Saturday, March 04, 2017

Some small, rural weeklies merge to stay afloat

The latest three papers to merge (Ky. Press Association photo)
For a century or so, consolidation in rural areas has meant the merger of banks and schools. Now, in some places, it means the merger of newspapers.

Three weeklies in the two counties at Kentucky's southwestern tip are becoming one. The Hickman Courier and The Fulton Leader in Fulton County, and The Hickman County Gazette in Clinton, published their last editions this week. Next week subscribers will receive The Current, a name that reflects their locations along the Mississippi River. They have the same owner, Magic Valley Publishing of Camden, Tenn. "This regional newspaper hopes to unify the area to aid efforts as civic leaders work to develop and grow commerce and improve community lifestyles," Publisher Dennis Richardson said.

The two counties are heavily agricultural, and have been losing population for decades; the 2010 population was 6,813 in Fulton County and 4,902 in Hickman County. But as recently as 1989, the Fulton paper was a daily. The Current will operate from the Leader's old office and will continue to cover eastern Obion County, Tennessee. Fulton is on the state line and is home to the annual Banana Festival, named for the city's distinction in the 1880s of having the only ice house for new refrigerated railcars carrying bananas north.

The merged newspaper's merged nameplate
In northern South Dakota, the Isabel Dakotan and the Timber Lake Topic merged at the start of 2016, and "agree it was a good move," Brian Hunhoff reports in the latest newsletter of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. The merged paper, circulation 1,600, uses the Topic's nameplate with the line, "continuing the Isabel Dakotan," in the designs familiar to readers.

The towns are about 20 miles apart. The papers began working together in 2013, when Topic co-publisher Jim Nelson became ill and Dakotan owner Robert Slocum helped Kathy Nelson keep the paper going. "When Jim passed away in October of that year, we were already a team," Nelson told Hunhoff. Slocum, asked the most challenging part of the merger, said "It's hard to tell people you are improving the product when it means one more empty building on Main Street." He works out of his home.

"The evolution of the Topic and Dakotan may become a model for small, rural papers struggling to survive," Hunhoff writes, quoting Dave Bordewyk, executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association: "I do think it's possible this type of merger would work elsewhere."

It has in the Texas Panhandle since 2013, where The Caprock Courier absorbed four very small weeklies in three counties: the Briscoe County News, the Motley County Tribune, The Cottle-King Times and The Valley Crier. Each printed edition has a few pages headed with each paper's nameplate. To read the online or printed edition, click here.

Friday, March 03, 2017

EPA chief says he wants to save some programs; critics not convinced; state impacts examined

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (EPA photo)
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is asking mayors to bring him "success stories" to take to the White House Office of Management and Budget to save proposed cuts to EPA, Emily Holden reports for Climatewire.

The Trump administration this week proposed reducing the EPA's budget by 25 percent, employees by 20 percent and eliminating dozens of programs. Reporters around the country, such as Jim Bruggers at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, are looking at the impact on their states. He writes, "The Trump administration's plan to reduce by 30 percent grants used by states and cities to enforce clean air and clean water rules would also seem to contradict the new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's pledge to give states more control over environmental programs."

Pruitt, speaking Thursday before the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said "he wants to maintain funding to clean up brownfields and Superfund sites, meet unfulfilled air quality standards and keep paying for local water infrastructure," Holden writes. "An EPA official who asked reporters not to identify him by name said Pruitt made it clear that some of his budget priorities differ from the White House's draft. The official said he wouldn't characterize Pruitt's concerns as 'pushback.' He noted that there are some programs both Pruitt and members of Congress want to keep around."

"While Pruitt is doing damage control and touting his support of some of the money that goes to states, he hasn't addressed funding for other issues reportedly on the chopping block," Holden writes. "These range from climate change and environmental justice to the largely successful Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and Energy Star programs."

John O'Grady, an EPA union leader, "said Pruitt's support for some programs is doing 'nothing to allay' the fears of agency employees," Holden writes. O'Grady said in an email, "EPA is full of very well educated and dedicated attorneys, biologists, chemists, ecologists, engineers, geologists, toxicologists, and other highly skilled professionals who are able to 'read between the lines.' Mr. Pruitt is here at EPA to deconstruct EPA." (Read more)

Study in Appalachia to examine potential health impacts of living near a surface mine

Scientists from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will study Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and the coal regions of Virginia and Tennessee to determine if living near a surface mine increases the risk of health problems, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"A number of studies have shown that mountaintop mining is associated with higher rates of cancer, heart disease and other health problems in Central Appalachia," Estep writes. "Michael S. Hendryx, a professor who did several of the studies while formerly at West Virginia University, told the Herald-Leader last year that the studies were adjusted to account for factors such as higher rates of smoking and obesity in the region."

"However, the coal industry has fiercely disputed the studies, and a 2012 industry-funded study by a Yale University researcher and others concluded that 'coal mining is not per se the cause of increased mortality in rural Appalachia,'' Estep writes. "The study by the National Academies could identify gaps in existing research and help settle some of the uncertainties about the issue."

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which commissioned the two-year study, "said the research agency would choose experts to examine a 'growing amount of academic research that relates to possible correlations between increased health risks as a result of living near surface coal mine operations,'" Estep writes. "The study will involve synthesizing existing research, not conducting new field studies." (Read more)

White House says Keystone XL pipeline exempt from requirement to buy American steel

Canadian Press graphic
The White House said on Thursday that the Keystone XL pipeline is exempt from President Trump's executive order "requiring infrastructure projects to be built with American steel," Ben Lefebvre reports for Politico. "Trump signed the order calling for the Commerce Department to develop a plan for U.S. steel to be used in 'all new pipelines, as well as retrofitted, repaired or expanded pipelines' inside the U.S. projects 'to the maximum extent possible'."

"By the White House’s judgment, that description would not include Keystone XL, which developer TransCanada first proposed in 2008," Lefebvre writes. A White House spokesperson said, “The Keystone XL Pipeline is currently in the process of being constructed, so it does not count as a new, retrofitted, repaired or expanded pipeline."

Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le noted after the speech that "TransCanada said in 2013 that it had already purchased all of the steel pipe it needed for the Keystone XL, with the rest coming from a Russian-owned plant in Canada, Italy and India. Experts say the plant in Arkansas (owned by an Indian company) is the only one in the U.S. that could build the pipe—and it gets its steel from India."

