Saturday, August 09, 2008

GateHouse Media suspends dividends, raises more capital from major owner; now a penny stock

GateHouse Media, whose venture-capital owners had counted on strong cash flow from the fast-growing group of mostly smaller newspapers, says it will suspend its dividend and seek more money from its plurality owner, Fortress Investment Group. Fortress agreed to buy $11.5 million of preferred stock to keep up the company's heavy debt service.

GateHouse reported yesterday that it lost $429.7 million in the second quarter, "stemming from a charge of $443.1 million to write down the company's market value," report Shira Ovide and Peter Lattman of The Wall Street Journal. "The impairment charge reflects the steep drop in the stock price, from $18 a share at its initial public offering less than two years ago to 64 cents at 4 p.m. Friday."

The Journal notes, "GateHouse has held up better than other publishers. Its papers are mostly in small towns, where advertising has held up better than in large metropolitan areas. GateHouse's revenue declined 4.7 percent in the second quarter, assuming the same properties were owned in the latest quarter and year earlier. Other newspaper chains have been reporting double-digit revenue declines." (Read more) For more on GateHouse and its problems, click here. For a transcript of company executives' conference call about its second-quarter results, from Seeking Alpha, click here.

W.Va. coal-to-liquid plant to get state incentives; exec acknowledges carbon dioxide is a problem

The coal-to-liquid plant announced recently for West Virginia's Northern Panhandle is in line for $196 million in tax incentives from the state, and its chief promoter says it could face political obstacles because of its carbon-dioxide emissions.

The state's agreement with Appalachian Fuel LLC, a joint venture of Pittsburgh-based Consol Energy Inc. and Houston-based Synthesis Energy Systems Inc., offers $196 million in tax breaks, "about $3.3 million in government incentives for each of the 60 jobs the facility would provide," writes Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette, who got the state to release the agreement.

The plant, which would employ 200 to 300 people during its construction phase, "would convert coal to gas using a Synthesis proprietary technology called U-Gas," Ward writes. "Developers said 'it is expected' that this gas will be used to produce methanol for the chemical industry. In addition, they said, the plant would 'be capable' of converting methanol production to about 100 million gallons a year of 87-octane gasoline." Consol President Peter Lilly said on Bray Cary's West Virginia Media Holdings "Decision Makers" show last week that the technology is being used in China.

Ward notes, "Many scientific and environmental organizations oppose liquid coal projects. Even if greenhouse gas emissions from the fuel plants are captured and pumped underground, liquid coal fuels still generate more carbon dioxide emissions than traditional transportation fuels." Capture and underground storage of CO2, to prevent more global warming, is called carbon sequestration.

A commenter on Ward's story noted that Lilly "stated very candidly that it may be years before the CO2 sequestration problems can be solved. This suggests this project is highly speculative." Lilly told Cary that the answer to those questions will be political, and might push the plant past its target completion date of 2012. "The real issue is the feeling of the American people as it relates to the emissions of the carbon dioxide," he said. Referring to sequestration, he said, "That technology I'm not sure is quite proven out, so whether a five-year time frame is the exact time frame I'm unsure." Later in the interview, Lilly spoke of having sequestration technology available for export to other countries in 10 to 15 years. To watch the interview, click here. For more on Bray Cary, click here.

Friday, August 08, 2008

As big event looms, veterinarians call for tougher rules to end soring of Tennessee walking horses

"The largest group of horse veterinarians on Thursday called for changes in regulating Tennessee walking horses to end the breed's 'culture of abuse'," Janet Patton reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The American Association of Equine Practitioners called the soring of walking horses "one of the most significant welfare issues affecting any equine breed or discipline."

Soring is "the infliction of pain to create an extravagant or exaggerated gait in horses for training or show purposes," the vets' group said in a press release. The practice was outlawed in 1970, but continues, as "documented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s issuance of 103 competitor violations during the 2007 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, the industry’s championship event," the group said. The recommendations come as the industry is preparing for this year's show Aug. 20-30 in Shelbyville, Tenn.

