Saturday, October 31, 2009
Judges cited "deep research and sharp writing," and praised "the writers' ability to frame an issue specifically for their readership. Predatory lending is a difficult issue in many communities across the nation, but these pieces show how they strike at home. More important, they describe how they can be solved at home. Second, these pieces shine by personalizing the issue. They put faces to what might be nameless statistics and explore individual stories. That makes them all the more readable and memorable."
To read the entry, go here. For information on predatory lending from the Center for Responsible Lending, go here.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Jarvis hopes boosting the agency's $2.5 billion budget will help fund scientific research and education efforts about global warming, Wilkinson reports. Jarvis, the first park service director to be trained as a biologist, says the parks could sequester carbon, serve as sanctuaries for species facing extinction, and bring to public attention the ways global warming is transforming the environment. His first goal, Wilkinson writes, is "to ensure that peer-reviewed science plays a foundational role in management decisions, especially in confronting climate change."
Among resource professionals, "He has credibility not only because he spoke out, but because he came up inside, through the ranks. He's not an outsider," Denis Galvin, a retired Park Service policy veteran, tells Wilkinson. "He knows the agency culture, its traditions, and its mandate for the American people. He didn't buckle under." Praise hasn't been universal, though, for the director who has "worn greenness on his sleeve." Chuck Cushman, leader of the American Land Rights Association, recently wrote: "Now, with Jon Jarvis in charge of the Park Service, the National Parks Conservation Association and their green allies have their best chance yet for an enormous park expansion plan, huge buffer zones around every park, and a multibillion-dollar land acquisition trust fund." (Read more)
To protect Montana farmers from upstream CBM discharges, the state, supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, adopted strict limits on salinity in the Tongue, Powder and Little Powder rivers, which drain from Wyoming. The regulations are in jeopardy after a Wyoming federal judge ruled that EPA failed to properly review studies and other arguments made by the natural-gas industry that the standards "were not based on sound science," Streater reports. Wyoming also argued that it was not required to comply with Montana's standards under the Clean Water Act. EPA has until Nov. 3 to inform the Justice Department if it plans to appeal the ruling. If it does not appeal, EPA can initiate a new review of the regulations, revise them or abandon them completely.
Mike Volesky, natural resources policy adviser for Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, says the West's next water war may pit farming that provides long-term economic stability for Montana against CBM that is a one-time boost for Wyoming. "It's around for 10 or 15 years, and then it's gone," Volesky said. "But once they're gone, there are still ranchers and farmers out there that have to depend on the water for a living."(Read more)
Barry Hart, right, CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, delivered some of the postcards during his trip to Washington, during which he testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Hart said co-op customers in states like Missouri, whicht depend highly on coal, will be face greater rate increases than previous forecasts indicate. He said increases would average "between 12 percent and 26 percent starting in 2012 with the potential to reach as much as 50 percent should utilities be forced to switch from coal to natural gas for a significant portion of their fuel." (Read the entire testimony here)
Tougher emissions limits in the Senate bill will make things harder on co-op members, Hart told the Post-Dispatch, but he said he would be heartened if the bill didn't include specific amounts of emission credits that would be awarded. He tells Lambrect: "That would mean that consumers will be at the table and have a chance to make electricity affordable." (Read more)
"It may seem extraordinary that a sparsely populated, rural state like West Virginia could hold such sway in international politics, but the logic here on the ground is compelling," Rowlatt writes. He writes that coal mining is all West Virginians have, and their dependence on coal will likely prevent the state's two Democratic senators from supporting the climate-change bill. Without West Virginia's votes Senate Democrats will then water down aspects of the bill to prevent a Republican filibuster, undecutting global climate-change talks.
In an effort to explain the thinking of West Virginians, Rowlatt writes that miners and some local residents fear climate legislation will cause them to lose jobs, but his article slights the Mountain State by saying it has little to offer other than its "mountains of coal." (Read more)
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Meanwhile, Johnston reports, "The U.S. Agriculture Department will soon begin a review of China's food safety laws and poultry plants with an eye to allowing imports of Chinese poultry products, [Agriculture Secretary Tom] Vilsack told Reuters on Thursday. The poultry issue has been another trade conflict between the two countries." The deal was announced in China, at the annual meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. Here's the USDA release.
