Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Trump cuts to rural development prompt opposition, resignation and some support in Ky.

In addition to eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission, President Trump's budget also eliminates or cuts several other programs key to rural areas. Jose A. DelReal of The Washington Post went to Appalachian Kentucky, a Trump stronghold, to see what residents think about that.

Key lawmakers have said the ARC won't be cut, but other rural programs remain on the chopping block, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's community development grants, DelReal reports. For example, Frenchburg, Ky. (Best Places map), has received $1 million from HUD "to develop a senior-citizens center and a regional meal-assistance kitchen." Local resident Wendy Collins, a Trump supporter, told DelReal, "The government shouldn’t take it away. This place is below the poverty level. There is nothing here and people need something to stay out of drugs. This community has nothing. It needs help.”

A shuttered coal mine operation near Hazard, Ky.
(Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson)
Some of Trump's supporters in the region "appear willing to accept development funding cuts because they believe Trump’s broader agenda will help revitalize the region," DelReal writes. "The president has promised he will bring the coal economy back to life by cutting industry regulations, though experts have largely dismissed the effect such actions would have on jobs."

Trump said in Louisville on Monday: “As we speak, we are preparing new executive actions to save our coal industry and to save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work. The miners are coming back.”

DelReal writes, "Some voters here conflate federal funding of assistance programs—such as food stamps—with those that fund infrastructure and community development." Shane Estes, of Elliott County, "said the money would not make a difference in the area anyway because the culture has been too polluted with drugs. Estes, who voted for Trump, said that some employers in the area have stopped drug-testing workers because that would mean they could not hire anyone. And he takes issue with people using food-assistance dollars on junk food. But what about spending on infrastructure?" Estes told him, “It’s going to get worse around here. . . . I don’t think Trump can change this; I don’t think anything can.”

Mount Sterling, Ky. (Best Places)
Grants have helped revitalize many communities in the region, DelReal writes. Mount Sterling, outside the Appalachian coalfield, "has been successful in cleaning up its main street. And it has benefited greatly from federal dollars." For example, Danielle King "purchased an abandoned building—empty since 1997—in downtown Mount Sterling seven years ago," restored it and turned it into a once-a-week bakery. She told DelReal, “If it wasn’t for grants, you would not be able to build and progress in a small town."

Trump would kill Chesapeake cleanup; critics of plan said it could lead to similar Miss. R. work

Virginia Tech map
President Trump's proposed budget includes eliminating $73 million in annual funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, prompting an outcry from advocates and editorialists.

Will Baker, president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said about two-thirds of the $73 million is funneled to states—New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia—and localities for specific pollution reduction projects, covering "a wide range of polluters, from farms to stormwater systems," Dave Mayfield reports for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. "Much of the remaining money goes into federally supervised water-quality monitoring."

The Washington Post said in an editorial: "The administration’s proposed budget would, at a swipe, reopen the door to the degradation of the U.S.’s largest estuary and reverse important recent progress in restoring the water, fish, oysters, crabs and tourism that make the bay so vibrant. It was just six years ago that a third of the bay, from Baltimore to the Potomac River, was beset by a sprawling springtime 'dead zone' of oxygen-starved water—the result of marine-life-killing nutrients from fertilizer and other chemical runoff."

The editorial continues, "In the quarter-century or so before the Environmental Protection Agency launched a massive cleanup program in 2010, the oyster harvest had plummeted by 96 percent and the crab harvest by 60 percent. Starved for oxygen by runoff pollution, huge tracts of the Chesapeake’s 64,000-square-mile watershed were in a death spiral. "Some industrial farms, home builders and municipalities have resisted the EPA cleanup, regarding it as bureaucratic overreach," says the editorial. "They have said it amounts to an unfunded mandate saddling them with the costs of cattle fencing and other means of pollution mitigation."

The project has implications beyond the Chesapeake region. "From beyond the watershed, opponents feared it would become a template for even more ambitious actions by the EPA, including an effort to clean up the Mississippi watershed that might be expensive for major industrial polluters," the editorial notes.

It's World Water Day, so we're looking at U.S. water policy and infrastructure

With today being World Water Day and this week, March 19-25, being Water Week 2017, Alison Burke, of the Brookings Institution, has put together a list of facts about water policy and infrastructure in the U.S.

