Saturday, April 12, 2008

Clinton says Obama demeaned, condescended to small-town America with 'elitist' remarks

The latest focus of the race for president, playing out today in Indiana, is whether Sen. Barack Obama condescended to small-town America in remarks that he made at a private event for maxed-out contributors in San Francisco last Sunday and that were posted in audio form on Huffington Post by Obama contributor and self- described citizen journalist Mayhill Fowler yesterday. Obama said:
"Our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Today in Indianapolis, echoing and expanding on remarks she made yesterday in Philadelphia, Clinton said the Democratic front-runner made "demeaning remarks . . . about people in small-town America. Senator Obama's remarks are elitist and they are out of touch." She went after him point by point:
“You know, Americans who believe in the Second Amendment believe it’s a matter of Constitutional right. Americans who believe in God believe it’s a matter of personal faith. Americans who believe in protecting good American jobs believe it is a matter of the American Dream.
“You know, when my dad grew up it was in a working class family in Scranton. I grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith. The people of faith I know don't cling to religion because they're bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich. Our faith is the faith of our parents and our grandparents. It is a fundamental expression of who we are and what we believe.
“I also disagree with Senator Obama's assertion that people in this country cling to guns and have certain attitudes about immigration or trade simply out of frustration. People of all walks of life hunt – and they enjoy doing so because it's an important part of their life, not because they are bitter. And as I’ve traveled across Indiana, and I’ve talked to a lot of people, what I hear are real concerns about unfair trade practices that cost people jobs. [At this point, the crowd applauded.]
“I think hard-working Americans are right to want to see changes in our trade laws. That’s what I have said. That¹s what I have fought for. I would also point out that the vast majority of working Americans reject anti-immigration rhetoric. They want reform so that we remain a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of laws that we enforce and we enforce fairly."
Clinton wrapped up by saying, "People don't need a president who looks down on them; they need a president who stands up for them." That got applause, too, reflecting the storm in the blogosphere and increasingly in mainstream media about Obama's remarks. He countered in Terre Haute yesterday:

And so people end up, they don’t vote on economic issues, because they don’t think anybody’s going to help them. So people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, and are they going to have the right to bear arms; they end up voting on issues like gay marriage, you know, and they take refuge in their faith and their communities and their families and things they can count on; but they don’t believe they can count on Washington. So I made this statement; so here’s what’s rich: Senator Clinton says, well, I don’t think people are bitter in Pennsylvania; you know, I think Barack’s being condescending. … Senator Clinton voted for a credit card-sponsored bankruptcy bill that made it harder for people to get out of debt after taking money from the financial-services companies, and she says I’m out of touch? No, I’m in touch. I know exactly what’s going on. I know what’s going on in Pennsylvania. I know what’s going on in Indiana, I know what’s going on in Illinois. [At this point, the crowd began to stand and applaud.] People are fed up. They’re angry and they’re frustrated and they’re bitter and they want to see a change in Washington and that’s why I’m running for president of the United States of America.

Today in Muncie, Obama acknowledged he was on defense. "When you’re bitter you turn to what you can count on," he said at Ball State University. "That’s a natural response. I didn’t say it as well as I should have, because these traditions that are passed on from generation are important because that’s what sustains us. … What we need is a government that is paying attention." For the Indianapolis Star's speedy coverage of Clinton in Indianapolis, by Bill Ruthhart, click here; for likewise by Mary Beth Schneider in Muncie, click here.

UPDATE: In an interview today with James Romoser of the Winston-Salem Journal, Obama "was asked whether he would apologize to small-town Americans who were offended by his quote in San Francisco," Romoser writes. "Obama said:
"Well look, if there -- obviously, if I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that. But the underlying truth of what I said remains, which is simply that people who have seen their way of life upended because of economic distress are frustrated and rightfully so. And I hear it all the time when I visit these communities. People say they feel as if nobody is paying attention or listening to them and that is something -- that is one of the reasons I am running for president. I saw this when I first started off as a community organizer and the steel plants had closed, and I was working with churches in communities that had fallen on hard times. And they felt angry and frustrated."

