Friday, June 10, 2016

Egg industry agrees to stop grinding up male chicks as soon as an alternative is commercially feasible

Washington Post photo by Juana Arias
"It’s a disturbing practice most Americans probably know nothing about: On the day they’re born, all the fluffy male chicks born to egg-laying hens at hatcheries are gruesomely killed — usually by being run, while conscious, through what is essentially a blender. That’s because they’re useless to the industry. They can’t grow up to lay eggs, and they weren’t bred to be the fast-growing chickens sold as meat. But that’s going to change," Karin Brulliard reports for The Washington Post.

"In what counts as huge news in the animal welfare world, United Egg Producers — the industry group that represents hatcheries that produce 95 percent of all eggs produced in the United States — announced Thursday that it would end this “culling” of millions of chicks by 2020, or as soon as it’s 'economically feasible' and an alternative is 'commercially available,' according to the Humane League, which negotiated the agreement."

The leading alternative to grinding, gassing or suffocation is a technology that determines the sex of a fertilized egg. Another possibility is a gimmick that would turn male-chick eggs a different color. (Read more)

'How do you say goodbye to someone who has been a legend in your midst?' newspaper asks

All Mary D. Ferguson ever wanted to be was a newspaper reporter, even before she started school. "It was a bold statement for a Kentucky farm girl during the Depression. Apparently no one bothered to tell her women didn’t do that kind of work then, or if they did, she ignored them and pushed ahead," the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville said in an editorial saluting the newspaper's longest-tenured employee, who died this week at 82.

"How do you say goodbye to someone who has been a legend in your midst? How do you ever do justice to their influence and good works?" the newspaper asked. "It’s going to be difficult. In many ways, Ferguson was the heart and soul of the New Era. Hundreds of journalists passed through our newsroom in the 54 years that she worked here. She influenced all of us. She made us better. She challenged us, made us laugh and made us think."

Ferguson's specialties were knowing the obscure facts and personal connections that a community newsroom needs to have at hand, feature stories with telling details, and,finally, obituaries that gave the proper sendoff. This, we hope, is part of hers. There have been, and still are, thousands of women like Mary D. Ferguson in community newspapers, and the work they do often goes unsung. So this sendoff of for them, too. May all of them get their own when it's time.

Want to own a weekly newspaper? Write the best essay and this one in Vermont will be yours

Ross Connelly
Essay contests have been used to sell property, such as inns. Now, a rural Vermont newspaper owner is offering up The Hardwick Gazette to an the best 400-word essay "about the entrant’s skills and vision for owning a paid weekly newspaper in the new millennium." Editor and Publisher Ross Connelly, who turns 71 Saturday, has spent 30 years selling ads, paying bills, assigning articles, editing them, laying out the paper and emptying the trash, and says he can't keep up with the 60-hour weeks needed to run the 2,200-circulation paper, Christopher Mele reports for The New York Times.

"His wife, with whom he bought the paper and who served as co-publisher, died after a prolonged fight with cancer in 2011," Mele writes. "Their only child, a son, pursued a career in wildlife conservation," and Connelly couldn't find a buyer for the paper, which grossed $240,000 last year and has no liens or mortgage.

"The Gazette serves in delivering news and information to Hardwick, which is about 60 miles east of Burlington, Vt., and nine other towns in northeastern Vermont that are mostly rural and agricultural, with pockets of poverty," Mele reports. It has no online edition, "two full-time employees, including Connelly, three part-time workers and a corps of correspondents. . . . The contest winner would get the newspaper’s building (a second story that once housed an apartment where Connelly and his wife lived is now office space), its furniture and fixtures and all the materials needed to run the business." The entry fee is $175. Connelly said he is looking for at least 700 submissions, which would meant a potential net of $122,500, about half the annual gross revenue. Many small, rural weeklies sell for the annual gross or slightly more.

"If the essay contest is successful, it could become a model that other aging newspaper owners might emulate, Chad Stebbins, executive director of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, said in an email," Mele reports, quoting him: “The back roads of America are full of newspaper publishers well into their late 60s and early 70s. Often, they stay on the job with little hope of finding a suitable replacement.” Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, says "Many metropolitan journalists who have dreamed of owning a rural weekly have lost their journalism jobs or seen them change in ways that could make them at least write an essay about a new career."

CDC report contradicts 2012 EPA report on safety of contaminated rural Pa. drinking water

A recently released federal report contradicts the Environmental Protection Agency's 2012 report that said water wells in Dimock, Pa., were not contaminated by the oil and gas industry's use of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, Abraham Lustgarten reports for ProPublica. EPA in 2012 "declared that the water coming out of Dimock’s taps did not require emergency action, such as a federal cleanup. The agency’s stance was widely interpreted to mean the water was safe."

A report released last month by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "warns that a list of contaminants EPA had previously identified were indeed dangerous for people to consume," Lustgarten writes. "The report found that the wells of 27 Dimock homes contain, to varying degrees, high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic, and copper sufficient to pose a health risk. It also warned of a mysterious compound called 4-chlorophenyl phenyl ether, a substance for which the agency could not even evaluate the risk, and noted that in earlier water samples non-natural pollutants including acetone, toluene and chloroform were detected. Those contaminants are known to be dangerous, but they registered at such low concentrations that their health effects could not easily be evaluated. The water in 17 homes also contained enough flammable gas so as to risk an explosion."

Dimrock was featured in the 2010 documentary Gasland that "showed local residents lighting their tap water on fire because of the high amount of methane it contained. In March, the last plaintiffs in the case against Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. were awarded $4.24 million. The other families settled in 2012," Lustgarten notes. The methane could have been naturally occurring, but residents said the circumstances indicated otherwise.

"EPA had asked the ATSDR to help evaluate the health risks of its water samples back in 2011," Lustgarten writes. "At the time, ATSDR warned people not to drink their water, and promised a more complete evaluation." When asked how the agencies could come to different conclusions, "a spokesperson for EPA offered a seemingly cryptic explanation: EPA was testing whether the contaminants were 'hazardous,' while ATSDR was considering whether they were safe to drink. In a statement EPA sent to ProPublica, it described ATSDR report as 'useful information' for Dimock residents. The spokesperson promised that the agency would 'consider the findings.'”