Study links increase in county unemployment rate to rise in opioid deaths

Opioid overdose death rates grow fastest in counties with rising unemployment rates, says a study by researchers at the University of Indiana and the University of Virginia published in The National Bureau of Economic Research. Some of the nation's poorest counties, many in Appalachia, also have some of the highest drug overdose rates. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study has state-level data on overdose deaths from 2015.

Researchers used county-level mortality data for the entire U.S. from 1999-2014, finding that when the county unemployment rate increases by one percent, the opioid death rates rises by 0.19 per every 100,000, a 3.6 percent increase. Researchers also looked at county level emergency room data from 2002-2014 from Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland and New Jersey, finding that when the county unemployment rate increases by one percent, the opioid death rate rises by .95, or seven percent.

"Because of the way the study was designed, it couldn’t measure the overall effect of national changes in the economy, like the Great Recession and the subsequent recovery," Jeff Guo reports for The Washington Post. "Instead, the research tells us that places that weathered the Great Recession more gracefully were better able to resist the opioid epidemic, while places that suffered during the Great Recession were harder hit by opioid deaths."

"This is more surprising than it seems. Alcohol use actually behaves the opposite way," Guo writes. "People tend to buy less alcohol in bad times, and more alcohol in good times. In fact, there’s a well-documented correlation between economic growth and higher death rates. When the economy is booming, people tend to behave in more risky ways, and pollution also increases. When the economy is in recession, both those risk factors abate."

Some rural ERs still turn away women in labor, despite federal law requiring treatment

Jewish Hospital in Shelbyville, Ky.
was cited for turning away a woman in labor
Over the last five years at least 20 rural hospitals have been found in violation of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) requiring "every U.S. hospital with an emergency room to treat patients who arrive in labor, caring for them at least until the delivery of the placenta after a baby is born," Julie Lasson reports for Pro Publica. "In several cases, women suffered serious complications after being turned away, or were misdiagnosed at facilities that lacked specialists in obstetrics."

"Some ERs not only denied treatment to women in labor, they also would not help them transfer elsewhere, records show," Lasson writes. "A woman turned away by Monroe County Hospital in Forsyth, Ga., ended up calling 911 from outside the dialysis center across the street. Another woman, told there were no staff gynecologists at a Hartford, Ky. hospital, called an ambulance from a grocery store parking lot."

"EMTALA was passed primarily to ensure that emergency rooms couldn't refuse patients because they couldn't pay for services," Lasson writes. "Prompted by a catastrophic case in which a pregnant woman was turned away from two California hospitals that believed she had no insurance, the provisions outlined in EMTALA specific to labor reflected that a growing number of hospitals, especially in rural areas, had begun eliminating obstetrics departments because of high costs and a lack of doctors."

study by The Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis found that the number of non-metro hospitals lacking hospital-based obstetric services was 44 percent in 2002, up from 24 percent in 1985, Lasson writes. "A study by the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center found that 7 percent of hospitals in nine states with large rural populations closed their obstetrics units between 2010 and 2014."

While some of the cited hospitals have made changes, not all have, Lasson writes. "Government inspectors cited East Texas Medical Center Carthage in Carthage, Texas, for a July 2012 incident in which a staffer told a woman in labor that the hospital didn’t have obstetric services or an obstetrician, and didn’t know where ambulances were stationed to transfer her elsewhere. She and her husband tried to drive themselves to another hospital, but their car broke down, the inspection report said." The baby died. "As part of their investigation, inspectors turned up an email from one Carthage staff member to another, noting this was not the first time the medical center had turned away an emergency delivery."

Connecting rural Wisconsin to broadband will cost $1 billion, says news investigation

Broadband access in Wisconsin (StateTech map)
Connecting rural Wisconsin to broadband would cost about $1 billion, Matthew Simon reports for WSAW in the north-central part of the state. Federal officials say more than 40 percent of rural Wisconsin does not have broadband.

"The issue is large expenses associated with building rural location’s infrastructure," Simon writes. "Things like laying wires and building wireless point-to-point resources to make internet a reality for rural Wisconsin families who, right now, do not have the options. Increasing broadband access depends on six pots of money to build the internet infrastructure: three federal, two state and, also, private company investments."

An investigation by WSAW found that "if state lawmakers approve all internet spending proposals during the 2017 budget year, combined with already available federal funds, there could potentially be up to $182 million private companies could tap into to help build that infrastructure," Simon writes. By 2020, the year Republican Gov. Scott Walker "said he would to see broadband available to all who want it, the total amount of funding available will have grown to total more than $600 million."

"By the 2026 budget year, nearly $1 billion will have been invested in building rural Wisconsin internet," Simon writes. "However, those are only the public dollars. They do not account for the investments companies will also make, which is privately held information. Because the plan is to spend so much public internet building money in such a short time, combined with the private investments."

Thursday, March 02, 2017

EPA head: 'WOTUS' rule rollback first step in regulation relief; study says drinking water at risk

Screen shot of Environmental Working Group map
of counties that get drinking water from streams.
For the interactive version click here
New Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt said Tuesday at the American Farm Bureau Federation advocacy conference that rolling back the waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, under the Clean Water Act, "is just the first step toward fixing what's wrong with our government regulations," Marc Heller reports for Greenwire. Pruitt, who didn't elaborate on how the agency may rewrite the Clean Water Act regulation, said, "I'm looking forward to the regulatory rollback to provide certainty to you."

Heller writes, "Pruitt was short on specifics about other regulations affecting agriculture that might face extra scrutiny. He said the agency needs to tackle cleanup of around 1,300 Superfund sites nationally and roll back the Clean Power Plan regulating power plant emissions."

A county-level analysis released Wednesday by the Environmental Working Group says that rolling back the Clean Water Act "puts the drinking water of 117 million Americans at risk," Alex Formuzis reports for the organization. "EWG found that more than one-third of the nation’s people get at least some of their drinking water from small streams and more than 72 million Americans in 1,033 counties rely on small streams for more than half of their water."

"EWG researchers drew on geospatial data compiled by the EPA to identify the counties that are most dependent on small streams for their drinking water. In more than 21 states, at least a million people fit this criteria—more than five million each in New York, Texas and Pennsylvania, and more than three million each in Georgia, Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina, California and Arizona," Formuzis writes.

