Saturday, May 15, 2010

'Friday Night Lights' lets viewers look 'through the looking glass of rural America'

"Between cartoonish reality shows and grotesque game shows, there isn’t much dramatic television giving big, clear windows into America," David Masciotra writes for the Daily Yonder. "However, on the rare occasion that TV does get it right, it is often the stuff of pure emotive and intellectual brilliance."

Masciotra's first example, his urban one, and the one he considers best, is "The Wire," which ran on HBO from 2002 to 2008. His next, and his main topic, is "Friday Night Lights," which recently began its fourth season on NBC. The show lets viewers look "through the looking glass of rural America, allowing them to explore family, faith, and of course, football with sociological savvy and emotional maturity," Masciotra writes. "It is about small towns in modern America, and what their families do to maintain communal strength, familial love, and individual excellence under unfriendly economic conditions, intense social divisions, and limited local opportunity." (NBC photo: Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler play Tami and Coach Eric Taylor)

Masciotra concludes with other comparisons: "'Friday Night Lights' doesn’t have the artsy guts of 'The Sopranos,' the suspense of '24' or the political relevancy of 'The Wire', yet it still belongs in the company of those innovators. It has more heart than the three of them, and tells its seemingly ordinary stories so well that viewers will have no choice but to give into the powerful urge that all art seeks to inculcate: the urge to care—to care about the characters of the fictional drama and then channel that concern into real life struggles in which the consequences impact actual human beings." (Read more)

The scent of a woman ... oh, I mean a horse

The anonymous author of the blog When Pigs Fly, who lives in Minnesota near the Twin Cities, writes at the intersection of old and new, rural and urban, natural and engineered, animal and human: "We all have those days that serve as a wake-up call. You know the ones. ... They force most of us to reassess the pattern of our lives. For me, that day came yesterday," in a grocery after horse work.

"It had been cold and raining. Wearing my muck boots, Levis, baseball cap and black jacket that had turned a conspicuous shade of dark grey from the hours of use around dust and dirt, I'm sure I projected frumpy hobby farm enthusiast at best, ageing unkempt hipster at worst. But, being in a hurry and obviously not caring about my appearance or previous whearabouts before embarking on an excursion through the produce aisles, I moved through the market without any thought to those I may be offending. Yes, dear friends, offending I was."

After being told bluntly that she smelled, the author realized the source was her jacket: "I wash all of my clothing and bits and pieces whenever coming home from the barn with the exception of my jacket. This article only sees the washing machine once in a blue moon, taking residence in the garage when not keeping me warm. Apparently, it has a musk and a life all its own." For the rest of the story, republished in (from which we stole our headline), go here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Studies show immigrants help the economy, but may limit wages of the lowest-paid workers

One of the most common arguments for tighter control of immigration is that immigrants take American jobs, but a growing body of research reveals that is likely not so. "Study after study has shown that immigrants grow the economy, expanding demand for goods and services that the foreign-born workers and their families consume, and thereby creating jobs," Viveca Novak of reports. "There is even broad agreement among economists that while immigrants may push down wages for some, the overall effect is to increase average wages for American-born workers."

The Harper’s Index in this month's Harper's magazine cites Giovanni Peri of the University of California-Davis in reporting that for every 1-percentage point increase in foreign-born workers in the U.S. labor force, the nation's average wage goes up 0.5 percent.

Nevertheless, groups like the House of Representatives Reclaim American Jobs Caucus argue that with 8 million illegal immigrants working in the U.S. and 15 million unemployed American citizens and legal immigrants, the country could cut unemployment in half by removing illegal workers. "The numbers are simple," California Republican Rep. Gary Miller, a member of the caucus, said in the video announcing the group's formation. An advertisement from the Coalition for the Future American Worker even advocates limiting legal immigration to counter job loss. Upon further review though, the math is anything but simple, Novak writes.

The prevailing results of research examining the economic impact of immigrants was summed up by David Griswold, director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, in a recent article for the magazine Commentary: "The addition of low-skilled immigrants expands the size of the overall economy, creating higher-wage openings for managers, craftsmen, accountants, and the like," he wrote. "The net result is a greater financial reward and relatively more opportunities for those Americans who finish high school." Griswold does acknowledge that "low-skilled immigrants do exert mild downward pressure on the wages of the lowest-paid American workers," though the overall impact on jobs and the economy is positive. (Read more)

Small nonprofits now must file with IRS; many at risk of missing deadline tomorrow

Small non-profit agencies may lose their tax-exempt status Monday if they haven't adhered to new Internal Revenue Service regulations that were passed in 2007 and go into effect next week. "In years past a nonprofit organization with gross receipts under $25,000 had only to prove to the federal government upon startup that it was what it claimed to be, intent on doing what it said it would do," Sehlia Hagar of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin reports. "That's no longer the case. Now every nonprofit agency, regardless of monetary size, must file a special tax filing form called a 990. That lets the IRS know what's going on with staffing, mission and money."

Previously these non-profits never had to check back in with the government after their initial approval, so no one really knows how many groups are affected by the new regulation. The National Center for Charitable Statistics reports there are 7,663 organizations in Washington state alone at risk of losing tax-exempt status if they miss the Saturday deadline, but many are relatively unknown and several may not even be operating, Hagar writes. "Basically, the feds are trying to shrink the size of the database, the master file," Lawson Knight, executive director of Blue Mountain Community Foundation, told Hagar. "They never had a way to track the smaller ones before, this is a cleanup. It's like all of these accounts sitting on the books and not sure of some of then are still alive. So the government will send a 'ping' and see if they ping back."

If still-active organizations miss the deadline they could face serious consequences. "Losing tax-exempt status means starting over from scratch," Hagar writes. If an organization's tax-exempt status lapses it is so longer able to accept charitable donations. "This is going to wake up organizations that thought they could just continue doing things as they've always done them," Sandra Gill of Spokane-based Northwest Nonprofit Resources told Hagar. Churches are exempt from the new regulation, but local groups like youth baseball organizations and 4-H clubs are affected. (Read more)

EPA issues final greenhouse-gas rule, with no exemption for carbon emissions from biomass

Congress may not pass limits on carbon dioxide, but the Environmental Protection Agency keeps moving that way. It announced Thursday its final "tailoring" rule for greenhouse-gas emissions, targeting the emitters that release at least 100,000 tons of the gases per year. "EPA's rule 'tailors' permitting programs to limit the number of facilities that would be required to obtain New Source Review and Title V operating permits based on their greenhouse gas emissions," Robin Bravender of Greenwire reports for The New York Times. "EPA said the threshold would cover power plants, refineries and other large industrial plants while exempting smaller sources like farms, restaurants, schools and other facilities."

