Friday, April 14, 2017

Rural population declined in 2016, but rural counties near cities kept seeing increases

Yonder graphic: non-metro population change 2012-16
While Census Bureau data shows that the nation's rural population in dropped for the fifth straight year in 2016, rural counties located near cities saw an increase in population in 2016, Tim Marema and Bill Bishop report for the Daily Yonder. Kenneth M. Johnson, chief demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire said "for the past 40 or 50 years, it’s been normal for rural counties adjacent to metro areas to grow more quickly than counties located farther from cities, but until the most recent estimates came out, the opposite has been true following the Great Recession."

Johnson told the Yonder, "To me, that’s the biggest news about rural America. It's still losing people, but it’s increasingly because of what’s going on in the remote rural counties. If it’s re-emerging, that could mean the larger population trend of modest growth from rural counties will return as well."

The overall rural population decline was small, a total of 21,000 residents, or 0.05 percent, the smallest drop in the five years, the Yonder reports. "The net change is so small that it could be reversed by adjustments in the estimates that occur in future years." (Yonder map: Population change from 2015-16)

Rural residents get more educated, but still lag

USDA graphic: Educational attainment in rural and urban
areas, 2000 and 2015; click on image for a larger version
Rural Americans are increasingly becoming more educated, but still trail urban residents in overall education, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report, "Rural Education at a Glance," found that the number of rural residents with a bachelor's degree or higher increased from 15 to 19 percent from 2000 to 2015. The number with associate's degrees increased from 6 to 9 percent, while the number with less than a high school diploma decreased from 24 to 15 percent.

The rural-urban gap in college degrees has increased, with 33 percent in urban areas in 2015 having a bachelor's degree or higher, up from 26 percent in 2000, an increase of seven percent, compared to the four percent increase in rural areas. Rural areas are closing the gap among residents with a less than a high school diploma, with urban areas now at 13 percent, only two percent better than rural areas.

The report found that economic outcomes play a role in education, with rural counties with low education levels having the worst economic outcomes. The report says, "In 2011-2015, rural low-education counties averaged poverty rates of 24 percent, versus 16 percent for all other rural counties. Furthermore, 40 percent of rural low-education counties are also persistent-poverty counties, with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher consistently since 1980. In addition to higher poverty rates, rural counties with low levels of educational attainment tend to have high unemployment rates." (USDA map: Correlation between low education and poverty in rural counties, 2011-15; click on image for a larger version)

Retired coal miners set to lose benefits, as United Mine Workers of America struggles to stay alive

E&E News graphic: Coal jobs 1995-2015
While President Trump has promised to put coal miners back to work—a promise experts don't expect to happen—thousands of retired miners are in danger of losing health benefits and the future of the United Mine Workers of America hangs in the balance, Dylan Brown reports for Greenwire. On April 28, about 23,000 former UMWA miners or their widows will lose their health care and pensions, "and health funds for more than 120,000 total retirees face the same threat down the road."

The UMWA, which had 500,000 members at its peak in the 1930s, had 67,440 at the end of 2016, with fewer than 8,000 still mining coal, Brown writes. The reason is that most are retired, meaning more people are relying on payouts than paying in. (Unions in U.S. coal mines)
Twenty percent of coal jobs are covered by union contracts, compared to six percent for the overall private sector, Brown writes. "But most major coal companies have no union miners at all. And bankruptcy—which almost all have faced—not only shrank the industry but sheared off hundreds of millions of dollars in obligations to retired miners." UMWA President Cecil Roberts told Brown, "There is no remedy here available to us other than Congress. We're not saying we're going to win, lose or draw here. But we are saying we're going to fight until there is no other place to fight. This really is a life-and-death proposition for us."

In 1946, when negotiations broke down between coal operators and UMWA, President Harry S. Truman "stepped in and nationalized the country's mines," Brown writes. That led to the signing on May 29, 1946, of the National Bituminous [Coal] Wage Agreement, which "mandated a six-day workweek and safety code, but it also created the first miner health and retirement plans. That set a precedent for government-backed benefits that still holds today, the UMWA argues."

Coal began to see a decline after the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, "which tackled acid rain, put a premium on low-sulfur coal at power plants," Brown writes. That led to a shift of production from Appalachia to the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, and to surface mines, which require fewer miners. "More coal was being mined and burned than ever. In 1999, for the first time, more coal came from west of the Mississippi River than east. Coal from unionized mines took the hit, Roberts said, and today accounts for less than 20 percent of all U.S. coal. The shift cost the UMWA more than 20,000 jobs."

EPA chief postpones Obama regulations to curb toxic wastewater from coal plants

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has halted an Obama-era regulation "aimed at limiting the dumping of toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury by the nation’s power plants into public waterways," Brady Dennis reports for The Washington Post. "Beginning in 2018, power plants would have had to begin showing that they were using the most up-to-date technology to remove heavy metals—including lead, arsenic, mercury and other pollutants—from their wastewater."

Pruitt wrote this week in a letter to groups that had petitioned the agency to revisit the rule, which was finalized in 2015, "that the EPA plans to postpone compliance deadlines for the regulation, which is also being challenged in a federal court," Dennis writes. EPA said on Thursday the rule would cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars a year to comply with.

Pruitt said in a statement: "This action is another example of EPA implementing President Trump’s vision of being good stewards of our natural resources, while not developing regulations that hurt our economy and kill jobs. Some of our nation’s largest job producers have objected to this rule, saying the requirements set by the Obama administration are not economically or technologically feasible within the prescribed time frame."

Environmental groups said "the Trump administration focused only on potential costs of the rule while ignoring its benefits, and that delays in compliance will endanger wildlife and pose health threats to families that live near coal plants, as exposure to heavy metals can cause problems with cognitive development in children, among other problems," Dennis writes. Mary Anne Hitt, of the Sierra Club, said in a statement: "Trump’s attempt to halt these clean water protections for mercury, lead and arsenic from coal power plants is dangerous and irresponsible."

Visit from EPA head has some in coal country hopeful, others skeptical, about coal's future

EPA chief Scott Pruitt Thursday in Sycamore, Pa. (EPA photo)
On Thursday Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt visited with coal miners and local officials in Sycamore, Pa., spreading hope among among some, but skepticism among others, Emily Holden reports for Climatewire. Pruitt told coal workers, "There's always going to be a need for coal in the generation mix. We don't know what percentage or what part that's going to be, but we're going to be part of it as long as we mine coal safely and compliantly and take care of the environment."

While the Trump administration and many Republican leaders have blamed Obama-era regulations for killing coal jobs, cheaper natural gas, competition from foreign markets, and depleted coalfields also played roles, probably larger as a whole. Holden writes, "In truth, coal capacity might have fallen by about 28 percent by 2028 under the Clean Power Plan. Without it, it still might decrease 17 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration."