Flexibility, spousal support, work/life boundaries are keys to female doctors' success in rural areas

Flexible schedules, supportive partners and boundaries between work life and personal life are keys for female doctors to be successful in rural areas, says a study conducted by women doctors from six institutions published in Annals of Family Medicine. The authors interviewed 25 female family physicians from 13 states—Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas,  Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont—who "varied considerably with respect to ages and life stages, but not race and ethnicity, and none described having female partners."

Flexibility was one of the main issues. Many participants said their work weeks varied, based on needs of patients, and many said they were understaffed—leading to lack of vacations. "Participants described an acceptance of this unpredictability, however, and a willingness to adapt to their changing circumstances,' the study reports. "They varied the time they gave to family and recreation based on professional demands. Supportive partners with flexible schedules often facilitated this acceptance."

"Many participants described the support of their life partners as essential for career success," the study reports. "Respondents often acknowledged that their partners had made sacrifices in order to live in rural areas. They emphasized that without those sacrifices, their chosen professions would not be possible. Some spouses had left more desirable employment to allow their partners to pursue rural practice. Respondents often described an understanding that their own careers took priority over those of their male partners. Many partners were self-employed or worked part-time Some had professional careers but worked remotely with urban colleagues. Other partners came from rural communities, had rural occupations (such as farming), and strongly desired rural life. The few participants whose partners would not, or could not, support the demands of their work planned to leave their positions in the near future."

Participants said one problem in rural communities is being approached by patients in public, or phoned at home by patients. While most participants said they set clear boundaries between work and personal time, "when conflicts arose between patient care and family needs, however, participants experienced distress. Although they acknowledged the importance of caring for themselves and their families, they felt guilty when they were not available for patients." One participant who was contemplating leaving her practice, said, “I just am not sure I can continue to deal with … situations where it’s on me to either make a decision about my child or my childcare or shutting down a clinic for a whole day and having patients be out of luck.”

Rural health coverage expands 8% under ACA; 2/3 of rural uninsured in states not expanding Medicaid

Health coverage expanded by 8 percent in rural areas from 2013 to 2015, reflecting many state's expansion of Medciaid in 2014 under federal health reform, says a report released today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. At the same time "the share of rural Americans unable to afford needed care dropped by almost 6 percentage points." Nineteen states, which have nearly two-thirds of the rural uninsured, have not expanded Medicaid. (HHS graphic)
"Despite being disproportionately likely to live in states that have not expanded Medicaid, rural Americans have seen coverage gains under the Affordable Care Act on par with residents of cities because they have benefited from the Health Insurance Marketplace and tax credits that keep coverage affordable, from other coverage reforms such as the elimination of exclusions based on pre-existing conditions," says HHS. In states using the HealthCare.gov marketplace or exchange, 1.7 million rural Americans bought coverage through the marketplace for 2016, an 11 percent increase from 2015.

"For the almost nine in 10 rural consumers who are eligible for premium tax credits, the average premium increased only 4 percent, or $5 per month, between 2015 and 2016, despite headlines suggesting double-digit increases," says HHS. "Among rural individuals, the share without access to a personal physician dropped 3.4 percentage points, and the share unable to afford needed care dropped 5.9 percentage points." (Read more)

Family's 'Minions' tribute on silo to late farmer has put a rural Indiana town on the map

A rural Indiana silo last month was painted to resemble a minion from the popular Minions and Despicable Me movies in honor of a family member who lost his battle with cancer, Katie Metter reports for The Washington Post. The minion now stands watch over the corn and bean fields of the Stark family in Ossian, a town of 3,300 in the northeastern part of the state. (Journal Gazette photo by Rachel Von)

Last fall Jim Stark suggested to his wife Kathy that they paint the silo like a minion, Metter writes. "The colors would be jarring against the earthy tones of backcountry Indiana, but the silo—squatty and domed—was just the right size. But the couple never acted. Winter was approaching. The paint job could wait. Two months later, Jim died. He was 73. It wasn’t until months later, after the first round of holidays without him had come and gone, that Kathy started entertaining her husband’s wacky idea. What if they painted the silo like a minion?"

"It wasn’t long before the gawkers started coming, curious neighbors and shocked commuters who’d heard from a friend who’d heard from a friend that a minion had invaded Wells County, Ind.," Metter writes. "Like the pull-offs for bear watching at Yellowstone National Park, Kathy’s country road became a parking lot of people stopping for a glimpse of the farm house attraction. The nursing home down the road brought a bus full of folks to check out the minion. The TV stations rolled up. Then the newspaper reporters. Selfies were taken. Tractors couldn’t pass. Jim’s silo had put Ossian on the map. It had become, in Kathy’s words, a 'tourist' destination." Kathy told Metter, “I’m out here in the middle of nowhere causing traffic jams because of a minion. There’s no way we could have dreamt this was going to be this big.”

Independent providers, health-care homes could be answers to rural hospital closures, writer says

Independent providers and health-care homes could be the answer to rural hospital closures, writes H.E. James for the Daily Yonder. Independent providers have worked in James' home state of Idaho, where some counties don't have enough residents to support a hospital, while Minnesota has developed a model for health-care homes.

In independent provider clinics "primary care is given by physician assistants (PA) and even family nurse practitioners (FNP)," James writes. "PAs work under the supervision of a physician, but depending on the state issuing the license, an FNP may be free to run a practice fully independently. An increasing reliance on independent providers could actually improve care, and not because clinics can afford to hire more of them than doctors. Independent providers like PAs, FNPs, and LPNs more than likely have as much education as their medical-doctor counterparts. They are licensed to prescribe medicine and conduct certain clinical procedures." (Maryville University graphic)
"Of course, this model does not preclude medical doctors," she writes. "In Idaho, many of the rural clinics are staffed by an MD and a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner, with the physician’s assistant or nurse taking the primary role. It is a combination of these providers that will best serve a rural community. A permanent clinic need not even be in place. Like itinerant judges and preachers of old, some providers can establish weekly visits at community centers, schools, or clinics that were once shuttered but now open whenever care is needed."