"Beginning next January, facilities that must already obtain New Source Review permits for other pollutants will be required to include greenhouse gases in their permits if they increase their emissions of the gases by at least 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year," Bravender writes. "On July 1, 2011, EPA will extend the requirements to new construction projects that emit at least 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases and existing facilities that increase their emissions by at least 75,000 tons per year, even if they do not exceed thresholds for other pollutants."

The new rule specifies that no sources that emit less than 50,000 tons per year will be subject to permitting requirements until at least April 30, 2016. The rule met praise from the environmental community, but industries were critical of the EPA's use of the Clean Air Act for greenhouse-gas regulation. "The Clean Air Act is not designed to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and this tailoring rule doesn't fix the problems with the Clean Air Act doing it," Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, told Bravender. (Read more)

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry seized on Thursday’s announcement to argue for the urgency of passing his climate bill, Sindya N. Bhanoo of the Times reports. "Today we went from 'wake-up call' to 'last call,'" he said. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a resolution in January that would strip EPA of its power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. (Read more)

The EPA rule does not exempt emissions from biomass power, which has rung alarm bells in the nascent industry. The final languiage "came as a bit of a surprise to us," said David Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners. the industry argues that when wood or other biomass is burned, the carbon dioxide that is released had been absorbed from the atmosphere by the trees, an analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council said it's not that simple. "The science around biomass continues to make clear that not all biomass is good from a carbon footprint perspective," Franz Matzner told Robin Bravender of Greenwire. "Chopping down a swath of forest that then gets turned into a parking lot and burning it puts carbon in the atmosphere that's not going to regrow." (Read more)

Feds plan vast pesticide spraying to counter predicted grasshopper outbreak in West

In March were reported fears from Western farmers of record summer grasshopper swarms, and now the Bureau of Land Management is bracing for them by spraying pesticides across hundreds of thousands of acres in northern Wyoming. Some fear this summer "could become the largest outbreak of grasshoppers and Mormon crickets in 30 years," Scott Streater of Environment & Energy Daily reports. "BLM manages 18 million acres in Wyoming, covering nearly a third of the state, and the destructive bugs could decimate the state's agricultural economy."

"We're trying to do the best we can to cooperate with and work with the landowners because their livelihood is at stake here," Ken Henke, BLM's weed and pest coordinator in Cheyenne, told Streater. Henke said cool, wet weather can prevent hatching or kill many of the insects, and therefore "spraying would not be done until regulators observe large numbers of insects hatching, and there is no guarantee that will happen," Streater writes. "If the weather works in our favor, maybe the hatch is significantly damaged and all the preparation we've done goes for naught," Henke told Streater. "But history shows us that's not likely to be the case."

BLM has responded to environmental fears, including the plans' effect on the threatened sage grouse, in its 127-page environmental assessment of the plan. The bureau plans to "include minimum 500-foot vegetation buffers around most water bodies and instructions that pesticides 'would not be applied near water bodies under high wind conditions to minimize the potential for drift,' the assessment says. "While some impacts may be unavoidable, BLM makes clear in its EA that a 'no action' alternative would cause far more damage if grasshoppers and Mormon crickets devour the landscape," Streater writes. (Read more, subscription required)

Arkansas high court blocks coal-fired power plant

Arkansas's highest court Thursday upheld an appeals-court ruling that reversed a regulatory panel's decision to approve a $1.7 billion coal-fired power plant. "Justices unanimously reversed the decision by the Public Service Commission to grant a permit for the Southwestern Electric Power Co.'s John R. Turk Plant in southwest Arkansas," Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press reports. "The ruling sent the case back to the PSC." The court agreed with opponents of the plant that the "commission violated state law by considering the need for the plant in a separate proceeding before considering whether to permit it."

In a concurring opinion, Justice Robert L. Brown also voiced concerns about the plant's environmental impact, writing, "preference given to coal over natural gas seems arbitrary in light of cost and the higher toxic emissions associated with coal." A SWEPCO spokesman told AP the company was reviewing the decision and had no further comment. Chuck Nestrud, an attorney representing opponents of the plant, said that SWEPCO, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, would have to reapply for the permit to allow the plant to proceed. (Read more)

UPDATE, June 2: AEP and the commission filed a motion with the high court, asking it to reconsider and clarify its ruling. "AEP said it is continuing construction [which began in late 2008] during the rehearing process," Mark Peters of Dow Jones Newswires reports. "The state certificate for the plant was challenged by property owners and hunting clubs near its site." (Read more)

Study: Local smoking ordinances ineffective in Appalachia, so statewide laws are needed

A new study from Ohio State University reveals local ordinances that restrict smoking in public places in six Appalachian states do not offer most residents adequate protection against second-hand smoke. The study, scheduled to be published in the July edition of the American Journal of Public Health, led researchers to conclude that smoking-ban efforts "should be focused on enacting strong statewide clean-indoor-air laws rather than relying on local ordinances to make public places smoke-free in some of these states," says a Newswise release. Each of the six states studied, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina and West Virginia, have weak or no statewide smoking regulations but allow localities to pass regulations of their own.

"Overall, ordinances were considered weak based on analyses of the extent of public areas they covered, the severity of punishment and how they were enforced," the release says. Places with higher education levels and lower unemployment were more likely to pass strict smoking ordinances. "A 1 percent increase in the high-school completion rate was associated with a 9 percent increase in the odds of a restaurant policy and a 10 percent increase in the odds of a workplace policy," the release says. "In contrast, a 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate translated to an approximate 50 percent decrease in the odds that a community had passed a policy for workplaces or restaurants."