The vets' group recommended that horse shows no longer use paid industry judges. Because of a very small budget, "Few shows are inspected by USDA veterinary medical officers," Patton notes. "The chances of a citation dramatically decrease when USDA vets are not present." The group said the industry should "pay for a new system of objective scientific inspections, similar to that employed by horse sports regulated by the U.S. Equestrian Federation."

The vets also called for drug testing at every competition, "development of objective methods to detect soring," creation of a single industry organization to set and enforce standards; and an examination of judging standards "so that the innate grace and beauty of the breed are valued instead of rewarding the currently manufactured exaggerated gait."

Tyson, union reinstate Labor Day as paid holiday at Tennessee plant while keeping Muslim holiday

Following objections from consumers, local officials, tghe local newspaper and some employees, Tyson Foods Inc. and a union have agreed to reinstate Labor Day as a paid holiday at the company's plant in Shelbyville, Tenn., while keeping as a paid day off the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, which had replaced Labor Day in a recently negotiated contract.

Members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at the poultry processing plant voted "overwhelmingly" to revise the contract, giving them nine paid holidays instead of eight, reports the Shelbyville Times-Gazette. The union represents about 1,000 of the 1,200 workers at the plant, about 250 of them Somali refugees. Employees who don't take the Muslim holiday will be able to take a paid personal day off.

Tyson said some employees "expressed concern" about the elimination of Labor Day, which gained national attention. Local elected officials also weighed in. "This is not the image we want from Tyson Foods," Bedford County Mayor Eugene Ray, who reported getting complaints from constituents, told the Times-Gazette. "Most of them think that when people come to America, they should do as Americans do, instead of Americans changing and adapting things the way they do, in language, traditions and all of that."

In a letter to the newspaper, Ray, Shelbyville Mayor Wallace Cartwright, Democratic state Rep. Curt Cobb and Republican state Sen. Jim Tracy said that substituting Labor Day 'for a non-traditional holiday is unacceptable'," Brian Mosely writes for the paper. The letter said, "For over a hundred years, Labor Day has stood as a symbol to honor the working men and women of this country. But for the past few years traditions like Labor Day have been under attack. This time it's gone too far and we, as patriotic Americans, must draw our line in the sand." While religious freedom is "a founding principle of this nation" and there is "a long tradition" of allowing worship of all types, the officials wrote, "In America we do not need to allow substitutions and exceptions to our beloved heritage."

Mosely also writes, "Ray also said that a lot of work needs to be done to help the Somalis 'get along with people, how to work with people ... and how to be kind to one another.' This is in reference to the frequent reports from the public of the refugees' 'rude and demanding' attitude that the T-G reported in the ... series published in December 2007. Ray said he is 'still working on that,' meeting with Imam Haji Yousuf, of Shelbyville's Muslim mosque." (Read more) In an editorial, the paper said the union was on "a slippery slope."

Thursday, August 07, 2008

EPA declines to reduce Renewable Fuels Standard

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson today denied Texas Gov. Rick Perry's request to reduce the amount of renewable fuels required for blending with gasoline. Johnson said EPA's analysis found no evidence that the Renewable Fuels Standard is causing severe economic harm, the criterion under which EPA could reduce the congressionally mandated standard.

"As expected, reaction to the announcement is mixed," Dave Russell and Bob Meyer report for Brownfield Network. Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said the ruling "sets a precedent for others who would try to influence ethanol policy relying upon dishonest PR attacks instead of science and hard data."

National Pork Producers Council President Bryan Black said he was disappointed. "Now, we expect to see increasing pressure on the domestic pork industry, with the hog herd continuing to be reduced, producers going out of business, jobs being lost and retail pork prices rising," he said. National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Andy Groseta said, "We will continue our efforts to ease the burden of tight feed supplies for our cattle producers, and will encourage other states to file for waivers from the RFS." (Read more) For the EPA press release, click here.

