Saturday, September 19, 2009

Progressive elite dismissing rural, white America as illegitimate? One writer provides evidence

The progressive elite is starting to dismiss rural white America as illegitimate, and vice-versa." So wrote libertarian economist Arnold Kling this week, and his comment got a lot more circulation when David Brooks used it in his latest column for The New York Times, arguing against a strong racial basis for opposition to President Obama's program.

Kling writes for the Library of Economics and Liberty, EconLib for short, financed by Indianapolis-based Liberty Fund Inc., which says it is "a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals."

Kling wrote that the increasing division is "an open rupture. In the 1960's, a Hubert Humphrey or Robert Kennedy could connect with uneducated white voters. The idea of blowing them off was unthinkable, if only because they were such a large majority of the voting population at the time. Now, the elitism of President Obama and his supporters has reached in-your-face levels. They have utter contempt for the Tea Party-ers, and the Tea-Party-ers know it." (Read more)

Joe Klein, left, of Time magazine provided evidence for Kling's observation with an item on the Swampland blog that said the tea-party types are "primarily working-class, largely rural and elderly white people" and "The things that scare the teabaggers -- the renewed sense of public purpose and government activism, the burgeoning racial diversity, urbanity and cosmopolitanism -- are among the things I find most precious and exhilarating about this country."

The Daily Yonder takes issue in a Yonder Flash item: "So, all the good stuff in the country is urban and cosmopolitan while the 'racists and the nativists' with their 'pinched, paranoid sensibilities' are 'largely rural.' We learned this in a column Joe Klein wrote to warn everyone about the dangers of prejudice." The Yonder also notes that "the first teabag town hall was in Austin, Texas; we saw one in St. Louis. Both are cities of note." (Read more)

USA Today flyspecks federal $ for private aviation; story may rankle rural folk, but the data are useful

Ever wonder how busy your local airport is? Or how many federal grants it has received, totaling how much money? USA Today has made the basic data easily accessible via an interactive map, as part of a story it did this week about the fact that fees paid by airline passengers go to improve airports that have no scheduled air service. The story by Thomas Frank says it is "the first full accounting" of the Airport Improvement Program, which it calls "obscure." Perhaps to The Nation's Newspaper, but not to pilots and others who care about air transportation in rural America, which is largely private, not public, and depends on "general aviation" airports.

USA Today has a large readership among business travelers, and the story seems written and edited partly to get their dander up. The first quote calls the program "a complete waste of money," and follows a bit of lip curl: "Members of Congress say the general-aviation airports can attract development and provide services such as air-medical transport. The lawmakers also regularly use general-aviation airports to get around their districts and states, sometimes in planes with lobbyists," whose employers make planes available to the officials. The story says they took "2,154 trips on corporate-owned jets from 2001 to 2006," but doesn't say how many of those were to commerical airports, which have much general-aviation traffic.

That's not to say the story doesn't raise good questions. It notes that funding of the program increased even as private aviation declined and "commercial hubs faced the worst airline delays ever. A multibillion-dollar plan to avert gridlock in the skies has been delayed because the U.S. government has spent too little money building a new system to guide commercial flights, former Federal Aviation Administrator Marion Blakey says." (Read more)

R.I.P.: Horace Carter, who shared first Pulitzer Prize for weekly newspapers, dies at 88

UPDATE: Bruce Weber of The New York Times has a nice obituary.

Horace Carter of Tabor City, N.C., publisher of the first weekly newspaper to win a Pulitzer Prize, was buried today. He died Wednesday at 88, after suffering a heart attack last week.

The Pulitzer went to the Tabor City Tribune, now the Tabor-Loris Tribune, and The News Reporter in Whiteville, for a "four-year crusade against the Ku Klux Klan that saw 254 Klansmen convicted and 62 sent to the penitentiary or fined," the Fayetteville Observer said in a staff report.

"He was an inspiration to many, and friend to everyone he met, and a legend in community journalism for over 50 years. His commitment to social justice, God and country, his family and friends never wavered regardless of the challenge," said his son, Rusty Carter, president of the family's Atlantic Corp. His father also founded The Loris Sentinel and The Myrtle Beach Sun, now The Sun News. "He eventually sold off those holdings. and began a second writing career," writing 22 books and more than 2,000 magazine articles, "mostly relating to fishing and the outdoors, two of his passions," the Observer reported.

Before and after today's funeral, Carter's friends gathered at the office of his paper, which was fitting, wrote Steve Rondinaro of WWAY-TV in Wilmington. "Horace Carter was a small town giant of journalism," Rondinaro wrote. "He was risking his business and his life to expose the ugliness of some his own neighbors," and "stood tall in the face of intense pressure [and] acted on principle rather than self-interest." (Read more) For more on Carter, from the Carter-Klan Documentary Project, click here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Community newspapers aid Postal Service push for financial relief but fight bid to end Sat. delivery

Rural newspaper publishers are helping the U.S. Postal Service lobby for a bill that would give it some financial relief but continuing to oppose its efforts to win congressional authority to end Saturday mail delivery.

Many small daily papers don't have Saturday editions but some do and have switched recently from home delivery to mail to cut costs. Many non-dailies that publish more than once a week use Saturday mail. "I think it is extremely important for rural America — and especially newspapers like us with Saturday mail delivery — to maintain six-day delivery," said Chip Hutcheson, publisher of The Times Leader in Princeton, Ky., and The Eagle Post at Fort Campbell.