The Lexington Herald-Leader's editorial board called Thursday for the government to release the report into allegations of a coverup of the spill. About half of the 25-page report was withheld, raising questions about what was being hidden and why. The newspaper writes: "The only imaginable risk is to the reputations of government officials, past and present, whose actions or inactions might have contributed to this environmental catastrophe." (Read more)
We join with the Herald-Leader and our friends at Mine Safety and Health News in calling for the government to avoid any more unneeded secrecy in releasing this long overdue report.
Federal, state and local officers fanned out across the region Wednesday morning, Bill Estep, Dori Hjalmarson and Valarie Honeycutt Spears of the Lexington Herald-Leader report.
"Florida is a key source of what Rick Bartley, commonwealth's attorney in Pike County, called a 'tsunami' of pills into Eastern Kentucky," the reporters write. Florida has passed a law to monitor painkiller prescriptions but it won't take effect for more than a year. (Wall Street Journal map)
Diane Hope, a communications professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has been tracking drilling stories from the region and says she began to notice the shift after a few months. "The news stories began to reflect the public's growing environmental and public health concerns," Moule writes. "They also started to get into detail about the proposed drilling method [fracking], which uses a slurry forced at high pressure down a deep horizontal well to break open the rock and free up the gas." (Read more)
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., raised concerns that small companies serving rural areas in his state and others found the application process too complicated to attempt. Some of the country's largest Internet providers chose not to participate in the program due to the number of qualifications required for applicants, including that they adhere to "net neutrality." (What's that? The National Press Foundation has a webinar about it on Nov. 17.)
The Government Accountability Office also listed a number of concerns about the program, including the ability of the agencies to process that many applications effectively by September 2010, when all of the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus funding must be awarded, Schatz reports. Lawmakers said they would make changes to the program for the second round of grants, and some are voicing support for pushing back the second round of application deadlines. (Read more)
S.D. paper provides forum for farm, environmental adversaries on 'cap and trade' climate legislation
Among the highlights: FB Administrative Director Mike Held says there isn't sufficient research to fully support EWG's claim that severe weather patterns resulting from global warming will affect farmers. EWG replies, "The preponderance of scientific evidence and scientific opinion is unequivocal. Climate change will pose serious challenges to agricultural production and our soil and water resources." You can read the full text of both sides' comments here.
"The system we have really isn’t working for the 50 million Americans who live in rural areas," Sebelius told reporters. She added that rural Americans are more likely than urban residents to face transportation issues and miss critical preventive care. Sebelius said she "favored a backstop for people who don't have employer-sponsored insurance," Haga reports, and she would be looking closely at the public option part of the reform bill.
One in five farmers is in medical debt, and rural Americans pay for nearly half of their health care costs out of pocket, the report says. Rural populations have only 55 primary-care physicians per 100,000 residents, compared to 72 per 100,000 residents in urban areas. In isolated small rural areas, the rate decreases to 36 physicians per 100,000 residents. (Read more)
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Bible verses move from Ga. football field to stands, where they enjoy clear constitutional protection
"Calling themselves Warriors for Christ, a twist on the teams' name, fans have held rallies at churches and a local polo field and sold more than 1,600 T-shirts bearing passages from Deuteronomy and Timothy," Robbie Brown of The New York Times writes. Federal courts have ruled students can promote their faith, but not in school-sponsored clubs, and constitutional experts told Brown that the cheerleaders' signs would have been a violation of those rulings. "The backlash demonstrates the difficulty of separating church and state in communities, especially in the South, where many prefer the two merged," Brown writes, in a vague overstatement that should have been edited out (or not edited in).
The parent who raised concerns says she wasn't complaining about the signs, just telling the school they could be sued for supporting the practice. One of the cheerleaders told Brown that the ban had put a damper on her senior year, but some Christians said the controversy and the outpouring of personal messages and signs from fans have brought the Christian message to many who wouldn't have hear it before, one parent says. Charles C. Haynes of The First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., says the signs prove “that Jefferson and Madison got it right. It’s a reminder of the difference between religion that’s state-sponsored and religion that is vital, voluntary and robust.” (Read more)
"We applaud the EPA for addressing coal's toxic legacy head on, for delving deeper and completing this long overdue investigation," Mary Anne Hitt, deputy director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement. Hitt says that she hopes now the EPA will place strong federal regulations on coal ash, Paine reports, and the EPA has said before it will make that decision by the end of the year. Industry officials say that labeling coal ash as hazardous would undermine its recycling into concrete and other products.