Thirty "of the country’s largest water utilities support up to $52 billion in economic output and 289,000 jobs annually, and millions of households, businesses and industries depend on water systems every day," Burke writes. "The federal government actually plays a small role relative to states and localities, which are responsible for almost 96 percent of public spending on drinking water and wastewater facilities nationally each year."

One problem with investing in water is that the nearly 52,000 community water systems in the U.S. "frequently cross geographic and political boundaries and touch multiple watersheds and users," she writes. Another problem is modernizing facilities. "While more than 88 percent of Americans believe some type of action is needed to solve the country’s water infrastructure challenges, only about 17 percent of utilities are confident that they can just cover the cost of existing service through rates and fees—let alone pursue needed upgrades."

Another problem is that 64.2 percent of the nation's 90,000 dams are privately owned, compared to 20 percent by local government, 7.3 percent by state government and 3.7 percent by the federal government, Burke writes. Also, 62,700 of dams, or 69.3 percent, "were built before 1970, and 17.1 percent pose a potentially 'high hazard' to the economy, environment, and human life if they were to fail." (Brookings graphic: Dams built before 1970)

Deadline March 31 to register for free conference on using Facebook and Google to engage readers

The Walter B. Potter Sr. Conference 2017, from April 6-8 at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri will focus on how journalists from weeklies and community newspapers can use Google and Facebook to better serve existing readers while also expanding their audience to reach new readers.

Brian Steffens, communications director of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, said in an email to The Rural Blog: "We’re trying a little different approach this year and will be focusing on helping newsrooms beef up their digital dexterity with two of the players that regularly come up in various conversations, Facebook and Google. This conference will be a golden opportunity to answer some questions that might be popping up in various corners of your operation and to bring back some new ideas. The training will be conducted by folks from Facebook and Google."

Participants will learn to use Google functions such as Public Data Explorer, Google Maps and Street View 360, as well as searching for other journalists and live streaming. With Facebook, participants will learn how a news feed works, how to use Facebook Live, how to get access to Facebook's partner portal, where to find online resources to train others in your newsroom, the pros and cons of pages and profiles and what the Facebook Journalism Project is doing for local newsrooms.

There is no cost to register, but registration is required by March 31. For information or to register click here.

Trump's budget will add lawyers for eminent domain cases to make way for border wall

Current fencing along part of the U.S./Mexico border
President Trump's budget includes adding 20 attorneys to the U.S. Department of Justice to prepare for eminent domain cases—in some cases against landowners who helped put him in office—in order to build a border wall, Tracy Jan reports for The Washington Post. Currently less than 20 of the department's 11,000 attorneys work in land acquisition. Trump said in his budget the extra attorneys were needed to “pursue federal efforts to obtain the land and holdings necessary to secure the southwest border.”

"Much of the border, especially in Texas, snakes through farms, ranches, orchards, golf courses, and other private property dating back to centuries-old Spanish land grants," Jan writes. "The battle has been fought before. The last wave of eminent domain cases over southern border properties dates back to the 2006 Secure Fence Act authorizing President George W. Bush to erect 700 miles of fencing. Of the roughly 400 condemnation cases stemming from that era, about 90 remain open a decade later, according to the Justice Department. Nearly all are in the Rio Grande Valley in southwest Texas."

"The U.S. government has already spent $78 million compensating private landowners for 600 tracts of property for the construction of the existing pedestrian and vehicle fence, according to Customs and Border Protection," Jan writes. "The agency estimates that it will spend another $21 million in real estate expenses associated with the remaining condemnation cases — not including approximately $4 million in Justice Department litigation costs."

It wouldn't be Trump's first foray into eminent domain, Jan writes. "As a developer, Trump has wielded the power of eminent domain to make way for his properties. In Scotland, he pursued compulsory purchase to force neighbors out of their homes for the Trump International Golf Links near Aberdeen. When that didn't work, he built a five-foot-tall wooden fence—then tried to make his neighbors pay for it."

"Trump also famously tried seizing the property of an elderly Atlantic City widow to make way for a limousine parking lot for his hotel and casino," Jan writes. "He has a consistent history supporting the use of eminent domain and praised the 2005 Supreme Court decision—denounced widely by conservatives—that said the government could force property owners to sell their land to make way for private economic developments that benefit the public."