Hutcheson is active in the National Newspaper Association, which lauded the House's 388-32 passage of HR 22, which would allows the USPS to reduce the payments it makes into a trust fund for future pension benefits, and urged its members to push for Senate passage. "No other government agency is required to prepay for its benefits on such an accelerated schedule," NNA said in a news release. For a release on a speech by Postmaster General John Potter, go here.

Rural electric co-ops starting to show signs of a shift toward alternative energy

Rural electric co-ops, which supply power to 42 million Americans in 47 states, have long lagged behind in the shift toward alternative energy, but some are demonstrating that may be changing. In the past year some have invested in massive solar and wind projects while others have introduced small-scale innovations to educate their rural customers, Stephanie Simon of The Wall Street Journal reports. Co-ops still remain reliant on old-style coal-fired power plants, but Bob Driver, an energy consultant for environmental group Western Resource Advocates tells Simon: "These are all good developments, they are starting to think differently than they were even two or three years ago."

In Brighton, Colo., residents are participating in the country's first co-operative solar farm run by local co-op United Power. "For $1,050, an investor gets a 25-year lease on a photovoltaic panel set up on United Power's land," Simon writes. "The co-op takes care of installation, insurance and maintenance." Investors can visit their panels and check energy output online; each month they get a credit on their bill for that amount. A single panel generates a $3-$4 a month credit, meaning it might takes 17-25 years to recoup the investment. (Journal photo by Carmel Zucker)

Rural co-ops don't qualify for alternative energy tax credits because of their non-profit status, but federal loans for coal-fired plants have been abundant, Simon reports. "Co-ops also tend to be run by conservative members who aren't eager to take on the burden of innovation in the name of fighting global warming," she writes. The stimulus plan set aside $2.4 billion to help rural co-ops invest in clean-energy projects, helping spur the shift. Among the examples: Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association Inc., which serves Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming, is developing the largest solar plant in the country in New Mexico and a wind farm in Eastern Colorado, and the Minnkota Power Cooperative Inc. has pledged a third of its power in North Dakota and Minnesota will come from wind by the end of next year. (Read more)

R.I.P.: Frank Batten Sr., a great newspaperman

Frank Batten Sr., who died last week at 82, was remembered yesterday as a newspaperman's newspaperman who built a major media company that included many rural newspapers and metro papers with large rural audiences.

"I think Frank Batten was probably the most respected active newspaperman by other newspaper people," Frank Daniels, former publisher of the Raleigh News & Observer and a former director of Landmark Communications, now Landmark Media Enterprises LLC. "He was a publisher who knew that news is paramount to a newspaper's success."

Philip Walzer of Landmark's Virginian-Pilot writes, "Batten was lovingly recalled for his fierce competitiveness, unflinching ethical standards and unerring business acumen. ... Starting with a pair of local papers, Batten built one of the country's largest privately held media companies, standing up for racial integration early in his career. He launched The Weather Channel in 1982, proving wrong the industry know-it-alls who scoffed at the notion of round-the-clock weather news." (Read more)

Landmark sold The Weather Channel to NBC Universal last year and has been trying to sell its newspapers, but the depressed newspaper market has prevented that. The company includes 56 paid-circulation communty papers.

Access to doctors in rural Colorado example of national problem facing health care reformers

The principal goal of health-care reform is to cover some 47 million uninsured Americans, many of whom live in rural areas, but even after rural Americans are given insurance they still face a growing problem of access to local doctors. "Access is so much more than that," Terri Hurst, policy analyst for the Colorado Rural Health Center, told Jennifer Brown of The Denver Post. "You have to have a provider in your community. Even if we gave everyone in our state an insurance card today, everyone still wouldn't have access to health care."

Around 800,000 Coloradans are uninsured, Brown reports, but Colorado also faces 75 job openings for doctors in rural areas of the state, up from 62 two years ago. Four counties in Colorado have no practicing physicians, six counties have only one (Post graphic). Programs like the "rural track" at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine seek to place more new doctors in those jobs. "The Colorado Democrat cited a study showing that if all medical schools enrolled as few as 10 students per class in a rural track program, the country could double the number of rural doctors," Brown writes. Some rural doctors are making $50,000 to $80,000 a year after paying staff, rent an utility bills, Brown reports, adding the average loan debt for medical school graduates in 2008 was $155,000.

Doctors are paid by procedure, so many aspects of a rural primary care physician's job aren't compensated. "Sitting with a patient and figuring out their health needs to be valued as much as doing a technical procedure," Dr. Mark Deutchman, director of UC's rural track program. "Heck, maybe it's more valuable. We're not rewarding physicians to take care of people; we're rewarding them to do things on people." (Read more)

The National Rural Health Association says rural residents are twice as likely to die from non-auto-related injuries, receive less treatment for chronic disease and report lower rates of overall health, Lisa Hare of the Yankton Press & Dakota reports. “This is the most critical issue before Congress,” John Crabtree of the Center for Rural Affairs told Hare. “People most affected are, ironically, the most scared of change.” (Read more)

Washington and Wall Street are dissing Main Street, small-town financial columnist writes

Financial columnist Don McNay of Richmond, Ky., pop. 30,000, is peeved at politicians in Washington on the anniversary of the financial crisis that prompted the first bailout bill.

"All the events of the last year proved at least one point: Wall Street and Washington don’t understand what is happening on Main Street," McNay writes on The Huffington Post. "The people in Washington are pushing the line that they saved us from 'something even worse.' Like what? No one on Main Street is buying it. Watch a Main Street crowd boo when a politician defends the bailouts. Wall Street firms are calculating their next big bonuses.