Bill Clinton, campaigning in eastern North Carolina today, didn't refer to Obama's comments, reports Mike Baker of The Associated Press, but the self-described "rural hit man" noted a sign in New Bern that read "Rural Country Clinton Country" and said, "The people in small towns in rural America that do the work for America and represent the backbone and values of this country, they are the people that are carrying her through to this nomination." (Read more) Sue Book of the New Bern Sun Journal reports that Clinton took a dig at Obama for the remark, but doesn't quote him directly: "Clinton reminded the nearly 1,000 attending that most of the land mass of New York, which Sen. Clinton represents, is rural as is Arkansas, where she lived and worked after law school and began their political career."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Photographer from The Concord Monitor, circulation less than 20,000, wins Pulitzer Prize

With a daily circulation of less than 20,000, The Concord (N.H.) Monitor was the smallest papers to win a Pulitzer Prize this year, thanks to Preston Gannaway's win for feature photography. Gannaway, 30, won "for a series of photographs of Carolynne St. Pierre, a nurse who was dying of liver cancer; her husband, Rich; and their three children as they cared for her at home," reports Richard Maschal of The Charlotte Observer. (Gannaway is a Charlotte native.)

One of the photos from the two-year series shows Carolynne St. Pierre surrounded by her family in her final days (above). "It's the only sharp frame of three or four because I was shaking and crying," Gannaway, right, told Maschal. Family members allowed Gannaway to photograph them as long as she made all the photos available to them, so they could remember their loved one. Gannaway said she plans to share the $10,000 award with family as well.

Gannaway now works for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. To see her Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, go to and click on "Stories & Essays" and then "Remember Me." (Read more)

Flood forces Missouri paper's staff to higher ground; it freeezes bound volumes for preservation

As storms soaked the Midwest this week, floods caused major damage, especially in Missouri, where 47 counties have been declared disaster areas. In southwestern Missouri, the town of Monnett experienced historic flooding, and the staff of its local newspaper, The Monett Times, was caught in some of the worst of it. (Times photo: A firefighter guides production manager Charlotte Brady across a flooded street. Below, another view of the flooding.)

Thursday morning, members of the 4,000-circulation evening paper's staff had to be rescued by firefighters, according to the paper's staff report. The staff had started putting up the floodgates and sandbags by 7 a.m. to stop the rising waters of nearby Kelly Creek, but by 9 a.m., firefighters began preparing for a rescue effort as waters were waist-high in the street outside the newspaper office.

The water started to recede after 11 a.m., and managing editor Murray Bishoff navigated his way into the building. Inside, water had reached a height of five-and-a-half inches, but with with water still on the floor — and near the high-voltage press equipment — The Times could not print for the first time in its history. Instead, The Times published its Thursday edition online by 9:30 p.m. Included in that coverage was Bishoff's report on the flood.

UPDATE, April 15: Bishoff reports to us that 120 bound volumes of his newspaper (30 years' worth) were damaged by the flood, and he is freezing them to prevent development of mold pending restoration. "The Missouri State Historical Society directed us to get them frozen immediately, so yesterday and today we wrapped them in plastic and hauled them off to the local production plant for International Dehydrated Foods, who will deep freeze them for us to stop the mold," he wrote. "The Northeast Document Conservation Center tells me that if you get a filing cabinet soaked, freeze your files in two-inch sections, divided by wax paper so you can pull two inches out at a time and thaw them bit by bit, rather than everything at once. For my bound volumes, a disaster recovery provider should be contacted next. They further advised me that vacuum freeze drying will cause the least amount of distortion. Two firms, Munters Corp., based in Chicago (800-686-8377), and BMS Catastrophe, based in Fort Worth (800-433-2940), specialize in that process."

Law made headlines, but West Virginia schools have had hunter-safety courses for a long time

A few weeks ago, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin signed a law calling for schools to offer hunter-safety courses, an attempt to stem the decline in the number of hunters in the state, part of a national trend that we noted last September. The bill prompted a front-page story in The New York Times, but the law won't really change much because such courses already were being offered in many schools, reports Anna Sale of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. "Last year, more than 1,600 students in 22 counties completed the course during the school day or immediately after," Sale reports. "It’s typically offered in middle schools during the spring."

The state's Department of Natural Resources, which is selling about 40,000 fewer hunting licenses than it did 10 years ago, wants to get more courses in schools. According to Tim Coleman, who runs the DNR hunter safety program, concerns about safety have not kept the courses out of schools. Instead in the past, local superintendents have said demands on instructional time prevent adding such courses, but Coleman said the new law could change that. "A lot of time we have to convince them that it’s worthwhile to get it and that eliminates all that," Coleman said. "Now they have, they will make room for us."