Coal supporters were happy to see Truitt in Sycamore, even if the mine's owner, Consol Energy Inc., "wants to sell the mine so it can focus on more lucrative natural gas projects," Holden writes. Rachel Gleason, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, who was part of a group who met with Pruitt, told her, "It says a lot to have an EPA administrator visit a mine in Pennsylvania. It sent a good message they are serious about stopping the regulatory attack that we've been under for the past eight years."

While coal backers were encouraged by Pruitt's visit, "advocates for poor communities and small-town representatives said, the Trump administration's narrative could distract from a real problem—that, one way or another, coal won't stick around forever to bolster local economies," Holden writes.

Technology and digital design start-up finds success in heart of Central Appalachian coalfield

Letcher County (Wikipedia map)
A technology and digital-design firm in southeastern Kentucky offers hope for helping Central Appalachia revitalize its economy after the loss of coal jobs, Alexis Stephens reports for PolicyLink. In Letcher County, where 33 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level and only 12 percent of adults 25 and older have a bachelor's degree, Mountain Tech Media is providing a service that can reach far beyond the county.

"The 12-person company provides a wide variety of branding, marketing, and strategizing services to both small and large businesses in the region, including video and audio productions, web design, app development, graphic design and illustration, and social media management," Stephens writes. Jeremy McQueen, CEO and co-founder of Mountain Tech Media, told her, "We're thinking about ways to move forward in a post-coal economy. I think we are helping folks in our region find the branding and the reach that they're looking for without trying to hire some ad agency in a larger city."

One thing that's unique about Mountain Tech Media is its a worker cooperative model, "giving team members equity in the company and involving them in the governance of the business," Stephens writes. "So far, Mountain Tech Media has contracted with 34 organizations and contributed an estimated $200,000 to the regional economy through their work. Founded in 2015, it surpassed its first-year projections in just the first six months of 2016 and surpassed its three-year projections in the span of a single year. The group is well on its way to exceeding its projections for 2017."

Mountain Tech Media is another offspring of Appalshop, "a grassroots arts and culture organization based in Letcher County since 1969," Stephens writes. "In 2014, Appalshop's leadership partnered with Lafayette College's Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project and researchers from Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life to launch the pilot program for a national initiative for community revitalization and economic development based in creative placemaking and placekeeping." Appalshop has worked with several companies in the region and has started a tech and media certificate program in conjunction with Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Va. weekly wins prize for series, supported by local nonprofit, on lack of broadband and cell signals

Broadband and cell coverage (click image to enlarge)
The weekly Rappahannock News won first place for non-daily investigative reporting in the Virginia Press Association contest for its three-part series, “Digital Dilemma," about lack of action on the broadband- and cellphone-coverage gaps in the county of 7,500. The series led officials to form a volunteer broadband committee to pursue options raised in the series.

"This project takes an effective look—broad and deep—at the kind of digital access so many people take for granted. Breaking the series into past/present, current workarounds and what's next was very effective," judges said. "The writing is detailed and clear; the voices do an able job at helping the reporter tell the story."

Fifteen years ago Sprint proposed erecting seven towers and five years ago AT&T proposed a project that would have provided coverage to about another 20 percent of the county’s households, Randy Rieland reported in the first story in the series. Neither panned out and "the result is that today cell and broadband service in Rappahannock is not much different than it was 15 years ago."

Rappahannock County (Wikipedia map)
Lack of broadband coverage has hurt law enforcement response to emergencies in "dead zones," Rieland wrote in the second story. It also has hurt medical treatment, especially among the county's aging population, and has led to limited use for agriculture, tourism, education—40 percent of the county's students lack broadband at home—and residents who want to do something as simple as accessing the internet at home or on their phone.

The third story by Rieland, looked at the future, and examineed a 2016 county-wide survey sent to every household—that got an unprecedented 42 percent response rate (1,362 out of 3,258)—that found that the top two issues of concern, not surprisingly, were internet service and cell phone coverage. The survey and Rieland's work were funded by the Foothills Forum, a local non-profit that also funded a summer intern to work on series reporting team, which also included the group's chair, Larry "Bud" Meyer" and the chair of the group's advisory committee, former Washington Post ombudsman Andy Alexander.

Colorado lawmakers kill bill that would have prevented oil and gas activity near schools

A Colorado Senate committee shot down a bill "that would prevent oil and gas producers from drilling wells within 1,000 feet of school property lines," Hayley Sanchez reports for The Denver Post.

Supporters of the bill said current regulations, which measure "the setback from a school building rather than the property line," mean "an oil and gas production facility could potentially create an active site in a school’s baseball field or playground area as long as the well is 1,000 feet away from the school’s building," Sanchez writes.

The bill, which passed the Democratic-controlled House, was not expected to make it through the Republican-controlled Senate, Sanchez writes. Opponents of the bill say "current law is working well and has not presented any pitfalls thus far." Jill Fulcher, an attorney who represents companies going before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, told Sanchez, “No company has actually asked to go within 1,000 feet of a public school and it would be very difficult to try and do so."

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Rural resentment fueled from being ignored by government and slow recovery from recession

Katherine Cramer
Katherine Cramer, who chronicled rural Wisconsin voters' sense of resentment in her 2015 book The Politics of Resentment, said Monday at the University of Minnesota that one of the main reasons rural areas carried Donald Trump to a surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election is resentment "that a small slice of wealthy and well-connected Americans are best able to get the government to attend to their wants and needs," Eric Black writes for MinnPost.

She said "the poor and powerless in both the rural and urban areas are grossly neglected by comparison," Black writes. "But the rural voters she studied are convinced that the maldistribution of government attention and aid favors the urban areas in general as against the rural areas in general. The rural people she talked to feel they are losing ground. They feel that whoever is in charge doesn’t know them or respect them or care about their challenges."

"Cramer’s conversation in rural Wisconsin also led her to reject the idea that these rural Republicans are voting primarily on social issues, like gay rights or abortion," Black writes. "In her conversations with them, the rural folks were always emphasizing economic issues, like jobs and infrastructure." (Times graphic: Change in unemployment since the end of the recession)
Thomas B. Edsall, in his weekly column for The New York Times, argues this week that another reason for rural resentment is that urban areas recovered from the recession at a much greater rate than rural areas. He writes, "The fact that people living outside big cities were battered so acutely by the recession goes a long way toward explaining President Trump’s victory in the last election."