Researchers rated ordinances based on how extensively they applied to different types of indoor areas: government or private work sites, retail or recreational spaces, restaurants, bars, schools and childcare facilities. Strength of penalties imposed on violators and enforcement were also considered. "The possible scores ranged from 0 to 13, with higher scores representing more comprehensive laws," the release says. "On average, the communities as a group achieved only 43 percent of the possible points." The lone exception was West Virginia which "clearly had the highest proportion of communities with comprehensive ordinances, all passed at the county level." Unlike most of the other states, West Virginia has little history of tobacco production. (Read more)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Obamas' anti-obesity plan includes more fruit and vegetables, more breastfeeding, no price tag

The Obama administration has unveiled its comprehensive plan to deal with childhood obesity. "The 124-page plan sets targets for reducing obesity and benchmarks for improving child nutrition," Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports on the Green Fields blog. The plan includes "70 recommendations on a wide range of issues, including ways to increase breastfeeding, a call for food companies to change the way they advertise to kids, a suggestion that Congress use the next Farm Bill to increase food and vegetable production significantly, and proposals to enroll more families in food stamps and to sign up 2 million more kids for school lunches," Brasher writes.

"For the first time, the nation will have goals, benchmarks, and measurable outcomes that will help us tackle the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family, and one community at a time," said First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been leading the administration’s anti-obesity effort. The plan's overall goal is to reduce the child obesity rate, now 17 percent nationwide, to just 5 percent by 2030. Intermetidiate goals are to reduce the overweight and obesity rates by 2.5 percent by 2015 and 5 percent by 2020.

"The targets show a real commitment to making a difference," Margo Wootan, who follows nutrition policy for The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, told Brasher. "They seem to be planning to measure their progress." The plan includes goals to increase breastfeeding rates by 5 percent every two years and boost U.S. fruit and vegetable supplies by 70 percent by 2020, Brasher reports. The proposal does not include a price tag for the program. (Read more)

76% in poll want laying hens to be more free

We've been following the ongoing battle between animal rights activists and big agriculture, most recently here and here, and one common complaint raised by animal-rights groups is treatment of caged hens by the egg industry. Now research conducted for the United Egg Producers reveals a plurality of those surveyed want hens raised without cages, Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports on the Green Fields blog. Of 1,000 registered voters surveyed, 24 percent favored keeping hens in the current cages, 44 percent want hens raised cage-free and 32 percent prefer an alternative cage system similar to one used in Europe.

"UEP spokesman Mitch Head says that the survey shows producers who are thinking about changing their operations that there is 'notable support' among American consumers for the colony-type housing," Brasher writes. The survey also tested several different possible names for a European-style system, including including "colony housing" and "enriched colony housing," and found the least favorable name was "chicken coop." (Read more)

Ohio turns to black-lung fund for regulatory financing lost with failure of coal-extraction tax

After successful lobbying by coal interests led to the removal of a coal-extraction tax from the last Ohio state budget, Gov. Ted Strickland wants to use $2.28 million from the state black-lung fund to pay for oversight of new coal mines. The idea, suggested by the Ohio Coal Association to Strickland administration officials, was approved as part of an otherwise unrelated coal bill by the House's Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Wednesday, Aaron Marshall of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reports. The removal of the 8-cents-per-ton extraction tax in 2009 placed a $1.8 million hole in the state's coal-mine regulation and inspection program.

"We would prefer our fee proposal that would put us on a dedicated funding stream, but given the short legislative timeframe, we are fine with a one-time maneuver to cover the next fiscal year," Ohio Department of Natural Resources communications chief Mike Shelton, told Marshall. Shelton said the black-lung fund generates about $8 million a year in interest and in premiums paid by coal companies into the worker's compensation account. A Bureau of Workers Compensation spokeswoman said "there were 339 claims made on the fund in 2009 with an average payment of $130,000 per claim," Marshall writes.

"We may not be very happy about it, but we're not opposing it," Babe Erdos, Ohio political coordinator for the United Mine Workers, told Marshall. "A one-time transfer we're not objecting to -- even though it's kind of a stretch what they are using it for." Nachy Kanfer, who heads the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Ohio, was more direct in her disapproval: "It's being held in escrow for black-lung victims. It's not for the purpose of helping coal companies fund their own oversight," she told Marshall. "In the aftermath of the coal mining tragedy in West Virginia, we need more money going for mine safety and health, not less." (Read more)

Vermont's shipping of prisoners to other states may bring racist views back home

Vermont was the first state to prohibit slavery in its constitution, allow civil unions and legalize same-sex marriage, but some of the state's criminals who are housed in out-of-state prisons are bringing back to Vermont a way of life contrary to its progressive reputation. Timothy Dufresne, right, first began adopting radical white supremacist behavior when housed in an out-of-state prison, which he used to help start the gang Hitler's Henchmen upon his release, Neal P. Goswami of the Bennington Banner reports. (Banner photo by Peter Crabtree) Just days after his interview with the Banner, Dufresne allegedly seriously wounded a neighbor in a fight by beating him with a broomstick, though court documents offer no indication that the attack was motivated by his white supremacist beliefs. Dufresne said his interest in joining a gang arose from self-preservation while in prison in Virginia, and Hitler's Henchmen was created as an offshoot of the Aryan Brotherhood, the largest white supremacist prison gang in the country.

Vermont has a contract with "Corrections Corporation of America to house many of its long-term inmates in Kentucky and Tennessee, although previous contracts have sent inmates to facilities in Alabama, Virginia, Texas and other states,' Goswami writes. "There are certainly pros and cons to sending offenders out-of-state," Vermont Agency of Human Services Secretary Robert Hofmann told Goswami. "In the con category would be the opportunity to meet offenders out-of-state who would have a negative influence on them. ... "I think 49 other states would trade their problems with Vermont in a heartbeat."

Steve Owen, a spokesman for CCA, which operates 65 prisons in 20 states, says the companies prisons are not incubators for radical views: "I don't think that's been our experience, to be honest with you." Vermont saves around $30,000 per inmate by housing them in CCA facilities. Virginia Department of Corrections officials say Dufrense's descriptions of the group's membership are vastly overestimated and report to the best of its knowledge the group has only five members. "I wouldn't necessarily say serious, but they're making an attempt," Dominic Damato, the DOC's security and compliance auditor, told Goswami.