"Many of the common pollutants found in coal combustion wastewater (e.g., selenium, mercury, and arsenic) are known to cause environmental harm and can potentially represent a human health risk," the report says. Arsenic causes liver poisoning and developmental abnormalities in fish and is associated with an increased risk of liver and bladder cancer in humans, Paine reports. Mercury can cause kidney and other damage to humans and wildlife, and short-term exposure to a level higher than the legal limit of selenium can damage a person's nervous system. Selenium can also result in fish kills and reproductive failure. (Read more)
"Most people who live in a former meth house don’t even know it," Morrison says in a Newswise news release. "And some hotel rooms have also been contaminated." The $116,000 grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology will fund Morrison's research, in conjunction with researchers at the University of Texas-Austin, into the interactions between building materials and the chemicals used in methamphetamine labs. He says chemicals like ammonia and methanol commonly used in meth labs can penetrate into paint, wood and vinyl flooring only to surface again over time.
Morrison says children who frequently contact these surfaces are at particular risk, and lingering meth particles could bond with chemicals in the air allowing them to be inhaled months to years after a thorough cleaning. "We want to be comfortable with the cleaning methods," Morrison says. "Are these methods sufficiently protective? How much should people be concerned about living in a former meth house?" (Read more)
A 2007 study from the National Center for Rural Health Works at Oklahoma State University shows a full-time primary care physician generates, on average, approximately $1.5 million in revenue, $900,000 in payroll and creates 23 jobs. Clinic employment, inpatient services, outpatient activities and the multiplier effect of these factors all contribute to this large effect, Waddington reports. The study also documents that when rural residents travel to urban centers for health care they shop, eat and spend money in other areas of the urban economy instead of their hometown. The study estimates a rural community with a shortage as low as one-half of one full-time physician can lose $236,565 from clinic visits and $451,169 net revenue at a local hospital.
Despite this evidence, few rural communities include attracting health care providers in their plans for economic development, , Waddington reports. To increase health care access, rural communities have begun recruiting doctors through "stay at home" programs designed to encourage local students to return home after college and rural residency programs at several medical schools. (Read more)
EPA's new analysis says the vast majority of producers across the country, including crop and livestock, should benefit from the Senate bill. The earlier analysis said two-thirds of farms would decreasing cash reserves under the House climate bill, Anderson reports, but "EPA says the new analysis used a model that considered potential revenue from the sale of offsets and producer response to changing input costs." (Read more)
Despite growing belief that the bill won't pass this year, President Obama and Senate Democrats expressed the need for new urgency in addressing climate change Tuesday. The president and Vice President Biden, appearing at "green" events in Florida and Michigan yesterday, both spoke of the potential for alternative energy to create jobs, John M. Broder of The New York Times reports. Five senior administration officials also spoke yesterday to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in support of a climate-change bill. Obama told the crowd in Florida: "At this moment, there’s something big happening in America, when it comes to creating a clean-energy economy. But getting there will take a few more days like this one, and more projects like this one." (Read more)
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
After the vote the protesters crowded the barrier between the audience area and board table shouting their displeasure for the naming. The students provided a printed statement, which equated naming the building after coal with naming a building after liquor or cigarettes, to the student trustee to read, but he merely circulated it among board members. The board recessed until the crowd was escorted out, but a few board members stayed to hear the students.
"Big Coal is about to go down, and the university's going down with them," Cor de Jong, one of the protesters, shouted after the vote. Faculty Trustee Ernest Yanarella added during discussion: “This sets a precedent of identifying industry with university property. Had Phillip Morris given $7 million, there would be similar objections.” Board member Jo Curris disagreed: “I consider coal to be a source of great pride. Coal can very well be that mechanism that is going to retrigger the economy for the Commonwealth.”
Read our previous report about the donation here.
Bradley Campbell, a former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, explains: "One of the difficult challenges that climate change presents is that environmental groups are very good at opposing projects, and not very good at making compromises in supporting projects. We need to get beyond the mind-set that there’s a perfect alternative if we ever hope to avoid the worst impacts of climate change."
The environmentalist blitz against the New Jersey CCS plant is in full stride, citing the possible dangers of the still mostly unknown process, uncertain technology and reinforcement of the U.S. dependence on coal. Applebome points out a growing schism between environmentalists' distaste for coal and acknowledgement that climate-change solutions will need more than wind, solar and energy savings.