The Minnesota Department of Health wrote a report in 2009 that attempted to provide a model for reforming rural health care by advocating the concept of health-care homes, James writes. "The health-care home isn’t a home in a traditional sense of the word. It’s a network of providers, from primary to specialty, on whom a community can call at any time to provide the necessary care. They are a great model for communities where patients with special needs, such as youngsters with a specific condition, live. Some health-care homes are simply networks. Others operate out of clinics." (Read more)

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Program helps rural communities band together to better market towns on their official websites

A lack of information on a rural communities' websites could be keeping people from moving to those areas, Ariana Brocious reports for NET News, a service of Nebraska's PBS and NPR stations. Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension specialist, studied 11 rural Nebraska Panhandle communities to see what draws people to—and keeps them in—rural communities. She told Brocious, "When they would go to actually use the website as sort of a filter of where they might relocate, a lot of new residents couldn't find the information they needed."

The study led to the formation of an extension program called "Marketing Hometown America," tested in 2014 by seven communities in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, Brocious writes. "The extension program trains local residents to lead small discussions among community members, talking about what strengths their community has and how they could better highlight those. After several discussions, the various small groups share their findings with one another and decide on ways they can act."

The pilot community, Neligh, population 1,500, created a series of videos for the town's website showcasing what it has to offer, Brocious writes. Neligh Economic Development Director Greg Ptacek told Brocious, "It wasn't just the same 10 people that show up to every town hall meeting. It was 60 people who might not have normally given their input in a town hall meeting that actually allowed us to change some of the perceptions around Neligh. Our brand had been previously just the drive-in and just the Neligh Mill. And what came out of this Marketing Hometown America, and what we found incredibly valuable, is that Neligh is a lot more."

Clinton, who has struggled in many rural areas, wins rural vote in New Mexico, South Dakota

Hillary Clinton has mostly been relying on urban votes to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has been taking rural areas. (Republican nominee Donald Trump has also run well in rural areas.) On Tuesday rural voters in New Mexico and South Dakota flipped the script, helping push Clinton to victories in both states. In New Mexico Clinton won the rural vote, 53.2 percent to 46.8 percent, and in South Dakota she beat Sanders in rural areas, 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent, Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder. (Yonder graphics)
Sanders won the rural vote in California, 51.7 percent to 46.3 percent, and in Montana, 50.3 percent to 44.5 percent, Bishop writes. In New Mexico, where voter turnout was up 44 percent from 2008, "rural voters constituted 30 percent of the Democratic electorate. Clinton won just over half the South Dakota vote in urban and rural counties," but voter turnout was down, with the Democrat vote in South Dakota amounting to just over half of the 2008 turnout. (Read more)

Retired coal miner with black lung disease fights for safety in the mines as a miners' representative

Few coal miners are designated miners' representatives, a status that allows them to accompany "federal officials when they inspect the mine’s safety, pointing out hazards that need to be fixed," Dave Jamieson reports for The Huffington Post. Created by Congress in 1977 after 26 miners were killed in Kentucky, the mine safety law "empowers miners by giving them a role in the enforcement of the law. After all, no one knows a mine better than a miner who works there. It takes only two miners to designate someone a miners’ rep through the Mine Safety and Health Administration. And yet very few miners actually take on the duty. ... A diligent miners’ rep can get his own mine fined and even shut down, all in the name of protecting his colleagues from disaster. Many coal companies shun miners’ reps."

"Celeste Monforton, a workplace safety expert and former MSHA employee who’s investigated mining disasters, said only a 'very small fraction' of non-union mines have representatives who walk with inspectors," Jamieson writes. Monforton told him, “It’s such a unique protection. It’s really unfortunate that more miners don’t understand what it is and how they can really take advantage of it.”

Michael 'Flip' Wilson
One person taking advantage of the opportunity is retired Kentucky coal miner Michael "Flip" Wilson, who after working for Armstrong Coal's Parkway Mine in Western Kentucky for 40 years now suffers from black lung disease, Jamieson writes. "With unions no longer a presence in Kentucky coal country—the last union mine there shut down last year—Wilson is demonstrating how miners can wield the law themselves to make their mines safer, so long as they’re willing to confront the company."  (Armstrong map: its Kentucky mines; click on image for larger version)

"Wilson has been driving the 70 miles round trip to and from Parkway up to four times a week since he stopped working at the mine," Jamieson writes. "He often waits for federal inspectors to arrive so he can accompany them on their rounds. Motivated by his own experience with black lung, Wilson continues to point out dangers, which often results in fines for his former employer."

"For most of his four-decade career, Wilson wasn’t even aware of mine-safety laws, let alone helping to enforce them," Jamieson writes. "Wherever he worked, he tended to skirt safety precautions for the sake of production, just like many of his co-workers and supervisors did. He obeyed the unspoken rule of every mine he worked in: The coal must flow, or you must go. But over time, he came to know many workers who were hurt or killed on the job. And eventually, he had a hard time breathing. He had a chest X-ray done and found out he’d developed black lung disease due to years of exposure to high levels of coal dust."

Wilson, who said typically two to three violations are found during each of his Armstrong tours—Parkway has 400 violations since June 2015—told Jamieson, “I’ve seen enough people hurt in the mines in my time, especially the young boys. Matter of fact, I’ve packed some of ‘em out. I just want to make sure that the mine is running safe and that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I’m thinking about the men and the safety of everybody up there. I don’t wanna see nobody hurt, but I know how the company is operating.”

Rural Oregon residents thankful oil-train derailment in Columbia River Gorge wasn't a bigger disaster

Michelle Nijhuis, a writer for The New Yorker, lives in the Columbia River Gorge, on the border of Washington and Oregon, where a crude oil train derailed on Friday. She details her first-hand experience during the Union Pacific disaster—the company blames it on a track failure—that knocked 16 cars off the tracks, forcing the town of Mosier, Oregon, to be evacuated and 23 miles of interstate to be closed. (Best Places map)

"I looked up from my computer to see a plume of brown smoke outside my window," she writes. "Here smoke usually means wildfire. But this smoke was different: darker, heavier, and closer than any I’d seen. The smoke thickened into an opaque black funnel. The air smelled like a tire shop."