Site Selection Magazine lists top micropolitans for economic development; Findlay, Ohio No. 1

Findlay, Ohio (Best Places map)
Findlay, Ohio is the nation's top micropolitan for economic development success, according to Site Selection Magazine, which lists the top micropolitans—populations of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000—by number of 2016 projects. Findlay had 22 major business investments and expansions in 2016. Following Findlay are: Cullman, Ala. (19 projects); Wooster, Ohio (17); Shelby, N.C. (11); Tupelo, Miss. and Batavia, N.Y. (10); Bardstown, Ky. (9); Martinsville, Va. (8); and Danville, Ky. and Lumberton, N.C. (7).

Ohio also was the No. 1 state, having a high of 18 micropolitans on the list covering 111 projects. Georgia and North Carolina tied for second with 12 micropolitans, Kentucky had 11, Tennessee 7, Louisiana 6 and Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Carolina had 5. (Site Selection graphic)
"Among the nearly 500 corporate facility projects scattered among the nation’s Top 100 micropolitan areas, certain patterns emerge," Gary Daughters and Adam Bruns report for Site Selection. "First, there is a strong correlation with interstate highways, with the jurisdiction often well placed and equidistant between larger markets."

"There is also a pronounced lean toward incremental growth by satisfied customers: 65 percent of the projects were expansions, vs. new greenfield sites," reports Site Selection. "As for industry sector, the trend persists from the world’s leading sectors in terms of project activity—transportation equipment, plastics/chemicals, and everyone’s favorite industrial niche: food and beverage."

Rusty patch bumblebee added to endangered list

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday added the rusty patch bumblebee to the endangered species list, 60 days after President Trump ordered a 60-day freeze on new regulations on his first day in office, Corbin Hiar reports for Greenwire. Environmentalists had sued over the freeze for delaying protection for the species, which has lost nearly 90 percent of its population since the 1990s. 

"Pesticides, habitat loss, climate change and disease spread from commercial honeybee colonies have put the species on the brink of extinction," Hiar writes. "The rusty patched bee lives in scattered populations in 12 states and one Canadian province, covering just 8 percent of its historical range." 

The listing means the pollinator "is the first federally protected bee in the continental U.S.," Hiar writes. "The rusty patched bee's endangered status makes it a crime to knowingly harass or kill the insect, which as of 20 years ago could be found in 28 Eastern and Midwestern states and Washington, D.C."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Entrepreneurs are more common in rural areas, and their businesses are likelier to survive

America's rural-urban disparities have familiar measures, most of them showing rural disadvantages: poverty rates, the strength of the job market, and people on disability. But surprisingly, perhaps, entrepreneurial start-ups are more common in rural areas despite an economic disadvantage, report five researchers writing in The Conversation, which calls itself "an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community."

Nearly 700,000 new businesses open each year in the United states that help to create "new market niches in the global economy," the researchers write. "Most people mistakenly believe these pioneering establishments occur in overwhelmingly in metropolitan areas, such as in the now-mythic start-up culture of Silicon Valley. Yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it is in fact non-metropolitan counties that have higher rates of self-employed business proprietors than their metropolitan counterparts." (The Conversation graphic: rural and urban start-up business rates)
In fact, the more rural a county, the more entrepreneurial that county is. "The reality is that rural areas have to be entrepreneurial, as industries with concentrations of wage and salary jobs are necessarily scarce," the researchers write. Farming in rural areas is perhaps "the most entrepreneurial of occupations," but farmers represent less than one sixth of business owners in non-urban areas. 

Whether urban or rural, start-up businesses usually have low survival rates. "So it is perhaps even more surprising that relatively isolated non-metropolitan businesses are on average more resilient than their metro cousins, despite the considerable economic advantages of urban areas," The Conversation writes. (The Conversation graphic: survival rates of start-up businesses)

Rural start-ups have more resilience due to "cautious business practices in areas with few alternative employment options. This resilience is also remarkably persistent over time, consistently being at least on par with metro start-ups, and regularly having survival rates up to 10 percentage points higher than in metro areas over 1990-2007," the researchers write.