There is reason for concern, Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, told Goswami: "This is a phenomenon we see quite a lot of. Very often, people go to prison for crimes that really have nothing to do with race, but they find themselves very often in extremely racialized prisons. For their own safety they seem to join race-based gangs." (Read more)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New novel Hazard takes readers through a coal seam, and a mystery

"Hazard, the first novel by Gardiner Harris, is about a location and a state of mind. Set in the mountains near Hazard, Harris’s Eastern Kentucky has gun toting, coal mining, marijuana growing, and nerve pills, which do contribute to a tremulous life. But Harris, a New York Times reporter who covered Eastern Kentucky for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, has a more complicated story to tell."

So writes Lu-Ann Farrar of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, in her review of the book. "The book opens graphically, with a grisly mine explosion that kills eight miners." Inspector Will Murphy and miner Amos Blevins are protagonists. "Life underground is told through Will’s investigation and Amos’s experiences. Especially claustrophobic is a description of Amos crawling into a coal seam just large enough to lean on his elbows, under an unsupported roof of coal, to set dynamite. Harris has been in such mines and knows it’s one mighty hard way to earn a living."

Farrar concludes, "The book is probably most effective for those of us who know little of the reality of underground coal mining and know Eastern Kentucky only from TV. A novel about mining, crazy pot growers and women on nerve pills may seem like a trip to another planet. But life in Eastern Kentucky is more than those things, and Hazard is an intriguing glimpse into that world." (Read more)

Rapid City TV anchor, taken off air after speech to tea party rally, quits

We reported last month that a TV news anchor in Rapid City, S.D., had been suspended from on-air work after making a featured speech at an April 15 tea party rally. Now Shad Olson has resigned, "to pursue hosting a radio talk show and to work as a paid political consultant," reports Kevin Woster of the Rapid City Journal. "He has begun a new Web site,, which he said reflects the philosophy and content of the planned radio show."

KOTA news director John Petersen told the newspaper that some of Olson’s supporters were confused about the extent of the suspension. "Initially both Petersen and Olson indicated that they expected him to return to the anchor spot," Woster writes. "KOTA didn’t require news employees to sign an ethics policy before Olson’s suspension. Now the station will require it and public speaking at political events will clearly be deemed out of bounds, Petersen said." (Read more)

Coal lobby dislikes new climate bill, but big question is whether the bill is going anywhere

The new Senate climate bill being officially unveiled today would not end the battle between coal and natural gas for the country's energy future. The bill would provide coal with help to develop carbon- capture and -sequestration technologies, but also give "advantages to the natural gas industry, including an incentive for some power plants that use coal to switch to natural gas," Anne C. Mulkern, Katie Howell and Josh Voorhees of Environment & Energy Daily report.

The bill also would provide free carbon emissions permits for gas distribution companies that serve consumers and "a program to encourage companies with large vehicle fleets to switch to liquefied natural gas," E&E reports. While the summary obtained by E&E pledges political devotion to coal, including the headline "Ensuring coal's future" near the top, one trade group classified the bill as problematic. "On balance we believe it hurts us," Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, told E&E.

The American Petroleum Institute, the trade group for oil and natural gas companies, declined to take a position on the bill, and said efforts to change the measure may be unnecessary due to its uncertain prospects for passage. "We think perhaps ... it's lost a lot of its momentum," Lou Hayden, API's senior director of federal relations. "This may be a conversation for next year." (Read more, subscription required)

Kerry's and Lieberman's "biggest challenge will be selling the notion that the bill has any chance of passage," Jim Tankersley of the Los Angeles Times reports. "There is no guarantee the bill will even be debated this year and it is unclear whether a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will hamper the legislation or prompt a more urgent look at U.S. energy and environmental policy," Reuters reports. Democratic co-sponsor Kerry was adamant about the need to pass the bill this year, since November elections are likely to weaken Democrats' power in Congress. "Everyone knows this is Congress's last, best chance to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation," he told Reuters. If it fails, he added, "Congress will be rendered incapable of solving this issue." (Read more)

Chesapeake Bay Foundation and EPA settle lawsuit over bay cleanup

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced Tuesday a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency to improve bay waters by pressing state and local governments to crack down on polluters. Foundation President William C. Baker "said the agreement settles a lawsuit brought in the waning days of the Bush administration accusing the federal government of neglecting its legal responsibility to restore the bay," Tim Wheeler of The Baltimore Sun reports. "This agreement is a game-changer," he said. "This agreement is going to lead to pollution reductions, and if it doesn't we'll be back in court."

Wheeler writes, "The settlement requires the EPA to issue a stringent pollution 'budget' for the Chesapeake by the end of the year and to hold Maryland and the other five bay states accountable for reducing pollution enough to meet the new limits. The agency will review all new or renewed permits held by sewage plants and factories to ensure discharges are not fouling streams and rivers leading to the bay."

Not all were impressed. "I for one will withhold my excitement until the EPA actually follows through on its threats," Howard Ernst, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and a critic both of the government's bay cleanup and the foundation, told Wheeler. "Until they prove they are willing to deny permits to polluters, this is all bark and no bite, and it is all too familiar." (Read more)

Pension-fund coalition asks Massey shareholders to oppose re-election of 3 board members

A coalition of pension funds in eight states is opposing the reelection of three Massey Energy board members in wake of the April explosion that killed 29 miners at the company's Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. A letter signed by the groups, which together own 1.57 percent of Massey's shares, "urged shareholders to oppose the May 18 re-election of Massey President Baxter F. Phillips and outside directors Richard M. Gabrys and Dan R. Moore," report Joann S. Lubin and Kris Maher of The Wall Street Journal.