As some big papers commit suicide, community papers do well, with fundamentals of local news

While some metropolitan newspapers "are attempting suicide," writes Tuskegee News Publisher Paul Davis, right, "Community newspapers are doing quite nicely, thank you, because they have not forgotten their mission, their responsibility to their readers, the service they must provide to their advertisers, their duty to report the good and the bad; to expose corrupt public servants who betray the public trust and seek to serve themselves first at the expense of the taxpayers."

Davis' column is prompted by the troubles of metro papers, some of which he says are obsessing about profits and forgetting about fundamentals. "Newspapers that do not change to meet the challenges of the times are the only ones which will die. Newspapers which exist ONLY to make money will die," he writes. "When you read a newspaper and find out you already knew 90 percent of the stuff on the front page, what is the justification for buying the reading the newspaper. Newspapers must be meaningful to attract readers. Good newspapers are filled with fresh stories and information readily available in one package. ... It’s better LOCAL stories, better writing, better editing and better graphics. In short it’s what people want to know, packaged in a creative way. And, yes, it’s the good packaged with the bad."

Davis has won praise and awards for his investigative reporting, but he is not above bending the traditional rules of editing, out of respect and compassion for readers and contributors. "This week a man brought by a full typed page in which he told of his love and respect for a friend who had recently died," he also writes in the column. "It was not written in the best of prose, but it was written from the heart. He sort of missed the English language in quite a few ways as he sought my help to lead his soul speak for him. ... Editing would have killed that letter. It was not edited. It was published." (Read more) Tuskegee is a town of 12,000 in a county of 24,000.

Another view: On his Curious Capitalist blog for Time magazine, Justin Fox (left) says small-town newspapers are thriving not because they're better, but because they happen to be located in small towns: No Craigslist; older, less transient populations; less Internet and broadband use; and less competition than in major markets dwarfs. Fox cites print competition, but we would also add that lack of TV competition can help, too.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Appalachian coalfield paper marks anniversary of Utah mine disaster, likens safety agency to FEMA

The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., has long held to the fire the feet of the coal industry and those responsible for regulating it. Today, the weekly newspaper marked the first anniversary of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster in Utah – which killed six miners and three rescuers (including a federal mine inspector) and severely injured six others – with a blistering editorial. Here are excerpts:

"Here in Eastern Kentucky, we’re a long way from Utah, but any mine disaster feels close to home. ... Nine men died because of one man’sinsistence on pulling more coal out of a mountain than the mountain could safely yield. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration does some things badly, but one thing it does well is investigate tragedies after the fact. MSHA has a long tradition of issuing reports that are models of thoroughness and objectivity. The report issued by the agency on July 24 is in that tradition. In painstaking detail, it pins the blame for the disaster on fatally flawed engineering and a company determined to pull more coal than even its deficient plan called for. Moreover, MSHA does not absolve itself of blame. ... MSHA shouldn’t have signed off on Murray’s mining plan in the first place."

The editorial says the report that policymakers need to read is the one by two independent investigators hired by the Department of Labor. "Their wide-ranging review makes it clear that the years 2001-2008 have been bad ones for an agency which – like FEMA – has life-and-death responsibilities and should be assured of commensurate resources. The report depicts an agency hobbled by lax management, especially but not exclusively at the district level; reduced staffing at a time when coal production has been climbing and inspection activities should have been keeping pace; and a misguided strategy to getaround staffing problems by emphasizing “compliance assistance”and “special emphasis activities” instead of law enforcement. Reading the report, you can’t help connecting the dots between what happened in Washington, starting in 2001, and the tragedy in Utah six years later. Bush’s budgeteers had no more qualms about underfunding MSHA than about gutting FEMA. The results were similar."