Vermont's health care experiment could serve as a national model, especially in rural areas

Vermont, one of the nation's most rural states, has launched an ambitious "experiment that could transform the delivery of health care nationwide," Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. The state is replacing the traditional "fee for service" system where doctors and hospitals are paid for each procedure, treatment or test they provide in favor of a "pay-for-performance" system. Studies have shown that pay-for-performance is more successful in rural areas, because fewer competing insurers and hospitals make it easier to coordinate the system.

"Under Vermont’s plan, to be phased in through 2022, health plans would pay doctors and hospitals based on how well they care for their patients and contain costs, rather than on the volume of services they provide," Ollove writes. "Some health care plans, public and private, have been experimenting with 'pay-for-performance' systems for more than a decade. But Vermont’s experiment is the most ambitious, aiming to cover 70 percent of the state’s residents (excluding those who are in out-of-state employer-sponsored plans), whether they are beneficiaries of Medicare, Medicaid or commercial health insurance."

Organizations "that choose to participate in Vermont’s experiment would join one of two 'accountable care organizations,' or ACOs, which are groups of doctors, hospitals and other providers who combine to coordinate the care of their patients," Ollove writes. "At the beginning of each year, Medicare, Medicaid and Blue Cross Blue Shield (Vermont’s dominant private insurer) would pay the ACOs a per capita amount to cover the care of each patient. Participating providers would earn financial rewards for staying under budget, and for meeting standards of high-quality care."

"The ACOs have agreed to limit spending growth to about 3.5 percent a year for the five years of the experiment. (The national growth rate for health spending in 2015, the last year for which data is available, was 5.8 percent.)," Ollove writes. "As a reward for staying under budget, ACOs would receive up to three percent of the amount they were budgeted. If they miss the targets, they would have to pay a penalty of up to three percent." The model doesn’t count spending on prescription drugs.

"Because payments will be based on the health outcomes of patients, the architects of Vermont’s all-payer model think doctors and hospitals will provide services they forgo under a fee-for-service system because they are not paid for them. Some of those services will not only benefit patients, but save money in the long run," Ollove writes.

Another key is that all "providers in the ACOs will use the same electronic health record system, allowing for seamless communication between hospitals, practices, home health agencies and nursing homes. The single system will make it easier for providers to share what works best for each patient." (Read more)

White House proposes cutting EPA budget by 25%, employees by 20% and eliminating 38 programs

The Trump administration has proposed reducing the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by 25 percent, employees by 20 percent and eliminating dozens of programs, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report for The Washington Post. EPA in fiscal year 2016 had 15,376 employees and a budget of more than $8.1 billion, according to EPA data. The federal budget for 2016 was $3.54 trillion, reports InsideGov.

A White House plan obtained by the Post calls for reducing EPA's' budget to $6.1 billion and cutting staff to 12,000, reports the Post. Because much of the funding "already goes to states and localities in the form of grants, such cuts could have an even more significant effect on the EPA’s core functions. Grants to states, as well as its air and water programs, would be cut by 30 percent. The massive Chesapeake Bay cleanup project would receive only $5 million in the next fiscal year, down from its current $73 million."

"In addition, 38 separate programs would be eliminated entirely. Grants to clean up brownfields, or abandoned industrial sites, would be gone," reports the Post. "Also zeroed out: the radon program, climate change initiatives and funding for Alaskan native villages. The agency’s Office of Research and Development could lose up to 42 percent of its budget, according to an individual apprised of the administration’s plans. And the document eliminates funding altogether for the office’s “contribution to the U.S. Global Change Research Program,” a climate initiative that President George H.W. Bush launched in 1989."

The main reason for the cuts is that Trump is seeking a $54 billion increase in military spending, reports the Post. The White House doscument said: “The administration’s 2018 budget blueprint will prioritize rebuilding the military and making critical investments in the nation’s security. It will also identify the savings and efficiencies needed to keep the nation on a responsible fiscal path.”

Over 300 native North American bee species at increasing risk of extinction, says study

Hundreds of bee species in North America are declining says a study by the Center for Biological Diversity. The study, which said sufficient data exists for 1,437 native bee species—out of more than 4,000—in North America, found that 749 are declining. Researchers also found that 347 native bee species are "imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction." Study author Kelsey Kopec said "declines are caused primarily by habitat loss, heavy pesticide use, climate change and urbanization." (Center for Biological Diversity graphic)
"Experts from the center reviewed the status of 316 bee species and then conducted reviews of all available information to determine the status of a further 1,121 species," Gina Cherelus reports for Reuters. "The center said the species which lacked sufficient data were also presumed to be at risk of extinction Gina Cherelus reports for Reuters. Among the native species that are severely threatened are the Gulf Coast solitary bee, the macropis cuckoo bee and the sunflower leafcutting bee, which is now rarely seen."

Bees are responsible for more than $15 billion in increased U.S. crop value each year. Honeybees lost 28 percent of colonies during the 2015-16 winter, up from 22 percent the year before.

Risk of man-made earthquakes down in Texas, Okla. with decrease of oil field wastewater disposal

USGS says the risk of damaging quakes triggered
by oil field wastewater disposal is lower
this year but still significant.
Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey say a decline in oil field wastewater disposal has led to a decrease in risk from man-made earthquakes in Oklahoma and Texas, Mike Soraghan reports for Energywire. But they warn "that there's still a significant chance for oil field activity to trigger a damaging quake in the next year."

USGS's second annual hazard map forecasting the danger of damaging quakes caused by man-made activity was published this week in the journal Seismological Research Letters, Soraghan writes. "The forecast showed a slight decrease in Oklahoma, although some portions are still considered to have a 10 to 12 percent risk of a damaging quake. But the Dallas area was removed from the map. That meant the number of people considered to be at elevated risk from man-made quakes dropped from 7 million to about 3.5 million."

"The likelihood of damaging ground shaking in central Oklahoma remains similar to that of natural earthquakes in high-hazard areas of California, according to the USGS assessment," Soraghan writes. "And USGS officials noted the level of hazard remains higher than what current building codes take into account. The forecast maps released yesterday indicate that the Raton Basin area along the Colorado-New Mexico border also remains at elevated risk. An area in West Texas, where companies have increased production from the Permian Basin, was added as being at a slightly elevated risk of damage from quakes."