"In the meantime, people on Main Street are suffering. Unemployment is high and uncertainty is higher. All the 'happy talk' from the elites of Washington and Wall Street is not going to make it go away. People are not going to buy houses and cars until they feel secure about their jobs and their futures. Unemployment remains near 10 percent, but the people in Washington decided to go on to other topics."

McNay adds, "All of the people in charge of the economy have one thing in common: they have never run a business. Geithner, Bernanke, Dr. Lawrence Summers (and even President Obama, for that matter) have never met a payroll or had a business loan that they were personally responsible to repay. All spent a lot of time on Wall Street. I wish one of them had spent a few minutes on Main Street. On Main Street, you don’t get to use the taxpayers’ money as collateral. If you screw up, your own money is riding on the outcome." (Read more)

Farm runoff blamed for polluting water wells; EPA says it's the largest source of water pollution

Morrison, Wis., is home over 100 polluted wells, but the contamination isn't from one of the usual suspects; it's from nearby dairy farms. "Agricultural runoff is the single largest source of water pollution in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency," Charles Duhigg of The New York Times reports as part of the paper's series on water pollution. (Times photo by Damon Winter)

"An estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from waterborne parasites, viruses or bacteria, including those stemming from human and animal waste, according to a study published last year in the scientific journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology," Duhigg reports.

In Brown County, Wisconsin, 41,000 dairy cows produce more than 260 million gallons of manure each year, and much of that waste is spread on nearby grain fields, and other farmers receive fees to cover their land with slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage, Duhigg reports. "In measured amounts, that waste acts as fertilizer. But if the amounts are excessive, bacteria and chemicals can flow into the ground and contaminate residents’ tap water." Tests of a Morrison resident's well revealed E. coli, coliform bacteria and other contaminants found in manure.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 regulates mostly chemicals or contaminants moved through pipes or ditches, Duhigg reports. To address agricultural runoff, EPA has created special rules for farms with more than 700 cows, but many of those rules are effectively ignored because farmers never file the paperwork, EPA officials told Duhigg. Rules enacted during the Bush administration regulations allow many of those farmers to self-certify they won't pollute.

California, Arkansas, Maryland, Oklahoma and the Chesapeake Bay each have histories of agricultural runoff contaminating water sources. Despite assertions from Brown County residents that the farms are the source of their problems, pinpointing the source of pollution can be very difficult. “All of our waste management is reviewed by our agronomist and by the state’s regulators,” Brown County dairy farmer Dan Natzke told Duhigg. “We follow all the rules.” Records show Natzke's farm was fined $56,000 in 2008 for spreading excessive waste; he declined to comment on the fine.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson told Duhigg, “I don’t think there’s a solution in my head yet that I could say, right now, write this piece of legislation, this will get it done.” Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has financed projects to use farm waste to generate electricity as one solution to the excess. Adam Collins, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, reminded Duhigg: “Approximately 800,000 private drinking water wells serve rural Wisconsin residents. The vast majority of wells provide safe drinking water.” (Read more)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sept. 25 deadline to register for storytelling workshop for journalists at University of Kentucky

No matter how newspapers are changed by technology, new business models and factors yet unknown, their journalists will keep performing at least two basic functions: telling citizens what they need to know, and telling stories about them. (Photo by Jock Lauterer, from the third edition of his book Community Journalism.) Storytelling is as old as the human race, and one of the things that makes us human. It is also something that could be crucial to the future of newspapers, whether through narrative accounts of people’s lives; new, digital forms using photography, audio and video; or multimedia combinations. A recent example is this package on Alabama loggers from The Washington Post. Or, going back a few years, this story by Rick Bragg in The New York Times on a tornado killing worshippers at a church.

To help community newspapers tell stories in new ways, or ways that may be new to them, The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will present a one-day workshop, “Storytelling with Narratives in Print and Pictures,” at the University of Kentucky in Lexington Friday, Oct. 2. The registration deadline is Friday, Sept. 25. The storytellers will be Stephen G. Bloom, author and journalism professor at the University of Iowa and writer for The Oxford Project, a 2008 book of photographs and narratives of the people of Oxford, Iowa; photographer David Stephenson, who recently left the Lexington Herald-Leader after helping the newspaper break new ground in storytelling with audio, video and still photography; and Amy Wilson, feature writer and roving rural reporter for the Herald-Leader and former reporter for the Orange County Register in California. “These narratives are important stories that cut to the heart of life in rural America,” Bloom says. “Yet seldom, if ever, do we see these kinds of deeply personal narratives appear in rural newspapers. I'd very much like to share with rural journalists how I went about interviewing residents, and why such journalism is essential to the future of rural newspapers.” Wilson and Stephenson have won many awards and have collaborated on several multimedia stories for the Herald-Leader, some of which are at

For a PDF with more about the workshop and a registration form, click here. For more information, contact Institute Director Al Cross at 859-257-3744 or

Energy conference for journalists live on the Web Sunday through Tuesday

Are you writing about energy costs, the environment or trying to explain cap-and-trade programs? Do you want to report on the latest in alternative energies? Do you want to find new sources, and get your questions answered by experts in the field? Here's your chance, Sunday through Tuesday, with online access to the McCormick Energy Solutions Conference at Ohio State.