He cites environmental concerns raised recently about wind and solar projects that are seen as alternatives to coal and concludes, "Maybe on closer review, PurGen will look like a dangerous dead end or a promising way out," he writes. "Maybe T. Boone Pickens will find a way to put a million wind turbines all over the Texas Panhandle and provide all the energy we want. Maybe combating climate change feels like being on a 40-ton truck barreling downhill with no brakes." (Read more)
Normally, lawmakers say Congress lacks the expertise to recognize tribes, but Thomas reports these groups have faced "lengthy delays in accessing federal funding for housing, education and health benefits." President Obama has said he supports the Lubmees' recognition but has not commented on the Eastern Chickahominy, Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan and Nansemond.
The Lumbees have sought federal support for more than a century, while the six Virginia tribes have been petitioning the government since the 1990s. Some have waited 20 or 30 years for their federal recognition to be processed through the Interior Department, a system that Sen. Byron Dorgan, D.-N.D., characterized as "broken." (Read more)
Scottish carbon-capture-and-storage expert R. Stuart Haszeldine recently warned in an edition of the journal Science that CCS technology may drift beyond 2020 as a commercially viable option if more financial commitment to real construction for pilot projects isn't found soon, Ward noted. Meanwhile, scientists aren't even sure injecting large amounts of compressed CO2 underground is really safe.
While West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin proclaimed CCS technology as "here today" when state permits were issued for the Mountaineer project, it is only a small test, Ward reports. The CCS plant makes up only 20 of the 1,300 megawatts the plant produces and will capture only 1.5 percent of its emissions.
CCS facilities also face a lack of physical space, Ward reports. A general rule says a CCS facility requires at least the same footprint as the plant it serves, and some plant sites don't have room to accommodate a CCS facility. While some environmental groups like Greenpeace label CCS as a "false hope," some analysts say additional funding for the technology may be called for in climate-change legislation to get Democratic West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd's vote, which may be needed to pass the bill. (Read more)
Monday, October 26, 2009
"It was getting harder to make a living each year," Jester told Huffstutter. "If you have a small amount of ground, you either have to grow and get big or keep your small farm and have an off-farm source of income." Now each fall, tens of thousands of visitors come to Jester's 1 Fun Farm, right. Patty Randall, a Sunday school teacher from First Presbyterian Church in Bluffton, Ind., tells Huffstutter: "I don't know if it's the cold or the leaves turning or how the air smells of corn cobs burning on the bonfire, but October's not October without a trip to the farm."
The modern farm maze appeared in the early 1990s thanks to Adrian Fisher, a British developer. (Did he call it a maize maze?) Ever since, farmers have been competing to create the largest, scariest and most unique mazes. Kamille Combs, spokeswoman for The MAiZE, a leading corn-maze design firm based in Utah, told Huffsutter there are an estimated 500 mazes across the country. She says: "Families like to do things that create traditions around holidays, and it's tough to take little kids and the grandparents to a haunted house every October. But visiting a farm is something that feeds people's sense of nostalgia and appeals to all ages." (Read more)
The newspaper returned to newsstands Oct. 12 after a three-month hiatus, but its Web site is still not operational. When former publisher Harvey Hill filed for bankruptcy he laid off 62 full-time employees; Sample has rehired around 20. Sample adds the 7,800-circulation newspaper to its current newspapers in Maine, Pennsylvania and New York. (Read more)
Some researchers say white spaces hold the key to providing broadband signals to rural America, because they can carry signals across long distances and penetrate walls, trees
and other objects. The network is providing the link between the wired broadband provider and wireless hotspots in Claudville's business and school areas and will also provide broadband access directly to end users, Reuters reports.
"Due to its availability and range, TV white spaces have proved to be a very cost-effective way to distribute high-speed Internet in this heavily forested and hilly rural community," Peter Stanforth, CTO of Spectrum Bridge, told Reuters. "The non-line of sight conditions, coupled with long distances between radios, would have posed significant challenges to existing unlicensed alternatives. TV white spaces could prove to be invaluable to those striving to bring broadband access to underserved and unserved rural communities." (Read more)
Triage guidelines in some states instruct doctors to refuse ventilators or admission to hospitals to patients with "Do Not Resuscitate" orders, the elderly, those requiring dialysis, or those with severe neurological impairment, while others apply triage guidelines to mental institutions, nursing homes, prisons and facilities for the "handicapped" before the general public. Most triage plans were created for mass casualty events, not disease outbreaks, Fink reports. "Exclusion criteria," which bar certain categories of patients from standard hospital treatments in a severe health disaster, and "minimum qualifications for survival," which instruct doctors to remove essential treatments from patients who are not improving within a certain time frame, in state plans have sparked controversy.
