A digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. Links may expire, require subscription or go behind pay walls. Please send news and knowledge you think would be useful to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @RuralJournalism
Saturday, March 15, 2008
West Virginia agrees on plan to give some streams special protection
"The final rule language gives the toughest pollution limits almost exclusively only to streams that run through public lands," Ken Ward Jr. writes. "As industry groups had wanted, streams running through private lands would be excluded, unless citizens go through a long process of nominating them for those protections." The legislative process itself was complicated, but Ward makes it understandable.
Gov. Joe Manchin said the law would protect the state's trout streams, most of which are on public land, while protecting landowners' rights. "Environmentalists argue that the Clean Water Act protections at stake don't have anything to do with private property rights," Ward notes. "The streams don't belong to private individuals or landowners, environmentalists say; the state's waters belong to all of the people." Business lobbies argued the public interest of jobs. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce said, "This could adversely impact economic development in many rural areas of the state and seriously affect future land use."
In related action in the legislative session, Ward reports, "Coal industry officials succeeded in convincing lawmakers to not add nearly 400 streams to a list of specially protected trout waters, [and] approval of a long-sought lessened water-pollution limit for aluminum." (Read more)
Friday, March 14, 2008
States try to reverse decline in hunting, license $
Last week, the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill that "allows hunting education classes in all schools where at least 20 students express interest," Urbina writes. "At least six other states are considering similar legislation. . . . In the last two years, 17 states have passed laws to attract younger hunters by creating apprentice hunting licenses that allow people supervised by a trained mentor to sample the sport before completing the required course work, which typically takes 8 to 10 hours and can cost more than $200."
Animal-welfare groups frown on such measures, but in rural states with heavy deer populations there are broader concerns. "Without enough hunters, the deer population can grow and has contributed to an increase in road accidents," Urbina writes. "West Virginia has the highest rate of vehicular accidents caused by deer, according to State Farm Insurance."
Urbina's story focuses on West Virginia, but he also reports, "In Illinois, game managers are holding learn-to-hunt classes for single mothers. In Vermont, the Fish and Wildlife Department sponsors youth hunting weekends three time a year. New Hampshire started a “Leave No Child Inside” initiative last year that encourages families and children to try fishing and hunting." In some states, there are efforts to put rights to hunt and fish into state constitutions.
West Virginia and Kentucky move on oral health
Last week, the West Virginia Legislature unanimously approved a bill that will allow dental hygienists to "polish teeth, scrape gums, take X-rays and give fluoride treatments ... in schools, nursing homes, hospitals and health clinics without a dentist standing over their shoulder," reports Eric Eyre of The Charleston Gazette.
Yesterday in Kentucky, a Senate committee approved a House bill that would require students entering school in 2010 and beyond to prove they have had "a dental screening or examination by a qualified dental professional, physician, registered nurse, advanced registered nurse practitioner or physician assistant." The full Senate usually passes bills approved by a committee.
The bill also requires that if an exam conducted by anyone other than a dentist finds evidence of dental disease, the child will be referred to a dentist. That provision was added in the Senate committee when dentists dropped their opposition to allowing non-dentists to do the exams or screenings. "The Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which was not advocating for the bill because of cost concerns, is now supporting it," reports Sarah Vos of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)
Bush: If no Farm Bill by April 18, extend for a year
"I believe the government has a responsibility to provide America's farmers and ranchers with a timely and predictable farm program — not multiple short-term extensions of current law," Bush said in a written statement. "I will sign this legislation to avoid serious disruptions that might result if the current law is allowed to expire without a responsible farm bill enacted in its place."
Bush repeated his threat to veto "any final farm bill that includes a tax increase or does not include reform." (Read more)
Rural Texas sheriff, responding to story about son's arrest, threatens to arrest reporter
When reporter Christopher Maher interviewed Sheriff Santiago Barrera at the hail about another arrest, the sheriff did what he shouldn't have done. He told Maher, "If you guys keep interfering with my business, I'm going to have you arrested."