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Medicaid expansion kept hundreds of rural hospitals afloat; ACA repeal could put them at risk

Medicaid expansion brought a windfall to many rural hospitals, as millions of Americans gained coverage and were able to pay for care, but the looming threat of repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act puts "670 rural hospitals across the country at risk of shutting their doors," Jeff Lagasse reports for Healthcare Finance, citing findings from iVantage Health Analytics."

According to iVantage, which "examined rural hospital performance across a variety of measures," the expansion of Medicaid benefited rural hospitals the most, Lagasse writes. "Rural hospitals in expansion states, running on extremely tight margins, saw a significant improvement to their bottom lines, and provided a benefit to the estimated 62 million Americans living in rural areas, many of whom received health coverage under the ACA for the first time."

How does pulling the plug on ACA threaten rural hospitals? For starters, Lagasse notes, "many are not part of larger health systems, which gives them decreased leverage when dealing with insurance companies; they also don't have as much capital to invest in amenities such as facilities and electronic health records."

"There's a statistically significant impact on the rural median operating margins in states that expanded Medicaid," Michael Topchik, national leader of the Chartis Center for Rural Health and member of the iVantage leadership team, told Lagasse. Topchik implicitly touched on the politics of repealing and replacing the ACA: Many states President Trump carried, "like West Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana . . . saw a lot of people gain coverage either directly through Medicaid expansion or secondarily through the exchanges" for tax-subsidized insurance policies.

iVantage "estimated that that loss of Medicaid expansion would contribute to 137,000 fewer jobs in the broader community, with 99,000 of those jobs lost in the health-care sector," Lagasse writes. "The ACA used only federal funds from 2014 through 2016 to pay for the expanded benefits, and while that reduces to 90 percent by 2020, it's more than the 50- to 75-percent match that existed before ACA implementation" for traditional Medicaid. "Preliminary replacement plans from the GOP-led House would eliminate Medicaid expansion by 2020."

House health-care draft suggests a plan that could leave rural areas short of coverage

Photo from The Atlantic
A 100-page draft of a House Republican plan to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act suggests that "millions of people in rural areas where it’s already hardest to find doctors might no longer be able to afford health insurance in a few years," Van R. Newkirk II writes for The Atlantic.

"The basics of that plan, which was unveiled by House Speaker Paul Ryan two weeks ago, and the rough shape of which has the support of new health secretary Tom Price and the Trump administration, are known," Newkirk reports. "The plan removes the individual and employer mandates to purchase and provide insurance, respectively, and it would also repeal most of the taxes that fund Obamacare. It would roll back funding for the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and dramatically restructure the Medicaid program’s funding. Further, the plan would replace the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing subsidies and premium tax credits with an age-rated tax credit, all while keeping Obamacare’s popular pre-existing conditions ban."

The draft was leaked to Politico last week. It "specifies that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion for low-income able-bodied adults won’t be completely eliminated, but the eligibility and funding will be rolled back after 2020. The draft also contains a provision changing federal funding for Medicaid in 2020 onward from an open-ended obligation to a system where the per-person spending every year is capped based on spending levels in 2019 and increased annually to correspond with medical inflation," Newkirk says.

The draft plan repeals the tax-based individual mandate and replaces it with an incentive to maintain continuous health-insurance coverage. "For people not covered by employers or public insurance who have to purchase insurance on individual, small group, or exchange markets, this proposal would allow insurers to charge up to 30 percent more in premiums to people who go without coverage at any point for more than two months, and also for young adults who don’t enroll in coverage as soon as they age out of their parents’ plans, a surcharge that would not be remitted as taxes to sustain the system, but would be paid as profits to insurers. The effects of this potential measure on individuals’ pockets are potentially limited by a reduction of federal oversight over what can be considered health-insurance coverage, which would allow people to avoid penalties by purchasing barebones coverage," Newkirk explains. (Read more)

Fact-checking Trump speech: economy, pipelines, health care, immigration, coal, manufacturing jobs

Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton
President Trump's address to Congress Tuesday night contained plenty of factual errors. We only have room here for a few fact checks. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports from The Washington Post, The New York Times, NBC News, PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org.

NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann write on First Read that Trump's biggest whopper of the night concerned the economy when he said: "Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force. Over 43 million people are now living in poverty, and over 43 million Americans are on food stamps. More than 1 in 5 people in their prime working years are not working. We have the worst financial recovery in 65 years." NBC says while some figures are true "others are highly misleading."

For example, 93 percent of people not in the labor force say they don't want a job. David Freedlander of The Daily Beast noted on Twitter that of the 94 million not working, 44 million are retired, 15.3 million are disabled. 13.3 million are taking care of a family member and 13.2 million are in school.

The Times and Post both say Trump "cherry-picked" data on the economy "to reinforce his argument that he’s walking into the White House with the economy in a near-shambles, as Philip Bump of the Post writes. Trump's description of “the worst financial recovery in 65 years” is true, Bump writes,m but "we also had the worst economic situation since the Great Depression." NBC noted that Trump failed to mention that he inherited a country with a low unemployment rate of 4.8 percent and rising household income.

Pipelines: Trump said the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines will create "tens of thousands of jobs." Times reporter Coral Davenport noted that most of the jobs will be temporary: "A 2014 State Department environmental review estimated that Keystone would support 42,000 temporary jobs over its two-year construction period — about 3,900 of them in construction, the rest in indirect support jobs, such as food service. It estimated that Keystone would create about 35 permanent jobs."

Trump also said, "I’ve issued a new directive that new American pipelines be made with American steel.” Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "Workers in Arkansas have already built about half of the high-strength line pipe needed for the project, some 333,000 tons. TransCanada said in 2013 that it had already purchased all of the steel pipe it needed for the Keystone XL, with the rest coming from a Russian-owned plant in Canada, Italy and India. Experts say the plant in Arkansas (owned by an Indian company) is the only one in the U.S. that could build the pipe—and it gets its steel from India."

Immigration: Trump said, “By finally enforcing our immigration laws we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars and make our communities safer for everyone.” Kessler and Lee write, "Trump exaggerates the impact of illegal immigration on crime, taxpayer money and jobs. Extensive research shows noncitizens are not more prone to criminality than U.S.-born citizens. The vast majority of unauthorized immigrants are not criminal aliens or aggravated felons." Several studies have shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the U.S., Richard Perez-Pena reported in January for the Times.