West Virginia is not alone in its effort to attract young hunters. "In the last three years, at least 17 other states have passed laws aimed at increasing the ranks of young hunters, including 15 states that have taken the opposite approach of West Virginia," Sale reports. "They created hunter apprenticeship programs that reduce the safety training and license requirements for youth if they hunt with a licensed adult."(Read more)

Study says biofuels subsidy hurts poultry and pork producers by raising cost of grains

Add another study to the debate over biofuels. According to a new FarmEcon LLC study by Thomas Elam, U.S. biofuels policy is hurting the poultry and livestock industries, as well as ethanol producers to the tune of billions of dollars per year, reports Janie Gabbett of, which covers the meatpacking industry. Commissioned by the National Chicken Council, the National Turkey Federation and the American Meat Institute, the study estimates that rising feed costs for 2008-09 will cost the poultry industry about $8 billion and the swine industry about $3.6 billion.

Input costs for ethanol distilleries will climb, too, and the study projects they will rise by more than $8 billion in 2008-09. Ethanol plants need more corn, but there will not be enough to meet that demand. "According to the study, ethanol distilleries already in operation, plus those slated to come on line in the next year, will need up to 5 billion to 5.5 billion bushels of corn per year by 2009, but only about 4 billion bushels will be available, causing them to operate at only 75 percent to 80 percent of capacity," Gabbett writes. (Read more; subscription required)

In a column for The Delta Farm Press, Forrest Laws writes that the "pseudo-debates" about renewable fuels in regard to cost of production or emissions "pale in comparison" to the need to keep American wealth in America and create more jobs. He cites Oklahoma oilman T. Boone Pickens who has said he now supports ethanol production because America spends almost half a trillion dollars purchasing foreign oil each year. Pickens recently said on CNBC, “I’d rather have ethanol and recirculate the money in the country, than to have it go out the back door on us.” (Read more)

With laws limiting access to other ingredients, meth makers again target anhydrous ammonia

Like many states, a couple of years ago Texas enacted legislation to control the sale of key ingredients used in the production of methamphetamine. While that slowed production for a while, meth producers have returned to the old-fashioned source of one of those ingredients, farmers' tanks of anhydrous ammonia, reports Dan Packard of The Amarillo Globe-News. As a result, a meth labs are appearing in rural Texas once again, according to a local sheriff.

"We've found evidence of labs out in the country -- not in a barn, not in a house, just on the side of the road or in the middle of a pasture," Danny Alexander, spokesman for the Randall County Sheriff's Office, told Packard. While Alexander said the number of arrests for possession of meth has not gone up, the number of related crimes, such as burglaries and robberies has. The sheriff's office urged farmers to conceal their anhydrous ammonia tanks and for locals to report signs of meth cooks, such as trash from unwrapped lithium batteries, cold medication packs or a coffee filter container. (Read more)

Journal Register Co., owner of more than 300 newspapers, sees stock and debt ratings slide

The stock of the Journal Register Co., a Yardley, Pa.-based newspaper chain, has been falling for weeks. On Monday, the stock closed at 22 cents per share, slightly up from the day's low of 19 cents, reports The Associated Press.

As of yesterday afternoon, the stock was trading at 28 cents per share, and Moody Investors Service downgraded the company's debt rating "two notches deeper into junk territory late Thursday on concerns the publisher of the New Haven (Conn.) Register is losing too much top-line revenue to cover its repayment obligations," reports Mark Fitzgerald of Editor & Publisher.

Journal Register stock (NYSE: JRC) has been trading below $1 for the past month and is in danger of being de-listed. The company announced earlier this week that it might put itself for sale and that it had hired Lazard Freres & Co. LLC for financial advice. Fitzgerald writes that there are reports the company is considering filing for bankruptcy. (Read more)

Besides its flagship Register, the company owns 21 other daily newspapers and 310 non-daily publications in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Hartford Courant's Capitol Watch sees other signs of trouble. "When New Haven Register's longtime Capitol bureau chief, Gregory Hladky, was abruptly laid off exactly one month ago, some Capitol insiders said the already weak finances of the Journal Register Company must be worse than anyone realized," Christopher Keating writes, adding, "Hladky's position had once been considered safe by many because his articles from the Capitol appeared in a wide variety of the JRC's publications, including the weeklies." (Read more)

UPDATE, April 14: Alan Mutter explains in his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog that the company is "highly profitable" but is suffering from too much debt, largely from buying a chain of papers in the Detroit area.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

In California and North Carolina, new projects tap cow and pig manure to generate energy

The annual Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival in Prairie Du Sac, and many other such events, have fun with dried manure. The wet version is no fun, except perhaps to laugh at someone who steps in it, but it does have potential when it comes to energy.