The report is part of a larger story that focuses on six rural-urban differences and illustrates them with graphics. The researchers are Brian Thiede, an assistant professor of rural sociology and demography at Penn State; Lillie Greiman, a research associate at the University of Montana; Stephan Welier, a professor of economics at Colorado State; Steven Beda, an instructor of history at the University of Oregon; and Tessa Conroy, an economic development specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Struggling rural hospitals unsure about health bill

Rural residents face increasing obstacles to get medical care, partly because dozens of rural hospitals have closed in the Midwest and South, where Medicaid wasn't expanded under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Now, if Congress repeals and replaces the law, "Expected cuts to the federal program for low-income residents will affect facilities everywhere, but experts and administrators are particularly worried about rural areas," Russ Bynum, Rebecca Santana and Kathleen Foody report for The Associated Press.

The ACA "was intended to slash the number of uninsured patients seeking care they could never afford at hospitals," reports AP. "It succeeded in rural areas, where overall the rate of uninsured people fell by 8 percent since full implementation of the law in 2014, said Brock Slabach, of the National Rural Health Association. But it fell more in urban areas, in part because of the dearth of choices in the exchanges set up under the ACA. Thirty to 40 percent of rural communities have only one company from which to pick" if they want to buy private insurance.

"Now, as Republicans in Washington put forward long-anticipated plans to get rid of ACA, rural hospitals and communities are watching the debate closely," reports AP. "But if they didn't fare too well under the ACA, many question whether they'd be better off under the plan backed by President Donald Trump."

At some rural hospitals, such as 10-bed Evans Memorial Hospital in Claxton, Ga. (Best Places map), where Medicaid wasn't expanded, "the GOP's new plan isn't calming nerves," AP reports. At Evans, "many blue-collar workers are unable to afford insurance but are too well-off for Medicaid, said chief financial officer John Wiggins. Such uninsured patients are perhaps the No. 1 problem for rural hospitals: Evans Memorial has been saddled with $3 million or more in unpaid medical bills in recent years."

Also, hospital "administrators say they haven't heard much in the proposal that sounds beneficial—besides perhaps the chance to allow Americans to shop for insurance across state lines," AP reports.

Eliminating Corp. for Public Broadcasting could lead to closure of rural public TV, radio stations

KET, a network of PBS stations in Kentucky, would
lose $3.4 million a year under President Trump's budget
President Trump's proposed budget includes eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would have a major impact on public television and radio stations that serve rural areas, Justin Ray and Carlett Spike report for Columbia Journalism Review. About $445 million of CPB funding goes to public TV and radio annually, with more than 70 percent of that supporting local stations. NPR only receives 1 percent of its funding from CPB and PBS gets less than 7 percent. CPB says 43 percent of public broadcasting station grantees it supports are considered rural.

A 2012 report commissioned by CPB on what would happen if the system lost all its federal funding found that "within three years of losing federal funding, 76 public radio stations and 54 public TV stations would be at 'high risk of simply closing,'" Joseph Lichterman reports for Nieman Lab.

"Of the radio stations it identified, 47 serve rural communities, 46 were the only public radio station available in their market, and 10 were the only broadcasters of any medium in their market," Lichterman writes. "If the 54 TV stations went off the air, the report estimated that more than 12 million viewers would lose their ability to watch over-the-air public television."

For instance, Kentucky Educational Television, a PBS member, gets $3.4 million annually—15 percent of its operations budget—from CPB, John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. In Utah, KUED-Channel 7, the state's PBS affiliate, gets 19 percent of its budget from CPB, and KBYU-Channel 11, the public TV and radio stations at Brigham Young University, would lose more than $5 million, Scott Pierce reports for The Salt Lake Tribune.

In response to the proposed cuts, "a bipartisan pair of House members are urging appropriators to protect funds for public broadcasting amid the Trump administration’s budget proposal to eliminate its federal support," Cristina Marcos reports for The Hill. Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) "plan to urge lawmakers in charge of the House Appropriations panel that oversees the CPB to ensure they’re fully funded."