While many urban areas recovered jobs lost in the recession, Edsall says several rural areas with continued high unemployment rates that supported Obama in 2008 and 2012 switched to Trump in 2016. He writes, "From another vantage point, Trump did best in regions where economic growth was the worst—where jobs are disappearing and where middle-aged white men and women are dying at younger ages."

Car insurance company ranks states by safe driving; Midwest safest, Northeast least safest

Southern drivers are the most likely to talk on cell phones while driving, while Midwestern drivers are the safest drivers and Northeastern drivers the least safe, says the Safe Driving Report 2016-17 by EverQuote Insurance. Using EverQuote's data, Stateline created an interactive map with state-level data for all five measures EverQuote ranked for safety: phone use; speeding; acceleration; braking; and turning. (Stateline interactive map ranks states by safe driving habits. Darker states are safer)
EverQuote, which used data from 2.7 million car trips over 230 million miles by users of its Everdrive app, found that the five safest states are Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota and South Dakota. The five least safest states are Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New Hampshire. Drivers are most likely to speed in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Hawaii and Pennsylvania and least likely to speed in Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Idaho and Kansas.

When it comes to driving while using a cell phone the least safest states are Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi and Idaho. The top three safest states are Vermont, Montana and Oregon. Despite being among the top five overall least safe driving states, New Hampshire and Connecticut ranked fourth and fifth for phone use.

"Some of the differences may be explained by state laws," Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. "Few Southern states, for example, have blanket laws that ban the use of cellphones while driving, according to an assessment of state laws this month by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lower speed limits in the Northeast may make it easier to get caught speeding."

One reason Midwestern drivers might be safer is that "in big, wide-open spaces where speed limits are high and drivers few and far between, there appears to be less speeding," Henderson writes. Peter Norton, a technology historian at the University of Virginia, said Midwestern populations tend to be older, "which means they may be more experienced drivers and less likely to be cellphone-dependent."

Map shows 'grocery gap' in Mass.; 2.8 million in state are more than a mile from a grocery

A map released Wednesday by the Massachusetts Public Health Association shows the state's "grocery gap," its name for "areas with the highest percentage of low-income residents lacking access to grocery stores," which is considered living at least one mile from a grocery, Michael Norton reports for MassLive. The map used data from The Food Trust, "a national organization, that relied on data pinpointing low-income areas and the locations of stores with annual sales volumes of $2 million or more, which researchers said is the standard definition of a supermarket."

The MPHA said 2.8 million people in Massachusetts lack one-mile access to grocery stores, including more than 700,000 children and about 523,000 senior citizens, Norton writes. Many of those people live in rural areas. (Areas in Massachusetts that lack grocery stores)

Rural Michigan's 'Disability Belt' is beginning to rival poverty in Appalachia, Deep South

One of the nation's fastest growing impoverished regions, quickly becoming on par with poverty rates in Appalachia and the Deep South, is rural Northern Michigan, Chad Selweski reports for Bridge Magazine, part of The Center for Michigan. Seventeen northern Michigan counties, mostly in the Lower Peninsula, are part of the "Disability Belt," one name for "a region where post-recession aging workers in poor health and with few prospects for work have turned to federal disability benefits as a last resort, a replacement income for their long-lost unemployment checks."

According to federal data, 385,000 working-age Michigan residents receive some sort of disability benefits, totaling $425 million per month, Selweski writes. Gary Kozma, a Michigan attorney who specializes in disability cases, said many older, rural unskilled people with debilitating health problems that can’t find work view disability almost as early retirement.

That's true in Northern Michigan, where "a surprising number of desperate workers have turned to Social Security disability benefits to earn a livelihood," Selweski writes. "Many don’t expect to return to the job market, unless federal investigators throw them off disability rolls. In some counties, rates of poverty and disability hover around 15 to 20 percent, raising questions about whether a some portion of working-age residents apply for disability as much from despair that they will ever land another job as from physical necessity." (Bridge graphic: Disability in Michigan)
"Northern Michigan is part of a national phenomenon that emerged two decades ago and especially during the Great Recession of 2008-10, when an abrupt decline in blue-collar jobs left certain workers—mostly in their 50s, suffering from chronic medical conditions—unemployed or underemployed for years at a time," Selweski writes. "They dealt with persistent pain, often job-induced, and eventually found themselves unable to lift heavy items, stand for hours at a time, or even efficiently climb stairs."

"With jobs in manufacturing, construction and similar manual labor beyond their reach, these economic outcasts also held little chance of landing employment in the region’s fragile retail sector or service industries," he writes. "Armed with a high school diploma or less, they were unlikely to find office work. So, they turned to the Social Security system’s disability insurance."

Once struggling rural hospital in small Idaho town now thrives; could be model for other hospitals

Arco, Idaho (Best Places map)
While 78 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, and many more are in danger of shuttering, one in a tiny Idaho town has found a formula for success that could prove as a model for other struggling rural hospitals, Anna Gorman reports for Kaiser Health News. In 2013, 14-bed Lost Rivers Medical Center in Arco, Idaho, was on the verge of closing, due in large part to declining population in Butte County, which has 2,501 residents. The next closest hospital is an hour away and requires travel across high-altitude prairie.

When Brad Huerta was hired as CEO four years ago he "found the nearly 60-year-old hospital in disarray—dilapidated facilities, fearful employees, reluctant patients and a financial mess left behind by the former CEO," Gorman writes. "The hospital’s bank account held just $7,000 and morale was at an all-time low." He told Gorman, "We were the poster child for everything that was wrong with rural health care. It had been a slow, steady decline from neglect."

After borrowing money to pay his employees, "Huerta campaigned to pass a $5.5 million bond for Lost Rivers," Gorman writes. "He asked locals if it was worth $5 a month—one six-pack of beer or two movie rentals—to keep the hospital running. They answered 'yes' at the polls, and the hospital emerged from bankruptcy. Next, Huerta set his sights on overhauling the badly outmoded facilities. One of his top priorities was the laboratory, which he said looked like a high school science classroom from the 1950s."

"He instituted a new philosophy: If it doesn’t happen at a 'real' hospital, it doesn’t happen at Lost Rivers," Gorman writes. "That meant ending some local practices, nixing little things like letting staff members wear scrubs of any color they fancied, and big things, like allowing people to bring their horses in for X-rays."

"To bring in more revenue, he applied for grants and got the hospital a trauma center designation (the first level-IV trauma center in Idaho) so it could get paid more for the care it was already providing," Gorman writes. "He saved money by inviting the town’s residents to help renovate clinic exam rooms and by moving the medical records to a cloud-based system that didn’t require more information technology employees. He also brought in more rotating specialists, started using telemedicine to connect the hospital to experts elsewhere and is now planning to open a surgery center and a long-term care rehabilitation wing."