So then Managing Editor Nicole Perez wrote County Attorney Ricardo Carrillo, saying, "I am bringing these remarks to your attention in the hope that they will remain as such, just remarks. However, considering the volatile political atmosphere in Duval County I have no doubt that Sheriff Barrera would carry out such a threat."
Asked how Barrera, 67, had stayed in office for 20 years, Carrillo said, ""He's a great politician and a terrible sheriff," according to The Associated Press. Barrera lost in this year's primary election, but "is accustomed to things being done his way in a part of South Texas where elected officials don't easily fade into the woodwork," AP reports -- noting that a deputy in adjoining Jim Wells County shot and killed a radio reporter in 1949. (Read more)
In 1955, Caro Crawford Brown of the Alice Echo, right, now of Corpus Christi, won the Pulitzer Prize for general local reporting for a series of stories about the one-man political rule of George Parr in Duval County. The series "brought decades of corruption and terrorism to an end," according to Texas Women's University, where Brown studied journalism in 1925. (Read more)
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Chicken processor, hurt by feed cost hikes, hopes to mobilize consumers against ethanol subsidy
The company, based in Pittsburg, Tex., recently announced that it would close its plant in Siler City, N.C., and some distribution centers, eliminating 1,100 jobs and 2 percent of its production. "Products are selling below cost, and we have to get some product off the market," Rivers said, adding that he is negotiating with big customers such as KFC and Wendy's. He said consumers are still not feeling the full cost of animal-feed price increases. "Hopefully that will create a groundswell of opposition to what's happening -- using tax dollars to increase the price of our food," he said. "Right now it seems to be an uphill battle." (Read more)
Non-farm labor accounts for 38.5 percent of retail food costs, and farmers get 19.5 percent of the money consumers pay for food, reports Jason Henderson (with the chart at left) in the latest issue of The Main Street Economist, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. "While marketing costs have increased over time, farm commodity prices have remained relatively stable. Thus, the farm commodity share of retail food prices has diminished. Still, farm commodities account for a substantial part of the retail food dollar, and the two continue to move in tandem," writes Henderson, an assistant vice president in the bank's Omaha branch. (Read more)
Farmers' share of the retail food dollar differs by the type of meat, and so does the food-price impact of the demand for ethanol. Pork and poultry are produced "almost entirely on grain and oilseed protein," reports Aimee Nelson of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Oilseed prices have gone up because of the demand for soybeans to produce biodiesel, and other factors.
Lee Meyer, an economist in the college, told Nelson, “I’ve estimated that the farm level production cost for pork is up 75 percent with the total cost up about 25 percent. The chicken-feed index is up 44 percent, so its total cost of production is up to nearly 20 percent. Cattle are a little different; most only depend on grain for the last one-fourth of the production process. As a result, the impacts of higher grain production are reduced, but they are still significant.”
Nelson writes, "The pork, chicken and beef industries may all respond by cutting production, but Meyer said that will depend on how consumers respond. ... Compared to January 2007, beef prices are up by about 5 percent; pork and chicken prices are up 2 percent and 10 percent respectively." Meyer told her, "With a stressed economy, consumers are expected to cut back as a response to higher grocery and restaurant prices." (Read more)
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Gannett Wisconsin papers, mostly rural, consider centralized copy-desk and layout to reduce jobs
According to Hopkins, the document, says the nation's largest media company is "looking at severance costs, which are significant. They will be meeting to walk through the process. At this time, we’re not sure if there are any showstoppers." Hopkins writes that a tipster tells him that the papers already share copyediting. The papers are The Post-Crescent at Appleton, The Reporter at Fond du Lac, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Herald Times Reporter at Manitowoc, the Marshfield News-Herald, the Oshkosh Northwestern, The Sheboygan Press, the Stevens Point Journal, the Wausau Daily Herald and The Daily Tribune at Wisconsin Rapids.