"The interstate remained closed until late Friday night, and the flames weren’t fully extinguished until two o’clock in the morning," Nijhuis writes. "At noon on Saturday, under an unseasonably hot sun, about a hundred people gathered in the nearby resort town of Hood River to protest the continued shipping of oil by rail through the gorge. The derailment happened on an unusually calm afternoon; the gorge is famous for its wind, and even a normal breeze could have blown the fire into town."

"Gorge residents have worried about a derailment for years, and recent disasters elsewhere on the continent have done nothing to reassure them," Nijhuis writes. "On Monday afternoon, seventy-two hours after the derailment, the town of Mosier was still clogged with industrial traffic, and its population was 50 percent larger than usual: some 200 workers from Union Pacific and a constellation of state and federal agencies were at work on various aspects of the cleanup, including assessing the size of a small spill of oil into the river." (KGW 8 photo)

"They had finished removing 10,000 gallons of oil from the town’s wastewater-treatment system, and were in the process of pumping oil from the 12 unburned rail cars, which lay in a crooked line next to the tracks," she writes. "White tents scattered across the school grounds were filled with emergency workers, not students; the school year, which was scheduled to end this week, had come to an abrupt and premature close. Most residents have now returned to their homes, but life won’t be back to normal for weeks. On Sunday evening, as Mosier residents emerged from their meeting, trains once again started rolling through town." (Read more)

The derailment was a close call, reports Rob Davis of The Oregonian: "800 feet in either direction, and Friday's oil train derailment ... might've sent flaming tank cars into a lake in a National Scenic Area. A half-mile east, and the inferno would've burned a few feet beneath a block of modular homes. Another mile-and-a-half, and leaking tank cars would've landed on the bank of the Columbia River during peak spring chinook salmon migration.

JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, at lectern
UPDATE, June 10: "Leaders of several Pacific Northwest tribes gathered Thursday near the site of last week’s fiery oil train wreck in Oregon to condemn the shipping of fossil fuels through the Columbia River Gorge, a scenic homeland and sacred fishing ground for the Yakama Nation and others over the millennia," Gillian Flaccus of The Associated Press reports. (Flaccus photo)

Watchdog with ties to natural gas industry says EPA is monitoring methane with faulty equipment

A North Carolina watchdog group whose reports are mostly funded by the natural-gas industry says "the Environmental Protection Agency is letting untold levels of methane to waft into the air by allowing oil and gas companies to monitor emissions with a pricey device that’s faulty," Darryl Fears reports for The Washington Post. The group, NC Warn, "says in the complaint filed with the EPA Office of the Inspector General that the agency knows the $20,000, backpack-sized Bacharach Hi-Flow Sampler doesn’t work well because the man who invented the technology that inspired it told them that several times."

"The inventor, Touché Howard, also took his concerns to David Allen, the University of Texas researcher who used the device for a study of methane emissions for the Environmental Defense Fund," Fears writes. "In spite of Howard’s objections, the study found that methane emissions were lower than EPA estimated at completed wells and higher around valves and equipment used to control routine operations at sites. For that, NC Warn accused Allen of fraud."

Allen told Fears, "The instrument was used for only a subset of the measurements that were made.” He said "there are other ways to measure methane, and that the readings of the Bacharach device were double-checked," telling Fears, “All of these systems would have had to fail, simultaneously, and only at certain types of sites with the conditions that are claimed to produce the equipment failure, for our measurements to have been impacted.”

The watchdog group, which casually mentioned in its complaint that 90 percent of the $18 million that was paid for several EDF reports came from the gas industry, said the large majority of the reports had nothing to do with methane, Fears writes. "Howard’s views have weight because he designed the technology used in the monitoring device in the early 1990s. He sold it when he retired in 2003 and eventually Bacharach Inc. bought and modified it. During a test of methane emissions in 2013, Howard noticed that a sensor in the device failed to properly detect methane when other hydrocarbons were present. A cross check confirmed the failure, he said."

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

What are the rural policies of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton?

Now that Hillary Clinton has become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, and remains the favorite to beat Republican Donald Trump, the question looms how her policies might affect rural America, where she did not run as well as in urban areas. Clinton, who states on her website that she has a "Plan for a Vibrant Rural America," said that "if elected president her administration would work to increase productivity and profitability on family farms," Chris Clayton reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. "Demonstrating the contrast between the respective presumptive nominees, Clinton's website lists 31 different topics with policy proposals while Donald Trump's website lists seven topics with policy proposals or plans."

"Clinton's environmental proposals likely would not bring any regulatory relief to the next administration that many farmers have clamored for under the Obama administration," Clayton writes. "Instead, her policy positions on the environment could continue to lead to greater regulatory battles when it comes to issues such as pesticides and water quality. High in Clinton's policy position to 'Fight for Environmental and Climate Justice' on her website is mention of concerns over exposure to pesticides and other chemicals affecting minority communities, which her campaign states, 'Simply put, this is environmental racism.'"

"Clinton's campaign calls for tougher Clean Water Act standards and a push to hold companies accountable," Clayton writes. "Her environmental plan doesn’t touch on topics related to the Waters of the U.S. rule. In a list of programs and promises on her website, Clinton's campaign states it would continue to provide commodity payments, crop insurance and disaster programs for 'family farm operations that truly need them in challenging times, like when weather-related disasters devastate whole areas of the country.'"

Clinton has said she supports strengthening the Renewable Fuels Standard "so it focuses on advanced cellulosic fuels and higher ethanol blends," Clayton writes. She also says she supports the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, "which is set at about $20 million annually," and she supports "doubling funds for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program, both of which are funded at about $13 million currently."