Those results included loss of veteran employees, a decline in morale, and "little help and much hindrance" to underpaid, often inexperiened inspectors who wanted to enforce the law, the editorial says, arguing that just like the mine was “destined to fail,” so is MSHA. "It’s time for a reality check." To read the independent report, click here. For the editorial, click here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tyson plant replaces Labor Day with Muslim holiday to accommodate hundreds of Somalis

A Muslim holiday has replaced Labor Day as a paid holiday at the Tyson Foods poultry processing plant in Shelbyville, Tenn., under the company's new contract with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The plant employs many Muslims, most if not all of them refugees from Somalia.

The new paid holiday, one of eight, will be Eid al-Fitr, which "marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting," notes Ann Bagel Stork of This year, the holiday falls on Oct. 1, notes Brian Mosely of the Times-Gazette in Shelbyville.

"Implementing this holiday was a challenge, since it falls on a different day every year and is declared on fairly short notice," RWDSU Representative Randy Hadley said in the union's press release. "But the negotiating committee felt this was extremely crucial, since this holiday is as important to Muslims as Christmas is to Christians."

The press release said about 700 Muslims work at the plant, but company media-relations director Gary Mickelson "said that Somalis only represent approximately 250 of the 1,200 employed at the plant, a little over 20 percent of the workforce," Mosely reports. The company also accommodates observant Muslims' need for five prayers a day by giving all employees a seven-minute break and providing a prayer room. (Read more) Mosely recently won awards for his reporting on the Somalis' relations with the community.

UPDATE, Aug. 8: A replacement press release from the union eliminated the incorrect figure, and the company said 200 of the 1,200 workers are management and support employees not represented by the union. So, about a fourth of the union workers are Muslim. Meanwhile, some T-G readers "expressed outrage" and national coverage of the contract has made it "a hot topic of discussion on talk radio, the Internet and national TV," Mosely reports.

Company spokesperson Libby Lawson told the newspaper, "Feedback has been thought-provoking. We have received a lot of calls expressing anger and support. We are an American-based company with core values that acknowledges diversity and all faiths.We have chaplains of many different denominations in most of our plants. It has indeed made us reflective about how we negotiate with unions."

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum declined to answer the paper's questions, but said in a statement, "There's no question that there is a lot of bigotry against Muslims and that this agreement has clearly touched a raw nerve among those who are prejudiced against them. However, the RWDSU has always understood that unions are only strong when they work to protect the dignity of workers of all faiths. That includes Muslims. Our union may be the first to negotiate this kind of agreement, but I have no doubt that others will follow our lead."

Judges may decide whether logging in advance of a strip mine is subject to federal regulation

If a timber company cuts trees to make way for a strip mine, is that a "surface coal mining operation" subject to federal law? And an illegal one if a mining permit has not been obtained? Those questions, apparently never answered though the federal strip-mine law has been in effect for 30 years, are at the heart of a legal dispute in federal court in southwest Virginia.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and the Sierra Club filed suit last week to halt logging of Ison Rock Ridge near Derby because A & G Coal has applied for a permit to mine 1,231 acres there. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent "noted that there was no law available upon which to base her decision," reports Keith Strange of The Coalfield Progress in Norton. (Subscription required)

Still, Strange recommended that District Judge Glen Williams issue a temporary injunction to stop the logging, and he did on Monday. It made the lead story in today's Progress. The ruling was based on the threat of irreparable harm to a landowner "who reported watermelon-sized rocks falling onto his property after logging began on a steep slope behind his home," Strange reports.

Rural fire departments running short of volunteers

We have a higher threshold for items about articles from The Associated Press because we figure that many of our readers have already seem them, but few weekly newspapers get AP service sometimes the wire offers up a story that goes to the heart of the changes and challenges in rural America. Such is the story by Nate Jenkins and Kelley Gillenwater about rural fire and rescue departments running short of volunteers. Is this happening in your rural area?

This photo by Jenkins shows Ben Van Pelt, right, and Wes Schmer of the Ogallala Volunteer Fire Department in Nebraska putting out a hay fire last month. Ogallala firefighters responded to the fire because the closest volunteer department couldn't.

