Friday, January 09, 2009
Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had several law-enforcement officials testify before his panel yesterday, all of whom pushed for restoration of recent cuts in federal support for local police. "The one dissenting voice ... was David Muhlhausen, a senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank," Kelly reports. He said expanding such programs wouldn't stimulate the economy. “The federal government should not become a crutch on which local law enforcement becomes dependent,” he said. (Read more)
"If the coal-ash disposal method that failed Dec. 22 near Knoxville is an apple, then Dominion Virginia Power’s proposed Virginia City coal-ash landfill is an orange, according to company officials," Jeff Lester reports. "Dominion says its plan for burying ash in a lined, state-of-the-art landfill is very different — and much safer — than the Tennessee Valley Authority ash slurry pond that breached in Kingston, Tenn., causing the biggest ash spill in American history."
The Tennessee plant uses wet disposal, which creates a slurry that flows. The Virginia plant, far from a major stream, plans to conserve water and will use dry disposal, Lester writes. (Read more; subscription may be required)
Some of the material from the Alabama pond flowed into nearby Widows Creek, but according to TVA officials most remained in the pond. "Gypsum is a byproduct of coal-burning power plants when 'scrubbers' are added that use limestone spray to clean air emissions," adds Paine. This pulls sulfur dioxide from the emissions." (Read more)
As beefed-up mine safety regulations helped bring down the number of mining deaths in 2008, it was also the first year that mine safety inspectors were able to complete all mandated mine reviews. MSHA added 360 inspectors and paid $10 million in overtime to complete the task. "Inspectors issued nearly 167,000 citations for safety violations in 2008, up from 130,000 the year before," writes Alford. "The federal agency fined mine operators $194 million in 2008 for safety violations. That was the largest amount of fines in the agency's history, up from $130 million in 2007."(Read more)
Thursday, January 08, 2009
John Podesta cited the new waiting list for $40 federal coupons for digital converter boxes and "problems with the government's effort to educate the public about the switch and help prepare people, particularly the elderly, poor and those living in rural areas," report Jim Puzzanghera and Christi Parsons of the Tribune Co. Washington Bureau.
"Podesta said in the letter that 1 million requests are on the waiting list and the number could climb to more than 5 million by early February," Tribune reports. "Obama supports waiving federal rules to allow the Commerce Department to start sending out more coupons' rather than waiting for coupons already issued to expire." He also plans to include more money for the coupon program in his stimulus package; broadcasters favor that instead of a delay. They "have spent billions of dollars preparing for the transition and are eager to turn off their old analog signals." But Consumers Union favors a delay, "and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), the incoming head of a House subcommittee with oversight over telecommunications, said Thursday that he is considering a delay." (Read more)
"Most industry players concede that there needs to be greater stimulus for broadband rollout, but there are disagreements over how relevant the rankings are given that some of the leading countries are smaller and easier to wire. They also disagree on the best way to close the gap," John Eggerton reports for Broadcasting & Cable. "One proposal the FCC has been considering is to reform the government-run, telecommunications company-funded subsidy of rural telecommunications to underserved communities, the Universal Service Fund, to help fund the broadband rollout. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has also proposed creating a baseline free Internet service as part of an upcoming auction a national spectrum license, and recently agreed to allow unlicensed devices like laptops to share broadcast spectrum, in part to boost broadband penetration." (Read more)
"The move to save the papers became something of a community cause as Mayors Timothy Stewart, of New Britain, and Art Ward, of Bristol, along with state Reps. Tim O’Brien, Betty Boukus and Frank Nicastro and others worked to keep them open and functioning as a service to their constituents," the Press reported. In a news conference at the state Capitiol, Schroeder indicated that the papers, not far from the capital of Hatford, need to strengthen their community connections: “I’m here to give enough time so the community can save the papers.” Press reporter Jackie Majerus paraphrased him as saying "The papers are going to need subscribers, advertisers and community support to make it work." (Read more)
"Just who is Schroeder?" asks Lynn Doan of The Hartford Courant. "He's getting into the newspaper business as the industry faces fundamental change, but those who know him say he might be just the person to resurrect the Press, Herald and three weeklies that come with the deal." Schoreder was a copy editor and later chief of staff to the publisher of Newsday on Long Island. (Read more) For Press reporter Steve Collins' blog on efforts to save the paper, click here.
