Friday, November 11, 2016

Appalachian coal production, overall coal jobs, at lowest levels on record, says EIA report

Coal production in the U.S. has reached its lowest level since 1986, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The region hit the hardest is Appalachia, where production is at its lowest level since 1978, the year EIA began collecting data, Jodi Delapaz reports for Agri-Pulse.

Coal production in 2015 was down 10.3 percent from 2014, Delapaz writes. In Appalachia it fell 17.3 percent, largely because of a 20.6 decline in Kentucky and a 14.8 percent decline in West Virginia. The Western Region, which accounted for 56.6 percent of total U.S. coal production in 2015, was down 6.5 percent from 2014. "The number of the nation's producing mines fell 13 percent to 853 mines, EIA says. And overall productivity capacity decreased for the fourth year in a row."

Overall employment dropped 12 percent, to 65,971 workers, the lowest on EIA record, the report found. The average number of employees at underground mines fell by 13.6 percent and at surface mines by 9.3 percent. Employment in Kentucky dropped 17 percent, a decrease of 2,840 employees, and employment in West Virginia dropped 15.5 percent, a loss of 2,013 emloyees. (EIA graphic: Average number of employees by mine type)

While Appalachian coal advocates rejoice Trump victory, experts doubt industry can be revived

Donald Trump campaigned with leaders of the
West Virginia Coal Association in May in Charleston.
(Gazette photo by Christian Tyler Randolph)
Donald Trump's promise to slash environmental regulations and revive coal has coal advocates in Appalachia celebrating his victory, Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The National Mining Association, industry group Friends of Coal and Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray, one of the most outspoken critics of President Obama's Clean Power plan, have all publicly congratulated Trump.

While the coal industry was rejoicing "economic experts remained skeptical that Trump can really bring back a significant number of mining jobs lost largely to competition with low-priced natural gas," Ward writes. James Van Nostrand, director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the West Virginia University College of Law, told Ward, “In my view, the election is not going to have much impact on the prospects for the coal industry in West Virginia going forward. Environmental regulations were not significant drivers in the decline of the industry, and scaling them back is not going to revive it.”

UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Friday, "We are going to be presenting to the president a variety of options that could end this assault. Whether that immediately brings business back, that's hard to tell because this is a private sector activity."

Ward writes, "While the industry’s 'war on coal' campaign has focused on Obama’s environmental rules, most experts have said that cheap natural gas has played a larger role. In West Virginia, the mining out of easier-to-get coal seams in the southern part of the state and competition from other coal basins in Wyoming and Illinois have helped drive the mining downturn."

Ted Boettner, executive director of the progressive West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, "said the state’s coal industry is likely to continue to decline, unless Trump or the state Legislature decide to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas or 'crack down on renewable energy,'" Ward writes. Boettner also said Trump's victory could hurt legislative efforts to increase federal aid for economic diversification, cleaning up abandoned mine sites and providing financial stability to the pension funds covering tens of thousands of union coal miners.

Presidential election highlights growing rural-urban gap among Republicans and Democrats

The rural/urban gap widened in this year's presidential election among Republican and Democratic voters, Bill Bishop and Tim Marema report for the Daily Yonder. Republican president-elect Donald Trump won 65.9 percent of rural Republican votes on Tuesday, compared to 60.4 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012. Hillary Clinton won 29.4 percent of the rural Democratic votes this year, compared to 37.7 percent for President Obama in 2012. (Yonder graphics)
In micropolitan areas, which have a city of at least 10,000 but none with more than 50,000 residents, Trump won 61.8 percent of the rural Republican vote, compared to 57.7 percent for Romney in 2012, Bishop and Marema write. Clinton won 33 percent of the votes among rural micropolitan Democrats, compared to 40.5 percent for Obama in 2012.

Misinformation about methadone making it difficult for rural opioid addicts to receive treatment

Stigma surrounding methadone is making it difficult for rural opioid addicts to kick the habit, Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. Methadone is one of three medications available to treat addiction to heroin and prescription pain pills. The other two, buprenorphine and Vivitrol, "can be prescribed by doctors. But for some patients, particularly those who have built up a high tolerance for opioids through prolonged use or high doses, methadone can be the only addiction medication that works."

Mark Parrino, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, said "350,000 patients receive daily methadone doses along with counseling and other health services from 1,460 opioid treatment centers, a number that has grown by less than 25 perceqant in the last decade," Vestal writes. "During the same time, the number of people misusing prescription opioids more than doubled, and opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999." Opioid rates have been increasing at a rapid rate in rural areas.

One problem is rampant misinformation about methadone, Vestal writes. "Many in the medical community and addiction counseling field adhere to the discredited belief that because the methadone molecule is similar to heroin its use amounts to 'trading one drug for another' or 'one addiction for another' and does not mark true recovery."

Another misconception is that methadone from addiction clinics ends up being sold on the street, leading to increased overdose deaths, Vestal writes. " According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the methadone that is killing people is the tablet form of the medication, which originates in pain clinics and is widely prescribed to low-income Medicaid patients."

The truth is that "methadone is highly regulated, requiring patients to show up at a specialized clinic every day to take their dose while a medical professional watches," Vestal writes. "Under federal rules, patients who take the medication consistently for six months and are able to stay away from drugs can be granted permission to take home a week to a month’s supply of methadone."

"For financial reasons, methadone clinic operators are also discouraged from locating in the 16 states—Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming—where Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor, does not pay for the medication and related services.  Lack of funding is also a deterrent in the 19 states that have not expanded Medicaid to the low-income adults who make up a disproportionately large segment of the opioid-addicted population." (Read more)

Trump's victory has collapsed peso, which could lead to increased immigration from Mexico

President-elect Donald Trump has pushed border security along the U.S./Mexico border as one of his top priorities. But one of his other policies could actually lead to increased immigration from Mexico, Max Ehrenfreund reports for The Washington Post. "Trump has proposed a punitive tariff of 35 percent on imports from Mexico. The fee would limit American demand for Mexican goods, causing a contraction in the Mexican manufacturing sector and reducing employment for Mexican workers. Many could come here instead."