The units are "struggling with declining membership, increased costs and changing attitudes," the reporters write. "Volunteer fire and rescue personnel represent 72 percent of the nation's 1.1 million firefighters. More than 50 percent of volunteers are associated with departments that cover areas with populations of less than 2,500, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Between 1984 and 2006, the number of volunteers nationwide fell by 8 percent, or nearly 74,000, according to information from the National Fire Protection Association."

And the causes of those trends? "Fire officials blame the staffing decline on several factors, including increased family demands, employers who are less sympathetic toward community concerns, and regulations that require volunteers to take up to 200 hours worth of training before they can start fighting fires." Also, with increased movement from one place to another, "people kind of lose that connection" that keeps generations of the same family in the unit, said David Finger of the National Volunteer Fire Council. And with more sources of recreation and information, such as cable TV and the Internet, "The local fire hall is becoming less of a social hub for small communities," Jenkins and Gillenwater report. (Read more)

Another likely reason the reporters don't cite is that in some areas, there are fewer people available to volunteer. Much of their reporting comes from areas that are losing population, such as the Great Plains and Central Appalachia. Jenkins is based in Nebraska, Gillenwater in West Virginia. But other areas have problems getting and keeping first-responder volunteers, as described in a 2006 report by the federal Office of Rural Health Policy. How is the staffing among your volunteer units? Maybe they need help with recruiting.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Aug. 15 is deadline to apply for 'Covering Climate Change and our Energy Future in Rural America'

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will accept applications until Friday, Aug. 15, for "Covering Climate Change and Our Energy Future in Rural America," to be held at the Hotel Roanoke Wednesday, Oct. 15 in cooperation with the Society of Environmental Journalists. The seminar will conclude the annual Environmental Journalism Boot Camp of Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism and kick off the annual SEJ conference, which runs until the following Sunday.

Topics at the Oct. 15 seminar will include an overview of climate change, mountaintop-removal coal mining, carbon sequestration and two presentations by renowned scientist Amory Lovins: "Winning the Oil Endgame" and "Winning the Coal Endgame." For a brochure on the program, click here.

The fee for the seminar is $60. The Institute will pay the fee and help coordinate travel for up to 20 successful applicants, givign priority to those from the Appalachian coalfield and adjacent areas. Click here for an application form. For a PDF of the SEJ conference program, click here.

Aug. 13 is deadline to apply for Knight Center seminar on covering medical advances

The Knight Center for Specialized Journalism's next workshop, "Medical Advances: Treatments, Cures, Possibilities," will be held Sept. 23-26 at the University of Maryland. Knight Center fellowships cover all costs, including reference materials, hotel lodging and meals. News organizations pay travel. Applications for fellowships are due Aug. 13.

This seminar will survey recent breakthroughs in medical research, look at future possibilities and talk about new science, the latest trends and more. Attendees will visit the National Institutes of Health and look at at cutting edge research in various medical research institutes. Confirmed speakers include S. Jay Olshansky, professor, School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, speaking on increasing lifespans; Jonathan D. Moreno, professor of medical ethics, University of Pennsylvania; and Terry Huang, director, Obesity Research Strategic Core, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

For more information, click here, call the Knight Center at 301-405-4817, or e-mail the center at

Rural N.C. county puts many staff on 4-day week

As a rural county in eastern North Carolina switches about half its workers to a four-day week today, local officials around the state and some other states will be watching, reports Matt Dees of the News & Observer in Raleigh.

"Sue Guy, Wayne County's human resources director, said she fielded calls at her office in Goldsboro from 14 North Carolina counties and others in Florida and Virginia when word of Wayne's plans hit the news," Dees reports. "Wayne officials estimate they'll save $300,000 a year on utility bills by having about 500 of the county's 1,032 employees work four 10-hour days a week."

The plan brought an objection from the county health board, saying "essential services" that qualify for a five-day week should include such health services as prenatal care, but the county manager rejected the department's request for a 30-day extension, reports Phyllis Moore of the Goldsboro News-Argus. (Read more) in 2000, Goldsboro had a population of 39,000 and Wayne County had 113,000.