Health care: Trump said, "Obamacare premiums nationwide have increased by double and triple digits." Times reporter Robert Pear notes that double-digit increases in premiums have been common for many years. "President Trump cited Arizona's 116 percent increase; it is the only state that experienced a triple-digit hike. Premiums for a popular group of health plans sold on HealthCare.gov rose this year by an average of 25 percent, according to the Obama administration. While subsidies are available to people with low and moderate incomes, people who do not qualify for financial assistance must bear the full cost."

Jobs and trade: Trump said, "We've lost more than one-fourth of our manufacturing jobs since Nafta was approved." Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum writes, "The U.S. has lost a lot of factory jobs since 2000, but the biggest reason is technological progress, not foreign competition. America's manufacturing output is at the highest level in history—it just doesn't take as many workers to make stuff anymore. Some jobs have been lost to foreign competition, but studies assign a modest role to NAFTA."

Coal: Trump said he ended a regulation that threatened "the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners." Davenport writes, "There is no evidence that the rule threatened a significant number of coal mining jobs, or that rolling it back will create new ones. No credible studies have shown that rolling back major regulations on coal pollution will contribute to a major increase in coal-mining jobs."

Senate confirms Ryan Zinke to head Interior Dept.

Ryan Zinke
The Senate today confirmed Ryan Zinke to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior, Darryl Fears reports for The Washington Post. "Zinke will take over a department that manages a fifth of the land in the U.S., about 500 million surface acres, a total that doesn’t include millions of more acres and natural resources underground. Interior has an enormous environmental footprint, with agencies that decide how resources such as coal are managed and which animals are eligible for listing under the Endangered Species Act."

"Republicans called the former Montana congressman and Navy SEAL a strong choice for Interior, as an avid hunter with western roots who understands how federal regulations on the cultivation of coal, natural gas and minerals on public lands can hurt corporate revenue and reduce jobs," Fears writes. "Democrats were wary of Zinke despite his declaration that he believes humans contributed to climate change." Some fear he will "rescind the Obama administration designation of 1.3 million acres in Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument, a status long pursued by Native tribes and conservationists."

Map shows percentage of people in each county who believe climate change is happening

Do people in your neck of the woods believe climate change is happening? The Yale Climate Opinion Maps, created by Yale University's Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication, include county-level data (updated this week) on the percentage of people who believe climate change is occurring.

Seventeen survey questions were asked, such as: Do you think that global warming is happening?; How much do you trust or distrust climate scientists as a source of information about global warming?; and a question that asks if participants think global warming is caused by human activities, natural changes to the environment, other causes, or if they believe global warming is not happening. (Yale map: Screenshot of how many people in Logan County, West Virginia believe climate change is happening. For the interactive map click here)
"Across the country, 70 percent of Americans think global warming is happening and that it will harm future generations," Erika Bolstad reports for Climatewire. "An estimated 82 percent of adults think there should be support for research into renewable sources of energy. An estimated 69 percent think there should be strict limits on CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants."

Data also includes "information from other survey questions, including how much people trust climate scientists, whether they think global warming will harm plants and animals, and how often people discuss global warming with their friends and family," Bolstad writes. "It even asks how often they hear about global warming in the media."

The data include the number of people surveyed in each county, from which a margin of error can be calculated: Divide 0.25 by the sample size, take the square root, then multiply the root by 1.96 (for a confidence level of 95 percent, meaning that 19 of 20 times the result of the poll would be the same, within the error margin, of a survey of the county's entire population).

W.Va.'s Jennifer Garner bucks Hollywood trend, trying to ally with Trump to promote rural causes

Jennifer Garner at the National Governors Association
winter meeting in Washington on Saturday. (AP photo)
While many Hollywood liberals have shunned President Trump, actress Jennifer Garner, a West Virginia native who often visits Appalachia to promote causes such as early education for the rural poor, has not given up on the Trump administration, Paul Kane reports for The Washington Post. "Garner, a true-blue Democrat who campaigned for Hillary Clinton last year and held a fundraiser for Barack Obama in 2008, is taking a unique approach: pushing a cause that would benefit the new administration’s political base," rural Americans.

Garner "spent the weekend lobbying the town’s pillars of power to support early education for poor rural children," Kane writes. "She spent Friday on Capitol Hill meeting dozens of top staff members. On Saturday, she delivered the keynote address before the annual National Governors Association winter meeting here. A potential sit-down with Ivanka Trump, who is advocating for more funding for child care, fell apart because of scheduling conflicts, but Garner remained optimistic about a face-to-face discussion soon."

Garner "sees an opportunity to hold the president accountable for the pledges he made to the country’s rural working class," Kane writes. She told the Post, “I’m looking forward to helping him make good on what they saw as promises, a mandate from him, that he was going to make their lives better." Garner said some of her friends “want to turn their back to this administration," but she told him, “If he’s willing to help the poor kids who got him elected, then let’s do it. They certainly think he’s going to."

For the past nine years Garner "has been on the board of Save the Children, a nonprofit organization. Mark Shriver is president of its political advocacy arm, Save the Children Action Network," Kane writes. "Save the Children is known primarily for its international projects, but it has also built out a niche focus on U.S. education programs, particularly in poor rural communities." Garner and Shriver have pushed for Congress to fund literacy programs that include all-day kindergarten and last year Garner was in West Virginia to help raise money after devastating floods.

Judge blocks Md. wind turbine farm, latest example of rural-urban conflict over wind power

Cumberland, Md. (Best Places map)
Lawyers for wind power developer Dan's Mountain Wind Force LLC last week filed an appeal to an "administrative law judge's denial of its plans for a 17-turbine project atop Dan's Mountain, southwest of Cumberland, Md.," reports The Associated Press. "Chief Public Utility Law Judge Terry J. Romine issued a proposed order in January that said the project's potential benefits were outweighed by its negative effects on those living near the site. The order would have become final Saturday. The developer has argued that the project is a public necessity that will create jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue."

Romine said "the project's potential benefits on Dan's Mountain are outweighed by the negative effects on the community south of Cumberland," reports the Cumberland News-Times. "The project was blocked by land-use restrictions but the developer was seeking to convince regulators that the wind farm is a public necessity." The judge said the project did “not justify or offset subjecting the local community to the adverse impacts that will result from the wind project’s construction and operation," Robert Bruce writes in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times. "The judge’s ruling probably spells the end of an eight-year battle that pitted local homeowners and Allegany County against the developer of the 60-megawatt project."