The conference will examine energy alternatives as well as the impact of proposed legislation. There are four ways to participate online: Watch live streaming and ask questions via chat; follow updates on Twitter at and add your thoughts to the conversation by including #KipNRG in your tweets; watch livestreaming videos, pictures and comments on the conference's Ning site; or "fan" McCormick Energy Solutions on Facebook for conference highlights.

Tune into live video online to hear the latest from these top experts:
· Don McConnell, president of energy technology at Battelle, the world's largest nonprofit research and development organization (3 p.m. Sunday)
· Dr. Marilyn Brown, Georgia Tech, formerly of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (8:30 a.m. Monday)
· Richard Sandor, "father of carbon trading" and founder of the Chicago Climate Exchange (12:30 p.m. Monday)
· Dr. Steven Koonin, undersecretary for Science, Department of Energy (4 p.m. Monday)· Steve Yurkovich, Center for Automotive Research, Ohio State (8:30 a.m. Tuesday)
· Connie Schultz, columnist, Cleveland Plain Dealer (12:30 p.m. Tuesday)

The Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism, part of Ohio State's John Glenn School of Public Affairs, is co-hosting the conference with the McCormick Foundation, Battelle and Ohio State's Institute for Energy and the Environment.

Interior to end controversial royalty-in-kind deals

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Wednesday that the department is ending the "royalty in kind" policy that allowed energy companies to pay royalties for drilling oil on federal land in oil or gas instead of cash. The policy drew fire after a Government Accountability Office audit revealed the government had lost at least $21 million by failing to collect in-kind payments it was owed.

The Interior Department's inspector general "issued a report last year describing a 'a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity' over a five-year period at the Denver-based office of the Minerals Management Service, which deals with royalty-in-kind payments," Jim Tankersley and Alexander Hart of the Los Angeles Times report. Allegations included cocaine use and sex with industry contacts. The audit includes one instance where a a firm had avoided making any payments for more than two years by disputing its $900,000 bill. (Read more)

Replacing ex-congressman in history books with actors one proposal before Texas school board

John Wayne was on a postage stamp, but was he a political or social leader? Just months after concluding that human evolution should still be taught in Texas science classes, the State Board of Education is rewriting the state's social-studies curriculum. Among the proposals on the table: substituting actors Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, both Republicans, for former U.S. Rep Henry B. Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat, on a list of significant political and social leaders in the U.S.; labeling the U.S. form of government as "republican" instead of "democratic" for fourth-graders (technically correct); and including Rush Limbaugh on a high-school history list of significant conservative advocacy groups and individuals.

These proposals and others are questions board members will tackle in their first public hearings on the curriculum today, Terrence Stutz of the The Dallas Morning News reports. "Some board members and some groups have indicated there will be a fight over many of these standards, and I believe there will be a fight, much as I would like to avoid it," board member Marvis Knight told Stutz.

A panel of six experts, three appointed by conservative Republicans and three appointed by Democrats and moderate Republicans, was created to guide drafting of the standards. The three moderate appointees largely supported the work of writing teams, Stutz reports, while the three conservative appointees have "proposed significant changes, including a greater emphasis on the role of religion in the establishment of the U.S. and its political system."

The socially conservative appointees "are providing cover for those board members to drag our kids' classrooms through the cultural wars again," Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, a non-profit group for separation of church and state, told Stutz. Jonathan Sanchez of the Free Market Foundation, which supports the efforts of social conservatives, said "the experts are highly qualified and will make sure key issues in the study of history and other subjects are protected." (Read more)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

EPA to limit water pollution by coal power plants

For the first time since 1982, the Environmental Protection Agency is changing its regulations regarding coal-fired power plants' toxic emissions into waterways. "While EPA has focused on reducing air pollution from the power plants' smokestacks, the process often simply shifts the pollution from the air to the water that is used to 'scrub' the boiler exhaust," reports Taryn Luntz of Greenwire, writing for The New York Times. EPA says available technology that removes pollutants before discharge into waterways has only been installed at a fraction of the power plants.

An EPA spokeswoman told Luntz that the agency plans to propose its rule revision by mid-2012. The announcement came a day after the Environmental Integrity Project, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Sierra Club announced that they planned to sue EPA if it didn't change the rules. EIP attorney Jennifer Peterson told Luntz that the announcement was "great news" but the project planned to continue its lawsuit to ensure the agency acted quickly. (Read more)

Jones told Spencer Hunt of the Columbus Dispatch that the announcement had nothing to do with the lawsuit: "This is something we've been working on since 2005." EPA tests of water near American Electric Power's Cardinal plant in Jefferson County, Ohio, found traces of arsenic, barium and boron, among other toxins, Hunt reports. (Dispatch graphic) John McManus, AEP vice president, told Hunt that waste water doesn't threaten people or wildlife and stricter requirements could lead to an increase in electricity prices. (Read more)

Obama plan to save salmon includes ultimate option of breaching four Snake River dams

The Obama administration announced Tuesday it would continue to pursue the basic elements of the Bush administration plan for rebuilding salmon population in the Pacific Northwest, adding one significant change: the possibility of breaching four lower Snake River dams if fish populations slip closer to extinction, Matthew Preusch of The Oregonian reports. The decision received criticism from environmental groups who thought the administration didn't go far enough and from regional politicians who saw the inclusion of the Clinton-era breaching option as an economic threat. (Oregonian graphic by Michael Mode)

"Most efforts to offset challenges to salmon have centered on habitat restoration, extensive hatchery operations, barging of young ocean-bound fish around dams, and attempts to provide ample cool water for fish while meeting the demands of farms and growing cities," Preusch writes. Janet Lubcheno, an Oregon marine biologist who head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Preusch: "We believe the actions in the plan will prevent further declines, but we've added these contingencies just in case." (Read more)

U.S. District Judge James Redden, who is presiding over the legal challenge against the government brought by environmentalists, fishermen, the state of Oregon and the Nez Perce Indian Tribe, has already rejected two federal plans for restoring salmon and is expected to rule on the Obama plan in the next two weeks, William Yardley of The New York Times reports.