Riverdale, Calif., dairyman David Albers sees the potential in cow patties, and his Vintage Dairy Biogas Project is turning manure into natural gas for Pacific Gas & Electric "in what the utility hopes will be a new way to power homes with renewable, if not entirely clean, energy," reports Nichola Groom of Reuters.

The project has a goal of delivering enough natural gas to power 1,200 homes a day by harnessing the methane produced by decomposing cow manure. Methane is a greenhouse gas, and scientists have said controlling it — specifically as it created by animal wastes — might help curb global warming. Groom explains the process that transforms the waste into energy:
To tap the renewable gas from cow manure, the Vintage Dairy farm first flushes manure into a large, octagonal pit where it becomes about 99 percent water. It is then pumped into a covered lagoon, first passing through a screen that filters out large solids that eventually become the cows' bedding.

The covered lagoon, or "digester," is the size of nearly five football fields and about 33 feet deep. It is lined with plastic to protect the groundwater, and the cover, made of high density polyethylene, is held down at the edges by concrete. The digester's cover was sunken into the lagoon recently, and officials said it would be taut and raised in a few days as the gas collects underneath it.

Weights on top of the digester channel the gas to the small facility where it is "scrubbed" of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. The end product is "close to 99 percent pure methane," according to BioEnergy Chief Operating Officer Thomas Hintz.
California has 2 million dairy cows, and there are other similar projects in the works. A key factor is a farm's proximity to gas transmission lines, essential to its participation. (Read more)

In North Carolina, the Swine Farm Methane Capture Pilot Program is seeking 50 farms to sell electricity made from hog wastes, reports Ann Bagel Storck of "Selected farms will capture methane gas generated by their waste systems either by full or partial lagoon covers and use the gas to generate electricity," she writes. "The methane conversion systems must be operational with electricity available for purchase by Sept. 1, 2010." (Read more; subscription required)

Texas Country Reporter travels state's back roads, finding stories wherever he goes; going national

Bob Phillips, 56, has spent more than 35 years traveling Texas' back roads in search of stories, and along the way, he has become the Texas Country Reporter, a "Lone Star Charles Kuralt," reports Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times. On each weekly broadcast — of which there have been more than 2,000 — Phillips presents stories such as the reopening of The Tee Pee Motel after 23 years. (Above, Phillips, in blue, interviews the new owner in a Times photo Michael Stravato.)

The program airs on 25 Texas stations and are later rebroadcast on cable and satellite channel RFD-TV, which reaches 30 million households, mostly in rural areas. Phillips receives his ideas from viewers — his inbox has at least 100 suggestions a day — and from just driving around.

"The programs, usually composed of three stories each, include seven minutes of commercial time, which the Texas stations and Mr. Phillips split for sale to sponsors — in his case, companies like a farmers' credit cooperative, a metal roofer and a sausage-maker," Blumenthal writes. "The Texas Country Reporter plans to go fully national in January with a second show called 'On the Road with Bob Phillips.' Shooting starts next month. One of his first stories? 'The person whose sole job is to fill the cracks in Mount Rushmore.'" (Read more)

Durham editor, speaking on his own for first time about Duke lacrosse case, offers a mea culpa

The editor of the Durham Herald-Sun, which has been criticized for its coverage of the 2006 rape charges against three lacrosse players at Duke University, said yesterday that the newspaper should have concluded earlier that the charges had no foundation.

"We were, honestly, too slow to recognize that there was no case at all," Bob Ashley told an audience at the University of Kentucky's main library. "Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In hindsight, should we have come to that conclusion sooner? Yes." He said the storm of media coverage of the racially charged case was "a frenzy unequaled by anything I've seen in 37 years of journalism," and his 45,000-circulation Paxton Media Group newspaper lacked the resources to compete with larger media outlets.

Ashley said the Herald-Sun's relations with defense attorneys for the students were not good because the layers thought the paper relied too much on now-ousted District Attorney Michael Nifong. He said the paper was not close to the prosecutor, and he did not know him personally, other than having sat next to him at a banquet. He said other news outlets got exculpatory evidence from the defense attorneys "because of better hustle or better connections."

The editor has appeared on panels in North Carolina, but "Yesterday was Ashley's first time speaking alone in front of a group of people about the lacrosse case," reports Jill Laster of The Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper. "During his speech, he focused on the factors that 'kindled the fire of the Duke lacrosse case,' including race relations and the dynamic between Duke University and the surrounding community of Durham."