The move, Hopkins writes, "would not be surprising. The company has made clear that it's now favoring newspapers in its portfolio that are clustered together. Proximity makes it easier to share resources," one reason the company sold the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin, the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star, the Utica, N.Y., Observer-Dispatch and The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, W.Va., to GateHouse Media last year. A local investor later bought the Huntington paper. "Geography makes the 10 Wisconsin newspapers good candidates for consolidating work," Hopkins notes. "Eight of them are small afternoon dailies, within about two hours of each other." Only the Green Bay and Appleton papers, at 55,000 and 51,000, respectively, have circulations above 21,000. (Read more)
Farm Bill is being extended for five more weeks
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, "repeated earlier assertions that a deal on the next farm bill is 'within reach' and promising that this extension will allow lawmakers to finish work on the measure," Peter Shinn writes. "Other lawmakers issued similar statements with a hopeful tone . . . and even Oxfam America, a group that wants significant reductions in U.S. commodity support programs, expressed optimism that members of Congress will actually complete new farm legislation."
But despite the upbeat talk, passage of a new Farm Bill "remains an open question," Shinn reports. "A senior staffer on the Senate Ag Committee as recently as Tuesday told visiting leaders of a joint lobbying mission by Nebraska Cattlemen and the Nebraska Corn Board that the most likely outcome of the current farm bill stalemate is an extension of the current law for one to two years. Progress may be especially difficult, because one of the key players on the House side of the farm bill negotiations, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, has been hospitalized for the last several days and has therefore been unavailable for discussions on farm bill funding. (Read more)
Bill Mead, the voice of Tehachapi, Calif., dies at 80
"Bill knew and understood humanity well, and his skills with people served him well in his different jobs, which included helping to pass water bonds to make the California State Water Project a reality," Jon Goodman wrote in the News, which Mead sold to a subsidary of the nearby Bakersfield Californian 10 years ago. "Bill was far more professional than other newspaper people working in Kern County then or now. He was an old-school publisher who insisted our little weekly have high standards as though we were a big daily." (Read more)
For Tara McLaughlin's obituary of Mead in the Californian, click here.
Biodiesel plants pose threat of water pollution
"The discharges, which can be hazardous to birds and fish, have many people scratching their heads over the seeming incongruity of pollution from an industry that sells products with the promise of blue skies and clear streams," Brenda Goodman writes. But a Missouri official "said she was warned a year ago by colleagues in other states that biodiesel producers were dumping glycerin, the main byproduct of biodiesel production, contaminated with methanol, another waste product that is classified as hazardous. . . . In January, a grand jury indicted a Missouri businessman in the discharge, which killed at least 25,000 fish and wiped out the population of fat pocketbook mussels, an endangered species. "
An engineer for the National Biodiesel Board told Goodman that some producers of the fuel have had problems complying with environmental rules, "but says those violations have been infrequent in an industry that nearly doubled in size in one year, to 160 plants in the United States at the end of 2007 from 90 plants at the end of 2006," Goodman writes.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Rural Miss. voters follow statewide track for Obama; primary results are racially polarized
Mississippi has a larger share of African Americans than any other state, 37 percent, and they accounted for an even larger share of the electorate; the poll sample was divided evenly between blacks and whites. Obama won only 26 percent of the white vote but 90 percent of the black vote. That was the greatest racial division seen in the contest so far, ABC News reported. The Associated Press said Alabama and Clinton's former home state of Arkansas were as polarized as Mississippi, which borders both.
"The exit polls also indicated roughly 40 percent of Mississippi Democratic voters said race was an important factor in their vote, and 90 percent of those voters supported Obama," CNN reports. Nine percent of voters said race was the most important factor in their vote. Among that group, Obama led 55 to 45 percent, within the margin of error for that small sample. Among the 21 percent who said race was one of several factors for them, Obama got 65 percent. Among the two-third of voters who said race was not a factor, Obama got 57 percent, statistically the same as his 60 percent share of the total vote. (Read more)
Perhaps the most interesting results came when voters for one candidate were asked if they would be satisfied if the other candidate were nominated. CNN's John King said a "stunning" 72 percent of Clinton voters said they would be dissatisfied with Obama as the nominee, while 57 percent of Obama voters said they would not be satisfied with Clinton. "You're beginning to see a polarization within the Democratic electorate as the debate between the candidates gets sharper and sharper," King said.
