherford told the newspaper that state and federal grants would also fund infrastructure to support the plant. The local daily, the Appalachian News-Express, captures the limited news value and the promotional nature of the announcement: "Pike County officials announced Monday the completion of a study proving that sites are available for a coal-to-liquid (CTL) plant in Pike County . . . while citing no particular investor as being interested," writes Russ Cassady. (Read more) (News-Express photo, Encarta map)

The News-Express doesn't quote opponents of coal-to-liquid plants, but the Herald-Leader does. "Environmental groups are fiercely opposed," Kirby-Mullins reports. "They worry that liquid coal could contribute to global warming, citing researchers who say the process produces nearly twice the greenhouse gases that gasoline does, pumping carbon dioxide into the air — both when coal is turned into liquid, and when that liquid is burned in vehicles. They also fear coal-to-liquid plants would result in more strip mining and mountain­top removal, devastating surrounding environments." (Read more)
Meanwhile, a Kentucky congressman seems to be wondering whether a planned flight over mountaintop-removal mines was sabotaged, but the Interior Department says its pilot inadvertently left a switch on, killing the plane's battery, reports Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service. And in the Daily Yonder, Nell Levin of Nashville and the Tennessee Alliance for Progress describes and decries mountaintop-removal strip mining for coal, and debuts a song she wrote about it, with video and banjo by Ron Ault. (Read, watch and listen)

These stories illustrate the need for "Covering Climate Change and our Energy Future in Rural America," an Oct. 15 seminar that will conclude the annual Environmental Journalism Boot Camp of Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism and kick off the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists, all hosted by Virginia Tech at the Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke, Va., but including trips to the coalfield. The first signup deadline, for the boot camp, is July 28. For more information, click the links above or go here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Few W.Va. Medicaid recipients sign unique pledge to improve health in return for expanded benefits

Only 8 percent of the eligible Medicaid recipients in West Virginia, one of the five majority-rural states, have signed up in the early stages of a first-in-the-nation program in which they get enhanced benefits if they sign a pledge to improve their health.

"The state hit the 11,000-enrollment mark last week," but 140,000 adults and children are eligible, reports Eric Eyre of The Charleston Gazette. Recipients "have five months to choose between basic and enhanced plans once they're notified that their traditional Medicaid benefits are expiring. Not everyone has had the opportunity to make the switch, and the program isn't expected to be fully up and running until March 2009."

The program requires recipients to see a doctor to sign up, "keep appointments and stay out of hospital emergency rooms," Eyre explains. "In exchange, they get expanded health services, such as weight-management, nutrition and smoking-cessation classes." (Read more)

Grillers beware: Propane tanks used in meth labs

The threat of methamphetamine, disproportionately produced in rural areas, has a twist that might extend to people not involved with the drug -- especially at this time of year. According to the National Propane Gas Association, meth producers are pumping stolen anhydrous ammonia into used propane storage tanks. "These cylinders have been found in many states at cylinder exchange and refilling locations as well as in hotel rooms and mobile laboratories," the association says. Read more. The association re-issued a safety alert on the subject that was first issued five years ago, Dean Narciso writes for The Columbus Dispatch, reporting that the group "says it has not heard of any related injuries or death" from meth used propane tanks." Read more. (Photo from

"People should not be discouraged, however, from using propane tanks to grill, but should watch for the signs of misuse whenever purchasing one," Stanley Dunlap writes for the Jackson Sun in Tennessee. "The chance of receiving a tank used in a meth lab is remote, but people should still inspect them." Read more.

Blue Rhino, America's leading propane-tank exchanger, says its employees look for, and are trained to identify, tanks that may have been used to make meth. "Propane tanks that have been used in meth production typically have a very strong ammonia order and an obvious, extensive blue-green color covering the valve," reports. Tod Brown, president of Blue Rhino, says, "Of the millions of tanks processed in a year, we encounter only a very, very few tanks that may have been used in meth production." Read more.

Covering Climate Change and Our Energy Future in Rural America: Centerpiece of a week of enviro- journalism training in Roanoke Oct. 12-19

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is proud to offer rural journalists, especially those in coal country and the rest of Appalachia, the opportunity to participate in a tremendous series of environmental journalism workshops.

The focus of our effort is “Covering Climate Change and Our Energy Future in Rural America,” a seminar that will be the pivot point of a week of environmental journalism in the area in and around Roanoke, Va. The seminar will be the closing day of the annual Environmental Journalism Boot Camp of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. The seminar will be followed by the Society of Environmental Journalistsannual conference, the pre-eminent national gathering for environmental journalism.