Tom Ricketts, senior policy fellow at the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told Gorman, "Being in a rural place does not preclude high-quality medicine. They are under a lot of pressure, but there are rural places you can point to as places you would say, 'This is how things ought to be done'."

Farming remains one of the most dangerous occupations; injury and fatality rates are high

Politico graphic by Edmon de Haro
Farming is one of the nation's most dangerous jobs, "with 22 of every 100,000 farmers dying in a work-related accident," Ian Kullgren reports for Politico. In 2014, the last year data was available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 58,000 farm-related injuries.

That estimate is considered low, largely because "small farms have been exempted from federal oversight for so long that it’s virtually impossible for anyone—regulators, lawmakers, even the farmers themselves—to understand fully the epidemic of workplace injuries and deaths that has plagued rural America for at least a century," Kullgren writes.

"A perennial rider to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration budget bill prevents the agency from inspecting or enforcing violations on any farm with fewer than 11 employees—a loophole that exempts up to 88 percent of all U.S. farms," Kullgren notes. "The rider also prevents OSHA from tallying nonfatal injury data on small farms, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t keep reliable data on farm size."

Kullgren continues: "As a result, occupational safety—or the lack of it—is a major and largely unexamined contributor to a cycle of disability, poverty and chronic poor health that makes life difficult for millions of rural Americans. Many of those injuries last a lifetime, driving up disability rates among rural Americans, who are 50 percent more likely to have some form of disability than their urban counterparts. Also contributing are high rates of injury in other professions rooted in rural areas, including logging, fishing and trucking."

Some of the reasons for high rates of injuries and fatalities are older equipment, such as tractors, youth workers or children around farms who are inexperienced with safety guidelines, and a reverence for the agrarian ideal, Kullgren writes. "Small farmers are also strong-willed. Nobody loves being regulated by the government, but small farmers hate it more than most. Many see it as an affront to a way of life in which skills are passed down from generation to generation. And in an industry where weather determines success and failure, farmers are accustomed to dealing with risk."

New Alabama governor abolishes predecessor's Office of Rural Development

Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, sworn in Monday to replace Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who resigned over a sex scandal, on Wednesday used an executive order to eliminate the state's Office of Rural Development, reports WFSA 12 in Montgomery. Bentley created the office in 2011 "to improve and advance education, healthcare and economic development in the rural areas of the state."

Ivey said in a statement: "Rural Alabama is near and dear to my heart. Don't forget I'm from rural Wilcox County. My decision to shutter the Office of Rural Development will refocus rural development efforts into existing agencies."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Federal court rejects Bush-era rule exempting animal feeding operations from pollution reporting

A federal court on Tuesday "tossed a George W. Bush-era rule exempting animal feeding operations from certain pollution reporting requirements," Amanda Reilly reports for Greenwire. "A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with green groups that lawmakers never intended to give U.S. EPA the authority to exclude those operations. The court also found that manure storage at livestock operations poses more than a 'theoretical' risk to public health."

Judge Stephen Williams, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, wrote for the court that Congress didn't "give the agency carte blanche to ignore the statute whenever it decides the reporting requirements aren't worth the trouble," Reilly writes.

The rule, adopted by EPA at the end of the Bush administration in December 2008, exempted "all animal feeding operations from reporting releases of hazardous air pollution from animal waste under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act," Reilly writes. "Typically, facilities covered by CERCLA have to report discharges of pollutants above certain thresholds to a National Response Center. EPA's rule also exempted all but large concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, from reporting emissions to local and state emergency officials under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act."

The Waterkeeper Alliance and the Humane Society of the United States led a lawsuit by environmental groups "arguing that the rule put citizens at risk of breathing harmful ammonia and hydrogen sulfide," Reilly writes. EPA "said that requiring producers to report under CERCLA would be burdensome and fruitless because 'local response agencies are very unlikely to respond' to reports of pollution." There also was concern that EPA lacked information to measure emissions.

The Washington Post wants to fact-check your lawmakers; asks for videos, audio or statements

The fact checkers at The Washington Post are seeking help in fact-checking local and state leaders and members of Congress, especially those facing re-election races in 2018. Fact checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee writes, "We’ll take suggestions for any topic that piques your interest, though we’re especially interested in health care, immigration, actions taken by President Trump’s administration and the federal budget."

To help fact-check your lawmakers, use this Post form to send a URL to video or audio. You can also tweet to fact checkers @myhlee or @glennkesslerWP or go on Facebook to Fact Checker or myhlee.

Democrats from Great Lakes states urge Trump to release Army Corps plan to stop Asian carp

Asian carp (AP photo by John Flesher)
A dozen Democratic senators from eight Great Lakes states sent a letter Monday, April 10, "to Trump administration officials urging them to move ahead with a plan to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes by stopping them at a Chicago-area lock and dam," John Myers reports for the Duluth News Tribune.

"The carp project, which was supposed to be outlined in a February study released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was held back by the Trump administration at the last minute with no set date for release," Myers writes. "The study was supposed to outline a plan to stop the migration at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a crucial chokepoint near Joliet, Ill., in the Chicago waterway system."

The dam is 286 miles above the confluence of the Illinois River and the Mississippi River, Melissa Nann Burke notes for The Detroit News. "Federal agencies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on stopgap measures, including placing electric barriers for the destructive fish in the Chicago area waterway system. But parties in Illinois and Indiana have raised concerns, prompting lawmakers from those states to request the delay earlier this year."

The senators wrote: “We request the administration release the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ draft proposal to prevent Asian carp from reaching and severely harming the Great Lakes. We are concerned by what we understand to be a White House decision to delay and potentially modify this report that has been under development for years. When taken together with the proposal to eliminate all funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the fiscal year 2018 budget, delaying the release of this plan to address Asian carp only raises further questions about the Administration’s commitment to protecting our Great Lakes.”

Rural prisons keep closing, and few buyers are willing to turn them into new business venues

Mount McGregor Correctional Facility,
in Wilton, N.Y. closed in 2014 and is currently for sale
(Times photo by Nathaniel Brooks)
Shuttered rural prisons that once helped boost local economies are becoming a hard sell when it comes to finding new purposes for the facilities, Paul Post reports for The New York Times.

Since 2011, "at least 22 states have closed or announced closures for 94 state prisons and juvenile facilities, resulting in the elimination of over 48,000 state prison beds, an estimated cost savings of over $345 million," Nicole Porter reported in December for The Sentencing Project, an advocacy center that supports reducing incarceration.