Bill to limit mountaintop removal mining fails in Ky.
The bill "would have stopped coal operators from burying creeks and streams with mine waste," reports John Stamper of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee voted 13-12 for House Bill 526, but 14 votes were needed to get it out of the committee. Three Republicans abstained, and a Democrat, Rep. Mike Denham of Maysville, left the meeting before the vote and returned shortly afterward, Stamper reports. (UPDATE, March 13: Kentuckians for the Commonwealth said in a press release that Republican Reps. Scott Brinkman and Bob DeWeese of Louisville reneged on promises to vote for the bill.)
"The coal industry had opposed the measure, saying it would bring an end to coal mining in Eastern Kentucky," Stamper writes. Supporters "dismissed those claims as hyperbole and said the bill's main effects would be to increase water quality, reduce flooding and protect aquatic habitat." They said they would keep fighting for the bill. "We'll holler bigger and louder," KFTC's Truman Hurt told the Herald-Leader.
The issue was heard by the committee that handles taxes and the state budget because it could not be heard in the Natural Resources and Environment Committee, which is dominated by coalfield legislators. Last winter, budget committee chairman Harry Moberly, from Richmond in the Bluegrass Region, took his panel on a tour of mountaintop-removal sites. "We'll have future discussions about this bill and anything else about the environment that is not properly addressed," he told Stamper. (Read more)
Video of last week's hearing is available online. For the March 4 meeting, with Kentucky Resources Council Director Tom FitzGerald and two other environmental experts, click here. For the March 5 meeting, which included testimony from the coal industry and KFTC, click here.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Maryland scientists to commercialize bacterium that turns dead plant matter into ethanol
"The bacterium Saccarophagus degradans, or sugar eater, can create a mix of enzymes that degrades plant matter. It has the largest known concentration of enzymes that eat carbohydrates, Hutcheson said. . . . The bacterium, which is very difficult to find in nature but easily reproduced in the lab, has turned bench scientists into entrepreneurs," write the Post's Susan Kinzie and David A. Fahrenthold.
"Other scientists said that the U-Md. research might mark a significant step in that struggle but that it was difficult to judge the discovery in detail without more information." One said that if such a bacterium existed, "plants would probably have found a way to defend themselves." Promoters said the bacterium works only on dead plant matter. (Read more) For the university's press release and an embedded video, click here.
Big Sandy News, a weekly that expanded to serve several Eastern Kentucky counties, is sold
"Businessman Chris McGehee has purchased the BSN from Sandy Valley Press Inc.," the newspaper reported. "McGehee, a Brandenburg native, owns several newspapers in Kentucky, including the Bath County News-Outlook, the Carlisle Mercury in Nicholas County and the Herald-News in Breckinridge County." The short story did not note that McGehee only recently bought the Bath and Nicholas papers, in the Bluegrass region. It concluded, "McGehee said he anticipates no major changes with the BSN," and quoted him as saying, "I'm pleased with the paper and its operation."
The Big Sandy News was once a typical county-seat weekly, based in Louisa, at the confluence of the Levisa and Tug forks of the Big Sandy River, which flows into the Ohio River one county downstream. It is based in Lawrence County, the northernmost county on the map in its logo above. In 2001, the paper bought the Martin County Sun (upstream on the Tug and easternmost on the map) and opened a bureau in Paintsville in Johnson County (upstream on the Levisa and central on the map). It became truly regional when Publisher Scott Perry brought Susan Allen back from the daily paper in the state capital of Frankfort to run a bureau in Floyd County, southernmost on the map, where they had previously worked together. The paper also expanded circulation and coverage into Magoffin County, westernmost on the map, and began publishing twice a week.
Allen told University of Kentucky student Leah Rowland in 2004 that Perry, who had died several months earlier, wanted a regional paper “willing to tell things like they are – what really goes on” in counties not regularly covered by any daily paper and often dominated by the coal industry. “There are a lot of serious issues that must be told. The community deserves that from their local paper,” Allen said. “You have to step on toes,” Allen said. “Our ad girl Becky has a tough life because of our reporting.” But the paper grew to become one of Kentucky's largest weeklies, with a circulation of 12,000.