"A tariff would affect the exchange rate in ways that could increase immigration," Ehrenfreund writes. "Investors have sold off pesos during the campaign in anticipation that a Trump administration could reduce their value by restricting trade. The price of the currency has plunged 11 percent just since Trump's election and has declined 18 percent over the past year, from 6 cents to fewer than 5 cents per peso." (Post graphic: The Mexican peso has collapsed since Trump's victory)
That decline means "that the same hourly wage in the U.S.will be worth substantially more in Mexico," Ehrenfreund writes. "Work in the U.S. has become more remunerative for people in Mexico who are considering emigrating. Also, the increase in cost of imported goods in Mexico will have some households looking for more money in order to make ends meet. Meanwhile, those who are already here have more of a reason to stay, since their wages have become that much more valuable to their families at home." (Read more)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How states voted on gun control, recreational marijuana, religion, cigarette tax, hunting, more

Supporters of recreational marijuana in Maine
(Bangor Daily News photo by Troy Bennett)
Voters in Nevada, California and Washington "voted in favor of enhanced gun control, while Maine narrowly rejected universal background checks for private gun sales despite millions of dollars spent there by national gun control advocates," Josh Sanburn reports for Time.

In Nevada, "voters approved a similar measure to expand background checks to private gun sales and transfers," Sanburn writes. "California approved a measure that outlaws possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, requires background checks for ammunition sales and allows the state to immediately remove firearms from people who have been convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor. Washington state also approved a measure that allows judges to issue orders enabling authorities to temporarily seize guns from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others."

Laws allowing recreational use of marijuana by adults passed in California, Massachusetts and Nevada but a similar measure failed to pass in Arizona. Voters in Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas approved medical marijuana initiatives, while "voters in in Montana also rolled back restrictions on an existing medical pot law," Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. In Maine, recreational marijuana passed by less than 1 percent of the vote, leading opponents to call for a recount, Darren Fishell and Michael Shepherd report for the Bangor Daily News.

In Oklahoma, voters rejected State Question 790, which "would have removed the restriction on using public money for religious purposes," reports the Tulsa World.

In Indiana, a right-to-hunt measure passed," Zach Osowski reports for The Indianapolis Star. "The amendment prohibits local governments from passing laws banning hunting or fishing; and empowers only the Indiana General Assembly to change laws governing hunting and fishing. It also stipulates that hunting is the preferred method for controlling wildlife populations."

Missouri voters defeated a measure to raise the state's very low cigarette tax, Joe Robertson reports for The Kansas City Star. "All of the attention was on Amendment 3, which began as a campaign to raise more than $300 million for early childhood health and education, but devolved into a tug-of-war between Big Tobacco and Little Tobacco, and was disfavored by major health and anti-tobacco institutions. Voters rejected the measure, 59 percent to 41 percent."

Colorado voters passed Amendment 71, which "will require any proposed amendment to the state constitution be signed off on by voters in each of the state’s 35 Senate districts," Blair Miller reports for The Denver Channel. There was fear that if passed, it could put an end to local attempts to ban hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, by giving rural areas more leverage.

Kentucky weekly helps pass tax to help schools

A weekly newspaper in Central Kentucky led the charge to pass a tax that will fund much-needed renovations at local schools. More than 54 percent of voters in Marion County, Kentucky, voted in favor of the recallable nickel (5 cents per $100 of property valuation, subject to a petition and referendum) which with matching state funds, will give Marion County Public Schools about $30 million for renovations. In 2008, 58 percent voting against an identical proposal.

Lebanon, Ky. (Best Places map)
The Lebanon Enterprise did several stories on the issue in a sample-copy edition sent to all addresses in the county. The schools sponsored the extra printing and postage with $1,500, but Publisher Stevie Lowery said the edition would have run with or without the schools sponsorship. Lowery said the schools have sponsored previous countywide editions.

For one story, fourth and fifth graders were asked, "If you were granted three wishes for your school, what would they be?" Lowery reported that the majority asked for practical things, such as more bathrooms. Lebanon Elementary School has four bathrooms—two for girls, two for boys—for 400 students.

At Lebanon and Calvary elementaries, where one room serves as gyms cafeterias and auditorium, students said they wanted separate facilities for the three functions, Lowery wrote. There was also concern about crowded classrooms, no music or art rooms, or science or computer labs, bigger libraries, and a separate place at Calvary for the nurse, who currently shares a space on a stage where music is taught. Lowery also supported the cause with editorials and kept up an active conversation on the newspaper's Facebook page.

The Enterprise has long been owned by Shelbyville-based Landmark Community Newspapers, a company that sets standards but allows editorial autonomy. Lowery has a son in school and is a daughter of the late Steve Lowery, who edited the paper in the 1980s.

UPDATE, Nov. 18: An Enterprise employee reports on a congratulatory call from a subscriber.

Trump's dominance in rural North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan led to victory

Hillary Clinton won the largest cities in Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. But overwhelming support for Donald Trump most everywhere else in those key swing states, including large support in rural areas and small cities, and that was the difference in those states and the election, Bill Bishop and Tim Marema report for the Daily Yonder.

In all three states the final tally was close, with Trump winning Pennsylvania 51 percent to 49 percent, North Carolina 52-48 and Michigan 50.2-49.8. "In North Carolina, Trump won everywhere except in major metro areas of 1 million residents and up," Bishop and Marema note. While Clinton beat Trump in metro areas 52-48, Trump made up the difference everywhere else, winning 61-39 in rural areas and 63-37 in micropolitan counties areas, which have a city of at least 10,000 but none with more than 50,000 residents. (Yonder graphics)
"Pennsylvania tells a similar story," Bishop and Marema write. "There, Trump won comfortably in all categories of counties except ones in major metropolitan areas of 1 million residents or more – places like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. In those major metro counties, he stayed within 3 points of Clinton and quickly made up that gap in the rest of the state." Trump easily won rural areas, 77-23 and micropolitan counties 70-30.
"The story in Michigan was a bit different," Bishop and Marema write. "There, Trump seized a razor-thin surprise victory primarily because of lighter turnout. Clinton received 325,000 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012 – more than enough to have bested Trump’s lead, which was under 15,000 votes on Wednesday afternoon." Overall, Clinton won metro areas 53-47, but Trump won rural 67-33 and micropolitan 61-39.

Former steel town in rural Pennsylvania is a poster child for why Trump won the election

Best Places map
Donald Trump's presidential victory surprised many political experts, but not residents of rural towns like Ambridge, Pa., Trip Gabriel reports for The New York Times. Blue-collar rural towns like Ambridgea former steel town, were the main reason why Trump took battleground states like Pennsylvania.

"Industrial decline and what is perceived as too fast cultural change in the country at large has transformed Ambridge and the rest of Beaver County around it, with the yards of faded brick homes presenting a river of Trump signs," Gabriel writes. While Trump won Pennsylvania by 1 percentage point, he easily won Beaver County by 20 points.