Of the 13 prisons that have closed in New York since 2011, only three have sold, with just one—near New York City—re-opening, but its plans for a corporate park have so far attracted just one business, Post writes. Ten of the prisons are located in Upstate New York, mostly in isolated areas. Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, an environmental group, said "The problem with many of the prisons is that 'they’re in the middle of nowhere." Bauer told Post, "It’s going to be a challenge to come up with creative and adaptive reuses of these facilities.”

The 13 prisons, all of which were medium- or minimum-security facilities, were closed partly because of a drop in crime—down since 2011 from 57,224 to 51,275—and an "emphasis on diverting low-level offenders to programs that would avoid incarceration," Post writes. Patrick Bailey, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, told Post, “The reduction of nonviolent offenders, mostly drug offenders, allowed the state to eliminate about 5,500 underutilized prison beds, saving approximately $162 million, while keeping violent offenders incarcerated for longer periods of time."

While the state is saving money, rural areas that relied on the prisons are hurting, Post writes. "State Sen. Betty Little, a Republican whose district has three shuttered prisons, has strongly opposed the closings, questioning whether the sites can really be turned into job-producing ventures." She told Post, “When the decision is made to close a prison in a rural community, that community loses hundreds of jobs that aren’t going to be absorbed by the private sector. It’s a huge blow that someone from a populated area of New York State wouldn’t understand.” (The Sentencing Project map: States closing or considering closing correctional facilities, 2011-2016)

South Dakota panel examined 'fake news' and journalism issues; such can be held anywhere

Journalists have a responsibility to combat "fake news" and district in the news media by educating readers how they gather facts, said panelists in a discussion Monday in South Dakota called "Fake News: Cutting Through the Noise," Dana Hess reports for The Brookings Register. Panelist David Bordewyk, executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, said, "Our profession needs to do a better job of telling people what good journalism is about."

Cory Myers, news director of Argus Leader Media in Sioux Falls, the new brand of that Gannett Co. newspaper, said easy access to social media is one problem. Myers said "the credibility of journalism has been hurt by 'the ability of anyone to write content, take and manipulate photos'."

Cara Hetland, radio news director at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, said 24-hour news hurts the credibility of mainstream media outlets, while cutbacks have led to fewer journalists writing stories, making journalists lazy, Hess reports.

Teri Finneman, assistant professor of journalism at South Dakota State University, said one of the best ways to regain credibility is to hold more discussions like the one Monday. Finneman said allowing "citizens to see how a newsroom operates can help put a face on journalists and explain how they work."

More than 80 people attended Monday's event. Similar events around the country have attracted similar or larger audiences. If you need help putting together such an event, contact Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

Struggling coal county exec fails to get tax aimed mainly at natural-gas producers; layoffs coming

Letcher County, Kentucky (Wikipedia map)
Leaders in a depressed Eastern Kentucky coal county failed to pass an ordinance Monday that "would require a $2,500 license for every facility extracting non-renewable resources," Sam Adams reports for The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky. The tax, which would have been levied on gas wells, coal mines, gravel quarries and other such operations, would have resulted in about $3.7 million in revenue.

The Letcher County Fiscal Court tied 3-3 on the proposal by County Judge Executive Jim Ward, who said it would have helped make up for the 75 percent loss in coal severance-tax receipts, Angela Reighard reports for WYMT-TV in nearby Hazard: "I was trying to think outside of the box so it wouldn't put a tax directly on the people here. Some of the court members already told me they wouldn't vote for an occupational tax or a net profit tax. They won't vote to raise property taxes. So, that doesn't leave me with very many options."

Ward told Adams that "state officials are projecting Letcher County to be $1.3 million to $1.5 million short on revenue next year and revenue is already down sharply." He said the county's workforce is down to 108 employees, from 190, "and the next step would have to be furloughs, cutting road department employees to four days a week. He said that would still not bring the county spending in line with revenue and the pain it would cause the road workers is not acceptable."

Ward said the tax would have restored the budget to 2012 levels, "before the bottom dropped out of coal production in Eastern Kentucky," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Ward said he thought the fee was a fair proposal because extractive industries have taken billions of dollars worth of resources from the county." He said "the oil and gas industry recovered $600 million worth of product from the county in the last decade alone."

The Mountain Eagle, which has a two-week paywall, can be accessed here.

Post survey finds that battles over Trump support leading some evangelicals to leave church

Post survey response for Trump support
A survey has found a political divide among evangelicals over support for President Trump, leading a growing number of people to leave the church, reserachers Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel and Anand Edward Sokhey write for The Washington Post. Even when mainline churches spoke out against Trump's temporary ban of Muslims, the survey found that white evangelicals—81 percent supported Trump during the election—increased their support of the ban.

But some evangelicals didn't comfortable with that. The survey, which included 957 participants in September and mid-November, found that 14 percent of people who regularly attended church reported they had left that church, including 10 percent of evangelicals. The survey found that 18 percent of mainline Protestants and 11 percent of Catholics also had left their churches.

To find out if people left because of politics, the Post "asked respondents if their clergy addressed any of eight political topics" and if they have seen evidence that "politics reminded them of how divisive politics has become," reports the Post. "About 15 percent of those who believe that American politics has become divisive left their political houses of worship. Of those who don’t think politics is inherently divisive, close to none left their political house of worship."

The survey asked evangelicals to tell of their own level of support for Trump, based on the Post's Trump’s average feeling thermometer, finding it to be 48 on a scale of 1 to 100, compared to 25 for Hillary Clinton, reports the Post. They also asked people to estimate their clergyperson’s support of Trump, finding that to be a 50. The Post found that the two groups most likely to leave the church were "Trump supporters who felt their clergy didn’t support him and those who felt cool toward Trump but thought their clergy strongly supported him."

J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy to be made into a film directed by Ron Howard

J.D. Vance
Whether or not you liked J.D. Vance's 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy, it is coming to a theater near you. Ron Howard, who won two Academy Awards for "A Beautiful Mind," will direct and co-produce the movie, Mike Fleming Jr. reports for Deadline Hollywood. "The memoir, which told Vance’s struggle-filled coming-of-age story, became a symbol for the disenfranchised Rust Belt contingent that rallied behind Donald Trump in the presidential election." Vance's family migrated from Eastern Kentucky, which he often visited, and the regional culture plays a significant role in the book.

Erica Huggins, who will co-produce the film for Imagine Entertainment, told Deadline, “Hillbilly Elegy is a powerful, true coming-of-age memoir by J.D. Vance. Through the lens of a colorful, chaotic family and with remarkable compassion and self-awareness, J.D. has been able to look back on his own upbringing as a ‘hillbilly’ to illuminate the plight of America’s white working class, speaking directly to the turmoil of our current political climate.”