Retired Adm. Bobby Inman, the board's lead independent director, is campaigning for the three members' re-election, telling the Journal that if Gabrys and Moore get fewer than half the votes cast, "It will make it extremely difficult to find competent people" for the board. The coalition pointed to conflicts of interest among the three members as reasons they shouldn't be reelected, specifically the disaster and their service on the board's safety committee. Gabrys was recently appointed to head the board's investigation into the explosion. (Read more)

The coalition includes the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the Connecticut state treasurer, the Illinois State Board of Investment, the Maryland State Pension and Retirement System, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, and the Connecticut, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania state treasurers, reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette on his Coal Tattoo blog. "Massey Energy has an extensive history of persistent and serious safety violations. We believe the three board members who serve on the Safety, Environmental, and Public Policy Committee have failed to address these concerns," North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell said. "Ultimately, that has consequences for long-term shareholder value." (Read more)

The same coalition last month called on the board to direct Massey CEO Don L. Blankenship to step down as chairman. In recalling her time as editorial page editor of the Gazette, Susanna Rodell, writing in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says the isolation of the region helped Blankenship. "For years it seemed no one outside the state cared that he had succeeded in buying his own justice," she writes. "It also helped the man to believe in his own mythology. For a few years, he seemed invincible." Now that the tide has seemingly turned against Blankenship, she concludes "the least we can do, as participants in this drama, is to remember who’s risking their lives to keep our lights on, and encourage our lawmakers to keep up the pressure on Big Coal and its enablers to clean up their act." (Read more)

Society of Environmental Journalists creates fund for reporting and entrepreneurship

The Society of Environmental Journalists has a new program offering grants of up to $2,500 to support environmental reporting projects and entrepreneurial ventures. "In an era of diminishing newsroom resources, the Fund for Environmental Journalism provides incentives and support to qualified journalists and news organizations to enhance the quantity and quality of reporting on environmental issues," SEJ writes on its website. In January the SEJ Board of Directors set aside $10,000 to fund two rounds of grants in 2010.

"We wanted to help somehow, without competing with our own members," SEJ President Christy George said. "The idea that emerged from months of discussion was the Fund for Environmental Journalism. These grants will help environmental journalists struggling in the current media environment to redefine themselves or their platform." Grant money from the fund may be used for project-relevant travel, training, research materials, database analysis, consultants, and other direct expenses related to the applicant’s reporting project or entrepreneurial venture.

Applicants are not required to join SEJ, but must meed the requirements for membership. You can read the over page for details about the fund here. "The Fund is meant to be an incubator for new ideas, projects and training," George said. "While the grants may not add up to a lot of dollars, each one is meant to provide that critical bit of capital needed to launch something new, or reinvent something old." (Read more)

Black bears migrate into Central Kentucky

Black bears have migrated out of the hills of the Cumberland Plateau into Central Kentucky, reports Bob White of The News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown (star on MapQuest image).

A state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist told White that bears are being found throughout the watershed of the Rolling Fork River, which flows into the Salt River at Boston, a few miles east of Elizabethtown. The Rolling Fork flows through the heavily forested Knobs Region, which runs south from Louisville (the large gray area at upper left center of the image) and east to the even more heavily forested plateau (at bottom right center).

Yes, we could have PhotoShopped a better map for you, but we didn't have time. To further orient yourself, note the Ohio River separating Kentucky and Indiana at upper left.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

At least nine states might count inmates, for redistricting, where they lived before prison

At least nine states are dealing with legislation that would direct the Census Bureau to count collect previous addresses for prison inmates in the localities where they last lived freely, instead of their prison localities, which are often rural. Maryland recently passed such a law, and "Lawmakers in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Texas, Rhode Island and Wisconsin have proposed changes similar" to the Maryland law Kathleen Miller of The Associated Press reports, citing Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

This census is the first in which states can direct how inmates are counted ask for previous addresses for the purpose of redistricting. "Urban lawmakers across the country say their counterparts in rural areas have gotten an unfair advantage" from having prisons, Miller writes from Annapolis. "New York Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries says 'inmate-based gerrymandering' there has given enough power to rural parts of New York to kill bills supported by the majority of residents elsewhere. "Tallying inmates as residents of their prisons, Jeffries says, has given conservative regions enough votes to kill bills to strengthen rent protections for low and moderate income tenants, reform the criminal justice system and enhance rights for low-wage farm workers."

Rural representatives argue that counting inmates where incarcerated is fair. "They most certainly impact our medical resources based on trips to hospitals and dentists' offices," Maryland House Republican Whip Chris Shank, whose rural district is home to three prisons with about 6,300 inmates, told AP. "They have a tremendous impact on our judicial system, the number of court filings, the workload of our state attorney's office." (Read more)

New Senate climate bill coming tomorrow, with provisions to expand drilling, including offshore

"The Senate climate bill to be unveiled tomorrow will have provisions to expand domestic oil drilling, including revenue sharing for states that agree to allow more production off their shores," Darrell Samuelsohn reports for Greenwire, citing one of the bill's co-sponsors, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

"Lieberman said in an interview that the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill raises serious concerns about the safety of offshore energy production. Still, he said the climate bill that is set for rollout at a 1:30 p.m. EDT press conference tomorrow with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) reflects their long-standing plans to grow the domestic supply of oil," Samuelshohn writes.

"We've made one slight alteration," Lieberman said. "And we expect we'll make some more alterations as this goes on based on what we've learned, particularly from [Interior Secretary Ken] Salazar's 30-day review about what more could be done to protect the safety." Lieberman declined to elaborate, telling Samuelsohn, "I've got to save some suspense for you."

Samuelsohn reports, "Kerry and Lieberman are expected to be joined by a large coalition of business, environment, faith and national security groups, which Lieberman said 'creates a new reality' in their uphill push for 60 votes. "We've got a really impressive set of networks in the environmental and business communities who are prepared to go to work to support this bill," the senator said. "And to spend a fair amount of money doing it. This is not a pyrrhic effort." (Read more; subscription may be required)

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters, “I’d be surprised if it’d even come up for a vote. If it does come up for a vote I think it’s only because the Democrats have to show that they do have the votes or don’t have the votes to satisfy the advocates for cap and trade.” For more from Tom Steever of Brownfield Network, go here.
A short summary of the bill, obtained by the subscription-only service Environment and Energy News, says it would allow states to opt out of drilling within 75 miles of their shores and "veto drilling plans if they stand to suffer significant adverse impacts" from accidents; offer incentives for development of carbon-sequestration technology at coal-fired power plants; remove disencitives for use of natural gas at merchant power plants; apply only to the 7,500 sources that each generate at least 25,000 tons of carbon annually and delay coverage of industrial sources to 2016; and set floor and ceiling prices for carbon credits at $12 and $25 a ton, rising with inflation. As in the House bill, farmers would remain exempt from carbon-emissions controls and could earn carbon credits by reducing emissions, through a program run primarily by the Department of Agriculture.