"Ambridge, like much of Pennsylvania outside Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, eagerly enlisted in Trump Nation this year," Gabriel writes. "Its largely white, less educated population (15 percent have a college degree) packed a boisterous rally that Trump held at the local high school. Clinton supporters were not invisible but kept their heads down. A radio ad by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party that ran on Sunday during the Pittsburgh Steelers game urged voters to protect gains made for working people, mentioning Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, but no one on this year’s ballot."

Jerry Kormick, a disabled construction worker, who voted for the first time, at age 37, said he "never believed polls showing Hillary Clinton ahead, not after visiting friends in rural North Carolina," Gabriel writes. Retirees Joann and Mark Crano were big Clinton supporters in 2008, but have since switched to being registered Republicans, something they say many of their friends and family also have done. Joann blames Benghazi for no longer supporting Clinton, while Mark cites her support for pro-choice and same-sex marriage laws. He told Gabriel, "If you’re a Christian, you can only vote for Trump."

Trump on energy policy: He said he would revive coal and also help oil and natural gas, but how?

Can Donald Trump follow through on his promise
 to revive the coal industry? (Getty Images)
During his campaign Donald Trump promised to revive the coal industry but also to support oil and natural gas, a fuel that has replaced coal at many power plants, and offered no details. Now what can we expect his energy policy to be?

When it comes to coal there might not be much Trump can do, except roll back President Obama's carbon-dioxide regulations that aim a 32 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030. Even that might not do much to help the ailing industry, John Miller and Timothy Puko report for The Wall Street Journal. "By all appearances, coal looks to be well on its way out in North America, though it remains a growing energy source in developing parts of the world. In the U.S., coal miners have lost $30 billion in market value this decade, and the sector has shed over 30,000 jobs since 2009."

While Republicans blame Obama and his "war on coal," experts "say the main culprit for coal’s decline is natural gas, which has flooded the market since the development of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, undercutting coal," Miller and Puko write. "This year is the first in recorded memory when gas will make up a bigger part of the grid than coal. On Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration said U.S. coal production was expected this year to fall to its lowest level in nearly four decades, while natural gas would 'increase in 2017 as drilling activity picks up and new pipelines connect supplies to demand centers'.”

Those in depleted coal communities have high expectations for Trump, Stu Johnson reports for WEKU-FM at Eastern Kentucky University. Ben Hale, chief executive of Floyd County, a former Democratic stronghold where 70 percent voted for Trump, told Johnson, “He has made these promises. We expect him to follow through on them and see if he can do something, as far as restoring that industry and helping our coal people get back to work.”

When it comes to oil and gas, expect more pipelines, Mike Soraghan reports for Energywire: "Trump, who campaigned on making America energy independent, cannot do much to accelerate drilling amid a price slump. But pipeline construction represents perhaps the fastest way to give the oil and gas industry a shot in the arm and stick it to the anti-fossil-fuel movement."

Trump is expected to revive the Keystone XL pipeline and to end delays of the Dakota Access pipeline, as well as giving the green light to other proposed projects, Soraghan writes. "The oil and gas industry is enthusiastic about the potential to stop playing defense on the pipeline issue. Industry figures say President Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline and delayed the Dakota Access pipeline to appease environmental groups."

Trump also is expected to roll back regulations, "including a crackdown on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and expanding the scope of the Clean Water Act by broadening the definition of 'waters of the U.S.'," Soraghan writes.

Rural white voters in South and elsewhere made their voices heard loud and clear

Rural voters like Luke Garrett say Trump was able
to relate to common people (Jonsson photo)
Rural white voters in the South made their voices heard loud and clear in the presidential election, helping Donald Trump take every state in the region, Patrik Jonsson reports for The Christian Science Monitor. "Small counties had never seemed so overwhelming on election night maps. Trump won because white voters in rural areas and small towns chose him by huge margins, while urban voters were cooler toward Hillary Clinton." Luke Garrett, a chicken farmer in Between, Ga., told Jonsson,"Unlike past Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney, he was able to relate to people, to common people.”

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, who publishes The Rural Blog and writes a political column for The Courier-Journal of Louisville, told Jonsson the key was Trump's focus on visiting rural areas: "People asked why Trump was going to small places and having rallies, ‘To make yourself feel good?’ No, he was exercising his organic turnout strategy, to generate enthusiasm and a feeling of purpose and being part of a movement among rural people. And it worked.” Cross said rural turnout in Kentucky, which usually lags behind urban turnout, seemed stronger this time.

Another key was Trump's understanding of how to woo voters, Jonsson writes. Mac McCorkle, a public affairs professor at Duke University, told Jonsson, “Trump understood that the conservative side of politics is no longer a party in the sense that we think of coalitions of interest groups, and has become more of a social movement. While there is a prairie fire social movement in rural America, the Democrats want to say, ‘It’s all the Koch brothers or elitist manipulation.’ But it’s something that is clearly real and powerful. He may be riding on top of a tiger, but you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for understanding that.”

While Trump recognized a growing unease in rural areas with Washington politics, Clinton completely missed it, Jonsson writes. "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at one point offered his resignation to President Obama, saying the administration lacked any focus on rural America. Obama convinced Vilsack to stay by appointing him [as point man for the] opioid crisis, but he appears to have missed the underlying warning." Cross told Jonsson, “Here’s Vilsack, giving a warning that 15 percent of the country is feeling disrespected and disregarded, and Obama should have put two and two together there." (Read more)

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Rural America, overlooked by Democrats and their candidates, carries Trump to presidential win

Donald Trump giving his acceptance speech (Bloomberg photo)
Donald Trump's surprise presidential win Tuesday can be attributed to the Republican "running up wide margins in rural and blue-collar parts of the country, while Clinton showed a weakened hold on the major, urban areas where Democrats traditionally score big," Aaron Zitner and Paul Overberg report for The Wall Street Journal. That helped Trump nab Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, totaling 67 electoral votes.

The Trump campaign focused on turning out rural voters in Rust Belt states. He scored a surprise win in Wisconsin (10 electoral votes) and holds a slim lead in Michigan (16 EVs).

Chuck Todd of NBC News summed it up perfectly when he said during election coverage, "Rural America is basically screaming at us, 'stop overlooking us!'" Veteran NBC anchor Tom Brokaw added, "What we underestimated was the depth of the anger."

Rural Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin played major roles in giving Trump the victory, Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann report for NBC. In Michigan, Trump won rural areas and small towns by a margin of 57 percent to 38 percent, better than Mitt Romney's 53-46 edge in 2012. Trump won rural Pennsylvania 71-26, up from 59-40 for Romney. He also won rural Wisconsin 63-34, compared to 53-46 for Romney.