Bryce's piece begins, "Urban voters may like the idea of using more wind and solar energy, but the push for large-scale renewables is creating land-use conflicts in rural regions from Maryland to California and Ontario to Loch Ness" in Scotland." He writes, "Rural residents don’t want to see the red-blinking lights atop the turbines, all night, every night for the rest of their lives."

Sunshine Week, which celebrates open government and freedom of the press, set March 12-18

The American Society of News Editors has released a budget for this year's Sunshine Week, which will be observed March 12-18. The annual event, now in its 12th year, celebrates open government and freedom of the press. National Freedom of Information Day is March 16, the birthday of James Madison, father of the First Amendment.

ASNE and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have worked with major news organizations, such as The Associated Press, Associated Press Media Editors, Gannett Co., The McClatchy Co., The Dallas Morning News and the Minneapolis Star Tribune on coverage and commentary that will be available for use for all newspapers. AP will distribute a full advisory of coverage March 6.

The Sunshine Week site will also provide other tools, including op-eds, editorial cartoons and Sunshine Week logos. The website also features freedom of information story ideas and past work from Sunshine Week, as well as a list of participants and a calendar of events.

Sunshine Week 2017 is made possible by an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and by a donation from The Gridiron Club and Foundation of Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Heroin, other opioids led to 73% of 2015 overdose deaths, says CDC study with state-level data

Deaths from heroin and natural and semi-synthetic opioids—such as oxycodone and hydrocodone—accounted for 49 percent of all overdose deaths in 2015, says a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heroin-overdose deaths tripled from 8 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2015. While the percentage of deaths from synthetic opioids declined from 29 percent to 24 percent, deaths from synthetic opioids other than methadone—such as fentanyl and tramadol—increased from eight percent to 18 percent.

West Virginia had the highest age-adjusted drug-overdose death rate at 41.5 deaths per 100,000 people. New New Hampshire (34.3) was second, followed by Kentucky (29.9), Ohio (29.9), Rhode Island (28.2), Pennsylvania (26.3), Massachusetts (25.7), New Mexico (25.3), Utah (23.4), Tennessee (22.2), Connecticut (22.1), Delaware (22.0), Maine (21.2), Maryland (20.9), Michigan (20.4), Nevada (20.4), Indiana (19.5), Louisiana (19.0), Arizona (19.0), Oklahoma (19.0), and Missouri (17.9). The national average was 16.3.

Nebraska had the lowest rate at 6.9. It was followed by South Dakota (8.4), North Dakota (8.6), Texas (9.4), Iowa (10.3), Minnesota (10.6), California (11.3), Hawaii (11.3),  Kansas (11.8), Oregon (12.0), Mississippi (12.3), Virginia (12.4), Georgia (12.7),  New York (13.6), Montana (13.8), Arkansas (13.8), Illinois (14.1) and Idaho (14.2). (CDC map: Age-adjusted drug overdose death rates, by state in 2015)

Trump to sign executive order rolling back definition of 'waters of the United States'

President Trump today "will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to 'review and reconsider' a 2015 rule" defining "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act, The Washington Post reported, citing a senior official. That "could ultimately make it easier for agricultural and development interests to drain wetlands and small streams," Juliet Eilperin and Abby Phillip report.

"The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the executive order had not yet been signed, said the directive aimed to address the concerns of about 30 states and an array of business interests that have criticized the previous administration for overreaching," reports the Post. "The final outcome of Trump’s order could have tremendous implications for the agricultural, real estate, gravel, sand and ranching sectors, as well as a critical habitat for aquatic species and migratory birds."

"Still, it could take well over a year for the directive to be carried out. It will likely trigger a fresh round of rulemaking, but could also lead to extensive litigation as the agencies seek to redefine federal restrictions on what accounts for 60 percent of the nation’s water bodies," reports the Post. 

The "WOTUS" rule, which expanded the number of waterways that are federally protected, was finalized by EPA and the Corps in May 2015, David Shepardson notes for Reuters. Eighteen states challenged the rule and in October 2015 it was blocked by a federal appeals court pending further court challenges.

"Critics contend the rule vastly expands the federal government's authority and could apply to ditches and small isolated bodies of water," Shepardson writes. "The EPA under President Barack Obama said the rule protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries 'because science shows that they impact downstream waters.'"

Soft drinks are by far the No. 1 item purchased by households with food stamps, USDA finds

Households that use the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – formerly known as food stamps – are a fifth more likely to have more sweetened beverages in their homes than households not in SNAP. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that the top items bought with food stamps are soft drinks, which are high in sugar and have been blamed for increasing childhood obesity, which is more prevalent among rural children.

This is the first Agriculture Department study to reveal "purchasing habits under the program in detail," Jen Fifield reports for Stateline. "The report, along with the election of President Donald Trump, who may be more inclined to tighten welfare rules, has reignited a long-standing debate on whether the government should allow people to use food stamps to buy unhealthy food."

The study found no huge differences between households with or without SNAP when it came to purchasing most food products like fluid milk, ground beef and bagged snacks. But "expenditure proportions on soft drinks were slightly higher for SNAP households compared to non-SNAP households," making it the No. 1 purchase for SNAP holders. Soft-drink packages of 12 to 18 cans ranked $164.6 million, followed by 2-liter bottles ($70.9 million), and 20-24 pack cans ($39.7 million). Those categories plus two others for soft drinks added up to 38.6 percent of SNAP expenditures; in non-SNAP households, the soft-drink total was 31.7 percent.

The study report said the data came from "a leading grocery retailer" during the 2011 fiscal year. The study analyzed the spending habits of about 3 million SNAP households; the report notes that purchases made at other SNAP-authorized stores were not included.

Studies have suggested that the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages lead not only to tooth decay and weight gain, but also to type 2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in children. Nutrition educators want to ban the purchase of junk food through the SNAP program, but advocates such as the Food Research and Action Center say banning certain products from SNAP would be too complicated and costly, Fifeild writes. "FRAC and similar groups that fight to end hunger, along with organizations representing merchants, are fervently opposed to restrictions, saying that along with being burdensome to implement, they are also unlikely to change eating habits."

Interior drops website claim of jobs saved by repeal of Stream Protection Rule

President Trump signing the Stream Protection
Rule repeal (Interior Department photo)
The Department of the Interior has removed a debatable statement from its website that said blocking the Stream Protection Rule prevented the loss of "7,000 clean coal jobs in 22 states," Dylan Brown reports for Greenwire. The department, which said it edited the text "for clarification," still "hails the rule's repeal as President Trump's first step to make good on promises 'to harness the power of American energy'."