"The book made Vance a go-to commentator on the white working class during the 2016 presidential election," Rich Copley writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The Middletown, Ohio, native, whose family hailed from Breathitt County, went on to earn a degree from Yale Law School."
Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/copious-notes/article143910834.html#storylink=cpy

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

78 rural hospitals have closed since 2010; here's a look at the impact on one Tennessee community

Haywood County, Tennessee (Wikipedia map)
Seventy-eight rural hospitals have closed since 2010, according to the University of North Carolina. What happens to one of these towns when it loses its hospital, especially if that hospital is the lifeline for the community? Haywood, Tenn., lost its only hospital three years ago and still hasn't recovered, Amy Goldstein reports for The Washington Post. Besides losing medical care, the town also lost jobs. Mayor Bill Rawls told Goldstein, “The emergency room now is the back of an ambulance."

Haywood is considered a "dead zone" for hospitals, with the nearest hospitals, 26 and 60 miles away, also having closed. That's nothing new for Tennessee, which ranks second for most rural hospital closures, with eight, trailing only Texas, where 13 rural hospitals have closed. Texas has nearly five times as many people as Tennessee.

Lack of medical care in and around Haywood is bad news for a town where more than 20 percent of the 18,000 residents live in poverty and the county ranks 90th out of 95 counties for health, with obesity and diabetes especially common, Goldstein writes.

One problem is that Tennessee did not expand Medicaid under federal health reform, Goldstein writes: "In 2016, just 664 Haywood County residents bought health plans through its marketplace for people without coverage through a job. By one estimate, 2,200 residents would qualify for Medicaid benefits if Tennessee expanded the program under the law." Shrtly before Haywood Park Community Hospital closed, "more than a quarter of charges were for 'self-pay' patients who lacked health insurance. Haywood Park losses grew from $4.2 million in 2010 to $6.6 million in 2013."

The year before it closed the 62-bed facility admitted 245 patients, down from 917 three years before, Goldstein reports. "When the hospital closed, Community Health Systems announced it would keep an urgent care center there. Five months later, the company announced that the urgent care was not drawing enough patients. By the end of January 2015, it was gone, too."

Every day 33 children suffer agricultural-related injuries, one child dies every three days

About 33 children are injured every day in agricultural-related accidents and one child dies every three days, according to the 2017 fact sheet on childhood agricultural accidents by the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety in Marshfield, Wis. One-fourth of all fatalities involved machinery, 17 percent motor vehicles, including ATVs, and 16 percent were drownings. Among working youth, tractors and ATVs were the leading cause of death.
In 2014, an estimated 7,469 household youth were injured on a farm. Of those, 60 percent were not working at the time of the injury. Also, an estimated 738 hired youth and about 3,735 visiting youth were injured on farms in 2014. The leading cause of injury for household working youth was vehicles, while animals were the leading source of injury for household non-working youth and visitors.
The National Children's Center found that the overall number of farm injuries are declining, injuries to household youth have remained steady, but injury rates increased among household youth on farms in 2014 for ages 10-19. Research found that "from 2003 to 2010, among workers younger than 16 years, the number of worker fatalities in agriculture was consistently higher than in all non-agricultural industries combined."

Salt used on icy roads is contaminating lakes; 44% of 371 lakes studied showed salinization

North American lakes are at risk of long-term salinization from salt used on icy roads, says a study from researchers at multiple universities and agencies, published in Proceedings of the Natural Academy of the Sciences. Researchers found that "most urban lakes and rural lakes that are surrounded by more than one percent impervious land cover show increasing chloride trends." (Chloride trends for North American freshwater lakes)
Researchers studied 371 North American lakes, finding that 44 percent showed signs of long-term salinization, Ben Guarino reports for The Washington Post. They estimated that at least 7,770 lakes are at risk of elevated sale levels. Scientists, who said they could not directly measure how much of the chloride came from road salt, said that "if at least 1 percent of the surface circling a lake was impervious, the lake was at risk of high chloride concentrations."

Distribution of impervious land cover within a 500-m
buffer of all lakes >4 ha in the lower 48 U.S.
One problem is that "no federal body tracks how much salt gets spread on roadways or makes its way into our lakes," Guarino writes. "Impervious surfaces, critically, allow dissolved salt to slide into lakes rather than soaking into soil."

"Each lake in the report had chloride measurements going back 10 years or more, was at least four hectares in size (about nine football fields or larger) and was in a state that regularly salted its roads during winter," Guarino writes. "The study authors also analyzed what percentage of the lake was surrounded by an impervious surface. This could be any combination of roadways, sidewalk pavement, boat launches or other hard surfaces."

"Across all lakes, chloride concentrations ranged from 0.18 to 240 milligrams per liter, with a median of 6 milligrams per liter. (Seawater, by contrast, is much saltier — an average of about 35 grams per liter.)," Guarino writes. "The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that salt in drinking water exceed no more than 250 milligrams per liter, at which point water tastes salty."

Broadband expansion bills in West Virginia, Tennessee sent to desks of governors

Broadband expansion bills to connect underserved areas in Tennessee and West Virginia have been approved by state legislatures and now go to their respective governors.

An amended version of Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's bill, which earlier this month passed the Senate, on Monday passed the House, Jake Lowary reports for The Tennessean. "The amended version allows for video service to be sold as part of the broadband service, which was not part of Haslam's original proposal. The Senate also amended the minimum speed that could be provided from federal standard 25 megabits per second to 10 megabits per second and reduced the funding allocation from $45 million to $30 million."

The $30 million over three years will provide grants "to rural electric cooperatives to provide broadband internet service to their customers," Lowary writes. "The state currently ranks 29th in broadband access and more than a third of the state does not have access."

The West Virginia bill "allows communities to form internet co-ops that "would work together with a service provider to become their community’s own provider," Liz McCormick reports for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. West Virginia is the 45th most connected state, according to BroadbandNow.

The Senate made amendments to the bill that include a title amendment and one that requires the West Virginia Board of Treasury Investments "to provide from the consolidated fund a $50 million non-recourse revolving loan to the state Economic Development Authority to ensure payment or repayment of loans to broadband providers," McCormick writes. "EDA could not ensure more than $10 million within a calendar year."

Thawing crops worldwide creating greenhouse gas emissions, says Canadian study

Crops thawing from snow and ice are creating greenhouse gas emissions, says a study by researchers from Canada's University of Guelph and University of Manitoba published in Nature Geoscience. Researchers say the first of its kind study "reveals that worldwide emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) from agriculture are underestimated by as much as 28 percent," Deirdre Healey reports for the University of Guelph.