While Trump was grabbing rural votes, exit polls showed Clinton was performing much worse in metropolitan areas than Obama in 2012. She had 160,000 fewer votes in Detroit and 46,000 less in Philadelphia, Zitner and Overberg note.

Exit polls in 2012 showed that Obama won despite faring worse among white voters than any Democratic candidate since Walter Mondale in 1984, Nate Cohn reports for The New York Times. "Those polls showed that white voters without a degree were now just one-third of the electorate. It was interpreted to mean that there was not much room for additional losses, especially once a white Democrat replaced Obama on the ballot. The truth was that Democrats were far more dependent on white working-class voters than many believed."

The Clinton campaign barely advertised on TV in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, convinced it didn't need to, Cohn writes. That's the type of attitude that has upset many rural voters, who feel ignored by candidates, David Bernstein reports for WGBH in Boston. Democratic strategist Matt Barron, who has "preached the importance of appealing to those voters," told Bernstein, "Democrats have paid a steep price for ignoring rural/exurban voters for too long, and it has bitten them hard tonight.”

It's not as if they weren't warned. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, which Trump carried, tried to resign last year because he was "frustrated with a culture in Washington that too often ignored rural America’s struggles and dismissed its virtues," The Washington Post reported in September.

Author chronicled rural Wisconsin voters' sense of resentment of being ignored by politicians

Rural Wisconsin carried Republican Donald Trump to victory in a state that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton took for granted. She should have listened to Kathy Cramer, political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who traversed 27 rural communities in the state to find out how they feel about politics for her 2015 book The Politics of Resentment, Jeff Guo reports for The Washington Post. What she found is that many rural Wisconsinites feel a "deep sense of bitterness toward elites and city dwellers; just about all of them felt tread on, disrespected and cheated out of what they felt they deserved."

That feeling of anger helped Trump nab 63 percent of the state's rural vote, compared to 34 percent for Clinton, according to analysis from NBC News. Overall, Trump won 1,404,869 votes in Wisconsin, compared to 1,377,880 for Clinton, showing that rural voters were definitely the difference.

In her book, "Cramer argues that this 'rural consciousness' is key to understanding which political arguments ring true to her subjects," Guo writes. "For instance, she says, most rural Wisconsinites supported the tea party's quest to shrink government not out of any belief in the virtues of small government but because they did not trust the government to help 'people like them.'"

Wisconsin results (Wikipedia map)
Cramer wrote: “Support for less government among lower-income people is often derided as the opinions of people who have been duped. Listening in on these conversations, it is hard to conclude that the people I studied believe what they do because they have been hoodwinked. Their views are rooted in identities and values, as well as in economic perceptions; and these things are all intertwined.”

Cramer told Guo, "What I was hearing was this general sense of being on the short end of the stick. Rural people felt like they not getting their fair share. People felt that they were not getting their fair share of decision-making power. People would complain that they weren’t getting their fair share of stuff, that they weren’t getting their fair share of public resources. That often came up in perceptions of taxation. People had this sense that all the sense that all the money is sucked in by Madison, but never spent on places like theirs."

"People felt that they weren’t getting respect," she said. "They would say: The real kicker is that people in the city don’t understand us. They don’t understand what rural life is like, what’s important to us and what challenges that we’re facing. They think we’re a bunch of redneck racists. So it’s all three of these things—the power, the money, the respect. People are feeling like they’re not getting their fair share of any of that." (Read more)

Voters in Rust Belt states support Trump's views that trade deals hurt U.S. manufacturing jobs

Donald Trump's promise to bring back Rust Belt manufacturing jobs lost through trade deals helped carry the Republican to victory in key states on Tuesday, Tami Luhby and Jennifer Agiesta report for CNN. Trump won Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and is expected to be named the winner in Michigan.

In exit polls, voters agreed "with Trump's view that trade agreements have hurt American workers," Luhby and Agiesta write. "Half of Michigan's electorate feel trade takes away jobs, and these folks supported Trump by a 57 percent to 36 percent split. The 31 percent who think it creates jobs backed Clinton by a 65 to 31 margin."

"In Ohio, 47 percent of voters say trade hurts workers, and they lined up for Trump by a more than 2-to-1 margin," Luhby and Agiesta write. The 46 percent who say it creates jobs or has no effect strongly backed Clinton. And in Pennsylvania, 53 percent of the electorate agree that trade is bad for jobs. Some 62 percent supported Trump, while 34 percent backed Clinton. Among the 35 percent who feel trade is a job creator, Clinton was the favored candidate by more than a 2-to-1 margin."

How will a Trump presidency impact agriculture? Less regulation, but questions on trade

"Donald Trump’s stunning victory on Tuesday, combined with a Congress that will stay in Republican hands, ensures that farms and energy producers will win relief from federal regulations, but the election outcome also throws the future of U.S. trade policy into doubt," Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse. "Trump’s campaign was based on rolling up big margins in rural regions of Ohio, Iowa and other battleground states, and he did that in part by pounding the Obama administration over regulations and trade."

"Republicans also won the House and retained control of the Senate," Brasher writes. "Trump has pledged to kill the Obama administration’s 'waters of the United States' rule and the greenhouse-gas regulations on electric utilities. Both rules have been put on hold by the courts, but Trump’s victory virtually ensures that they will be killed."

"The Obama administration’s pesticide and labor regulations also are likely to be targeted as well," Brasher writes. "A Trump administration also is likely to slow down endangered species protections that have frustrated farmers, ranchers and energy producers."

"A bigger question is what happens to trade and immigration policy," Brasher writes. "The future of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership looks grim. Trump made opposition to the TPP a major focus of his campaign and he pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been a major benefit to U.S. agricultural exports. Trump also has threatened to impose tariffs on China, a major market for U.S. soybeans and other farm products."

"Trump has backed off his threat to deport all illegal immigrants, saying that he would focus enforcement actions on criminal aliens," Brasher writes. "His advisers say he will streamline the H-2A visa program to make it easier for farms to import the labor that they need."

"Farmers nationwide overwhelmingly favored Trump over Clinton, 55 percent to 18 percent, according to the Agri-Pulse Farm and Ranch Poll taken last month," Brasher writes. "More than 70 percent said that regulatory policies were on the wrong track, and 86 percent said they were 'somewhat' or 'very dissatisfied' with the way things are going in the country."

Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but can be viewed by clicking here.