Ashley, a Duke graduate and native of Mount Airy, N.C., became editor in Durham little more than a year before the incident, when Paxton bought the paper, after 11 years at Paxton's 28,000-circulation Messenger-Inquirer in Owensboro. "In an interview after his speech, Ashley said the Duke lacrosse case is not the first time he has had to take heat as an editor for his paper's actions," Laster reports. The Owensboro paper "published a series of columns by a woman who claimed to be a cancer victim. More than a month into the weekly series, the woman said she did not have cancer, but AIDS. The Messenger-Inquirer fired her for not telling the truth; however, a large part of the community saw this as a reaction to the woman having AIDS."

Laster reports, "Ashley said criticism of how his newspapers have handled the Duke case and the incident at the Messenger-Inquirer has changed the way he works." He told her that editors should put themselves in the place of story subjects, "to keep them humble." (Read more)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Report urges more funding to buy private lands within national parks to prevent development

Not all the land within the 391 National Park Service properties is federally owned, and two reports warn that private development projects could start appearing unless these lands are acquired, reports Tami Abdollah of the Los Angeles Times. "Millions of privately owned acres in National Park Service boundaries could be developed into luxury homes or commercial enterprises because the federal government has not allocated funds to buy out these lands, according to two reports issued this week," Abdollah writes.

According to a report from the National Parks Conservation Association, there are about 4.3 million acres of privately-owned land inside NPS properties. The park service identified 1.8 million acres as priorities, and said they could be purchased for $1.9 billion. While there willing sellers, there is little money, because "federal appropriations to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the primary source of the National Park Service's acquisition money, has dropped by more than $100 million in the last nine years, according to the report," Abdollah writes. In 1999, Congress set aside about $148 million for land acquisition, but in 2008, Congress set aside $44 million. (Read more)

Abdollah notes California's Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, where 46 percent of the recreation area's 153,000 acres are privately held, and Utah's Zion National Park, where a "mega-lodging and spiritual center" recently was built, as examples of at-risk properties. In addition to those, here are some other examples from the report, "America's Heritage For Sale":
  • Gettysburg (Pa.) National Military Park, where about 20 percent of the land is privately owned.
  • Valley Forge (Pa.) National Historic Park, where a hotel-museum complex is planned.
  • Harpers Ferry (Va. and W.Va.) National Historic Park, where about 70 acres are for sale. The report said this land is where Thomas Jefferson once said, "This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic."
  • Congaree (S.C.) National Monument, where 1,840 private acres are now home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and could be a habitat for the recovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Crofton, Neb., shows how rural towns can look inward for economic development

Rural communities' best resources for economic development are their own citizens. In a column for the Sioux City Journal, Nick Hytrek highlights two local success stories in Crofton, Neb., a town of 754 people.

For 45 years, Loren and Maxine Steffen (at right in a photo by Hytrek) have run a gas station in Crofton. "In many small towns, when people like the Steffens retire, it marks the end of the business," Hytrek writes for the Iowa paper. "Once upon a time, children would take over the family business. Now those children usually have moved away. Unable to find a buyer, the elderly business owner is forced to close his or her life's work, leaving another empty building on Main Street."

In this case, however, the Steffens sold to a young man,
Jeff Hoffart, who will keep the business going. At the same time, a young man who grew up in Crofton, Michael Guenther, returned to town to open an auto service. "It's the type of economic development that can serve as a model for all small towns, said John Crabtree, development director at the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb.," Hytrek writes. "Rural leaders must realize that growth comes from within, he said. It's highly unlikely to come from Fortune 500 companies relocating to small towns."

These two stories from Crofton, which as Hytrek writes, "is no different than the hundreds of other rural Midwestern towns searching for economic vitality," should encourage other towns to look within for growth. (Read more)

Illinois newspapers prevail over state high school athletic association in deal over photo sales

Finally, the Illinois Press Association and the Illinois High School Association have ended their year-long fight over rights to sell photographs taken at high-school athletic competitions. A court settlement has ended the dispute, which had moved from the sidelines of the state's football title games to the state capitol, reports Doug Finke of the State Journal-Register in Springfield.

"The pact between the IHSA and the Illinois Press Association gives newspaper photographers full access to sporting events and does not restrict what they do with the photos," Finke writes. "As part of the agreement, the IPA agreed to drop a lawsuit against the IHSA and no longer pursue legislation in the General Assembly to bar the IHSA from granting a private company the sole right to sell photos taken at championship high school sporting events. " (Read more)

GAO says mines lack communication gear and air supplies required by 2006 law, blames agency

In June 2006, Congress passed a law to force mines to install more safety equipment. The legislation was prompted by the deaths of 12 miners at West Virginia's Sago Mine, but two years later, a Government Accountability Office report says many mines have failed to add the equipment, reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

"Mine operators across the country have not all provided sufficient emergency air supplies or fail-safe wireless communications gear, according to the GAO report," Ward writes. "The U.S. Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration has delayed in providing the coal industry with guidance to implement reforms . . . passed in June 2006, the GAO concluded."