The study monitored emissions over 14 years at sites in Ontario, nine years at sites in Manitoba, and included emissions data from 11 cold climate sites around the globe, Healey writes. Claudia Wagner-Riddle, the study’s lead author, told Healey, “Up until this point, no one has accurately calculated just how much nitrous oxide is released from the thawing of cropland. Our study shows that a big chunk of agricultural emissions is not being considered, making it even more urgent that we find a way to manage and reduce these emissions.”

Healey writes, "In the Northern Hemisphere, annual freezing affects areas of intensive corn, wheat and soybean production in the U.S., Canada, China and Northern Europe. Cropland is a major source of N2O because inorganic fertilizer, manure and legumes provide nutrients for N2O production by soil microorganisms." Wagner-Riddle told her, “When the soil thaw`s, the nutrients that were sitting dormant are released so there is an increase in microbial activity, which results in the production of nitrous oxide."
Daily N20 fluctuations at two study sites. Red is mean maximum air temperature, gray is snow depth, blue soil temperature at 5 cm and black is soil liquid content.

Twice-weekly editor who won Pulitzer for editorial writing also did a lot of reporting on the issue

Art Cullen
Art Cullen, co-owner of The Storm Lake Times, a 3,000-circulation, twice-weekly newspaper in Storm Lake, Iowa, on Monday was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Writing for a series of columns he wrote about agriculture and freedom of information from March to November. But as the Pulitzer board noted, Cullen also did a lot of reporting.

Cullen partly wrote about the battle between Des Moines Water Works and the rural northwest Iowa counties of Sac, Calhoun and Buena Vista to pay for cleaning up nitrate runoff from farms to the Raccoon River, part of the watershed that provides drinking water for 500,000 central Iowa residents served by the utility. Storm Lake is in Buena Vista County.

The Times also dug into who was paying the counties' legal bills to defend the lawsuit. "The counties refused to say, other than that they would ask their friends to contribute. Somehow Des Moines lawyer Doug Gross got involved, and set up the agricultural legal defense fund for the Agribusiness Association of Iowa," Cullen wrote. The newspaper discovered that the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation was a secret donor for the counties' legal bills, and that discovery helped lead to the AAI bailing out.

Cullen told the Poynter Institute's James Warren, "It's all about transparency in the funding of the environmental lawsuit [defense]. We took on the state's biggest agricultural players and said their donations should be made public. The biggest players: the Koch brothers, Cargill, Monsanto were all conspiring to fund the defense of the county. We found out they [elected officials] had met with Monsanto executives and Koch executives."

Cullen wrote in March 2016, "Anyone with eyes and a nose knows in his gut that Iowa has the dirtiest surface water in America. It is choking the waterworks and the Gulf of Mexico. It is causing oxygen deprivation in Northwest Iowa glacial lakes. It has caused us to spend millions upon millions trying to clean up Storm Lake, the victim of more than a century of explosive soil erosion."

"Everyone knows it’s not the city sewer plant causing the problem. And most of us recognize that this is not just nature at work busily releasing nitrates into the water," he writes. "Ninety-two percent of surface water pollution comes from row crop production—an incontroverted fact from the court case."

"What’s more, the public probably suspects that it should not cost billions of dollars to fix the problem," he writes. "It doesn’t. The solution demands that we quit farming into the ditch and over the fenceline. If we left 10 percent of Iowa’s marginal land fallow the nitrate problem would disappear. Iowa State University research proves it."

Pulitzer chair discusses need to strengthen local journalism; we say audiences must help

Joyce Dehli
"Many post-election observers have lambasted the national news media, the so-called coastal media elites, for missing the breadth of support for Donald Trump among white working- and lower middle-class voters living outside of major urban-suburban areas," writes Pulitzer Prize Board Chair Joyce Dehli, for Nieman Reports. "Such criticism obscures a more important point. The stories of disaffected citizens in rural areas and small cities have been simmering for years, largely untold by local news organizations."

And it is local journalists who must tell those stories, writes the former chief news executive for Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises: "Journalists from big coastal news media, with a few exceptions, have never done a good job of covering people in the vast middle of the country," she writes. "I know this well from decades of living and working as a journalist in Midwestern states as a reporter, editor, and vice president for news for a company with dozens of newspapers in small and mid-size cities across the country."

Dehli, a fellow at the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, continues: "Newspapers, the backbone of local and regional journalism, have cut thousands of reporters and editors in the past decade, greatly diminishing their capacity to consistently and deeply cover residents’ lives and their political institutions, from school boards to state legislatures. We still see some superb local journalism. But even the best local newspapers struggle to fully and meaningfully cover their communities on a daily basis — work that, over time, reveals a community and a state to itself and its leaders."

Such work doesn't come cheap because it takes time, Dehli reminds us: "It requires attentive listening to diverse sources, dogged examination of data and other records, and close observation of government at work. It takes time and skill, and requires on-site support of editors and other news leaders who live in the community and care about it. It does not guarantee publishers a return in eye-popping digital audience numbers."

She concludes, "The question is: What can be done to strengthen local, professional journalism and tighten its connection to communities? It’s an important question for all U.S. journalists, not just at newspapers, and for the nation as a whole. No matter the tactics we pursue, our starting point must be an affirmation of the importance of deeply reported, professional local journalism as an essential force in our democracy."

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, says the audience must play a role, by subscribing to news outlets, either in print or online. He put the message on a bumper sticker:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Pulitzers go to Iowa twice-weekly for editorials on corporate agriculture, W.Va. daily for probe of drug makers' and governments' roles in opioid crisis

This item was updated and revised at 3:10, 4:05 and 4:40 p.m.

Tom Cullen, his father Art and Art's brother John, the paper's co-owner
Art Cullen, editor and co-owner of the Storm Lake Times, a twice-weekly newspaper in Iowa, won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2016 today. The Pulitzer board said Cullen's writing for the 3,000-circulation paper was "fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa." The paper has written extensively about the pollution of the Raccoon River by farmers and Big Ag's paying for the county's defense of a lawsuit filed by the Des Moines Water Works.

Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for revealing the role of the pharmaceutical industry and the fecklessness of government officials in the opioid-abuse crisis in West Virginia. His work also won the Scripps Howard Foundation First Amendment award and was cited by the Selden Ring Award judges at the University of Southern California Annenberg School.

A runner-up in the investigative category was Steve Reilly of the USA Today Network for his "far-reaching investigation that used two ambitious data-gathering efforts to turn up 9,000 teachers across the nation who should have been flagged for past disciplinary offenses but were not," as the Pulitzer board put it.

Stories with rural angles have been honored with other awards this year. Alec MacGillis of ProPublica won the national-reporting prize in Long Island University’s George Polk Awards for his story identifying "trends among voters in Rust Belt states that 'the political establishment ignored, dismissed or overlooked', according to the Polks," Roy J. Harris Jr. reports for the Poynter Institute. "In addition, the Scripps Howard Foundation’s awards, which were announced in early March, honored MacGillis’s work with an award titled the 'Topic of the Year'."