“The extremists who brought this lawsuit may be critical about this plan because dam removal wasn’t delivered on a silver platter with promises of wrecking balls arriving next week, but they got what they wanted from the Obama administration, and they’ll try and convince Judge Redden to give them even more,” U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., told Yardley. Nicole Cordan, policy and legal director for Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition including many of the plantiffs in the federal case, told Yardley: “Yes, dam breaching is on the table, but the table is over the river and through the woods and 1,000 miles away.” (Read more)

China threatens to cut off imports of U.S. chicken following new American tariffs on Chinese tires

Responding to new U.S. tariffs on Chinese tires, the Chinese government is threatening to cut off imports of American poultry, "a development that some trade experts feared could escalate," Clifford Krauss reports for The New York Times. American poultry executives expressed fear of losing the largest export market for U.S. chicken, Krauss writes, but remain optimistic since their importers have told them to keep shipments coming.

Exports of American poultry totaled $4.34 billion in 2008, with China getting $854.3 million, less than two percent of the industry's revenue when domestic sales are included, Krauss reports. Industry executives say their business with China was particularly profitable because of the nation's demand for chicken wings and feet, almost half the chicken exported to China, Krauss reports. Those pieces are worth only a few cents a pound in the U.S. but fetch 60 to 80 cents a pound in China.

Two weeks ago the U.S.A. Poultry and Egg Export Council, the National Chicken Council and other American food organizations sent a letter to Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, warning that action against China could lead to retaliation. Daniel Griswald, a trade expert at the Cato Institute warns Krauss that the poultry industry has a lot to lose: “If we are playing a game of chicken with China we are going to be big losers.” (Read more)

The Chinese government says investigations have been launched after manufacturers' complaints that American chicken and automotive products have entered the country's markets in an "unfair competition manner" hurting local industries, Rita Jane Gabbett of reports. "The Chinese are saying it's not related to the tire tariffs, but I think we know better than that," Toby Moore, vice president of communications for U.S.A. Poultry and Egg Export Council told Gabbett. (Read more, subscription required)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Senate leader: Climate bill may wait until 2010

Confirming speculation that began almost as soon as the cap-and-trade bill passed the House, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said today that his chamber might not vote on it until next year because health-care reform has higher priority. "Nothing terminates at the end of this year," Reid said. "We still have next year to complete things if we have to."

Reid, of Nevada, "did not rule out the possibility that Democrats could decide to move the energy piece separately from the climate-change portion" of the bill, reports Noelle Straub of Environment and Energy Publishing (subscription required). Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois "said he is hopeful climate will remain part of the packed agenda this year."

UPDATE: Straub reports Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in a later e-mail that "no decisions have been made" about scheduling of the bill. "We still intend to deal with health care, [Wall Street regulatory] reform and cap and trade this year," he said.

Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, new chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told the National Cattlemen's Beef Association that the bill is "deeply flawed" and "I will not support similar legislation in the Senate." (Read more)

Rural pockets of affluent Middle Tennessee counties go without city water

A 2005 Tennessee study found 4,200 homes in Rutherford, Sumner, Wilson and Williamson counties, all bordering Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County, were without access to treated water. While officials in Sumner County say conditions have improved since, hundreds of residents remain without the basic commodity.

Clay Carey of The Tennessean reports that grant programs for water lines are based largely on the wealth of the county, and while rural areas of the metro counties are poor enough to qualify, their proximity to Nashville eliminates them from consideration. Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt told Carey that only half the communities that apply for water grants are successful, and getting water to all residents in his county would probably cost at least $35 million.

Even after utilities expand to underserved areas, some residents can't afford the connection fees. Sumner County resident SuSan Small-Hammer (Tennessean photo by John Partipilo) had the chance to connect her house to "city water" for the first time three months ago, but told Carey she in on Social Security and can't afford the $3,000 hookup fee. She says it would cost an additional $2,000 to update her plumbing to accommodate the system's higher pressure. She is circulating a petition to decrease the fees, but in the meantime will continue to shower at her nearby church and deal with water shortages during droughts. (Read more)

Iowa and Tyson agree on corporate-farm rules as industry leaders call for liquidation of swine herds

Tyson Foods and the state of Iowa have reached an agreement to exempt the vertically integrated meat producer from state restrictions on corporate farming. The law that prevents corporate ownership of swine production and processing facilities will not apply to Tyson through 2015, Dan Piller of The Des Moines Register reports, but will still allow Iowa hog farmers the right to form associations, report illegal activities and disclose production contracts. The agreement is similar to ones between Iowa and Smithfield Foods, Cargill and Hormel, Piller writes, and specifies Tyson will not produce its own swine for slaughter before September 2010.