The department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which spent nearly the entire eight years of Obama's presidency working on the rule, on Dec. 19 issued a final version with new limits on mining near waterways. In early February Congress voted to kill the rule. Trump signed the resolution Feb. 16.

The statement of 7,000 lost jobs contradicted OSMRE's "analysis during the Obama administration that the rule, which enhanced water quality and monitoring requirements at coal mines, would actually create a few hundred jobs in reclamation," Brown writes.

A 2015 National Mining Association-backed study by consulting firm Ramboll Environ "estimated as many as 77,000 coal mining jobs would be lost—a figured quoted by lawmakers after Trump signed their resolution repealing the rule," Brown writes. Glenn Kessler, a Washington Post fact checker, "said the 77,000 estimate was 'simply not credible' because it relied on a small sample of coal operators already vehemently opposed to the rule and outdated coal employment numbers," Brown writes. (Read more)

Appeals court rejects lawsuit asking for eggs to be labeled with how chickens were raised

A federal appeals court on Monday rejected a lawsuit by two animal advocacy groups and six egg consumers "to require labels on egg cartons indicating the conditions in which the chickens were raised," reports The Associated Press. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "ruled that several federal agencies had acted reasonably in rejecting the labeling regulations." The plaintiffs "argued that eggs from caged hens are nutritionally inferior and carry a greater risk of Salmonella contamination."

The Animal Legal Defense Fund and Compassion Over Killing "wanted the cartons to be labeled 'Free-Range Eggs,' 'Cage-Free Eggs' or 'Eggs from Caged Hens,'" Stephen Davies reports for Agri-Pulse. The Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Agriculture's’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and Agricultural Marketing Service each denied the petitions.

The court ruled that FSIS and AMS lack the authority for such labeling and based on the information plaintiffs provided in the petition, FTC "could not conclude that current egg-labeling practices were either ‘unfair or deceptive’," Davies writes. "FDA’s explanation for denying the groups’ petition contained just enough of an explanation to survive legal review, the court said."

U.S. News & World Report ranks states on well-being; Mass., N.H. top list, La., Miss. at bottom

Where New Hampshire ranks
Massachusetts is the nation's top state, while Louisiana leads a host of Southern states at the bottom of the list, according to the Best State Rankings by U.S. News & World Report. Following Massachusetts at the top is New Hampshire, Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington. The bottom five states are Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and New Mexico.

Rankings were based on seven categories: health care; education; crime and corrections: infrastructure; opportunity; economy; and government. Health care accounted for 18 percent of the state' score, education 16 percent, infrastructure, opportunity and crimes and corrections 14 percent, economy 13 percent and government 10 percent. Rankings include analysis for each category, data on each state and charts that show the numbers on how states were ranked.

Hawaii was ranked No. 1 in health care, Massachusetts in education, Vermont in crime and corrections, Oregon in infrastructure, New Hampshire in opportunity, Colorado in economy and Indiana in government. Arkansas was last in health care, South Carolina in education, Louisiana in crimes and corrections, Mississippi in infrastructure and opportunity, Alaska in economy and New Jersey in government.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Social media, attacks on news media leave rural voters at sea on national issues, publisher says

The dominance of social media and the attacks on traditional news media have left people in rural areas disconnected from the facts about national issues, the president of the Kentucky Press Association said at a media forum in Lexington Feb. 23.

“You have people who do not trust anything outside of their own bubble, their own county, their own city,” Ryan Craig, publisher of the Todd County Standard in Elkton, said at "Finding Facts in an Alternative-Fact World," sponsored by the Bluegrass Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Craig said he occasionally posts national news stories on Facebook and is asked how he knows they are true. “I have to tell them … ‘You live in this very rural bubble, and the algorithms for Facebook that you keep popping on all the time have pretty well rules out what I consider balanced journalism that comes into your life.’ The only balanced journalism … they may get is a regional or statewide newspaper, or a local newspaper, and maybe something off the Nashville television stations.”

Local news doesn’t encounter skepticism, Craig said, because readers “can look at a local product and say, well, I know that person; I know his mama and daddy … or, I know that happened at the courthouse.” But beyond local news, the treatment of national issues is dominated by opinion, Craig said, and he doesn’t think most TV viewers know the difference. “The less educated, or the ones who like what they hear, will take it as fact.”

Craig said he hears people say they read his newspaper, President Trump’s Twitter feed and the Facebook pages of their Republican governor and congressman. “They consider that their news source,” he said. “The problem is, nobody’s asking the source if what they're saying is even so.”

New York Times national correspondent Campbell Robertson said Times polls have shown that people don’t understand a lot about the process, and Craig agreed.

“Now their source has said we're the enemy of the American people,” he said, referring to President Trump. “It is a tremendous difference from just last year or two years ago or five years ago,You just didn’t have that. ... They do not understand what the media is doing.”

Kathy Stone, assistant news director of Lexington’s WLEX-TV, said she had been dismayed by the turn in public opinion against the news media. “These last few months, it’s the first time I felt my friends were against me,” she said recalling how a friend had posted, “All of the media are bias.” When she objected, her friend replied, “Kathy, I didn’t mean you.”

Stone said the growth of such views means that journalists need to have a stronger community to fight for journalism: “We have to keep each other strong.”

Tom Eblen, columnist and former managing editor at the Lexington Herald-Leader, said it’s journalists should engage with citizens, and keep their eyes on the ball: “You do your job. You go investigate. ... You keep calling out the untruths and how this is different from how America has worked.”

Here's a video of the event:

Top 100 rural hospitals named, along with top 100 critical-access hospitals, rural by definition

The National Rural Health Association's Rural Health Policy Institute, iVantage Health Analytics and The Chartis Center for Rural Health have announced the Top 100 Critical Access Hospitals and Top 100 Rural and Community Hospitals, says a news release. By definition, critical-access hospitals are in rural areas/

Michael Topchik, national leader of The Chartis Center for Rural Health, said, “Measuring performance is central to improving the quality of healthcare and the performance of these top hospitals shows that, while greatly challenged, health leaders in rural can excel in the transition from volume to value. In fact, our research shows that these practice leaders share key attributes that dovetail with the CMS-driven shift to value, showing that rural hospitals can offer the best quality care at the lowest cost.”