"The two lawmakers emphasized that rural communities would be hardest hit by cuts to public broadcasting," Marcos writes. The letter states: “In rural areas, where public broadcasting stations can be the only source of free, high-quality local programming available to families, funding from CPB can amount to more than half of some rural stations’ budgets. This is a gap that cannot be closed by increased underwriting revenue or donor support."

Mayor bills paper for asking lawyer for information, then uses social media to attack its credibility

The mayor of a small town on Puget Sound attempted to bill the local newspaper for asking the city attorney for a copy of the written advice he’d given the city about a sanctuary-city ordinance under consideration by the City Council, Jim Brunner reports for The Seattle Times. Tim Callison, mayor of Langley, Wash., sent the South Whidbey Record, a twice-weekly paper, a bill of $64, saying in an email that the attorney worked for the city and was “not a free public resource.”

Callison claimed this week he was just trying to prove a point about how much the attorney’s time cost the city, but his words don't match his actions, Keven R. Graves, executive editor and publisher of the Record and the Whidbey News-Times, wrote in an editorial. "In fact, Callison doubled down over the weekend with a Facebook post on his personal page criticizing The Record and (Editor Justin) Burnett and justifying his decision to send the invoice."

"It’s apparent that Callison now understands that billing The Record was wrong and a violation of press freedom," Graves writes. "There was no reason to doubt that Callison was anything but serious about billing the newspaper. Everyone, elected officials included, has the right to complain online that they are being unfairly criticized by the media and to present their own version of a story. To that end, social media has become a place for what sometimes amounts to seriously calculated campaigns to discredit newspapers and journalists. We see this not only happening locally, but across the country and even in the White House."

Graves continued, "With social media now playing an undeniable role in newspaper reporting, we’re seeing a stunning evolution in how we respond to attacks on our credibility. With the election of Donald Trump, there came harsh criticism of the national media for not questioning absurd statements and obvious falsehoods presented as facts during the presidential campaign. Fact checkers now quickly work to verify whether the remarks of the president are true and to inform the public right away when they aren’t."

He concluded, "When the integrity of a journalist and newspaper are being grossly disassembled and savaged on social media as part of a purposeful agenda, silence on the matter is no longer the option it once was. Readers have a responsibility to take into account the entire picture. Social media has a place, but it must be recognized for what it is—a public relations tool that can be used to deliberately alter the facts or shift the focus from the more serious issue at hand."

S.D. governor vetoes bill that would repeal law requiring permits for concealed deadly weapons

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Friday vetoed two bills to loosen restrictions on firearms, saying current laws are reasonable, Dana Ferguson reports for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls. One bill would have "let people carry concealed handguns without a permit, the other to allow concealed weapons in the Capitol building." Supporters of the bills plan to attempt overrides, which are unlikely since neither bill got two-thirds support.

South Dakota law makes it "a misdemeanor for someone to carry a concealed pistol or to have one concealed in a vehicle without a permit," Ferguson writes. "The Capitol-carry bill would have let people with an enhanced permit bring concealed handguns inside if they registered beforehand with security. There are no metal detectors or other security checks at the Capitol entrances to enforce the current prohibition on most people carrying guns in the building."

Daugaard said in a statement: “As a longtime member of the NRA, I support the right to bear arms. It is paramount that our state protect the rights of our citizens while at the same time protecting the lives of our citizens. I believe our current laws appropriately protect both interests, and I ask that you sustain my veto.”

Low-risk avian flu confirmed in Alabama, Kentucky

Avian flu was confirmed in Christian
County, Kentucky (Wikipedia map)
A strain of avian flu, not as serious as one found in Tennessee this month, has been detected in Alabama and Kentucky.

The National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the presence of H7N9 low-pathogenic avian influenza in samples taken from a farm in Christian County, resulting in 22,000 chickens being killed, said the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. KDA notes, "Low-pathogenic avian influenza may cause no disease or mild illness," compared to highly pathogenic avian influenza, which "can cause severe disease with high mortality."

Earlier this month about 73,500 birds at a farm outside Fayetteville, Tenn., the produces chickens for Tyson Foods had to be culled in response to an outbreak of avian flu. That was the first reported case of the disease this year. There was only one reported case of bird flu in 2016.