Billionaire coal operator who is top mine-safety delinquent wins West Virginia governorship

Justice celebrates (Gazette-Mail photo by E. Brian Ferguson)
Jim Justice, the billionaire operator of Southern Coal Corp. and owner of The Greenbrier resort, was elected governor of West Virginia on Tuesday. Justice owed $15 million in taxes and fines in six states as of Oct. 9, making him the nation's top mine-safety delinquent. Justice, a Democrat, beat Republican Bill Close, 49 percent to 42 percent. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump easily won the state, earning his second largest share of votes—69 percent—second only to Wyoming, where he won 70 percent. Republicans control the House and Senate in West Virginia.

"Facing an increasingly conservative leaning state, Justice ran a vague and conservative campaign, something he was criticized for by Mountain Party candidate Charlotte Pritt, who pulled in more liberal votes across the state," Andrew Brown reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "Justice has shrugged off Republican criticisms that he is part of the 'good ol’ boy' system by saying the West Virginia Democratic Party 'never had Jim Justice.' On several occasions he pledged to take the state on a 'jobs rocket ride' if he is elected governor."

Justice said after being elected: “I am an absolute believer that we don’t have to divide business and labor. We don’t have to be at odds with each other over whether you’re rich, poor, black, white, whatever it may be. We don’t need to be at odds with one another whether you be Republican, Democrat, independent. We’ve got too many people on the outside throwing rocks at us, and we have to bond together.” (Read more)

Obama administration steps up enforcement of insurance laws to combat opioid epidemic

The Obama administration "is stepping up enforcement of laws that require equal insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses, a move officials say will help combat an opioid overdose epidemic," Robert Pear reports for The New York Times. Opioid rates have been on the rise nationwide, especially in many rural areas. Obama in July called on Congress to approve $1.1 billion in new funding to make opioid treatment available for every American.

"A White House task force on Oct. 27 said insurers needed to understand that coverage for the treatment of drug addiction must be comparable to that for other conditions like depression, schizophrenia, cancer and heart disease," Pear writes. "As an example, the administration said, insurers may not require prior approval for drugs to treat opioid addiction, like buprenorphine, if they do not impose similar restrictions on drugs with similar safety risks that are prescribed for physical illnesses."

The task force "called for more frequent audits of health plans and warned insurers against imposing stricter requirements on mental health services than on other types of medical care," Pear writes. "More than 40 million people—about one in five American adults—experience some kind of mental illness each year, the administration said, and more than 20 million have a 'substance use disorder' involving drugs or alcohol."

Over the past five years the U.S. Department of Labor has conducted 1,515 investigations of possible parity violations, issuing 171 citations for noncompliance by employer-sponsored health plans, Pear writes. "Those 171 citations are more significant than the number might appear, said Phyllis C. Borzi, an assistant secretary of labor. When the government finds violations, she said, it requires insurers to correct all their health plans, so that a single citation may produce 'global changes' affecting tens of thousands of group health plans with millions of participants." (Read more)

Wind-farm turbines are killing more bats than previously thought, says United Kingdom study

Bats can confuse wind turbines with trees
(U.S. Geological Survey photo by Paul Cryan)
Wind-energy farms kill more bats than previously thought, says a study by researchers in the United Kingdom, published in Current Biology. Researchers surveyed 46 wind farms in the UK, finding that 97 percent had bat activity—between one to 236 passes per night—and half of the sites had bat casualties, ranging from one to 64 per month from July to October. More than 600,000 bats were killed by wind turbines in 2012 in the U.S., says a study by a researcher at the University of Colorado published in BioScience.

The researchers "found that environmental impact assessments—the main tool used to predict the ecological effects of a new energy development—commonly failed to predict the number of bats that would have fatal collisions with wind turbines’ spinning blades," Brady Dennis reports for The Washington Post. "Even in the few cases where researchers said early assessments accurately predicted the danger to bats, efforts to mitigate those risks often did not succeed."

Researchers "compared their findings from each site to the environmental assessments they were able to access," Dennis writes. "In most cases, the pre-construction assessments had not accurately predicted the risk of bat fatalities. And even where companies had put in place mitigation measures to try to steer bats clear of the turbines, the researchers found that bats were still killed. Researchers say it is uncertain whether the acoustic surveys widely used to estimate bat activity are not precise enough or whether bats’ 'highly variable' activity means they change their patterns too often to predict with accuracy."

Anonymous reports that determine chicken prices could be leading consumers to pay too much

Chicken prices are based on a system with dubious accuracy, meaning consumers may be overpaying for the nation's most popular meat, Peter Whoriskey reports for The Washington Post. For decades prices have been based on the "Georgia dock" price, "calculated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and based on the reports from eight anonymous chicken companies in the state. The companies are not asked to show receipts or other documentation proving that their figures are accurate." The estimated price, published weekly, determines consumer prices at many grocery stores. (Post graphic: Difference in prices between Georgia Dock and USDA estimates)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently stopped publishing the estimates in its official Market Report, Whoriskey notes. "In a statement to The Washington Post, a USDA spokesman said they discontinued publishing the Georgia dock price 'when data from the source report could not be independently verified.'” Whoriskey writes. "Any bias in the Georgia Dock would have had huge effects on consumers. The Georgia dock price is frequently used in contracts between chicken producers and supermarkets and those prices, in turn, could raise or lower what supermarkets charge consumers."

"Over the past two years, the Georgia dock price has drifted significantly apart from other chicken price averages, rising about 20 percent out of line with a separate index maintained by the USDA," Whoriskey writes. "A deviation of that magnitude could have cost U.S. grocery consumers billions of dollars extra." Officials at the Georgia Department of Agriculture said they are reviewing processes for calculating data, but said they are confident in the figures provided to them. (Read more)

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Enviros issue photos of N.C. farm flooding, call for more protection from water pollution

The Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance have issued photographs showing how Hurricane Matthew flooded North Carolina hog-farm lagoons, releasing pollution into streams.
Photos show a farm and its waste lagoon before and after the hurricane and flood
"According to the two groups, the flood waters partially submerged 10 pig farms with 39 barns, 26 large chicken-raising operations with 102 barns, and 14 manure lagoons," Dan Charles reports for NPR. "According to Brian Long, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, the floods killed about 1.8 million chickens and 2800 swine. The damage apparently was much less severe, however, than during Hurricane Floyd, in 1999, which killed more than 20,000 hogs. During that storm, dozens of manure lagoons were flooded, and at half a dozen locations, the lagoon walls failed, allowing the contents to flow away. Following the 1999 floods, the state of North Carolina bought out 42 different hog farms that were located in particularly flood-prone areas, closing down hog farming at those locations. The state also imposed a moratorium on construction of new manure lagoons. That moratorium remains in place. Waterkeeper Alliance and the EWG, however, say that there still are too many animals in the state's coastal plain, and that the state should more tightly regulate where and how that wasted is stored or spread on fields."