Increased deportation raids leading undocumented workers to hide; could lead to labor shortages

Increased deportation raids are leading many undocumented workers to stay out of sight as much as possible, affecting rural areas "in the largely undocumented migrant communities east of Tampa," Robert Samuels reports for The Washington Post.

For instance, workers at tomato farms and strawberry fields feel it's too risky to move to Georgia to pick peaches or to Michigan to pick peppers this spring or summer, Samuels writes. "Many thought they would now stay put. It was safer that way."

After unconfirmed reports by activists and residents that six people were taken into custody Feb. 2 "during a search for someone accused of selling fake Social Security cards in nearby Plant City, the 'Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.' The next day "the number of migrant children who stayed home from school surged by 40 percent," Samuels writes.

"Earlier this month, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency arrested 680 people across the country," Samuels notes. "The agency has also become aggressive about attempting to detain undocumented migrants who have been jailed by local authorities. As of Friday, it has issued more than 42,000 detainer requests this year, 35 percent higher than the year before. ICE described its actions as 'routine' and lambasted those who labeled them as 'raids' because nearly 1 in 4 of those arrested had no criminal records."

Similar crackdowns occurred under President Obama, but Florida activist Norma Rosalez "said people generally trusted him to target only criminals and potential terrorists," Samuels writes. "Obama also offered protection to 'dreamers'—undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country at a young age—but teenagers were now afraid to apply to the program, Rosalez said, over fears that an application would lead an immigration officer straight to their door."

Lourdes Villanueva, director of programs for the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, which runs Head Start programs for migrant families throughout Florida, said before Trump was elected "there were waiting lists for migrant children to get into preschool, but after the election enrollment dropped by 43 percent," Samuels writes. "Staff at the Head Start center in nearby Dover began stacking cabbages and bananas on flatbeds outside so the farmworkers had food to take home when they picked up their children, since many of their parents were afraid to go to the grocery store."

Oil is rebounding, but increased automation means few new jobs for workers in the oil patch

Ryan Grant is a control room operator for
Pioneer Natural Resources in Midland, Texas
helping manage all of the company’s drilling
sites (Times photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman)
Oil is making a comeback, but the industry's resurgence is not creating many new oilfield jobs to replace the ones lost in recent years, Clifford Krauss reports for The New York Times. The main reason is increased automation. "As in other industries, automation is creating a new demand for high-tech workers—sometimes hundreds of miles away in a control center—but their numbers don’t offset the ranks of field hands no longer required to sling chains and lift iron."

One problem for the displaced workers is that a growing number are middle-aged with only a high-school education, Krauss writes. That means finding work in other fields that pay comparable to high-paying blue-collar oil jobs—"just the type that President Trump has vowed to preserve and bring back"—is difficult.

The oil industry lost 30 percent of its jobs since peaking in 2014, as oil prices plummeted, by as much as 70 percent at one point, Krauss writes. Of the 163,000 oil jobs lost since 2014, 98,000 were in Texas, largely in the western part of the state. "Several thousand workers have come back to work in recent months as the price of oil has begun to rise again, but energy experts say that between a third and a half of the workers who lost their jobs are not returning. Many have migrated to construction or even jobs in renewable energy, like wind power."

"Computers now direct drill bits that were once directed manually," Krauss writes. "The wireless technology taking hold across the oil patch allows a handful of geoscientists and engineers to monitor the drilling and completion of multiple wells at a time—onshore or miles out to sea—and supervise immediate fixes when something goes wrong, all without leaving their desks. It is a world where rigs walk on their own legs and sensors on wells alert headquarters to a leak or loss of pressure, reducing the need for a technician to check."

New DNC chair Tom Perez says party ignored many rural areas and needs to pay attention to them

Tom Perez Sunday on "This Week"
Newly elected Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said the party has to make a concentrated effort to win back rural areas, Hayley Walker reports for ABC News. Perez beat Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison 235-200 on a second ballot Saturday, after falling one vote short of election on the first ballot. He named Ellison deputy chair.

Appearing Sunday on "This Week," Perez told George Stephanopoulos, “We didn't invest enough in grassroots organizing. We ignored rural swaths of America. We need an every zip code strategy. We need to redefine the role of the DNC so that we're helping to elect people from the school board to the Senate." Perez was elected DNC chair on Saturday.

In television interviews Perez pledged "to unite a fractured party, rebuild at all levels from 'school board to the Senate' and reach out to chunks of rural America left feeling forgotten in the 2016 election," Hope Yen and Bill Barrow report for The Associated Press. "The former labor secretary in the Obama administration acknowledged that swaths of the U.S. had felt neglected, saying he had heard from rural America that 'Democrats haven't been there for us recently.'" Perez stressed a grass-roots efforts in all 50 states, telling reporters, "A lot of people feel forgotten, and we will not allow that to happen."

Editor-publisher Stan Dearman, who helped bring justice in killing of civil-rights workers, dies at 84

Stanley Dearman
Longtime Mississippi newspaper publisher Stanley Dearman died Saturday at 84. Dearman and Jim Prince, his successor at The Neshoba Democrat, were the second winners, after the award's namesakes, of the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. They won the award in 2008 for successful efforts to bring to justice the killers of three civil-rights workers in Neshoba County in 1964.

The Rural Blog reported in 2008: "Though seven men allied with the Ku Klux Klan were convicted of federal conspiracy charges, none served more than six years, 11 others went free, and the case was never prosecuted by the State of Mississippi until Stanley Dearman, Jim Prince and others called and worked for action." Dearman continued to pursue the case after selling the paper to Prince in 2000. "On June 21, 2005—exactly 41 years to the day after the three were abducted, killed and buried—a local jury convicted former Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen of three counts of manslaughter."

Dearman and Prince were drivers of The Philadelphia Coalition, which pushed for state action. Jerry Mitchell wrote for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger in 2008: “I have no doubt in my mind this case would have never wound up in court if not for Prince, Dearman, the coalition and so many others, including the families of those slain, who never gave up believing justice would be done one day.”

Upon Dearman's death, Mitchell wrote a tribute to Dearman, saying he spent 34 years "covering everything from the city council to the sheriff’s department to the zoning board. Each week, he read through wedding announcements and obituaries to make sure all the names were spelled right." In 2007 he received the Silver Em Award, the highest journalism award from his alma mater, the University of Mississippi.