Avian flu was confirmed in
Scottsboro, Ala. (Best Places map)
Avian flu is suspected in three Alabama counties, but so far confirmed in just one, William Thornton reports for Alabama Media Group. The Alabama Department of Agriculture confirmed H7N9 in Scottsboro in Jackson County, and is awaiting results from a breeder in Lauderdale County and a backyard flock in Madison County. About 15,000 chickens were killed in Lauderdale County, while the Madison County owner requested his entire flock, whose numbers were not reported, to be culled. The entire flock in Jackson County also was killed. (So was the flock in Kentucky.)

"State officials say this suspected strain of avian influenza does not pose a risk to the food supply, and no affected animals entered the food chain," Thornton reports. "The risk of human infection with avian influenza during poultry outbreaks is very low."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Administration lists top 50 infrastructure projects, many for rural areas, but McConnell is skeptical

One of Trump's top infrastructure projects calls
for repairs of Interstate 95 through North Carolina
The Trump administration recently released a priority list of 50 infrastructure projects, including several that would benefit rural areas, report Lynn Horsley, Steve Vockrodt, Walker Orenstein and Linsday Wise of McClatchy Newspapers: "The preliminary list offers a first glimpse at which projects around the country might get funding if Trump follows through on his campaign promise to renew America’s crumbling highways, airports, dams and bridges."

The No. 1 project is the Gateway Program, which would be a $12 billion reconstruction of high-risk Northeast Corridor rail infrastructure between Newark, N.J. and New York City. Second on the list is the Brent Spence Bridge, a $2.5 billion project to fix the nation's 15th worst bridge on I-75 between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. Next is $2 billion to construct the National Research Lab for Infrastructure in Columbus, Ohio, $3 billion to complete the Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River near the Mississippi to aid barge traffic on the rivers, and $1.5 billion for critical highways repairs on I-95 in North Carolina.

Rounding out the top 10 are $8 billion for bridge repairs on I-95 in Philadelphia, $1 billion for Mississippi River shipping channel dredging in South Louisiana, $10 billion for the NextGen air traffic control system to replace outdated equipment, $2.5 billion for a 720-mile transmission line to move clean, wind power energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Memphis, and $3 billion for seven new water tunnels in Cleveland to reduce contaminated water in Lake Erie.

Other projects that could benefit rural areas: $850 million to repair South Carolina dams; $250 million for water recovery in Cadiz, Calif; $3 billion for the TransWest Express Transmission Project to deliver cost-effect renewable energy in Wyoming to desert regions in Arizona, California and Nevada; $5 billion for a wind energy project in Wyoming; $4.5-5 million for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; $600 million to find new, sustainable water sources in New Mexico; $800 million to widen I-93 in Massachusetts and New Hampshire; $800 million for reconstruction of I-395/I-95; $1 billion to improve the I-70 Mountain Corridor in Colorado; and $1 billion to improve I-25 in Colorado.

But the prospects of a big infrastructure package getting through Congress aren't good, judging from comments Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made in an interview last week with Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and publisher of The Rural Blog.

"We’re not interested in going out and borrowing money and plussing up a bunch of federal accounts," McConnell said. "A credible infrastructure bill has to be paid for, and the two ways to pay for it are both challenging politically. The Democrats don’t like public-private partnerships, which invariably means tolling. Everybody’s queasy about a gas-tax increase because of the way lower middle-class people have fallen behind over the last eight years. . . . Everybody loves roads, everybody loves buildings, but it’s going to have to be credibly paid for to be passed by this Congress."

Asked if he wanted want no sort of federal appropriations that would add to the deficit to build infrastructure, McConnell replied, "No. We need to pay for it. We’ve got a $21 trillion debt." Told that some research has shown better infrastructure improves economic productivity, he replied, "You can argue that, but we’ve got a $21 trillion debt, and about half of it we’ve accumulated in eight years, and I think we have a dangerous level of debt to GDP [gross domestic product] and I don’t think this particular Congress is going to be interested in making it worse."

Public-private partnerships are less feasible in rural areas because investors need high volume to pay tolls or other fees to recoup their investment, Ashley Halsey reported for The Washington Post last month.