As Missourians head to the polls, candidates hope they have 'the rural thing going'

Missouri's population is only one-fourth rural, but the candidates in tomorrow's primary election seem to be emphasizing rural connections more than ever. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave several examples in an editorial yesterday, most notably a Democratic candidate for attorney general, state Sen. Chris Koster.

When Koster visited the newspaper's editorial board, "He was wearing cowboy boots with his gray lawyer's suit," the paper reports. "Mr. Koster is a graduate of St. Louis University High School, where there is no Future Farmers of America chapter. He is a trial lawyer by profession. He lives in Belton, a Kansas City suburb, although his Senate district address is a post office box in Harrisonville. 'I get the rural thing going for me that way,' Mr. Koster admitted."

To some extent, candidates are following the lead of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who emphazied rural areas to oust an incumbent two years ago. That, recent polls and the pattern of campaigning indicate that the rural swing vote has expanded. But a rural approach is nothing new. "No state, with the possible exception of Texas, has taken the agrarian myth to heart more than Missouri," the editorial said. "No matter how urban they are, statewide candidates go to extremes to emphasize their rural roots."

Why? Because the Show-Me State is a believer in the agrarian myth described by Richard Hofstader way back in 1955 and quoted in the editorial: "The more farming as a self-sufficient way of life was abandoned for farming as a business, the more merit men found in what was being left behind. And the more rapidly the farmers' sons moved into the towns, the more nostalgic the whole culture became about its rural past. . . . Its hero was the yeoman farmer, its central conception the notion that he is the ideal man and the ideal citizen."

The editorial concludes, "The agrarian reality in Missouri — as opposed to the agrarian myth — is that people in rural counties are hurting badly. The average income of rural Missourians is some $10,000 a year less than that of urban Missourians. Nearly all the indicators of poverty are worse in rural counties than they are in urban counties. Jobs are difficult to come by; jobs with decent benefits, harder still. In many rural counties, the biggest employer is Wal-Mart. The question to keep in mind as you go to the polls Tuesday to choose among all those boot-wearing, corn-picking politicians is which ones understand reality, not myth, and who among them can make the biggest difference in the lives of all Missourians, no matter where they live."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Poll finds rural Americans favor McCain and are sharply divided on whether ethanol helps farming

"Republicans may find the rural race a bit closer than they might usually expect," Progressive Farmer magazine reports, outlining the results of a late-May poll of nearly 3,000 rural Americans. Among other findings: "Roads and bridges are in bad shape and need fixing in much of farm country, and "Rural crime and access to health care are big concerns out in the country." And, perhaps surprisingly, the poll found rural residents divided on whether the ethanol industry is good for farming.

The poll, taken by Zogby International, found 50 percent of rural residents for John McCain and 34 percent for Barack Obama, and leaning Republican in congressional races, 47 to 40. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.8 percentage points. The poll was taken May 23-27, as Obama was wrapping up the Democratic nomination.

The sample of 2,963 adults came mainly from Zogby's interactive online panel of adults who have agreed to take part in such surveys; 198 came from Progressive Farmer's subscription list. The sample was drawn from counties outsude metropolitan areas, rural census tracts in metro counties, and "a self-identified portion of participants who responded that they live in the 'country'," Zogby's report said. Nevertheless, 7 percent of those polled said they live in a large city and 11 percent said they live in a suburb. Sixteen percent said they live in a small city, and 67 percent said they live in a rural area. For a PDF of the report, click here.

The mixed findings on ethanol "could impact future growth for this product," Dan Miller writes. "Forty percent of those who answered this question say corn-based ethanol is bad for farming," while 37 percent said it is good for farming. "We suspect the latter group contains a good number of ranchers struggling with high feed costs." For the rest of Miller's story, which touches on many rural issues, click here.