UPDATE, Jan. 13: Schroeder's plan for changes at the papers "could be one of the most remarkable experiments in media anywhere in America," Courant columnist Rick Green writes.
In the same period, the number of urban students declined by 204, and one would expect that number to have risen if rural students were migrating. A decrease in the birth rate is a likely factor. "The Alaska birth rate has fallen in recent years, dropping from 24.4 for every 1,000 residents in the 1980s to 15.4 in 2005-2006," DeMarban writes.
The review of student populations is part of a larger effort to determine at overall population trends in Alaska. What the rural student numbers clearly suggest is that the state's rural population, 34 percent of the total at the 2000 census, is in decline. (Read more)
An earlier blog here, citing an article from the Anchorage Daily, found that much of the data about the migration from Alaska's rural school population has been exaggerated.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
The Prospect's Tapped blog reports that one of the first 10 Senate bills will be the "Returning Government to the American People Act, to return the government to the people by reviewing controversial 'midnight regulations' issued in the waning days of the Bush administration. Senate Democrats plan "to provide the new administration legislative authority, if it doesn't have it already, to review (and presumably deny) the last administration's late regulations." (Read more)
"Beginning in 2007, EPA and Perdue provided training and assistance to the largest independent contract poultry farms growing for Perdue throughout the peninsula," EPA said in a press release. The training helps farmers control water runoff and manage chicken litter. Under the agreement, each Perdue plant will have a management system "to reduce environmental impacts and increase operating efficiency," EPA said. "The initiative also will include an awards program to recognize poultry farms that demonstrate environmental excellence in protecting and restoring waterways." For a copy of the agreement, click here.
Rural home values didn't drop as sharply because, as the graph shows, they did not experience a steep price increase that preceded the decline in urban home values that followed. "There was less rise in rural home prices from 2000 to 2005 so there was less air in the bubble when it finally popped," Bishop writes.
Not all rural areas were able to avoid the sharp decline in home values. Some areas of Pacific Coats states have seen a sizable decline in home values since 2007. However, "In the West South Central region (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana), an area where rural communities have been bolstered by a strong energy-producing and agriculture economy, housing prices outside the cities have continued to grow despite the national bust," Bishop notes. Read an earlier post on the rural housing market by clicking here.
The coal industry has even been seeking "beneficial uses" for coal ash as a means of dealing with the huge quantities of waste from burning coal. "In 2007, according to a coal industry estimate, 50 tons of fly ash even went to agricultural uses, like improving soil’s ability to hold water, despite a 1999 EPA warning about high levels of arsenic, writes the Times' Shaila Dewan. "The industry has promoted the reuse of coal combustion products because of the growing amount of them being produced each year — 131 million tons in 2007, up from less than 90 million tons in 1990."
There have been numerous reports of water contamination from coal-ash dumps across the country. "In 2007, an EPA report identified 63 sites in 26 states where the water was contaminated by heavy metals from such dumps, including three other Tennessee Valley Authority dumps," adds Dewan. "Environmental advocacy groups have submitted at least 17 additional cases that they say should be added to that list." (Read more)
Kentyucky has 64 coal-slurry impoundments that are considered "high-hazard," meaning that a dam break would pose high potential for death or serious structural damage. Many residents at risk began lobbying for legislation requiring emergency plans after a dam broke in Martin County in 2000. Though the damage was largely to creekside property, many believe it could easily have been much worse, because residents were not immediately notified of the breach.
Caylor says coal-industry opposition has never been to the implementation of emergency plans, but to legislation that unfairly targets slurry impoundments. He says that legislation should apply to all high-hazard dams. Kentucky is one of 10 states that do not yet require such plans. (Read more)
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
"The Yonder 40 was helped by having some of the best performing stocks in the major indices," co-editor Bill Bishop writes. "The two best stocks in the S&P 500 in 2008 were UST, the smokeless tobacco producer, and Family Dollar, the Main Street retailer," while "Wal-Mart, a DY 40 stalwart, was one of only two stocks among the 30 companies in the Dow Industrials to show positive returns in 2008." (Read more)
Chad Wilkerson, a vice-president of the bank, attributes that to "better fundamentals in home prices" in rural areas. He notes that rural housing prices have always been more closely related to household income than in urban areas, so there was less of a "bubble" in rural areas. Also, new home construction in rural areas slowed at the first sign of the economic crisis, which left fewer unsold houses to drive down prices.