As of January, about 75 percent of underground mines had not provided the emergency air supplies required. The report was released by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., two days before a Senate hearing on Utah's 2007 Crandall Canyon mine disaster and other mine-safety issues. MSHA responded by issuing a statement that said it would offer mines help in implementing the demands of the 2006 law and establish a nationwide review for compliance with the act's requirements.

West Virginia Mine Safety Director Ronald Wooten told Ward most of the state's mines should have the required wireless communication devices installed by the end of the year. All 150 underground mines are expected to have installed underground refuge chambers as well. (Read more)

Indiana village's dream of energy self-sufficient BioTown founders on lack of private capital

In 2005, Reynolds, Ind., set out to become BioTown USA, a community powered solely by renewable energy. The big project drew plenty of attention — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young even came to perform — as well as early support from BP, General Motors, and VeraSun Energy, but a lack of private capital is stalling progress, reports Tom Murphy of The Associated Press. "Money problems, leadership changes and other obstacles have fed skepticism about whether Reynolds will ever succeed at moving the state, much less the nation, toward homegrown energy and away from foreign oil," he writes.

The original plans to transform the town of 550 have been delayed, since the private capital state officials were counting on has failed to materialize. A lack of investors has halted startup firm Rose Energy Discovery's plans for building a facility to convert biomass into energy. At the same time, VeraSun has stopped construction of its ethanol plant as a result of rising corn prices and falling ethanol prices. The AP photo shows a symbol of the stalled plans: some of the 5,000 bales of corn stover which have sat unused for months, since the gasifier they were meant to feed has never been installed.

Despite the setbacks, officials have hope for Reynolds. After all, Juhnde, Germany, the model for BioTown USA, needed eight years to produce its own energy. A new technology developer, Energy Systems Group, has pledged to spend $10 million on a digester, and hopes to be producing power by the end of the year. "What we try to remind folks all the time is that this project, there's no manual that you pull out and say, 'How do you do a BioTown?' " Indiana Agriculture Director Andy Miller told Murphy. "We're kind of inventing it as we go."(Read more)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Big gas play puts money in Appalachian pockets

Landowners in Appalachia are being offered large sums for drilling rights as energy companies "are risking big money on a bet that this area could produce billions of dollars worth of natural gas," Clifford Krauss of The New York Times reports from Hughesville, Pa. "A frenzy unlike any seen in decades is unfolding here in rural Pennsylvania, and it eventually could encompass a huge chunk of the East, stretching from upstate New York to eastern Ohio and as far south as West Virginia." (Times map, from American Association of Petroleum Geologists)

The object of the frenzy is the hydrocarbon-rich but deeply buried Marcellus Shale, which "has been known for more than a century to contain gas, but it was generally not seen as economical to extract," Krauss writes. "Now, improved recovery technology, sharply higher natural gas prices and strong drilling results in a similar shale formation in north Texas are changing the calculus."

Thomas Murphy, a Penn State extension horticulture specialist, has developed a new specialty in educating landowners how to deal with energy companies. He told Krauss that more than 20 will spend $700 million this year developing the deposit, up to half in Pennsylvania. "The cost to companies for leasing mineral rights jumped from $300 an acre in mid-February to $2,100 now," Krauss reports. "Industry experts say in the last three years companies like Anadarko Petroleum, Chesapeake Energy and Cabot Oil and Gas have leased up to two million acres for drilling in the region, half of that in the last nine months."

For a report on Murphy's work, from Deborah Benedetti of Penn State Outreach magazine, click here. For information on the Marcellus Shale, from the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Association, click here.

Eastern Ky. University starts first doctoral program, with an emphasis on improving rural education

Eastern Kentucky University, which started as a teachers' college in Richmond 102 years ago and has never offered a doctoral degree, is starting one with an emphasis on improving Kentucky's rural schools.

The degree will be Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Education Leadership and Policy Studies. Applications are arriving and interest is running high, an EKU official told Stephanie Kerr of Business Lexington. The state Council on Postsecondary Education approved the program in February.