Meat demand rises, boosting livestock industry

As consumers have enjoyed low meat prices in recent years, hog and cattle farmers have been struggling to turn a profit. Demand for meat is up this year, while the supply of hogs and cattle has fallen, leading to profitable forecasts for many producers for the first time since 2007, Mike Hughlett of the Minnesota Star Tribune reports. "The hog guys, the cattle guys -- they were really dealt a tough hand," Michael Swanson, an agricultural economist at Wells Fargo, told Hughlett. "Things are finally breaking their way." (Star Tribune photo by Glen Stubbe: Rick Grommersch checked one of the hog barns on his farm near Nicollet, Minn.)

Pork and beef exports fell in 2009 and the hog industry was further hurt by fears relating to the H1N1 flu. In 2009 "hog producers' production costs per pig were $135 on average, well above the average $105 per head they received in revenue," Hughlett writes. As demand has rebounded and supply has shrunk, hog farmers are making $165 per pig, compared with their $135 cost of production. Still some fear that when the higher price finally reaches the grocery store, consumers will back off their meat consumption. (Read more)

The rebound in livestock isn't confined to Minnesota. "After a two years of low prices, high feed costs and losses, the cattle business is enjoying a resurgence because of stronger demand as the economy improves," Dan Piller of the Des Moines Register reported earlier this month. Wholesale prices for most beef cuts are up by double-digits, Piller writes, and hamburger is up almost 20 percent. Retailers have warned that consumers will see the increase in beef prices as the summer goes on and demand grows. (Read more)

UPDATE, May 13: While high prices are good news for hog producers, they may be just another example of a boom-and-bust market, John Strak writes for (Registration and subscription may be required; subscription may be free)

Researcher says shale gas will slow development of renewable energy and alter global landscape

Vast expansion of natural gas production from deep shales may have another consequence: slowing of renewable energy development. "A greater natural gas supply means that in Iowa future new electricity generators will more likely use the relatively clean burning natural gas rather than the coal that is so reviled by environmentalists," Dan Piller of the Des Moines Register writes on the Green Fields blog. Some fear that cleaner, cheaper fuel may derail ambitious plans for renewable energy. (Read more)

But would slowing down renewable energy be a bad thing? Not according to Amy Meyers Jaffe, the Wallace S. Wilson Fellow for Energy Studies at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. "The shale discoveries complicate the issue, making it harder for wind, solar and biomass energy, as well as nuclear, to compete on economic grounds," Jaffe writes for The Wall Street Journal. "Subsidies that made renewables competitive with shale gas would get more expensive, as would loan guarantees and incentives for new nuclear plants." She argues for avoiding "the urge to protect coal states" by letting gas replace coal and investing in heavily in research and development for renewable energy for the day when shale reserves begin to dwindle.

The new gas sources will have an impact beyond renewable energy, Jaffe writes: "I am convinced that shale gas will revolutionize the industry—and change the world—in the coming decades. It will prevent the rise of any new cartels. It will alter geopolitics." Environmental concerns have been overplayed, Jaffe argues, but she agrees that strict enforcement of drilling regulations will be needed to alleviate fears. (Read more)

Families of W.Va. mine disaster victims, UMW sue to open probe as closed-door interviews begin

Yesterday, federal and state investigators began closed-door interviews in their investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 West Virginia miners last month, but the United Mine Workers and the families of two victims have filed suit to open the investigation. "In their suit seeking public sessions, lawyers for the UMW and the families of miners William Griffith and Ronald Maynor argued, among other things, that the closed-door interviews allow regulators to avoid difficult questions about the performance of government agencies charged with protecting miners," Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports.

Officials with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and the West Virginia Office of Miners Health Safety and Training began the interviews by questioning their own inspectors that had visited the Massey Energy mine prior to the April 5 explosion. "Without the participation of miners' representatives in the accident investigation interviews, MSHA's analysis of its own role, if any, will remain secretive and inherently suspect," states the lawsuit, filed against MSHA chief Joe Main Monday in federal court in Charleston.

"U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger did not immediately rule or schedule a hearing on the suit's request for a temporary restraining order to stop the interviews until the case could be more fully argued," Ward writes. Several workers at the non-union mine have appointed the UMW as their official representative."We believe it is imperative for the families of the victims of this tragedy to be able to hear the evidence that will be gathered in these interviews for themselves," UMW President Cecil Roberts told Ward. "We also believe that the workers -- who will have to go back to work in that mine -- must be allowed to have their designated representatives in the interviews, asking questions and hearing testimony first-hand." (Read more)

Book shines light on 1943 coal-mine disaster, made more relevant by recent deaths

In the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 West Virginia miners last month, a new book exploring a 1943 Montana mining disaster that killed 74 seems particularly relevant. "The Smith Coal Mine disaster was one of the nation's worst coal-mining accidents, but because it occurred during World War II, it was quickly forgotten by all, except those who lived through it," says the website of Goodbye Wifes and Daughters, written by journalist Susan Kusher Resnick and published by the University of Nebraska Press. The title comes from a line in a dying miner's farewell note.

"After conducting interviews with miners' relatives and combing through newspaper stories and government and mine company documents, Resnick reconstructed the events by which a small town was 'killed, as surely as if it had been flattened by an earthquake or burned by a wildfire'," Lisa Bonos writes in a review for The Washington Post. "Resnick does an admirable job of breathing life into the story of a small town's demise and its questioning of whether the disaster could have been avoided." The book's website classifies the text as not only a heartbreaking story, but also "a cautionary tale."

Columnist: Government's rural bias hurts cities

Do rural areas get an unfair level of federal support, to the detriment of the nation's cities? That's the argument made by one public-policy researcher. "The farm and the frontier might still retain their influence over the American imagination," Harry Moroz, a research associate at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, writes for the San Francisco Chronicle. "But there is little left to legitimize the myth of rural America: The United States is decidedly urban; the concentration of economic activity in cities will drive our future growth and prosperity."