Here's a map from the two groups, based on state data, of confined animal feeding operations and 100-year floodplains in eastern North Carolina (click on image for larger version):

Kentucky utility gets OK for solar farm that will use voluntary customer participation; neighbors upset

Solar panels at the utility's other "farm"
A Kentucky utility will build its first voluntary-participation "community solar" farm near some complaining rural and residential neighbors after the state Public Service Commission said the facility was too small to fall under its jurisdiction.

LG&E and KU Energy will erect 12,000 solar panels on 35 acres in Shelby County, just east of Louisville. The farm will produce 4 megawatts; the PSC's jurisdiction on locations begins at 10 megawatts.

"The other key issue is whether the parent of Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities had structured its new, voluntary subscription-based Solar Share program's finances so that customers who don't participate won't pay for it," James Bruggers reports for The Courier-Journal. "Solar Share 'allows for cost recovery and a return on invested capital by participants so that there is minimal cost sharing by non-participants," the PSC's order said.

"Customers will pay a $40 subscription fee and then a monthly fee of $6.29, per 250-watt increment," Bruggers writes. "That's enough to generate between 17- and 37-kilowatt hours per month, compared to a typical customer's home use of about 1,000-kilowatt hours a month, officials have said. Customers will also get a credit on their bills for electricity generated from those solar panels.

Oklahoma to shut or limit some fracking-disposal wells after magnitude-5 quake

The State of Oklahoma "plans to shut some disposal wells and reduce the volume of others as its initial response to Sunday’s earthquake near the oil hub of Cushing," Sheela Tobben and Jessica Summers report for Bloomberg News.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said its order would cover a 700-square-mile area, but didn't say how many wells would be affected. The agency has issued broader orders in the last two years.

"The region, previously not known for intense seismic activity, began having a significant number of earthquakes in 2009, the same year area oil companies began using fracking to shatter deep rock layers to extract oil and gas," Bloomberg reports. "Fracked wells produce large quantities of wastewater, which drilling companies inject into ultra-deep disposal wells."

The Oklahoman reports that the 5.0-magnitude quake damaged about 40 buildings in Cushing, a town of about 7,800 that is the main delivery point for West Texas intermediate crude, the market barometer for U.S. oil. 

Monday, November 07, 2016

Rural towns feeling pinch of low crop prices; some farmers will make up with record production

"The doldrums caused by lackluster prices for crops and livestock have started to ripple onto the main streets of rural Minnesota," Tom Meersman reports for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, doubtless describing the situation in other parts of the Corn Belt.
Star Tribune chart by CJ Sinner; data from National Agricultural Statistics Service
"Thousands of Minnesota farmers have withstood stubbornly low crop prices during the past 27 months, and farmers’ average net income has been dropping steadily for the past three years," Meersman writes. "When farmers have less money to spend, it affects anyone who is selling farm equipment, marketing fertilizer, or building new barns, bins and sheds."

David Preisler, executive director of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, told Meersman that weak crop and livestock prices can be felt quickly in small towns: “The first ripple effect you see is going to be any sort of capital purchases that are more discretionary in nature,” he said.

University of Minnesota economist Bill Lazarus found that Minnesota farmers' spending on machinery, other equipment, farm buildings, fertilizer and land rent peaked with crop prices in 2012 and 2013 at about $117,000 per farm and "plummeted to about $67,500 in 2014 and $48,000 in 2015," Meersma reports.

Some farmers will make up the price losses with greater volume. John Hart of Lee Newspapers reports that "a near-perfect growing season that has experts predicting record corn and soybean yields throughout much of" Wisconsin.

UPDATE, Nov. 10: The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the nation's corn crop will be a record 15.226 billion bushels, "larger than the 15.057 billion bushels predicted in October," Agri-Pulse reports. "Yields will average a record 175.3 bushels per acre, up from the 173.4 bushels projected a month ago, the department said The expected record crop is keeping downward pressure on prices, which USDA says will average around $3.30 a bushel for the crop year that began Sept. 1, down from $3.61 a bushel in the previous year."

FCC seeks $21.7M fine, $3.5M refund from telecom company for defrauding rural health program

The Federal Communications Commission plans to fine a telecommunications contractor and its top executive $21.7 million for defrauding a government program designed to make high-speed internet available to rural health-care providers, mainly in Mississippi and Texas.

Network Services Solutions of Reno, Nev., allegedly violated competitive-bidding rules and used "forged and false documents to seek and obtain funding from the program," reports Joan Engebretson of Telecompetitor. "Network Services Solutions also will be asked to refund $3.5 million in improper funding that it allegedly received" from the Universal Service Fund, which funds telecommunications in rural areas.

The proposed fine "is the FCC’s first enforcement action involving that program and the first time the agency has proposed a fine for wire fraud in connection with a USF program," Engebretson reports. "The wire-fraud charges are based on the FCC’s allegation that Network Services Solutions used information contained in forged documents to cause administrators to make improper payments to the company via interstate wire."

Under the FCC's Rural Health Care Program, the USF pays service providers the difference between the higher rural rate for telecommunications services and the lower urban rate provided for similar services in the closest city with a population of 50,000 or more, an FCC press release said. It said NSS used forged urban-rate documents, gave a "valuable network server to a rural health care provider to influence its decision to award a contract,": improperly used "competitors’ confidential and proprietary information."

The allegations are contained in a Notice of Apparent Liability adopted Nov. 4. Anyone with information related to the matter can provide it at https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/.

Trump, Clinton disagree on several farm issues

"The path to the White House could run through Iowa cornfields and Pennsylvania dairy farms, Nevada cattle ranches and Ohio soybean rows," Joseph Morton writes for the Omaha World-Herald. "Those swing states’ rural voters will . . . have plenty to consider in the candidates’ proposals on taxes and farm subsidies, renewable energy and environmental regulations, immigration and trade."

Trump has been chasing rural votes, which have increasingly gone Republican in recent presidential elections. He touts his vow to eliminate the federal estate tax, but "Clinton supporters note that only a tiny percentage of farm operations qualify for the tax," Morton reports. Former deputy agriculture secretary Kathleen Merrigan said, “This is not going to hit mom and dad who want to transfer their farm upon their death to their kids.”