Policy change that slows down temporary visa approvals could lead to rural doctor shortages

A Trump administration visa policy could lead to doctor shortages in rural areas that rely on foreign-born physicians, Miriam Jordan reports for The New York Times. About 25 percent of all physicians in the U.S. are foreign, but numbers typically are much higher in rural areas. The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates said there were 211,460 international medical graduates practicing in the U.S. in December 2015.

Concern centers around changes to H-1B visas, which are temporary visas given to skilled workers, including "foreign physicians who practice in places shunned by American doctors for personal and professional reasons," Jordan writes. "The H-1B program has raised questions about whether it displaces American workers, particularly in computer programming and engineering jobs, for which most of the visas are issued."

"U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently announced that it would temporarily suspend a 'premium processing' option by which employers could pay an extra $1,225 to have H-1B applications approved in as little as two weeks, rather than several months," Jordan writes. "Companies using that option, the government said, have effectively delayed visas for others who did not pay the extra fee." A spokesperson said the measure was necessary to '“work down the existing backlogs due to the high volume of incoming petitions."

Changes could hurt rural areas, Jordan writes. For example, "in Coudersport, Pa., a town in a mountainous region an hour’s drive from the nearest Walmart, Cole Memorial Hospital counts on two Jordanian physicians to keep its obstetrics unit open and is actively recruiting foreign specialists. In Great Falls, Mont., 60 percent of the doctors who specialize in hospital care at Benefis Health System, which serves about 230,000 people in 15 counties, are foreign doctors on work visas."

Trump did well in rural areas, so The Washington Post did a diagram to show how his vote matched up with each state's reliance on physicians from other nations, and its Jeff Guo wrote a story. For a larger, clearer version of the diagram, click on the image below.

Coal is seeing a 'Trump bump' but that doesn't mean a lot of mining jobs will return, experts say

Peabody Coal mine in Indiana. (Luke Sharret, Bloomberg)
The coal industry has "enjoyed a 'Trump bump,' thanks to the president’s pledges to 'bring the coal industry back' and 'put our great miners and steelworkers back to work,'" but it remains unlikely that coal will see the revitalization promised by the president, reports Steven Mufson of The New York Times.

"Coal prices are about double what they were a year ago," Mufson reports. "Rail-car deliveries of coal are up 16 percent this year. The more than 50 coal-mining companies that went bankrupt over the past couple of years have unloaded billions of dollars of debt. And Trump has vowed to roll back environmental regulations that the industry says are part of a 'war on coal'” waged by the Obama administration.

Some major companies "have seized the moment to issue stock or sell bonds to raise money from investors willing to wager on the effects of a friendlier Trump administration," Mufson writes. "But the obstacles on the other side of the ledger remain daunting: Coal-fired power plants continue to shut their doors. Bountiful supplies of U.S. shale gas are keeping natural gas prices low and competitive, and renewable sources of power generation are growing rapidly. Though most experts expect U.S. coal sales and output to top last year’s levels, they also expect the decline to resume in 2018."

"Some coal companies will survive, and some could thrive," Mufson writes. "Metallurgical coal will be needed to make steel in India and China and in the U.S., especially if there is a boost in infrastructure spending. And thermal coal will still be used to generate electricity for years, even if at lower rates. But to show profits, coal operators will have to trim output from the oldest, least-efficient mines in Appalachia (where Trump garnered crucial votes in the election) and shift their focus to the Illinois Basin and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming."

Chiza B. Vitta, a coal analyst at Standard & Poor’s, told Mufson, “A lot of people conflate two primary things: the coal industry and coal jobs. Even if the coal industry were to do better, that doesn’t translate into coal jobs. Over time the process has become more and more efficient, and they’re able to mine with fewer and fewer people working.”

Mufson notes that some analysts don’t even expect the industry to do better. Citigroup said in a series of reports; “Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail would also suggest that coal is about to see a big lift in the post-Obama era, but the reality may be less rosy. The regulatory environment for coal should improve under Trump’s presidency. ... Comparative economics for coal, renewables and gas place clean coal firmly at the bottom of the stack in the U.S.”