Dr. Frederick Burkle Jr. outlined these features in a post-9/11 journal article suggesting triage plans in a large-scale bioterrorist event. Now some are arguing against one-size-fits-all approaches to triage. Some state pandemic plans call for hospitals to remove patients from ventilators if they are not improving after two to five days, Fink reports, but studies show that people severely ill with H1N1 flu generally need a week to two weeks on ventilators to recover. State and federal officials say formal rationing is the last in a series of steps designed to stretch scarce resources and protect the public, but even Burke doesn't think current plans fit the possibility of a flu pandemic. He tells Fink: "I have said to my wife, 'I think I developed a monster here.'" (Read more)
The Difference Makers, led by Alliance Coal president and UK basketball practice facility namesake Joe Craft, say their donation will not be fulfilled unless it's used to replace the team's current home, Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge. A UK spokesman says that as with all large donations, an agreement would allow the donor to stipulate the new building's name. The current lodge, named for UK's head coach from 1972 to 1985, opened in 1978. (Read more)
UK students were invited to participate in a student-only basketball practice, sponsored by Craft and Friends of Coal, Friday. As they entered, students were provided a free T-shirt displaying the Wildcat mascot, above, wearing mining gear on the front and a message on the back reading: "Coal, Cats, Calipari Power Kentucky." UK head coach John Calipari, left, began the event with a speech explaining the importance of coal in Kentucky, adding he was trying to teach his team the spirit he witnessed among underground miners during a recent visit to a mine. "They are a brotherhood," Calipari wrote on his Web site. "And that's what I want our team to become." (Photo of Calipari by Shannon Lewis)
The lodge naming rights and coal-sponsored practice have stirred up the coal debate on campus, Katie Perkowski reports for the Kentucky Kernel, UK's independent student newspaper. “My opinion is pretty much that coal has been a foundation of Kentucky’s economy for many decades, and it’s going to be the foundation for many decades to come,” Stephen Gardner, chairman of the UK Mining and Energy Foundation, told Perkowski. Martin Mudd, a graduate student and member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, disagreed: "My personal opinion is that the University of Kentucky has to choose whether it’s going to be a friend of big coal or a friend of Kentucky and Kentuckians. With this announcement, it’s clear what the administration feels about that, but I don’t think that that view represents everybody on this campus." (Read more)
The Kernel also devoted its Monday opinions section to the topic with an editorial cartoon, right, by William Kiluba showing the lodge atop a strip mine, and editorial saying "Wildcat Lodge represents students, not special interests," a Gardner piece headlined "Coal remains important to Kentucky, nation" and a guest columnist saying "UK fails campus with allegiance to big business."
Sunday, October 25, 2009
You can't get 'swine flu' from pork, but large pig farms can be sites for development of new viruses
CAFOs "are inherently safer than backyard pig farms, where the animals mingle with people and birds fly overhead," Brown notes. "But if multiple flu viruses were to get into a CAFO, the crowding of the animals would make widespread transmission, and the chance of reassortment, likely." Reassortment is the exchange of genetic material that can make new, stronger strains that pigs then pass on to humans who work with them. (Post photo by Jim Bounds)
"Gregory Gray of the University of Iowa campaigned via editorials in three medical journals to have swine workers be made a 'priority group' in any pandemic vaccine program. He was not successful," Brown writes. "Gray has led the effort to document the flow of flu virus between pigs and their keepers. It has been difficult. Swine farmers have a long-standing suspicion of strangers on their farms. They fear attacks by animal rights and environmental activists; they don't want outsiders bringing bugs to their biosecure herds; and they are wary of scientific projects that may link, even indirectly, human illness and the animal that provides 'the other white meat'."
Now, with high feed costs and the "swine flu" scare, hog farmers and their veterinarians arte submitting fewer samples to research labs, Brown reports. Researchers "are putting their hope on a program launched last spring in which the Agriculture Department, not farmers, pays for testing sick pigs and sampling herds where flu is suspected. In many experts' minds, the program is long overdue." A cutline in a photo gallery acocmpanying the story says, "Surveillance for influenza in the swine industry is inadequate, in part because of subtle obstructionism by pig farmers and the Pork Board, which represents their interests." (Read more)