The rural housing market is not immune from the crisis, though. While not experiencing the housing inflation seen in metropolitan areas, rural areas did see housing prices grow slightly faster than incomes, a trend that Wilkerson says "may need to unwind somewhat." He adds, "With commodity prices falling sharply in late 2008, many rural economies are bracing for slower economic growth heading forward -- and, in turn, softer demand for housing." (Read more)
"In simple language, Slone wrote about life and the importance of family, community and the fast-disappearing culture of her beloved Eastern Kentucky mountains," Eblen writes. But along with serving as a voice for Appalachia, she also became a face of it when a 1993 photograph, right, by Barbara Beirne was the centerpiece of Beirne's "Women of Appalachia" exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution. "Verna Mae Slone was a gracious, dignified, intelligent woman," Beirne said Monday. "Everyone who views her photograph seems aware that they have been introduced to a very special person."
Slone became a writer after reading transcripts of oral histories she gave the settlement school. In addition to her books, she also wrote a column for the local weekly, the Troublesome Creek Times. The paper still has five community correspondents, plus a local music columnist. (Read more)
Study confirms long-held suspicion that when local budgets get tight, cops write more traffic tickets
The study, "Red Ink in the Rearview Mirror," examined 96 North Carolina counties over 14 years, and found, that "controlling for other factors, a 1 percentage point drop in local government revenue leads to a roughly .32 percentage point increase in the number of traffic tickets in the following year, a statistically significant connection," reports Todd Frankel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Garrett said the study does not dispute that public safety remains at the heart of ticket-writing, but he said the study shows that political and economic interests affect how much emphasis is placed on writing tickets." (Read more)
The findings would not apply to all states. For example, when Kentucky unified its state judicial system in the mid-1970s, local governments stopped getting revenue from fines. They still get an annual appropriation from the state, based on the revenue they were generating then.
“Although we continue to believe that the easement amendment would be beneficial to the general public, given the lack of receptivity, we have decided not to go forward with the amendment,” Plum Creek Timber Co. President and CEO Rick Holley wrote in a letter to Montana's Missoula County. The company had been working with Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey to amend the company's easements, which traditionally have been understood to allow roads only for timber transportation.
"The argument over the scope of the easements, in fact, remains far from resolved," writes Michael Jamison. County Commissioner Jean Curtiss "said Plum Creek has removed the urgency created by Rey's departure," which will come as the Bush administration ends. Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Plum Creek's move will help create a more transparent process in deciding on how to interpret the easements: “If this is a good deal for the public, then there's no harm in taking the time to work through it properly." (Read more)
"The 2007 raids purged the Bladen County plant of illegal Hispanic workers, and left behind a majority of native workers more likely to support unionization," writes Kristin Collins of The News & Observer of Raleigh. "According to the company, the share of Hispanic workers has shrunk from about half in early 2007 to one quarter today. Black people now make up 54 percent of the plant's work force. ... Labor experts say blacks are traditionally more supportive of unions than other races or ethnic groups."
A pro-union employee who is a U.S. citizen of Dominican descent told Collins that the raids left even legal workers at the 5,000-employee plant "too frightened to speak up for unionization," as Collins put it. But company and union officials dismissed the ethincity factor. A United Food and Commercial Workers spokesman "said the key to the union victory was not the exodus of Hispanics, but bridging the divides between races," Collins writes. (Read more)
Monday, January 05, 2009
"Instead of getting a coupon, consumers on the list will be notified there will be a delay," Teinowitz reports. "Through Feb. 11, about 351,000 coupons are expected to expire unused each week, and the same number then can be issued. Because more consumers applied for coupons in November and December, the number that will expire later in February and March also will grow, but that will come after the Feb. 17 DTV transition." (Read more)
"Members of Congress are now scrambling to find ways to allocate more money to the program," reports Kim Hart of The Washington Post. "Congress could solve the funding shortfall by approving more money for the program or waiving the rule to allow the NTIA to issue new coupons without waiting for unredeemed ones to expire." (Read more)
The switch to digital TV is a major story in rural America, but one that many rural journalists may have difficulty covering because it's an unfamiliar subject and the sources are mostly in Washington. The National Press Foundation is sponsoring a free, 75-minute webinar on the subject on Jan. 22. Space is limited, and available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, click here.