Morton writes, "Clinton supporters note that as a senator she supported the 2008 farm bill that Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, voted against as a congressman, citing budget concerns. Trump in the past also has talked about the need to rein in federal nutrition assistance, which includes the program commonly referred to as food stamps. The Clinton team says Trump’s approach could endanger the farm bill because the marriage of food stamps and farm programs is what has united rural and urban lawmakers in supporting farm legislation." Trump farm adviser Sam Clovis "rejected the idea that Trump would pull food stamps from the farm bill. But he suggested that Trump would look at crop insurance and other subsidies to see how well they are working."

Farmers are concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency's new definition of "waters of the United States" in the Clean Water Act will cause needless interference in their operations, but "Merrigan said she has seen how water contamination can destroy a small rural town and that water quality is important to farmers. . . .She also suggested that much of the talk about regulating water in ditches is overblown and that Clinton is committed to better communication with farm country on those regulations."

Some farmers are worried about Trump's opposition to trade agreements. "Trade is huge for U.S. agriculture, which relies on overseas markets to move billions of dollars in product," Morton notes. "Both candidates oppose the trade agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, however." Charles Herbster, Trump's top ag adviser, "said it’s a misconception that Trump is against trade — he just wants better deals," Morton reports.

Trump tells Iowans he understands pain of blue-collar workers, says media and political elite don't

Donald Trump Sunday in Iowa (AP photo)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said he understands blue-collar workers better than other politicians or journalists, Robynn Tysver reports for the Omaha World-Herald. During a speech Sunday in Sioux City, Iowa, the billionaire real-estate developer said, "The media and the political elite don’t know the pain and suffering these people are living under, but I figured it out a long time ago, and that’s why I’m here with you."

A poll released Saturday by The Des Moines Register gave Trump a 7-point lead in Iowa over Hillary Clinton, 46 percent to 39 percent. He referred to the poll almost immediately after taking the stage Sunday. He "sounded confident of winning the state. He also sounded a little bit nostalgic, recalling the day he came down on an escalator in June 2015 in New York City to announce his presidential bid to skeptical political reporters and others. Trump described himself as a political insider who became an outsider that day to help the working class," Tysver reports.

Iowa has a large rural population, but in recent years has supported Democratic presidential candidates, mostly in close contests. President Obama narrowly won the Hawkeye State in 2008 and 2012. President George W. Bush won it in 2004, but Democratic candidates won the state from 1988 to 2000. Trump, like many Republican candidates, has done well in rural areas; 36 percent of Iowa's population is rural, according to the Iowa Data Center.

Animal-welfare measures on ballots in 3 states

Cornish hen chicks at the Diemand Egg Farm
in Wendell, Mass. (The Republican photo)
Animal welfare measures are on state ballots Tuesday in Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Oregon. Oklahoma voters will consider Question 777, considered a right-to-farm amendment, Joe Wertz and Logan Layden report for StateImpact Oklahoma. "The measure would make farming and ranching a constitutional right and make it harder for the Legislature to enact laws that further regulate the agriculture industry."

Proponents of Question 777 "claim the measure is needed to protect Oklahoma farmers from animal-welfare laws such as California's Proposition 2, a ballot measure requiring egg-laying hens in the state to be kept in roomier cages," Brianna Bailey reports for NewsOK. "The pro-777 side claims the measure has led to skyrocketing egg prices in California. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Center, avian flu, higher feed prices and drought were at least partially responsible for a 17.8 percent increase in California egg prices in 2015. USDA projected retail egg prices in California would decline 14 to 15 percent as the market recovered from the avian flu outbreak."

Opponents say Question 777 "was created by the pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council," Bailey writes. "ALEC drafted a piece of model legislation called the Right to Farm Act in 1996 to help protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits. Oklahoma has had laws on the books protecting farmers from nuisance complaints since 1980. In 2009, Oklahoma House Bill 1482, called the Right to Farm Act, further strengthened those protections. In contrast, State Question 777 embeds protections for agriculture into the state constitution, making it harder to enact new laws regulating farming and ranching practices in the state. SQ 777 originated in the Oklahoma Legislature as House Joint Resolution 1012 in 2015."

In Massachusetts, Question 3, if passed, would ban state sales "of meat or eggs from hens, calves and pigs that are caged or confined in a way that prevents them from moving around," Jill Kaufman reports for New England Public Radio. Advocates say passing the measure will protect consumers rights. Critics say it will lead to increased prices for eggs.

Critics of the measure cite a Cornell University study that projects "the cost of eggs, along with pork, will increase by hundreds of millions of dollars in the first year after the law would be enacted," Kaufman writes. Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States, a major financial backer of Question 3, disagreed with the study and said protecting the welfare of animals is the more important issue. A poll by WBUR-FM in Boston said the measure has a two-thirds chance of passing.

Voters in Oregon will consider Measure 100, which "would ban sales of 12 additional species: elephants, rhinoceroses, whales, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, pangolins, sea turtles and rays. It would also prohibit the sales of any part of a shark," Hillary Borrud reports for The Oregonian. "A similar bill that died in the 2015 Legislature would have banned the sales of ivory and certain other animal parts."

New North Dakota governor to be saddled with oil bust, pipeline protest

UPDATE,(InsideClimate News graphic)
UPDATE, Nov. 9: Doug Burgum easily won the governor's seat on Tuesday, securing 77 percent of the vote. Nelson had 19 percent and Riske 4 percent.

When North Dakota elects a new governor on Tuesday, the winner will be thrust right into the political fire, Mike Lee reports for Energywire. "The oil bust has cut state revenues by about one-fourth in the last 18 months and more bad fiscal news could be coming. And a series of protests over the Dakota Access pipeline have pitted Native Americans and environmentalists against police and sheriff's deputies in the eastern part of the state."

The leading candidate is Doug Burgum, a Republican multimillionaire who 15 years ago sold his software company for $1.1 billion to Microsoft Inc., Lee writes. Burgum is heavily favored to win against Democrat Marvin Nelson and Libertarian Marty Riske. Burgum, a native North Dakotan raised on a farm, "jumped into the governor's race after Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) opted not to run for another term. He beat state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who has held various state offices since 1976, and two other candidates in the Republican primary in June."

"A month after the primary election, Dalrymple was forced to call a special session of the Legislature to cope with the downturn in the oil industry," Lee writes. "The drop in oil prices has left North Dakota's revenue about 25 percent below what was projected for the current two-year budget cycle. When legislators arrived in Bismarck for the session in August, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe erected a teepee on the lawn in front of the Capitol to protest the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline."