"We will be able to produce researchers and become a center/clearinghouse for research that is responsive to the needs of rural Appalachia," said Dr. Jerry Johnson, director of the program. (We wonder if he said "slash" or if Kerr interviewed him by e-mail.) "For too long, we’ve used one-size-fits-all models for developing curriculum, etc., and that hasn’t worked very well because the models are generally based on urban and suburban environments. Schools in rural areas have needs, challenges and strengths that are different from those in urban settings, and we need targeted research to develop appropriate strategies to address those needs and challenges." (Read more) For the university's news release on the program, click here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Among Heston's legacies: A stronger NRA, more pro-gun Democrats, and maybe President Bush

Charlton Heston, who died Saturday at 84, played a significant role as president of the National Rifle Association in changing Democratic politicians' attitudes about gun control, writes Calvin Woodward of The Associated Press.

Heston, who had marched for civil rights and headed the Screen Actors Guild, "became NRA president in 1998 as the group was dealing with internal strife and hostility from Bill Clinton's administration and many in Congress," Woodward reports. "It raised its membership to 4 million members during his time as president," ending in 2003, when he stepped down after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

"Heston may have done more for the gun movement than any other individual," NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd writes in FirstRead. "His leadership on the issue humanized the pro-gun advocates at a time when the NRA, in particular, was under siege by gun control legislation all over the country."

In the 2000 presidential race, the NRA took aim at Democrat Al Gore, "who favored mandatory photo ID licenses for future handgun buyers," Woodward notes. The campaign's iconic moment was Heston holding a musket high over his head, above, just as he had held the staff of Moses in "The Ten Commandments" and daring Gore to pry the gun "from my cold dead hands."

When the returns and exit polls were tallied, "About half of voters were from gun-owning households, and they voted for Bush by 61 percent to 36 percent. Voters from households without guns backed Gore 58 to 39," Woodward notes. Those numbers reflected a rural-urban split; Bush carried rural voters 62 to 38. "Were it not for your active involvement," then-Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida told Heston later, "it's safe to say my brother may not have been president of the United States."

After the election, Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway said "I knew we were in trouble" when he was flying over Gore's home state of Tennessee and overheard one man in business class tell another, "The problem with Al Gore is he'll take our guns away." Woodward concludes his tale of Heston's influence: "That exchange, it could be said, was his Holy Moses moment."

Gore's party learned its lesson. "Ever since, Democrats in presidential and many congressional and governors' races have scrambled to establish their bona fides as hunters, if they can, or as admirers of firearms or the Second Amendment if they can't," Woodward notes. (Read more) For the latest example of that, see the item below.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Barack and load: Obama seeks pro-gun votes in Pennsylvania, an NRA hotbed

One reason many rural voters won't vote for liberal Democrats is their position, or their party's reputation, on gun control. But Barack Obama, who has supported gun control and is rated the most liberal senator by the nonpartisan National Journal, has started an effort to get the votes of gun owners in Pennsylvania, "which claims one of the nation’s highest per capita membership rates in the National Rifle Association," reports Politico.

The senator from the South Side of Chicago is downplaying his record and saying his legal training tells him the Constitution creates an individual right to bear arms, an issue recently argued at the U.S. Supreme Court. "The pitch from Obama may prove to be a tough sell with this state, where polling shows four in 10 voters — with higher percentages in rural areas — own a firearm," Carrie Budoff Brown writes. "But it is a requisite if he hopes to expand his appeal beyond the state’s metropolitan areas" in the April 22 primary.

The effort may also indicate whether Obama can reach rural voters in states with May primaries -- Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon-- and, if he is the Democratic nominee, "can position himself as an acceptable choice to a conservative-minded demographic in later primary contests and in the general election," Brown writes. She quotes Jim Kessler, policy vice president at progressive think tank Third Way: “Guns are a cultural lens through which they view candidates. If you are seen as way off on that issue, then you seem way off on everything. If you are seen as OK, if the lens is clearer, then they continue to look at you and size you up on other things.”

Early indications are that voters for whom the Second Amendment is a voting issue will be a tough sell. Brown reports, "Melody Zullinger, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, who received the Obama campaign e-mail on his gun record, said Obama sounds like he is “speaking out of both sides of his mouth. I was at one of our county meetings last night and I mentioned this. Everyone basically blew it off and weren’t buying it.”

A better bet may be to line up and highlight Second Amendment stalwarts. Brown quotes a pro-gun Democrat who was leaning to Hillary Clinton but started asking about Obama when he saw a leading pro-gun Democrat wearing an Obama button. Brown notes that Obama has a slightly more pro-gun record in the Senate because he "voted to prohibit the confiscation of firearms during an emergency or natural disaster. Clinton was one of 16 senators to oppose the amendment." (Read more)

Globalization, housing bust, changing tastes make historic bad news for hardwood mills, landowners

"Global economics and the housing bust are throwing a relentless string of problems at the mom-and-pop sawmills and logging companies that make up much of the nation's hardwood lumber industry," much of it in economically struggling Appalachia, writes Tim Huber of The Associated Press, reporting on the fallout of furniture-factory closures and a change in homeowners' tastes. (AP photo by Randy Snyder: Harley Yoder feeds boards into a laser-guided saw at Twin River Hardwoods Inc. in Southside, W.Va.)