Virginia-based Smithfield first challenged Iowa's corporate farming laws in 2002, Piller notes. "It became apparent to us that Iowa might lose the case," Iowa Assistant Attorney General Steve Moline told Piller. "Smithfield didn't want to proceed with a long lawsuit, so a consent agreement was reached in that case that essentially gave contract growers certain rights in return for Iowa staying the execution of certain provisions of the corporate-farming law." (Read more)

The Friday agreement comes after two consecutive years of uninterrupted losses by Iowa hog farmers, combined with a hog population that has increased by 7.2 million over the last 12 years. "A combination of better genetics, climate and disease control, more productive sows and a need for cash flow to keep up payments on confinements slows the process of reducing herds," Piller wrote in a Sunday story. Steve Meyer of Paragon Economics, who advises the National Pork Producers Council, told Piller a reduction in the nation's hog herd of up to 12 percent would be needed to bring supply in balance with demand. (Read more)

Underground coal gasification may provide cheaper alternative to capturing carbon dioxide

Researchers say investing $1 billion over three years in promising underground coal-gasification technology could reduce the cost of capturing carbon dioxide by almost 50 percent. A report released by the Clean Air Task Force, a non-profit clean-air advocacy and research group, "provides a policy road map for bringing coal technologies in four research areas, including complex retrofits of old power plants and permanent storage of greenhouse gases, from the experimental stage to mass production," reports Christa Marshall of Environment & Energy Daily.

Researchers call for $305 million in initial investment from public and private sectors for constructing next-generation power plants and adapting current plants to accommodate the new technology. "Underground coal gasification envisions using the heat of the Earth's crust to turn coal trapped in deep underground seams to a gas that could power electricity generators," Marshall reports. The study says producing and cleaning gas from such seams is cheaper and could increase American coal reserves 300 to 400 percent.

The Soviet Union first used underground coal gasification to reduce mining labor in the 1930s, Marshall reports, but since then the U.S. government has tested the process with mixed success. A 1970s project in Hoe Creek, Wyo., caused groundwater contamination, leading to the decrease of federal funding for the process in the 1970s and 1980s. The authors of the study say early attempts at coal gasification were conducted without extraction of carbon dioxide in mind and suffered from poor planning and a lack of technical knowledge. "It remains to be seen whether the political will exists on the U.S. Senate side to pass a bill at all," Marshall writes, "much less pump large amounts of additional money toward cleaning up the fossil fuel." (Read more; subscription required)

Southwest Va. county board rejects program to re-establish elk on mined land, as E. Ky. has done

The Board of Supervisors in Wise County, Virginia, has come out against a proposal by the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to place elk on reclaimed strip mines, but has endorsed the siting of electricity-generating wind turbines on the county's mountaintops, reports Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton (the county's independent city, which endorsed the elk idea).

The Virginia coalfield counties of Dickenson, Russell, Lee, Scott, Buchanan and Tazewell have been asked to take a herd from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, "the same group that oversaw an elk restoration project in Eastern Kentucky," Deal writes, but Supervisor Steve Bates said the animals have already crossed into Kentucky's mother state and are causing trouble. “I have not heard one single positive comment,” Bates said. “I’ve had two or three people from Pound say, ‘They’re already in our town, come down here and hunt them if you want them’.” Pound Gap is the county's major pass to Kentucky, across Pine Mountain. (Encarta map)

"The county’s agricultural extension agent, the Wise and Dickenson County Farm Bureau and a local cattlemen’s organization all offered to gather experts to give county supervisors more information," Deal reports, but "Supervisors decided the flood of opposition they’ve heard to the proposal was enough information to make a decision. ... Supervisors echoed citizens’ concerns about property damage, disease, risk to motorists and lack of food for the huge animals."

Supervisor Ronnie Shortt "pointed out that the county has invested money in a new agricultural center on the Wise-Dickenson county line — a venture that’s proving to be a successful partnership between the two counties," Deal writes. "County Administrator Shannon Scott pointed out that elk could also trample fledgling trees on reclaimed surface mines, hampering reforestation efforts." Others worried about impact on vineyards. The Farm Bureau and the Coalfield Beef Cattle and Land Use Association oppose the idea. (Read more; subscription required) The wind-turbine story is here.

In another hunting-related story in the Progress, News Editor Jeff Lester reports that Powell Valley Primary School was placed on lockdown for 20 minutes yesterday because a teacher heard a gunshot from a squirrel hunter in nearby Jefferson National Forest. Police found two hunters and made sure they weren't shooting toward the school, Lester writes.

Wyoming gas-drilling study influences debate over Marcellus Shale wells in western New York state

An Environmental Protection Agency study of Wyoming natural-gas drilling is affecting at least one other drilling project across the country. EPA found traces of caustic chemicals in 11 private water supplies in Wyoming, clouding the future of a proposed drilling project in Broome County, New York, Tom Wilber of the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reports, adding that the findings have intensified the debate over the proposed Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act) currently before Congress.

We first reported on the controversial drilling process called "fracking," injecting a high-pressure cocktail of chemicals, water and sand into rock formations to release natural gas, in February. EPA's first investigation of water contamination due to fracking revealed contamination in 11 of 39 wells tested in Pavillion, Wyo., Bob Moen of The Associated Press reports. (Read more)

The FRAC Act, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Maurice Hinchey of New York and Diana DeGette of Colorado, would require companies to disclose the chemical solutions used in the process. Opponents say the measure could discourage drilling into strata like the vast Marcellus Shale now under development in Appalachia by 10 to 20 percent, Wilber reports. The debate is heating up as a draft of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations for oversight of water-intensive drilling anticipated in full-scale Marcellus production is completed by Sept. 22.