McConnell on proposed elimination of Appalachian Regional Commission: 'Not going to happen'

President Trump's proposed budget may be dead on arrival in Congress, but its proposed cuts to programs that have helped the most vulnerable Americans have raised eyebrows because many of them people in rural areas he won by large margins. And the political pushback from Republicans is increasing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, says Trump's proposed elimination of the Appalachian Regional Commission is not only "not going to happen," the agency's budget will remain fully intact, reports WMYT-TV of Hazard. McConnell said in a speech Saturday in Corbin, "We are not going to allow any cuts to the Appalachian Regional Commission. It is very important to Eastern Kentucky. It has been for a number of years. That's not going to happen."

When the budget was announced last week McConnell's prepared statement didn't mention about the commission, a federal-state economic development agency that covers all of West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. ARC operates in 420 counties, most of which Trump won in November. The plurality of its economically distressed counties are in Eastern Kentucky. That area's congressman, former House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers, strongly objected hours after the budget plan was announced. McConnell will be with Trump today in Louisville, which is outside the Appalachian region.

Sabrina Tavernise and Trip Gabriel of The New York Times report on some other examples of Trump's budget seemingly disregarding part of his political base. Regina Feltner, a retired nurse with lung cancer who has received help from a heating subsidy through the Highland County Community Action Organization, a small nonprofit in rural southern Ohio, told the Times that without the subsidy, which she stands to lose under the proposed budget, she said she would probably have to move in with her daughter.

Another proposed cut "would kill the Legal Services Corp., which funds 133 civil legal-aid programs in the 50 states at a cost of $385 million," reports the Times. Also on the chopping block is the Community Development Block Grant program, which "works to ensure decent affordable housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities, and to create jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses," says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Study: 59.7% of poison center calls about childhood exposure to opioids concern those 5 and under

More than half of all calls to poison centers from 2000-15 concerning childhood exposure to opioids involved children five and under, says a study published in Pediatrics. From 2000-15 poison control centers in the U.S. received 188,468 calls about people under 20 being exposed to opioids. Exposures, 95.8 percent of which occurred at home, were highest among children under five, with 59.7 percent of all calls concerning that age. Second was teenagers, at 29.9 percent. Nearly one-third of all exposures, 28.7 percent, were from hydrocodone, 18 percent from oxycodone and 17 percent from codeine.

Researchers said most exposures to children five and under were because they found their parents' prescription opioids at home and gave in to curiosity, Jia Naqvi reports for The Washington Post. Researchers said teenagers were more likely to deliberately take the drugs.

The study found that "pediatric exposure to opioids increased by 86 percent from 2000 to 2009 but decreased overall for all ages under 20 from 2009 until 2015," Naqvi writes. Study author Marcel Casavan, medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center and chief toxicologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, told Naqvi, “When adults bring these medications into their homes, they can become a danger to the children that live there. It is important that these medications are stored up, away and out of sight of kids of all ages, in a locked cabinet is best." (Exposure to opioids)

Great Plains wildfire victims get aid; Texas Panhandle weekly chronicled fires and their impact

Photo by Sarah Long in The Canadian Record
An outpouring of aid from community members has poured in to help victims of wildfires in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and parts of southwestern Kansas that affected about 1.5 million acres of land, Russ Quinn and Virginia Harris report for DTN The Progressive Farmer. David Clawson, president of the Kansas Livestock Association, told Quinn, "We've been overwhelmed by the love of the ag community. The hay started rolling in before the fires were even out."

Quinn and Harris write, "Donations in the form of money, hay, fencing material, water tanks, portable corrals, feed, seeds and medicines have all been given in hopes of helping those devastated by these fires. Businesses, individuals and service organizations have donated labor and thousands of dollars of supplies and have lined up transportation of these items to the affected regions."

The Canadian Record, in the Texas Panhandle, ran a huge package on the fire with bif photos and comprehensive stories detailing its effect on Hemphill County. "The fires, though separated by miles, all shared one common thread: they were propelled by strong, gusty winds, at sustained speeds of 25 to 35 mph, gusting as high as 50-55 mph, and grazed ravenously on plentiful dry fuels," it reported.

The Record also chronicled the tragedy of a local man who died in the fire while trying to return home from work to make sure his pregnant wife was safe. Cade Kochs' mother Dana told the Record that he had the family's only car and was trying to get to his wife before roads were closed. Dana told the Record, that "Cade embarked on the 26-mile drive home," but she said, “He never checked in."