The $3.8 billion, 1,150-mile Dakota Access pipeline is expected to carry as much as 570,000 barrels of Bakken Formation crude from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it fears a leak could contaminate its main source of water, the Missouri River.

"In September, the Obama administration blocked construction of the pipeline across Lake Oahe on the Missouri River while the Army Corps of Engineers determined whether it should reconsider its decision allowing the project to cross over the river," Lee writes. Obama said last week that the Army Corps is considering an alternate route for the pipeline that would avoid crossing the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Prescriptions for psychiatric drugs, most from non-psychiatrists, are partly blamed for rising suicide rate among white, middle-aged women

La Plata County, Colorado (Wikipedia map)
An increase in psychiatric drug prescriptions is being linked to an increase in suicide rates among white middle-age women 45 to 54 working blue-collar jobs, Amy Ellis Nutt reports for The Washington Post in the latest story in a series about the phenomenon. The suicide rate among middle-aged white women increased from 7 per 100,000 in 1999 to 12.6 in 2014. Psychiatric drug prescriptions increased 117 percent from 1999 to 2013.

Colorado ranks fourth nationally for suicide rates among middle-aged white women, Nutt writes. Rural La Plata County, with a population of 53,284, leads the state among counties with more than 30,000 residents. Fourteen middle-aged white women in the county have committed suicide since 2007. A Post analysis "found striking commonalities: Most worked physically demanding jobs. Most suffered from chronic pain. And most struggled with mental-health issues that, surviving friends and relatives say, were addressed through psychiatric medications that were ultimately ineffective."

"The number of prescriptions written by non-psychiatrists also has risen," Nutt writes. "As many as 80 percent of all antidepressant prescriptions are written by physicians who are not psychiatrists, multiple studies have found, and doctors often give the drugs to people who have received no psychiatric diagnosis. Studies also show that the drugs work only about half the time and can produce side effects, such as anxiety and sleeplessness, that mimic worsening symptoms."

"More than half of all counties in the U.S.—all of them rural—have no practicing psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers, according to a 2013 federal report," Nutt writes. "In La Plata County, only one mental-health clinic accepted Medicaid." (Read more)

Park Service updates oil and gas rules, putting 319 existing wells under its authority

The National Park Service on Friday updated its regulation for oil and gas drilling on land it owns, "bringing hundreds of wells under the agency’s authority for the first time," Timothy Cama reports for The Hill. Drilling only occurs in 12 of the 413 national parks and other sites administered by the park service.

The rule, updated for the first time in 37 years, brings 319 previously exempt wells "under NPS regulations, removes a cap on financial bonding requirements for drillers and strengthens enforcement powers," Cama writes. NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis said in a statement: “The rule clarifies the process for oil and gas development in the small group of parks where current operations exist, and for parks that may have to manage oil and gas operations in the future.” (Read more)

Award-winning weekly in Alaska on the market

Tom Morphet at the Chilkat Valley News 
The owner of a weekly in Alaska has put the newspaper up for sale so he concentrate on his second job of local politician, Charles Wohlforth reports for Alaska Dispatch News. Tom Morphet has owned the Chilkat Valley News for five years and run it for 25, but this year he put it up for sale after successfully running for the local legislative assembly, mainly to be a part of the decision about a controversial proposed harbor expansion project. He said he felt it was a conflict of interest to continue to run the newspaper.

Chilkat Valley News "has won 20 Alaska Press Club awards in the last three years but sells only 1,500 copies at the height of the visitor season," Wohlforth writes. "Morphet said the $60,000 he paid for the News—on installments—bought him a $50,000-a-year, seven-day-a-week job. The paper doesn't bring in enough money for an owner to take out a profit without also working there."

The newspaper is located in
Haines (Map from town website)
But there are conditions for prospective buyers, Wohlforth writes. Morphet told him, "I only want it to go to a local person who is committed to the community. When you've done this for 25 or 30 years, what you have in it is something different than cash. You have an investment in the community."

Morphet expected to major in history when he attended Marquette University, but a counselor convinced him to switch directions, Wohlforth writes. Morphet told Wohlforth, "He said, 'I encourage you to pursue journalism, because at least you'll be able to make a living.' It was probably the worst advice I ever took."

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Effort to sell weekly newspaper in Vermont via essay contest and crowdfunding falls short

A Vermont publisher's attempt to sell his weekly newspaper through an essay contest, then additionally by a crowdfunding campaign, has fallen short.

"The Kickstarter campaign did not generate the money it set as a goal," The Hardwick Gazette reports. "The final contest entries are still arriving but it is unlikely a new owner will be chosen from the entries as 700 were needed. As such, the entry fees will be returned. Perhaps, some of the essayists will step forward to explore buying the newspaper. The motivation remains to find a new owner because The Hardwick Gazette is a foundation block of democracy."

The Kickstarter campaign's goal was $100,000. The fee for each 400-word essay was $175. Some readers wrote "I don't want to win" essays as contributions, but the Gazette reports, "The quality of essays received to this point is outstanding. The essayists have journalistic and business experience. They convey an appreciation for independent, local journalism, an understanding of community and a knowledge that hard work and thick skin go with the territory. Their passion for newspapers shines through."

Ross Connelly (AP photo)
The Gazette, doubtless in the voice of Editor-Publisher Ross Connelly, 71, makes an important point: "As the attempt to find a new owner of the newspaper progresses, the focus also is on the importance of sustaining democracy. The Hardwick Gazette is located in a small, rural community, but in a larger sense the newspaper is too big to fail. Citizenship and democracy start in people’s homes, their neighborhoods, their communities, with elected officials — on the local level. Yes, democracy is sustainable if citizens have independent, local newspapers that report on their towns and the lives they live."

In southern West Virginia, citizens paint a dystopian picture of a Hillary Clinton presidency

Tracy Jan of The Boston Globe went to Beckley, W.Va., and wrote this:
They fear her. They despise her.
They reel at the very thought of her. Here in the Republican stronghold of southern West Virginia, a distinctly dystopian picture emerges of what life would be like under, God forbid, a Hillary Clinton presidency. People here view the election as an all-out battle for the soul of America, and view Clinton’s election as the one sure way to lose it.
One after another, fearful citizens outside the Raleigh County Courthouse in downtown Beckley, where record numbers have turned out early to vote, spoke of the United States with Clinton in charge as a lawless land primed for economic collapse. Helpless in the face of rampant terrorism. And communism. Doomed to be overrun by Muslims and massive waves of illegal immigrants sucking America dry. A weakened nation that could be a target for the next world war.