Moroz says cities have been demonized throughout American history, resulting in a "federal government that functions at a distance from the places responsible for 90 percent of the country's economic activity," and cites the distribution of transportation funds. "Washington funnels transportation funds through state governments dominated by rural lawmakers who favor projects in areas where, one mayor recently quipped, there are more deer than people," Moroz writes. "Tack on a prejudice against public transit in the formula grant that distributes federal transportation funds, and you begin to see why the United States is paved haphazardly with highways instead of interconnected with subways and high-speed rail."

The anti-urban bias was further exacerbated by the economic stimulus package, Moroz writes, despite President Obama's Chicago roots. The law "assigned cities control over less than 1 percent of funds and disregarded 19,000 shovel-ready infrastructure projects proposed by the nation's mayors," he writes. He concludes, "The question is not whether cities will self-destruct without federal assistance: They have already proved that they can excel and innovate despite Washington. The question is whether Washington can finally dispel its anti-urban bias so that our cities realize their full potential as a crucial part of our nation." (Read more)

Leading U.S. Senate candidate in Kentucky says he opposes farm subsidies

The leading candidate for Kentucky's open seat in the U.S. Senate said last night that he opposes agricultural commodity programs. “I don’t think federal subsidies of agriculture are a good idea,” Rand Paul, right, said during a statewide debate with most of his opponents in next Tuesday's primary election, primarily Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who said he supports farm subsidies.

Paul has gained the lead in the primary and general-election polls on the strength of the fundraising base of his father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who ran for president in 2008; his opposition to federal bailouts, budget earmarks and deficit spending; and his support of term limits and a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget. However, the issue of farm subsidies has played little if any role in the race.

Paul and Grayson addressed the issue in response to a question from Bill Goodman, the moderator in the hour-long discussion on Kentucky Educational Television. Paul said he tells farmers that he opposes the estate taxes, but "I'm not in favor of giving welfare to business." Grayson said the federal government has an “important role” to play in farming. An pro-ethanol group from Iowa is running TV ads against Paul.

On another spending issue, Paul called for abolition of the Department of Education while Grayson said Paul's attitude would harm the state's public universities and students who need financial aid. The universities and rural communities around the relatively poor state have also benefited from budget earmarks obtained by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and 5th District Rep. Hal Rogers, a ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. Both recently came out for Grayson, who said the amount of earmarks may have to decline as the federal government tightens its belt, but earmarks are still needed to help Kentucky tackle such problems as drugs in Appalachia -- the goal of a program Rogers has repeatedly funded with earmarks, UNITE. Paul said that was “sort of the Democrat mantra – let’s throw money at the problem,” said Appalachia's problems are decades old and “We need more local solutions and less of Washington telling us what to do.” Grayson replied, “Rand doesn’t want to go to Washington to fight for our priorities — he doesn’t know the priorities of our state.” Paul said congressional seniority should not determine federal spending. “Let’s base the decisions on objective facts on which projects need to be built and not base it on the seniority of the senators and the congressman,” he said.
Jonathan Martin of Politico writes that the debate illustrated "the central dispute that has defined the closely watched contest and is dividing establishment and insurgent Republicans nationally: should the party hew to a purist line on fiscal issues, slashing spending and reducing the role of Washington, even if that means taking political risks that may be unpopular with the general electorate?" For coverage from The Courier-Journal of Louisville, click here; from the Lexington Herald-Leader, here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In states where small farms pay unemployment, farm workers tend to find better jobs

Agricultural workers from small farms that do not provide unemployment insurance spend fewer weeks unemployed and often take jobs that earn less than other workers when they are rehired, says a new study from North Carolina State University. "Displaced workers from states like North Carolina that do not require small-farm employers to purchase unemployment insurance spend 4.6 fewer weeks unemployed and then earn 9 percent less than displaced manufacturing workers," says Newswise, a research-reporting service.

The study reports displaced agricultural workers in states that do require small farms to have unemployment insurance have experiences similar to those of manufacturing workers; both are able to use their unemployment benefits to find jobs that are better matches and have higher salaries. "Workers look for good matches when re-entering the workforce, but job searches take time," said Dr. Ivan Kandilov, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics and a co-author of the study. "Workers with unemployment insurance are able to take the time to find a better match, which usually means a better salary. If you don’t have unemployment insurance, you need to get back to work faster. So you wind up taking a worse match, which usually means a lower salary."

The study was published in the April 2010 edition of American Journal of Agricultural Economics. "It examined data from the 10 states with the most agricultural employees through the Displaced Workers’ Survey, a large labor survey that is part of the Current Population Survey," says the release. The findings were similar when Hispanic and seasonal workers were removed from the data, suggesting unemployment was the key factor, not seasonality or legal status.

"Federal regulations require purchase of unemployment insurance if employers pay cash wages to employees of $20,000 or more in any calendar quarter or they employ 10 or more workers on at least one day in 20 different calendar weeks in the current or preceding year," the release says. States can impose additional requirements. (Read more)

Automobile, oil and outdoor-equipment lobbies wave caution flags at 15% ethanol blend

A group of automobile, petroleum and outdoor equipment industry representatives have launched a new push to delay or block a possible Environmental Protection Agency ruling for a 15 percent ethanol blend for fuel for another year. In November EPA delayed its decision until later this year, saying only two of 19 tests had been completed, but industry officials say long-term durability tests will be complete by next year and any EPA ruling before then would be premature, Jessica Leber of Environment & Energy Daily reports. "It just appears that EPA is set on finishing this waiver prematurely," Al Jessel, Chevron's senior fuel-policy adviser, told Leber, speaking on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute.

The groups are worry that a 15 percent blend would have danage engines and emission-control systems. Last week, industry officials presented inconclusive and incomplete results from tests on four of eight models to be tested, findings that Jessel said were at least cause for concern. Some also worry about a high probability of "misfueling," accidentally using 15 percent ethanol in cars made before 2001, which are supposed to use no more than 10 percent. A proposal to equip E15 pumps with larger nozzles that would only fit newer cars has not caught much traction.