She favors greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables for SNAP recipients, fully funding the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and more funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Clayton writes. "Clinton also adds she would support agriculture by continuing to push for comprehensive immigration reform. In infrastructure, Clinton states she would create a national infrastructure bank to improve rural transportation, water and broadband access. In a similar vein, Clinton's policy states her administration would streamline and expand USDA grant programs well. Clinton also states she would simplify regulations for community banks by reducing red tape for banks under $1 billion in assets."

Corps and Washington state deny permits for what would have been nation's largest coal port

The largest proposed coal export terminal in North America hit another snag on Monday, when an application for an aquatic land lease at the Cherry Point site north of Bellingham, Wash., was denied, Joel Connelly reports for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Last month the Army Corps of Engineers agreed with the Lummi Nation of Narive Americans that it could not grant a permit for a project that would infringe on the tribe’s treaty-protected fishing rights. The $700 million coal terminal was designed to export as much as 48 million tons of coal a year. There is still a battle brewing over one remaining coal export project, the Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview, Wash.

"Because the Corps denied a permit, and the project must have 'all necessary federal permits,' the state Department of Natural Resources 'cannot approve the lease application,' State Land Commissioner Peter Goldmark wrote to project developers," Connelly writes. "The hard-pressed coal industry was anxious to export coal mined in Montana and Wyoming. The promise of jobs secured labor and business support. " But public opposition grew about over concern about mile-long coal trains. "Environmental activists grow concerned over climate impacts, that U.S. coal would keep polluting Chinese power plants in operation. China is the world's largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions." (Read more)

CDC study: Youth obesity rates up overall, but have declined among younger children in recent years

Obesity rates among children—a major concern in rural areas—continue to rise, although rates among younger children have declined in recent years, says a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study, which used data of 40,780 children from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found that among those ages 2 to 5, obese children increased from 7.2 percent from 1988-1994 to 9.4 percent in 2013-14. But that came after rates hit 13.9 percent in 2003-04. (CDC graphic)

Results for older youth were not as positive. Among those 6-11, obesity increased from 11.3 percent in 1988-94 to 17.4 percent in 2013-14. Among those 12-19, rates increased from 10.5 percent to 20.6 percent. Overall, researchers found that the prevalence of obesity in 2011-2014 was 17 percent and extreme obesity was 5.8 percent.

Researchers found that "compared to white children, the odds of obesity were 34 percent higher for black children and 48 percent higher for Latino children," Karen Kaplan reports for the Los Angeles Times. "Asian American children were 43 percent less likely than whites to be obese. Parents’ education also seems to play a role. Compared to kids living in homes headed by someone who attended or graduated from college, those whose parent or guardian had dropped out of high school were 41 percent more likely to be obese, and those whose parent or guardian had only a high school degree were 61 percent more likely to be obese."

Iowa State University students learning about sustainability by running an organic farm

Iowa State University students—many of whom are studying food or plant-related subjects—are getting a feel for how agriculture works through a student-run organic farm, Amy Mayer reports for NPR. Mary Wiedenhoeft, who serves as an academic adviser on the farm, told Mayer, "It's hands-on learning. And so that's why the student organic farm is really unique." (Mayer photo)

The farm was started in the late 1990s in response to a class about sustainable agriculture, Mayer writes. "As the farm grew, so did academic interest in sustainability. Now the university offers a graduate degree in sustainable agriculture. At a university where large-scale production of corn and soybeans are the primary interests for many students on campus, it's especially remarkable that the organic farm is wholly embraced, Wiedenhoeft says. For some agronomy students who plan to return to a family farm, a vegetable operation could be a new enterprise they bring back, she says."

This season "students will grow about 40 different fruits, vegetables and herbs," Mayer writes. "And they'll help cultivate interest in organic farming among the fresh batch of Iowa State students who sprout up in this fall." Students, who send out boxes of produce to the local community throughout the growing season, are learning how to grow food, manage a business and recruit others to get involved. They also get a discount on food for working three hours a week in the field.

The farm has been eye-opening for students like Heidi Engelhardt, a culinary science major who serves as the farm's outreach coordinator. Engelhardt, who said she has learned how to incorporate fresh herbs into her cooking. told Mayer, "People want to work in kitchens and they want to work in big cities. And that is important, but it's also important to have that farming aspect. And I think I'm very lucky to have discovered that." (Read more)

Proposed changes to dual-credit regulations would hurt rural Minnesota students, officials say

Proposed changes to dual-credit guidelines in Minnesota could negatively impact the number of rural high school students who can take college credits, Christopher Magan reports for the Duluth News Tribune. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System "wants to raise the fees schools pay to offer dual-credit courses and update how educators prove they have the skills needed to teach at the college level." Fred Nolan, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, said "the credentialing update could drastically limit the number of outstate educators who can teach dual-credit classes."

State leaders say dual-credit classes are "one way to expand college access to more students and reduce student loan debt," Magan writes. "In 2014, the majority of Minnesota college graduates had loans to repay with an average debt of $31,579. Lawmakers included funding increases for dual-credit courses in the current two-year state budget, including money to help instructors meet updated requirements."

Dual credit courses "allow students to earn high school and college credits at the same time and are increasingly popular, with nearly 25,000 high school students taking them in 2014—a 23 percent increase over five years," Magan writes. "Dual-credit classes also are seen as an important tool to increase the number of Minnesotans who have the postsecondary credentials to meet the workforce needs of the future." Malik Bush, co-director of the education advocate the Center for School Change, "said the proposed changes would disproportionately hurt first-time college students and students of color who already struggle to earn degrees." (Read more)

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Few smokers on Medicaid take advantage of smoking-cessation benefits, especially in South

Only 10 percent of adult smokers on Medicaid received tobacco cessation medications in 2013, and ferwer than 5 percent did in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas, says a study by George Washington University. The numbers were especially low in impoverished areas, especially the South, Denise-Marie Ordway reports for Journalist's Resource.