The decline in lumber production is historic, U.S. Forest Service economist Bill Luppold told Huber. "I don't even think the numbers demonstrate how bad it is," Luppold said. "We haven't seen this amount of decline year in and year out since the early part of the [20th] Century." In 1999, the industry produced 12.6 billion board feet; this year, Luppold expects 10.5 billion. "Timber jobs nationwide fell almost 13 percent to 8,790 in 2006 from 9,910 in 2000," Huber notes. "The number of logging equipment operators has declined more than 17 percent to 28,300 in 2006 from 34,180 in 2000."

As if globalization and a housing bust weren't enough, homeowners have lost their taste for red oak, "the most common hardwood in much of Appalachia" and Arkansas, Huber reports. "Now, lighter- grained species, especially maple and poplar, are in vogue," and the price for red oak lumber has fallen 35 percent. That translates to lower timber prices for woodland owners.

Virginia Tech professor Urs Buehlmann told Huber that sawmills in Western Europe are surviving by getting into manufacturing of made-to-order furniture and cabinets. "They're pretty much customizing the kitchen to your specifications," he said. "I strongly believe this will be the guide." (Read more)

UMW open to ban on mountaintop-removal strip mining 'as a long-term goal,' top spokesman says

As foes of mountaintop-removal strip mining for coal started their annual lobbying week in Washington, The Charleston Gazette reported that the chief spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America said he does not think the union would oppose a ban on the practice as a "long-term goal."

Phil Smith made the statement at the Appalachian Studies Association's annual conference at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., on March 29, Ken Ward Jr. reports: "Smith shocked most of the room [when] he declined to veto" a proposed ban. "As a long-term goal, I don't think we would be opposed to that," he said. "This is something we ought to be talking about." He added that if the person making the proposal "had said end mountaintop removal tomorrow, I think we would have had a problem with it."

The UMW has been ambivalent on the controversial subject, calling in 1998 for tougher regulation but then attacking "environmental extremists" whose legal actions led to a court decision that jeopardized the jobs of 400 union members at a mountaintop mine in West Virginia. Since then, "environmental lawyers picked their targets more carefully," targeting nonunion mines, which are much more prevalent in mountaintop mining, Ward writes. Smith said the union is also trying to organize strip mines, and "If there were suddenly 5,000 UMW jobs in mountaintop removal instead of 500, there would be a political element within the union to deal with that."

The UMW's influence is greatest in West Virginia, where its members are organized at mines with 44 percent of the state's underground production and 13 percent of the strip-mine production, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data from 2006, the latest year available. Strip mines accounted for 43 percent of the state's coal production, and their share has been rising in the past decade, Ward notes. (Read more) For EIA data from other states, click here for an Excel spreadsheet, here for a Web page and here for a PDF.

McCain ends bio tour with bipartisan theme in Ariz.

Arizona Sen. John McCain ended his five-day biographical Service to America Tour on the steps of the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott, Ariz., where he ends all his campaigns and about an hour from where he lives -- and where his predecessor in the Senate, Barry Goldwater, started his first senatorial campaign and his 1964 general-election campaign for president. (Encarta map)

The county is strongly Republican, but "McCain avoided the usual kind of stump speech ... instead offering his perspective on the bipartisanship of two legendary Arizona politicians, Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall, and pledging to continue their example," reports Joanna Dodder Nellans of the Daily Courier in Prescott. Goldwater and Udall, a Democratic congressman who ran for president in 1976, were friends, McCain said, because of "their mutual respect for each other's character, devoted service to the state they loved, and patriotism." Nellans adds:

While Goldwater and Udall were famous sons of Arizona pioneer families, "I was 45 years old when I moved to Arizona and finally found a home and the comfortable feeling of belonging to something smaller than a nation," McCain said. "When I entered politics here, I was viewed with resentment by some for my lack of an Arizona pedigree." But Udall took him under his wing.
For more of the story, click here. In an advance story, Nellans noted that Goldwater's uncle, Morris Goldwater, was mayor of Prescott, pop. 34,000, and a founder of the Arizona Democratic Party.