The Wall Street Journal reports many towns are abandoning traditional road salt outright, or making their own concoctions. "We're sort of experimenting," says Ted Hubbard, the chief deputy county engineer in Hamilton County, Ohio, where road salt is being mixed with ash residue from coal-fired power plants. Other towns have tried garlic salt, molasses and "a rum-production byproduct that smells like soy sauce," write Ilan Brat and Timothy W. Martin. (Read more)
Some Midwestern states and localities, on the other hand, are finding that buying salt together is helping to defray costs and combat price gouging, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Investigators also found price discrepancies in Indiana and Kentucky, where some local governments were paying up to 50 percent less than their counterparts just across the border in Ohio," writes Scott Williams. As a result, the Ohio Department of Transportation is recommending interstate cooperation with states such as Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa in purchasing road salt, saying that "coordination instead of competition among other states could reduce the likelihood of unbalanced shortages and supplies." (Read more)
To read The Rural Blog's previous coverage of road salt, click here and here.
The researchers recommended that patients, in the 12 weeks after seeking treatment, should receive intensive treatment for depression to prevent suicidal behavior. Marcia Valenstein, M.D., clinical psychiatrist with the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and associate professor of psychiatry with the University of Michigan Health System said the study shows "the need for very close follow-up for patients who are discharged from our inpatient services because this is a particularly vulnerable time for them."
The VA has made the isssue a priority by giving $300 million to expand suicide prevention and other mental-health services. (Read more)
Sunday, January 04, 2009
The result was an insipring story that ran over the holidays in USA Today, The C-J and surely some other Gannett Co. Inc. newspapers, accompanied by an online photo gallery and video. It told the tale of a teacher-farmer, Irma Gall, and a nurse-midwife, Peggy Kemner, left, who had spent 50 years on the creek, educating and serving generations of families with a wide range of health, social, youth and community services -- and are still doing it through tribulations of their own, such as the osteoporosis that has bent Kemner's back. (Photo by Garrett Hubbard)
"Quietly, they advocated birth control and education for women," Fetterman wrote. "Viewed at first with suspicion and distrust, the women known as "the nurses" have, over the decades, proved how much hands-on caring can make a difference in the lives of individuals. ... As family size shrank, the abject poverty that encased Stinking Creek began to ease. The mountains opened up, and the people could see out."
Fetterman says in the video, "I realized that these two women have had as much impact on Stinking Creek as the federal government's War on Poverty," which provides a national frame for her story. To read it, view the photo gallery and watch the video, all of which are worth your time, click here.
Vick reports that Mark Rey, a former timber-industry lobbyist who is the agriculture undersecretary overseeing the Forest Service, negotiated the change "behind closed doors with the nation's largest private landowner," Plum Creek Timber Co., which transformed itself from a logging firm into a real-estate investment trust and is building subdivisions in the Rockies, primarily in Montana, where President-elect Barack Obama campaigned against the idea after journalists reported on it and county officials opposed it.
Michael Jamison of The Missoulian reports that officials in Missoula County officials, where Plum Creek owns 57 percent of the private land, that the change "could pave the way for wholesale rural development -- along with all the attendant costs, as taxpayers struggle to deliver urban infrastructure and firefighting" to newly developed areas.
"The uproar last summer forced Rey to postpone finalizing the change, which came after 'considerable internal disagreement' within the Forest Service, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report requested by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)," Vick writes. "The report said that 900 miles of logging roads could be paved in Montana and that amending the long-held easements 'could have a nationwide impact.'" (Read more)