At least 40 percent of adult Medicaid patients in Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia were smokers in 2013, compared to 30 percent nationally. Medicaid spent $103 million nationwide on medication to help smokers quit in 2013. About 26 percent of adults living below the federal poverty line smoke, compared to 17 percent of overall adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers found that "the number of prescriptions for smoking cessation medications rose from almost 1.5 million in 2010 to almost 1.8 million in 2011 and then declined to less than 1.7 million in 2013," Ordway writes. "The authors note that promoting tobacco cessation should be an important policy objective for Medicaid, but medications prescribed to help people quit smoking are 'seriously underused' among Medicaid enrollees in most states." The authors wrote: "Most smokers want to quit but need help both to try and to succeed. The gains from even modest reductions in smoking or from moderate periods of abstinence can be substantial.” (GWU map: Medicaid tobacco cessation levels) 

VA program to speed up wait times for rural patients slows down process; docs not getting paid

The Veterans Choice program, which was created to speed up the process for patients seeking care, is having the opposite effect, forcing veterans—mainly from rural areas—to have even longer waits, Quil Lawrence reports for NPR. The program was intended to help veterans living 40 miles from a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic, or those waiting more than 30 days for an appointment, to receive private clinic outside the VA system. "Nearly two years in, there are more vets waiting than before," Lawrence reports. "Health-care providers are frustrated with the program, which makes it hard to keep them in the network. Without enough providers to see them, vets end up waiting anyway."

In some cases "vets get the care and the doctors don't get paid in a timely fashion, if at all," Lawrence says. North Carolina clinical psychiatrist Cher Morrow-Bradley, "has submitted her bills to a company called Health Net, which administers Veterans Choice across most of the eastern United States." She told Lawrence, "I just assumed I was being paid. I found out six months later I had five, six (thousand dollars) outstanding to Veterans Choice." Morrow-Bradley said it took her almost a year to get paid.

Dr. David Shulkin, head of the Veterans Health Administration, "acknowledges this problem has hindered the Choice program in getting providers big and small," Lawrence writes. Shulkin told Lawrence, "One thing I know is that when you perform a service, when you see a patient, you want to be paid. And these hospital systems don't have the cash flow to be waiting around for months and months to get paid."

Doctors have also had a hard time enrolling in the program, Lawrence writes. Renton, Wash., psychologist Diane Adams was asked to join the program in July 2015. She immediately starting the process of getting her credentials. By March she still hadn't heard anything back. She finally found out she'd be credentialed since January, but hadn't been notified. Now she faces a new hurdle, with some of her regular patients unable to get Veterans Choice to approve visits to see her, mostly because they have to go through hoops of phone calls, faxes and filling out forms. Adams told Lawrence, "I guess what I'm worried about is what happens to the veterans who can't handle it and they just don't have the internal resources to put up with it and so they throw up their hands and they give up." (Read more)

Trump's pledge to save coal and boost natural gas are contradictory statements, experts say

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's promise to bring back lost coal jobs and reduce regulations on hydraulic fracturing are contradictory statements, economists and industry experts told Elizabeth Shogren of High Country News. Trump "pledges to revive the coal industry, and at the same time boost the main culprit that has eviscerated coal, natural gas." While those in coal have blamed President Obama's environmental regulations for coal's downfall, experts say cheaper natural gas from horizontal hydraulic fracturing is actually the main factor.

When a reporter last week in North Dakota pressed Trump "about how he planned to bring back coal jobs, he stressed that he would do so by getting rid of regulations," Shogren writes. Trump said, “You know, all I can do is free up the coal, which I'm going to totally do. Get the companies back to work, market forces, that's something I don't want to get involved in. … To me, a market force is a beautiful force."

Economists and energy experts say "easing regulations would not be enough to reinvigorate coal, especially not if Trump removes regulatory impediments to natural gas at the same time," Shogren writes. "That’s because, so far, Obama-era regulations, such as the Mercury Air Toxics rule, have played a secondary role in coal’s precipitous downward trajectory." (High Country News graphic)
Even coal industry CEO Robert Murray—whose company Murray Energy Corp. owns mines in Utah, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and West Virginia—says he explained this to Trump in a recent meeting with the candidate," Shogren writes. Murray told Shogren, "He wants to bring the mines back and I told him that was not possible. I don't think it will be a thriving industry ever again. … The coal mines cannot come back to where they were or anywhere near it."

Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, told Shogren, “I certainly would like to hear some details on what exactly a new president might do to undo regulations that are impacting coal, let alone what he might do in the marketplace to restore employment. I don’t think anyone is satisfied that he has a plan to achieve what he promises.” (Read more)

Appalachian taxpayers could get stuck with $1B cleanup costs for bankrupt coal companies

Partially reclaimed West Virginia mine (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition photo)
Taxpayers in Appalachia could end up footing a $1 billion bill to clean up mountains and rivers polluted by bankrupt coal companies, Michael Corkery reports for The New York Times, in the latest story on the topic.

"Regulators worry that coal companies will use the bankruptcy courts to pay off their debts to banks and hedge funds, while leaving behind some of their environmental cleanup obligations. The industry asserts that its cleanup plans—which include turning defunct mines back into countryside—are comprehensive and well funded. But some officials say those plans could prove unrealistic and falter as demand for coal remains weak."

"West Virginia faces perhaps the greatest fallout from the flood of coal bankruptcies that have hit the courts in the last year because many of its mines are scheduled to close and will require extensive cleanup," Corkery writes. The state hired a New York bankruptcy lawyer to represent its Department of Environmental Protection in a case with Alpha Natural Resources. Kevin W. Barrett, who was named a special assistant attorney general for West Virginia and is taking the lead on the Alpha case, told Corkery, “The goal is to make sure the coal companies clean up the mess when they leave."

Alpha, which insists it will make good on all its environmental obligations, has a plan on the table that "would commit at least $209 million for reclamations and water treatment in five states: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia," Corkery writes. Barrett said he "worries that the cash is insufficient and that any additional contributions depend on future coal sales, which show little sign of recovery." Barrett told Corkery, “There are a lot of questions whether that will even cover the costs."