Concerns over who will foot the bill also have the automobile and petroleum industries worried. "We face the customer," Kris Kiser, with the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, told Leber. "The liability will not come on them. We have a much bigger stake." He argued that the ethanol industry "should be responsible for a trust fund to pay what he predicted would be a lot of claims for failed engines, since it is unclear whether the government would step in," Leber writes. (Read more, subscription required)

Bill would give rural electrics billions for loans to customers to increase their energy efficiency

UPDATE 5/13: The fundamental framework of HR 4785 "received no opposition, although several Republicans questioned how to offset the bill's $995 million price tag" at the Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research Subcommittee,  Sara Goodman of Environment & Energy Daily reports. In addition to stand-alone bills introducing the Rural Star program in both the House and Senate, the program is also included in the broad climate bill introduced by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry and Connecticutt Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman Wednesday. (Read more)

A bill that would create a loan program for rural electric cooperatives to encourage customers to retrofit homes with energy-efficiency improvements will be the subject of a House of Representatives Agriculture subcommittee hearing Wednesday. The bill, HR 4785, was introduced by South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn and is "co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 39 members including several on the Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research Subcommittee, which is holding the hearing," Katherine Ling of Environment & Energy Daily reports.

The bill would provide $4.9 billion to the co-ops, who would "make that money available through 'micro loans' to their consumers to make energy efficiency upgrades to their homes at interest rates no higher than 3 percent," Ling writes. The bill's summary places the total cost to the government at $995 million: "$755 million for the budget authority provided through the Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service, $3 million for staff and training and $200 million for a grant fund to cover up-front administrative costs, as the loans are not disbursed until after the work is completed," Ling writes. Loans would stay with the property if the original owner moved, meaning they must be used toward renovations to the structure of the home and not movable components like appliances. (Read more, subscription required)

EPA coal-ash proposal was weakened in response to concerns of coal and electric industries

The Environmental Protection Agency backed off its initial decision to designate coal ash as a hazardous waste after the White House Office of Management and Budget's review of the original proposal. The proposal was changed "to give equal standing to an alternative favored by the coal industry and coal-burning electric utilities," Patrick Reis of Greenwire reports for The New York Times. You can read our post from last week about the proposal, which opens two different options for public comment. The first option "would set binding federal disposal requirements for the ash, and the second would label the ash nonhazardous and leave enforcement to the states," Reis writes.

In its original proposal EPA said leaving coal ash classified as nonhazardous "would not be protective of human health and the environment," but the agency says Administrator Lisa Jackson changed her mind during the six months the proposal was being considered by OMB, Reis reports. "After extensive discussions, the administrator decided that both the options merited consideration for addressing the formidable challenge of safely managing coal ash disposal," EPA said in a statement.

"In its deliberations on the rule, OMB had more than 40 meetings with stakeholders, 30 with industry groups and at least 12 with environmental and public health groups, according to office's records," Reis writes. "OMB declined to comment on the matter, referring questions to EPA." Opponents of the nonhazardous option said OMB bullied EPA into the two-way approach. "OMB is substituting its judgment for the judgment of the EPA administrator, and that's not the way this is supposed to work," Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform and a professor at the University of Maryland Law School, told Reis. "Lisa Jackson is accountable for environmental protection and that she could be overruled by a bunch of economists in the basement of the executive office tells us that this process is frighteningly dysfunctional." (Read more)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Twice-monthly paper, university journalism program share public-service award in Alaska

The Skagway News, a twice-monthly paper in southeast Alaska, and the journalism program at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks shared the top prize last night at the annual awards banquet of the Alaska Press Club in Anchorage. For a PDF list of all winners, go here.

The Skagway paper won for its stories on the billing practices of a company that operates air ambulance service for the town, which had 862 people at the 2000 census and is three hours by road from Whitehorse, Yukon, and six hours by ferry from the state capital of Juneau. "The newspaper showed how local residents were being double-billed for medevac flights and that the cost of such flights had quadrupled in a year," the judges said. The stories helped prompt an inquiry by Alaska's congressman, changes in practices by the company and an official effort to get local residents to take insurance that covers the flights. "The paper went beyond just pointing out the problems: Its stories discussed possible solutions and helped frame a public policy debate about the best and most-affordable way to ensure that all residents and visitors to Skagway would have access to medevac insurance." Here's the first story, the next story and the latest story. The UAF program shared the award for embedding three students and a professor with American military units in Iraq for a month. Here is a report on the multimedia project, which the judges called "creative and corageous."

The contest for newspapers is mostly divided between small and large markets. Multiple winners in the small-market category included the Nome Nugget for best sustained coverage, environmental reporting and breaking news; and the Homer Tribune for best series, political reporting and education reporting. The Tribune was named best weekly newspaper; its competitor, the Homer News, placed second. Jenny Neyman of the Redoubt Reporter of Soldotna, also on the Kenai Peninsula, won for best use of story and photo, and she picked up many second- and third-place awards. So did Alex DeMarban of Tundra Drums and Alaska Newspapers Inc., who won for best news story.

Much of the good rural journalism in Alaska is on radio, thanks to the state’s large network of public stations. Radio winners included Ed Ronco of Sitka’s KCAW for comprehensive reporting, Rosemarie Alexander of Juneau’s KTOO for government or political reporting (on the ethics case against former Gov. Sarah Palin), Mike Mason of Dillingham’s KDLG for environmental reporting (a story on the proposed Pebble Mine), Jay Barrett of Kodiak’s KMXT for public-affairs program (the Alaska Fisheries Report), Jenny Canfield of KNBA in Anchorage for documentary (Native Perspectives on Statehood, after 50 years) and Alaska Public Radio Network Washington Correspondent Libby Casey for best crime or courts reporting (a story on Supreme Court arguments). Casey is “a Nina Totenberg in the making,” said judge Cathy Duchamp of Washington, D.C.

Canfield is now editor of the Tundra Telegraph, an online, citizen-journalism site that is part of Alaska Dispatch, an online news site that has attracted refugees from the state’s shrinking mainstream media and major investment by Publisher Alice Rogoff. The top award for editorial writing, open to all media just as the public-service award is, went to Craig Medred of the Dispatch.