"The analogy I like to use is when cigarette companies used to say there is no scientific proof that smoking causes lung cancer," Stan Scobies, a Binghamton advocate for a cautious drilling, told Wilber. "If you don't look, you don't find it." Roger Willis, president of Pennsylvania-based Universal Well Services, told Wilber that fracking risks are no different than any other industrialized process. While the two sides continue to debate, permits for drilling the Marcellus in New York are on hold until the DEC's assessment is complete. (Read more)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Meth use declined in 2006-08, but police say nasty nature of the drug leaves no room for a letup

Methamphetamine, which started as a rural scourge and remains so in some areas, is drawing fresh attention from law enforcement because of simpler and more dangerous production methods. But from 2006 to 2008, use of the drug dropped — "dramatically so, in fact," notes Todd Frankel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"The number of people older than 12 who used meth in the previous month dropped by nearly 60 percent, to 314,000, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health," Frankel writes. "At the same time, illicit drug use of all kinds in the U.S. dropped by less than 4 percent.The survey results showed fewer people are trying meth, too. The number of people who used the drug for the first time dropped by more than 60 percent, to 95,000." (P-D chart)

But police officials Frankel interviewed said there's no reason to let up because "Meth is seen as a particular scourge because of its highly addictive nature and the toxic waste left behind by its production," the Post-Dispatch reports. (Read more)

Triple Crown, owner of Ga. papers, in bankruptcy

Triple Crown Media, owner of six daily newspapers and one weekly in Georgia, became the 11th newspaper company to file for bankruptcy in the past year, The Associated Press reports. Like others in bankruptcy, the Kentucky-based company is heavily in debt. It operates the Albany Herald, Gwinnett Daily Post, Newton Citizen, Rockdale Citizen, Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus. (Read more)

"Each TCM newspaper has positive cash flow, but the company has been highly leveraged. This restructuring will lower debt and allow our newspapers to regain footing so they can continue to operate as they have in the past," said Michael Gebhart, executive vice president of the company and publisher of the Albany Herald. "Nothing in this restructuring plan will change how we publish this newspaper," Gebhart said in his paper. "The procedure was designed to be seamless. Our customers won't see any difference in The Herald or how The Herald conducts business." (Read more)

Baucus the go-to senator on health AND climate? Harkin predicts passage of plan with public option

UPDATE, Sept. 17: Instead of bipartisan support, Baucus's health-care bill got bipartisan opposition when he introduced it Sept. 16. Chuck Todd and Mark Murray of NBC First Read observe, "What does it say about today’s Republican Party when Baucus’ bill seeks the middle ground, lowers the price tag, doesn’t contain the so-called public option, and actually lowers health costs -- and yet not a single Republican, even [Olympia] Snowe, will embrace it? Indeed, the middle may very well be the loneliest place to be in America these days. In our politics, almost everyone seems to be on one side or another, with very few (Snowe, Collins, Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, etc.) in between. The same seems true of our society, where everyone is looking out for his or her own self-interest, rather than the greater good. Baucus’ biggest problem may have been seeking the middle ground in a country where the middle is seemingly lost."

A powerful, increasingly conservative senator from a state with vast rural areas, Democrat Max Baucus of Montana, has become the bellwether of the Senate, first on health care and now on climate change, reports Lisa Lerer of Politico.

"His power play could put Baucus at the helm of the Obama administration’s domestic agenda, giving an unpredictable Montana Democrat control over legislative proposals that could define the Democratic Party for years to come," Lerer writes.

But on climate change, the Finance Committee chairman is in a turf battle with liberal Democratic Sen. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. "Boxer and Baucus bring dramatically different approaches to the climate issue, so combining their ideas won’t be easy," Lerer writes. (Read more)

Meanwhile, liberal Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the new chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, "declared that a health care reform bill would pass both houses of Congress 'by Christmas,' and that it would include a government-run, not-for-profit health insurance plan," Chase Martyn reports for the Iowa Independent.

AEP president says climate action inevitable, so bill is preferable to administrative regulation

Comprehensive legislation to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is a better option than single-focused regulation by federal bureaucrats, American Electric Power President Michael G. Morris wrote in a commentary printed in the Sunday Gazette-Mail of Charleston, W.Va. "A key fact that is critical for everyone to understand has been lost in the debate," Morris said. "One way or another, there will be climate action."

Morris, right, argues that even if the Senate fails to pass a climate-change bill, the Environmental Protection Agency will pursue carbon-dioxide regulation under the Clean Air Act and "climate action by EPA isn't equivalent to climate action by Congress and, in our view, is in no one's best interests." Morris says EPA regulation would be taken on a source-by-source basis and provide little to no consideration for employment, energy prices or the economy.

"No legislation is perfect, particularly one that seeks to overhaul the way our nation uses energy, but we believe this climate bill will work and it represents the best of the available options," Morris wrote, saying that investment in clean-energy technologies will benefit coal-reliant states by supporting the "continued use of America's most abundant energy source."

Morris said the bill passed narrowly by the House can be improved by increasing the percentage of emission allowances electric companies can give consumers, adding federal authority for location of new transmission lines to support expansion of renewable energy, moving the starting date of the legislation back to 2013, and strengthening international-trade provisions. "Climate action is inevitable," he said. "We're pulling for the Senate." (Read more)

Rebound for U.S. livestock industry may depend on demand for protein from developing countries

The recession has wounded milk and hog producers, and hurt the cattle industry, but the traditional supply adjustment should boost profit margins and hold off larger losses over the next year. "Renewed prosperity in the livestock industry, however, hinges on a rebound in protein demand," Brian C. Briggeman and Jason Henderson report for The Main Street Economist, a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. (FRB chart)

Protein demand traditionally remains sluggish after a recession, Briggeman and Henderson report; they point to developing countries to provide demand as their income rises. "An emerging middle-class in developing countries is rapidly increasing its protein consumption, offering new opportunities in global markets," Briggeman and Henderson write. "The prospects of a rebound in U.S. demand appear bleak, especially if the recovery is not strong enough to spur rising employment, incomes and spending."