Several coal companies have emerged from bankruptcy in recent months and continued to operate, but "state officials have expressed concerns that those companies could soon end up back in bankruptcy if the coal market does not improve," Corkery writes. "If that happens, they say, the companies will probably have to liquidate, leaving little money to fund reclamations and clean up polluted water. That concern is behind the urgent pleadings of environmentalists and even insurers that the coal companies be required to set aside more cash for environmental issues before they are allowed to emerge from bankruptcy." (Read more)

Drone sightings down, proving that operators being more responsible, says aviation group

One of the biggest concerns facing the Federal Aviation Administration in creating drone regulations has been a fear of the skies turning into a new Wild West, with out-of-control drone operators ignoring laws. That might not be as big a concern as previously thought. According to a report by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, drone operators have been acting more responsibly in recent months, Matt McFarland reports for The Washington Post.

While drone sales have surged—450,000 units were sold in 2014, 1.14 million in 2015 and 2.8 million sales are projected in 2016—drone sightings by airplane pilots have declined, McFarland writes. After peaking in August 2015, with about 180 sightings, numbers have been steadily dropping, down to about 90 in January of this year. Rich Hanson, AMA’s government and regulatory affairs representative, told McFarland, “It looks like we’re getting the message out there. We’re pretty confident that education is one of primary factors if not the primary factor. We don’t want to minimize the risk by saying it doesn’t exist. The risk does exist. In our experience we don’t believe the risk is truly as significant as it’s been made to be.” (AMA graphic)

European Union threatens to stop selling U.S. weed killers; fear safety of Roundup, other products

European Union nations on Monday refused to back a limited extension of the herbicide glyphosate, "threatening withdrawal of Monsanto's Roundup and other weed-killers from shelves if no decision is reached by the end of the month," Alissa de Carbonnel reports for Reuters. "Contradictory findings on carcinogenic risks have thrust the chemical into the center of a dispute among EU and U.S. politicians, regulators and researchers. Citizen and environmental groups have urged governments to exercise caution." (Reuters photo by Charles Platiau)

"EU executive had offered a 12- to 18-month extension to allow time for further scientific study by the European Chemicals Agency in hopes of allaying health concerns," de Carbonnel writes. "Its earlier proposal to renew the glyphosate license for up to 15 years had failed to win support in two meetings this year."

On Monday Monsanto "defended the safety of its widely used herbicide, and said glyphosate's license should be renewed for the full 15 years" de Carbonnel writes. "Monsanto has not ruled out a legal appeal if approval lapses after June 30, requiring a six-month phase-out of glyphosate-containing products. The industry lobby has criticized the regulatory uncertainty. The controversy hangs over German chemicals group Bayer's $62 billion offer in May to buy" Monsanto. (Read more)

Monday, June 06, 2016

EPA report says widely used herbicide atrazine is dangerous to animals; ag groups call report flawed

The widely used herbicide atrazine is dangerous to animals and fish, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a draft report released Thursday. Atrazine is primarily used on corn, sorghum and sugarcane to fight weeds and increase yields in the Midwest. "The agency's assessment of atrazine could lead to tighter regulatory limits on the product, manufactured by Swiss-based Syngenta AG. That could ultimately prevent farmers from being able to use it to control weeds, according to agricultural groups that blasted the report as flawed," Tom Polansek reports for Reuters.

EPA "said atrazine's effects exceeded its 'levels of concern' for chronic risk by 198 times for mammals and 62 times for fish," Polansek writes. "The agency will accept comments on the preliminary findings and consider whether to require label changes after it publishes a final risk assessment. EPA republished the findings after it said it inadvertently posted the same report, along with other related documents, online this spring in an error that has sparked criticism from U.S. lawmakers."

"Syngenta, which is set to be acquired by Chinese state-owned ChemChina, said atrazine is safe and that the EPA report 'contains numerous data and methodological errors and needs to be corrected,'" Polansek writes. The Iowa Corn Growers Association said if the report is finalized "it could cause label restrictions so severe that they would 'effectively ban the product from most uses.'" Gary Marshall, executive director of the Missouri Corn Growers Association, told reporters, "EPA's flawed atrazine report is stomping science into the dirt and setting farmers up for significant economic hardship."

Mississippi State University starts center to help rural communities bridge digital divide

The Mississippi State University Extension Service has created a program to help nine rural communities "transition to, plan for, and prosper in the digital age through research and outreach," Robert Nathan Gregory reports for MSU. (MSU Service photo by Kevin Hudson: Christy King, Clarke County Extension agent, and Roberto Gallardo display items made with a 3-D printer at the Quitman Public Library)

“There is not a lot of research on the impact of broadband in rural areas,” Roberto Gallardo, associate extension professor in the Center for Technology Outreach, told Gregory. “You see a lot of it on cities, but there is little attention to rural settings. We are trying to generate that research by working with communities that want to participate.” 

The MSU Extension Intelligent Community Institute "identifies the unique digital challenges each community faces and provides local extension agents and other local champions with the tools necessary to address those needs over an 18- to 24-month, four-step process," Gregory writes. "The steps are increasing awareness; identifying assets and needs; implementing a strategy to address those weaknesses and leverage existing assets; and nominating themselves for consideration from ICF as one of 21 Intelligent Community yearly designations in the world."

For example, in the town of Quitman, Miss., "Gallardo worked with the town’s public library to purchase a three-dimensional printer for the facility," Gregory reports. "He said the library’s new tool addresses two indicators of Intelligent Communities: knowledge workforce and digital equality. Broadband connectivity, innovation, marketing, and sustainability are the other four indicators." Gallardo told Gregory, “If the kids there are reading a book with an emphasis on the Empire State Building, they can print a 3-D model of the building and develop a better understanding of the book. More than likely, they would not have seen that elsewhere. Exposing kids to STEM-related concepts at an early age can have a significant impact on their lives later on as they choose career paths.” (Read more)

Study: Most food and beverage products endorsed by popular musicians lead to childhood obesity

Most food and beverages pitched by your children's favorite musicians are contributing to childhood obesity, says a study by NYU Langone Medical Center published today in the journal Pediatrics. "Soda and other sugary drinks, fast food, and sweets are among the most common food and beverage products endorsed by famous music personalities. Equally alarming, none of the music stars identified in the study endorsed fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. Only one endorsed a natural food deemed health—pistachios."