These events require separate application or registration. The Boot Camp is accepting applications until July 28 and will notify winners by Aug. 11. For the Climate Change and Energy Future seminar, the Institute is offering up to 20 fellowships that will cover the $60 fee, which includes an SEJ membership. We will accept applications until Aug. 15, which is also the deadline for discounted registration for the SEJ conference. All our fellows will qualify for the discounted registration fee.

If you want to attend the Boot Camp, which includes the Climate Change and Energy Future seminar on Wednesday, Oct. 15, click here for an application. If you want to attend only the Wednesday seminar, click here. For details of the Boot Camp and the Wednesday seminar, in a Word document, click here. For a PDF brochure and registration information on the SEJ Conference, click here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Walking horses are still 'sored' to force high steps

It's the prime season for horse shows in rural America, but sometimes the show doesn't go on, because of continuing conflicts between horse owners and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces laws that ban the abuse of horses -- most notably some of the methods used to make them walk with the "big kick" that Master of Jazz, ridden by Jimmy McConnell, showed in winning the world championship at the 69th Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., last year. (Photo by George Walker IV, The Tennessean)

Newspapers in horse country are often shy about digging into this controversy, so we salute the reporting in today's Lexington Herald-Leader by Janet Patton, who writes, "New technology tested last year found that half of the horses inspected at 14 of the biggest shows were positive for at least one prohibited substance," such as camphor or kerosene. Inspectors recently began swabbing horses and sending samples to labs instead of relying only on visual and manual inspection for "soring" horses' hooves and ankles.

Patton also reports that USDA inspectors are much more likely to issue citations than inspectors hired by exhibitor groups: "In 2007, industry inspectors issued 629 tickets at 506 shows; USDA inspectors issued 325 tickets at 31 shows. Violators face suspensions and sometimes fines, but these are not always enforced." In some cases, exhbitors decide, often as a group, to keep their horses out of the ring. That meant no world champion at Shelbyville in 2006. "But last year, according to anti-soring activists, one trainer competed — and won a ribbon — at the Celebration while 'serving' a multiyear USDA suspension," Patton writes.

Fewer than 10 percent of shows are inspected, because Congress has not given USDA the money it needs to put more inspectors in the field. "The Horse Protection Act was implemented in 1970 with a $500,000 appropriation cap, and political pressure has kept it there," Patton writes. Exhibitors say the sport cleaned up its act decades ago, but Donna Benefield, executive director of the Horse Protection Commission, the only show-inspection program run by veterinarians, told Patton that abuses are still prevalent. "It's all just basically chemical warfare instead of a competition of horsemanship," she said. "Society is no longer going to accept what they're doing to these horses. You can't keep selling this lie." (Read more)

Also on this side of the argument are the National Walking Horse Association and Friends of Sound Horses, which promote "naturally gaited" walking horses. Generally viewed as being on the other side are the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association; the Walking Horse Owners Association, also based in Tennessee; the Kentucky Walking Horse Association, and the Walking Horse Trainers Association.

Ky. sticking with interstate no other state wants

Kentucky's new Democratic governor is supporting the plan of his predecessors and a powerful Republican congressman to build an interstate highway that no other state wants to build. "Despite growing opposition from citizens' groups to the proposed Interstate 66, and evidence that the highway isn't needed or justified economically, the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear has pledged its support for the multibillion-dollar project," R.G. Dunlop reports in The Courier-Journal today.

Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe told Dunlop the cabinet "has no plan to revisit the economic justifications for I-66," as requested by opponents, who note that the feasibility study for the road is more than 10 years old. The chairman of the state House budget committee, Democrat Harry Moberly, "said he thinks taking a fresh look at the project's purpose and need would be sound public policy," Dunlop writes.

The matter could come to a head this winter, when the legislature will likely be asked to change a state law allowing an I-66 bridge between London and Somerset to cross a state wild river, the Rockcastle. Opponents of the project say the law should not be changed, at least until the state completes an environmental impact statement for that section of the road. The statement "was supposed to be issued last spring, but Wolfe said there is now no estimated date for finishing it. The Federal Highway Administration told the cabinet in May that the impact statement must be completed by next June to 'avoid re-evaluation' by the federal agency."

The road's chief promoter is U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers of Somerset, whose economically depressed 5th District would see much of the construction. Asked for his view, he told the Louisville newspaper: "My commitment to Interstate 66 is unwavering, and I will continue to work with state and local leaders to provide the necessary resources for its continued development." (Read more) For the paper's earlier package of I-66 stories, click here.