Silver lining of expensive oil: Manufacturing jobs return to U.S., even to Piedmont furniture belt

Globalization, which wiped out hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in rural America, depends partly on low shipping costs. With oil prices at $125 a barrel, the shipping has become so expensive that some of those jobs are coming back. "Globe-spanning supply chains — Brazilian iron ore turned into Chinese steel used to make washing machines shipped to Long Beach, Calif., and then trucked to appliance stores in Chicago — make less sense today," Larry Rohter writes in The New York Times.

We took note in May when Swedish furniture giant Ikea opened its first American factory in Danville, Va. Today, Rohter notes that and says furniture makers in the area, "where the industry had all but been wiped out," are adding jobs. “There’s just a handful of us left, but it has become easier for us domestic folks to compete,” Steven Kincaid of Kincaid Furniture in Hudson, N.C., told Rohter. The company is a division of La-Z-Boy, which started a new line in the Piedmont area this spring.

“If we think about the Wal-Mart model, it is incredibly fuel-intensive at every stage, and at every one of those stages we are now seeing an inflation of the costs for boats, trucks, cars,” Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, told Rohter. “That is necessarily leading to a rethinking of this emissions-intensive model, whether the increased interest in growing foods locally, producing locally or shopping locally, and I think that’s great.” (Read more)

Gas leasing leaves some landowners in Ark-La-Tex area wishing they had known more about it

More than a century ago, land agents bought mineral rights in Central Appalachia for 50 cents or less an acre from landowners who had no idea their land was underlain by coal seams worth millions of dollars. In some ways, not much has changed. With natural-gas prices skyrocketing and new technology available to drill deep, dense shale formations, land agents in many states have snapped up mineral rights at prices that have proved to be bargains. We wonder what would have happened if news media in the rural areas being leased had been on top of the situation.

We noted this phenomenon almost four months ago in leasing of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The latest gas play to get major notice is in the area around Shreveport, La., where leasing of the Haynesville Shale "could be this century's gold rush — or a fool's gold of hype," Vickie Welborn writes in the Shreveport Times.

The play has gained national notice, most recently in the Los Angeles Times, which ran this map and where Miguel Bustillo wrote, "Freelance landmen are coaxing naive landowners into signing away gas rights for small amounts and are then selling the contracts at huge profit. [Shreveport Councilman Michael] Long said he was outraged to hear the story of a man who turned to his preacher, a landman, for advice and ended up signing with him for $200 an acre when bonuses were going for thousands. ... Firms that earlier this year were leasing land for $200 an acre are now paying upward of $20,000 an acre."

In the Shreveport paper today, columnist Teddy Allen offers ideas for how DeSoto Parish, south of Shreveport, could use the $28.7 million windfall it will get from Haynesville Shale leases, and he complains about a recent New York Times story "in which we were depicted as suddenly rich hillbillies trading in junk cars for new ones and trailer homes for brick housing. That's the northern journalists' definition of hillbilly: someone who gets some money and upgrades." (Read more)

Louisiana Mineral Board Secretary Marjorie McKeithen said, "We are experiencing something akin to a modern day gold rush due to excitement about the Haynesville Shale discovery." For the state Department of Natural Resources Web site about the gas play, click here.

Rural community colleges, hit by high fuel prices, are moving more instruction online

High fuel prices are causing "basically a paradigm shift" among all rural community colleges, the academic dean of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College told Byron Crawford of The Courier-Journal, who reports that the colleges are having difficulty with attendance by commuting students and moving more instruction online.

"We are either going to have to change the way that we deliver some classes … or we're going to see our students go somewhere else, or not go at all," Wheeler Conover said. When more and more students started missing Friday classes, "Some of them would tell their instructors they just couldn't afford to come to campus for that third day."

The college, which has five campuses, is "trimming some of its humanities and social sciences classes from three to two days a week, with additional work to be completed at home or online," Crawford reports. "Apparently, the story is much the same for most other colleges in the system," which has 16 colleges on 65 campuses. (Read more)