Rural listeners tell NPR about challenges they face; includes lack of internet, teachers, health care

NPR's "The Call-In" on Sunday focused on the challenges of living in rural areas, with host Lourdes Garcia-Navarro taking calls from rural residents. Recurring themes were poor internet service, trouble accessing health care and teacher shortages.

Littleton, N.C. (Best Places map)
Cheryl Sebrell, a retired teacher from Littleton, N.C., a farming community of 659, told Garcia-Navarro, "We have trouble attracting and keeping good teachers. Sometimes we have substitutes keeping a class for half of the year." Sebrell, who taught for 40 years, said, "In the '80s and the early '90s, there was a big focus on education in North Carolina, and we were a leader in the country. It's all about cost cutting and budgets and things now. And it's tough to be in a rural area when that is happening."

Once they get teachers, it's tough to keep them, Sebrell said. "There's not always a lot to offer to people who are coming in to teach. Housing sometimes can be a problem. Living in a home in the country, you're going to deal with leaking roofs and mice, and sometimes that can be a problem, finding a place that you want to live in, just a house, so that you're not driving back and forth. So a lot of our teachers do come in from the triangle area—Raleigh, Durham—and they drive, you know, an hour in the morning or an hour and a half in the morning and again in the afternoon. And when you have long hours, that makes it really tough as well."

Winthrop, Minn. (City-Data map)
Poor or missing internet service is a problem in many rural areas, such as Winthrop, Minn., said Mark Erickson, head of the town's economic-development agency. He told Garcia-Navarro, "A third of our students in our school districts live in the country, and they were unable to do their homework when they got home. Most of them had dial-up, which is just archaic. Some used satellite connections, which were good when the weather was fine, and some had poor DSL from their phone companies."

Erickson said the economic development agency is running a project that will build a fiber-optic network across 10 communities—populations from 400 to 2,300—and the agency has formed a cooperative, where the subscribers to the network are the owners. He said, "We expect our children to leave our communities when they graduate from high school and go to college and learn about life. But they have to have a reason to return. And the millennials today, and those who follow, will find it difficult to come back to a community that doesn't offer the kind of internet connection that they want." (Read more)

U.S. farmers worry about Trump trade policies as their share of total agricultural exports shrinks

Bloomberg Interactive map shows how other
countries are closing the gap with the U.S.
President Trump's "aggressive positions on U.S. trade relations threaten to worsen the relative decline of U.S. exports, as countries look elsewhere for agricultural products," Alan Bjerga, Blacki Migliozzi and Cindy Hoffman report for Bloomberg News. The main reason is that other countries, especially Brazil, have caught up with the U.S. in developing more farmland and improving their trade prospects.

"Proposed legislation introduced in Mexico’s parliament would block U.S. corn in favor of Argentinian and Brazilian products, and South American countries are trying to seize market share away from the U.S.," Bloomberg reports. "Adecoagro SA, an Argentine operator of farmland, made its first-ever rice sale to Mexico after betting that souring trade relations with the U.S. could boost South American producers."

"That could exacerbate a problem for the U.S. apparent in agricultural commodities data," Bloomberg reports. "A look at the U.S. share of bulk farm commodities shipped overseas—ranging from corn, soybeans and wheat to cotton, coffee and rubber—from the past 15 years shows the U.S. portion of global exports has fallen from 26 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2015. While U.S. exports have increased, Brazil and the Black Sea [Ukraine, Russia, etc.] have risen proportionally much faster, making the U.S. less central to agricultural trade."

Joe Glauber, a former chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the lead farm negotiator during the Doha Round of global trade talks, "said a less-central U.S. has less control over its own destiny," Bloomberg reports. "Policies to limit overproduction become useless when other countries can replace acreage, and the U.S. is also more vulnerable to long-term export damage should it discourage trade, simply because rivals are now more able to take advantage of missteps." Glauber told Bloomberg, "If a trade war led to the U.S. being less able to sell its soybeans or wheat, you would find quickly that the rest of the world would say, 'thank you'."

New Mexico will require all law enforcement officers to carry opioid-overdose antidote kits

New Mexico has become the first state to require all state and local law enforcement agencies "to provide officers with antidote kits" to combat the opioid epidemic, Susan Montoya Bryan reports for The Associated Press. A 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked New Mexico second nationally, behind West Virgini, in rates of opioid deaths, at 27.3 for every 100,000 people.

"Aside from outfitting first responders with anti-overdose kits, the legislation requires federally certified addiction treatment centers to provide patients with education plus two doses of naloxone and a prescription for the antidote," AP reports. "The state’s prisons and jails will be required to do the same for at-risk inmates upon their release as long as funding and supplies are available."

"While the bill does not include any new funding, public safety officials said each police force in New Mexico receives annual state funding per officer to help with training, equipment and supplies," AP reports. "A portion of that can be used to purchase naloxone kits, which cost roughly $70 each. It can be administered with a nasal spray or via injection. Grant funding will also be sought to fully implement expanded access." (Screenshot of interactive Kaiser Family Foundation map: Numbers of opioid deaths by state in 2014, highlighting New Mexico)

Coal industry seeing modest growth in jobs, but is it enough for a revival?

The coal industry, has been mechanizing, automating and losing jobs for decades, saw a modest gain recently, notes Justin Fox of Bloomberg News. The industry has gained 1,700 jobs since September, and added 100 jobs in March, growing to 50,300. While the numbers are positive, they aren't big enough to signal a resurgence of coal, Fox writes. (Bloomberg chart: Seasonally adjusted employment in coal mining)
President Trump has promised to revive coal. An increase in jobs is a good sign, but one problem is that Wyoming is the nation's leading state in coal production, "producing as much as the next seven added together," but is only third in employment, Fox writes. "That's because almost all of Wyoming's coal mining comes from surface mining, and surface mining is far less labor-intensive than underground mining. Overall, surface mines produced two-thirds of the nation's coal in 2015 but accounted for just 40 percent of coal mining employment."

Bloomberg graphic: Top coal producing states
 vs. states with most coal jobs 
Trump's decision to roll back Obama administration regulations "will have some positive effect on coal mining employment," Fox writes. "The question is how much, and whether it's worth it. The modest uptick in mining jobs since September of course predates the change, and seems to have a lot to do with a rebound in the price of metallurgical coal used in steelmaking, which is mined mainly in Appalachia. The vast majority of U.S. coal production goes to electricity production, and by far the largest share of that comes from Wyoming, where mining is much less labor-intensive."