March 16-22: Sunshine Week for open government
Sunshine Week is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and is funded primarily by a challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For a list of regional and state coordinators, click here. The coordinator for weekly and community newspapers is Steve Haynes, publisher of the Oberlin Herald in Kansas and president of the National Newspaper Association. He is at 785-475-2206 or here.
Southern Baptist leaders reverse stand, urge action on climate change and environmental issues
The declaration continued, "We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues have often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice. Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed. We can do better. To abandon these issues to the secular world is to shirk from our responsibility to be salt and light. The time for timidity regarding God’s creation is no more." That statement coincided with an alarming report from Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post: "The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades." (Read more)
In 2006, the convention said "some in our culture" have "made environmentalism into a neo-pagan religion," and denounced "activists seeking to advance a political agenda based on disputed claims," notes Ron Barnett of South Carolina's Greenville News, home of Convention President Frank Page -- who told Barnett today, "One of the reasons we have been somewhat timid in the past is so as not to be cast into an ultra-left-wing agenda, and we still have that concern. But we feel that it is important to speak out on this even in spite of the possibility that we may be lumped into that group." We doubt there's much chance of that, and the convention so indicated in the preamble of its declaration, saying "the sanctity of human life" and definition of marriage "constitute the most pressing moral issues of our day," and adding later in the document, "Unlike abortion and respect for the biblical definition of marriage, this is an issue where Christians may find themselves in justified disagreement about both the problem and its solutions."
Perhaps most significantly, the declaration called for action: "Many of our churches do not actively preach, promote or practice biblical creation care. We urge churches to begin doing so. We realize that the primary impetus for prudent action must come from the will of the people, families and those in the private sector. Held to this standard of common good, action by government is often needed to assure the health and well-being of all people. We pledge, therefore, to give serious consideration to responsible policies that acceptably address the conditions set forth in this declaration."
The map below, from the Glenmary Center, shows in red counties where Southern Baptists are the dominant religious denomination. Others include: Light blue, Roman Catholic; yellow, Christian (Disciples of Christ and related); brown, Latter-Day Saints (Mormon); orange, Lutheran; green, Methodist; lavender, Mennonite; aqua, Reformed; gray, other. In counties with black dots, the dominant denomination claims half or more of the population.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Clinton's rural base and Obama's urban base make them the ideal ticket, Bill Clinton says
"I know that she has always been open to it, because she believes that if you can unite the energy and the new people that he's brought in and the people in these vast swaths of small town and rural America that she's carried overwhelmingly, if you had those two things together she thinks it'd be hard to beat. I mean, you look at the, you look at the, you look at the map of Texas and the map in Ohio. And the map in Missouri. But you look at most of these places, he would win the urban areas and the upscale voters, and she wins the traditional rural areas that we lost when President Reagan was president. If you put those two things together, you'd have an almost unstoppable force."
CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand reports that Obama told KTVQ of Billings, Mont., "You won't see me as a vice presidential candidate, you know, I'm running for president." And Maureen Dowd says in today's New York Times, "If he thinks Hillary has cut him down to size lately, he’d better imagine what his life would be like as the Clintons’ vice president." (Read more)
But that doesn't mean that circumstances and minds couldn't change, and the results so far do show a rural-urban divide that, if bridged, could help Democrats overcome Republicans' huge advantage among rural voters in the last two presidential elections, a key reason for both of President Bush's elections. "The farther you travel from large cities, the greater the vote for the New York senator," Bill Bishop writes in the Daily Yonder. "The Democratic Party may be divided between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but it's divided rural and urban, too." (Read more)
Bishop told Howard Berkes of National Public Radio that his analysis, done with geographer Tim Murphy, "seems to go beyond the basic demographic categories we normally look at." Pollster Anna Greenberg told Berkes, "Clinton's doing better with white, working class and older voters. Obama's doing better with younger, college-educated voters. Clinton's voters are more likely to live in rural areas and Obama's voters are more likely to live in urban areas, except for some African-American voters in Southern states." (Read more)