Researchers, who identified the 163 most popular musicians, based on Billboard magazine's top songs—based on sales and radio play—Teen Choice Award winners and YouTube video views, found that 65 of those musicians promoted 57 food and beverage products from 2000 to 2014. Advertisements were played on television, radio, magazines, and included tour sponsors and official commercials and endorsements on YouTube and media sources. (Click on image for larger version)
Researchers found that 18 percent of ads were for food and non-alcoholic beverages, second only to consumer goods, at 26 percent. Of the 26 endorsed food products, 21 were deemed "nutrient poor.” Of the 69 endorsed beverages, 49 were sugar-sweetened. "Investigators determined a beverage’s healthfulness by looking at calories from added sugar. Full-calorie soft drinks were the most commonly endorsed in the category. In contrast, water-related endorsements appeared only three times."

"Food and beverage companies spend $2 billion a year on youth-targeted ads, with American children seeing approximately 4,700 ads each year and teens viewing 5,900 ads per year, according to Institute of Medicine research," says the study. "There were about 313 million views of the YouTube video versions for food and beverage endorsements associated with celebrities in this study’s sample, although unique views could not be counted. Celebrity food endorsements promote higher product preference, and exposure to any kind of food advertising is linked to 'excessive consumption,' according to research." (Read more)

Va. county says neighbor ignored it in consideration of proposed wind farm near county line

Residents in a rural Virginia county are concerned about a proposed wind farm just over the county line that they say will be a noisy eyesore that will negatively affect their economy and environment, Laurence Hammack reports for The Roanoke Times. John Higgins, chairman of the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, said in a letter to state regulators that Botetourt County proposed the 550-foot tall turbines that “essentially sits on the county line" without providing Rockbridge citizens the benefit of public notices and meetings that were made available in Botetourt. (Wind Energy in Virginia map)
"The May 31 letter was submitted as part of a public comment session required by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which is considering an application by Apex Clean Energy to build up to 25 giant turbines on top of North Mountain," Hammock writes. "After taking written comments through Monday, Apex will forward them to DEQ. The Charlottesville company has already submitted reports detailing the wind farm’s effect on natural resources to DEQ, which will have 90 days to decide whether to grant the state permit. Having won local approval from Botetourt, Apex still needs to satisfy the state’s concerns about environmental issues and the federal government’s oversight of aviation traffic before it can start construction on what could be the first commercial wind farm in Virginia."

Higgins, who said the wind farm would hurt Rockbridge County's tourism industry, said in the ltter that "constructing the turbines will entail blasting and logging that could clog surrounding streams with sediment, and their spinning blades could strike down golden eagles from the sky. Another fear is that noise from the wind farm will be not just annoying but potentially damaging to the health of nearby residents." Apex, which is expected to begin construction in 2017, "said that electricity generated by its wind farm could power up to 20,000 homes, a projection that opponents say overstates the project’s actual output." (Read more)

South's rising Latino population could steer election, though half of them are ineligible to vote

An increasing population of eligible Latino voters in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina could swing the presidential election this November, says a study by the Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies. The study found that the Latino population in those three states increased from 1.2 percent in 1990 to 8.8 percent in 2014, consisting of 2.2 million Latinos, up from 205,000 in 1990. Latinos only accounted for 3.7 percent of eligible voters in those three states in 2014, mainly because two-thirds were foreign born and half were not legal citizens. A large Latino population supported President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Latinos are expected to favor Democrat Hillary Clinton this year, especially since Republican Donald Trump has been outspoken against immigration.
"The percentage of the Latino electorate that has voted in presidential elections nationally between 1992 and 2012 was the lowest among the major race/ethnic groups in the nation at approximately 48 percent, with no change whatsoever in each presidential race," says the report. "This compared with about two-thirds of all non-Hispanic whites and blacks who voted in the same election cycles. This low voter participation rate was linked to low voter registration rates which also remained stagnant between 1992 and 2012 at about 58 percent."

Latinos' biggest influence could be in North Carolina, says the study. In 2014 in North Carolina 68 percent of eligible Latinos were registered to vote, above the national average of 58 percent. Registration numbers are projected to be 76 percent for this year's election. Latinos are projected to make up about 2.9 percent of the state's voters this fall, up from 2.1 percent in 2012. That could be a significant number, considering Republican Mitt Romney won the state by 2 percentage points in 2012. (Read more)

UMWA endorses Ohio Republican running against Democrat with ties to Hillary Clinton

The United Mine Workers of America's endorsement of an Ohio Republican over a Democrat with ties to Hillary Clinton is another example of how far the presidential candidate has fallen in the coalfields, an area where her husband performed well during his presidential runs. The UMWA "has endorsed Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman for re-election over former Gov. Ted Strickland, making southeastern Ohio even more of a battleground in the upcoming U.S. Senate election," Tom Troy reports for The Blade in Toledo. "The dispute over the future of coal-mining jobs will be a major issue in southeastern Ohio and will potentially cut into support for Strickland, who is from the area and who represented the area in Congress."

The Portman campaign was quick to point out that Strickland "has refused to denounce Clinton’s comments that, if elected, 'We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business'," Troy writes. "The Portman campaign also cited a statement by the coal industry association that Strickland has gotten behind 'radical anti-coal policies that could kill 53,000 Ohio jobs, lower access to affordable energy, and threaten grid reliability'." In March 2015, after Strickland resigned as president of the Center for American Progress, the organization "strongly endorsed the Obama administration’s plan to establish carbon-pollution standards for power plants that would likely further reduce demand for coal."

Strickland countered that as a senator Portman "cut funding for mine safety and repeal legislation expanding access to black-lung benefits for miners and their families," Troy writes. He also said Portman  "took a $1,000 donation from Don Blankenship, former chief executive officer of Massey Energy, who was convicted of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards, and $2,400 from Richard Whiting, CEO Of Patriot Coal, 'who fought to protect millions in bonuses to mining executives while cutting pensions for mine workers.'”