Briggeman and Henderson acknowledge that competing in global markets can be a difficult task for U.S. livestock producers facing higher prices at home, but say that if their products target global consumers' tastes livestock producers can still penetrate global markets. "In short, for U.S. producers to seize new global opportunities, they must continue to create new products for new consumers," Briggeman and Henderson write. (Read more)

Limits on pesticides to protect salmon in Pacific Northwest may affect agricultural production

The Environmental Protection Agency has imposed new limits on use of three pesticides by Pacific Northwest farmers. The regulations follow a 2008 National Marine Fisheries Service decision to require limits on the pesticides, which drain into many of the 28 federally protected salmon runs, in Oregon, Washington Idaho and California, Matthew Preusch of The Oregonian reports.

The chemicals are diazinon, malathion and chlorpyrifos. "This is a class of chemicals that is widely used in most crops threatened by insects," Terry Witt, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, a group that lobbies against government regulations affecting natural-resource industries, told Preusch. Witt says the restrictions could reduce the productivity of valuable cropland in areas near salmon runs.

"Our goal is to rebuild the healthy salmon stocks native to the Pacific Northwest," Joshua Osborne-Klein, an Earthjustice attorney, said in a statement." Getting agricultural poisons out of salmon spawning streams is one of many needed actions to see the salmon stocks rebuilt." A tiered system that bases restrictions on the kind of waterway that's nearby and the amount of pesticide being applied worries environmental groups, Preusch reports. "We have a real concern that pesticide users are going to have difficulty finding out what applies to them,"Osborne-Klein told Preusch. (Read more)

Family-friendly policies less likely for rural parents

Rural working parents have less access to family-friendly work polices, the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire reports. Its review of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 2000 to 2006 found the percentage of rural workers without access to paid sick days, health insurance, dental insurance, flextime and job training is higher than urban workers in every category.

“Access to family-friendly policies is not the only solution to work-family conflict, nor is it without costs,” Carsey Fellow Rebecca Glauber says in a UNH news release. “Still, access holds the promise of significantly improving the health and well-being of workers and families." Carsey points to size of employer, differences in occupation and industry and prevalence of unionization as key factors in the difference between urban and rural workers access to sick days.

"The brief finds that single rural mothers fare worst in access to family-friendly policies, primarily because they have less education, work for smaller firms, and work in occupations and industries that are less likely to offer such benefits," the release says. The study found 41 percent of rural single mothers don't have paid sick days and more than 20 percent have no paid days off of any kind. (Read more)

Kentucky newspaper wins open-records battle, raises questions about local health departments

An open-records battle by the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville resulted in a weekend story questioning the performance of health departments in southwestern Kentucky. Sarah Hogsed reports that the Todd County Health Department is behind in its inspection of local food businesses and the Trigg County Health Department had awarded a disproportionate number of perfect scores. (Read more)

Hogsed's story comes after a heated open records battle between the newspaper, circulation 10,000, and the Pennyrile District Health Department. Hogsed first requested "copies of all retail food establishment reports from 2008 and 2009" on July 14, but health officials told her she had to submit her request in person with a photo ID and pay "all cost associated with the recovery and photocopying," according to the resulting open-records decision of the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General.

The department eventually withdrew its demand that Hogsed file her request in person, and the implied threat of charging more for copies than the law allows, but Attorney General Jack Conway ruled that the delay in meeting Hogsed's request was a violation of the Kentucky Open Records Act. The department had claimed that it was too understaffed to meet Hogsed's request within the three-day period mandated by the law, and since Hogsed did not request specific records, they were not required to provide any, Terry Anderson reports on the Kentucky Open Government Blog. (Read more)

Actress Garner backs bill for 'full-service' schools, says need is crucial in rural areas

A Senate bill that would provide $1 billion to expand the number of full-service community schools across the country is gaining support. Community schools "go beyond traditional models and provide services to students and their families such as primary, dental and mental health care, career counseling and nutrition education," Joseph Morton of the Omaha World-Herald reports.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., introduced the Full-Service Community Schools Act of 2009, which would set up a five-year grant program to increase those programs. Nelson appeared last week alongside actress Jennifer Garner, left, whose elementary- and secondary-school years were spent in Princeton, a town of 6,300 in far southern West Virginia.

"We need innovative solutions, and full-service community schools are a brilliant way to reach parents and kids in need," Garner wrote with Mark Shriver for the Huffington Post. "Providing these kinds of services is crucial in low-income, rural areas, where it's more difficult to reach parents and families." (Read more)

Supporters of the bill point to improved student attendance, scholastic achievement and parental involvement as reasons for community schools, Morton reports. Nelson says $1 billion is a lot of money, but "it must be compared to the societal cost of children who can't learn due to hunger, family financial problems or mental health problems." (Read more)

"As Congress begins to consider a renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act, a measure like this one could be a good way to get some love from the folks who feel strongly that health, social services, and extracurricular activities are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to boosting student achievement," Alyson Klein of Education Week writes. (Read more)