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
Friday, February 13, 2009
Another problem with digital TV: translator transmitters in mountainous, isolated areas
"As many as two of every five of the receivers — known as translators — that relay free TV signals to areas that can't get them any other way will be affected, according to one expert, leaving screens dark no matter how well residents prepare their own sets for the upcoming digital transition," which will conclude on June 12, Migoya recounts. The nation has 4,030 licensed translators and probably 2,000 or so unlicensed ones, according to R. Kent Parsons, vice president of the National Translator Association, whom Migoya says is "regarded by the government and private sector as the leading expert in the field." He told the Post, "I don't really think people fully appreciate how big a problem this is going to be."
Migoya notes, "Translators can receive signals from other translators, in effect creating a daisy-chain web of relays that allows programming to reach miles further than a TV station could do on its own. They are especially necessary in mountainous areas where TV signals fight topographic obstacles." If you live in such terrain, you need to read this story. If you're a nearby journalist, you need to localize it. (Hat tip to Brian Depew of the Center for Rural Affairs.)
Stimulus passes without broadband tax credits
"Lawmakers negotiating the final economic stimulus package dropped broadband tax credits intended to spur companies such as AT&T Inc. to expand in rural areas, while keeping grants that may help smaller carriers," reports Molly Peterson of Bloomberg News. "Midsize local-phone companies such as Monroe, La.-based CenturyTel Inc. and Windstream Corp., based in Little Rock ... are more likely to apply for the broadband grants than are large carriers such as Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T said Jessica Zufolo, an analyst with Medley Global Advisors. ... The Joint Committee on Taxation had estimated that the broadband tax credits would cost $128 billion over three years." (Read more)
Economic-development conference canceled
Wal-Mart health plans may be a model for reform
After years of stinging commentary regarding its stingy coverage for employees, Wal-Mart's decision to implement new strategies like ones aimed at preventive care have paid off, reports Ceci Connolly of The Washington Post. "New figures being released today show that 5.5 percent of its employees now lack health insurance, compared with a nationwide rate of 18 percent," writes Connolly. (Post photo)
The cost of the program is still scrutinized, since employees are charged significant sums for coverage, and Wal-Mart cautions that it can't afford the average 8 percent annual increases in costs indefinitely. But the changes Wal-Mart has made, including introducing digital records, generic prescription drug savings, a partnership with The Mayo Clinic, and targeting health problems like obesity and premature births, are what "experts say will lead to higher-quality, more efficient care," Connolly reports.
Most Wal-Marts are located outside major metropolitan areas. Linda Dillman, the company vice president overseeing the health care plan, told Connolly, "This is like the national discussion. First you've got to get them [people] in the plan, then figure out how to help them take care of themselves, stay healthy and get the care they need." Read more.
Memphis paper publishes concealed-carry gun list, re-ignites debate over wisdom of doing so
Editor Chris Peck, whose family publishes the Riverton Ranger in rural Wyoming, defended the decision, noting the recent shooting over a parking dispute was committed by a man with a concealed weapon permit. A Commercial Appeal story by Richard Locker notes that the database had been running on the site for two months and few had paid much notice. Also, the list has been stripped of birth dates and addresses. But a campaign by the National Rifle Association and the Tennessee Firearms Association has put it at the center of debate.
Mark Norris, leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, says the database "has added to the concern by a number of people who fear for their safety -- either those who have permits and may be identified as having weapons in their homes, and those who by exclusion are not identified and now feel susceptible to those who may look to see who are not permitted." (Read more)
Tobacco has lost its political clout in tobaccoland
The main reason is the end, in 2004, of the federal program that limited production and supported prices of tobacco. "When the federal government paid the holders for their quotas, their link to the crop dissolved," notes Mark Johnson of The Charlotte Observer. "The ranks of North Carolinians with a direct investment in tobacco plummeted from more than 100,000 quota holders to fewer than 3,000 tobacco farmers." Much the same has happened in Kentucky.
"It's really a collapse of the political support,” Peter Daniel, assistant to the president at the North Carolina Farm Bureau, told Johnson, who notes other reasons: scientific research that shows the health impact of even secondhand smoke, and "transplants from the Northeast and Midwest, with no ties to tobacco or its history." (Read more)
N.D. farmer sponsors tax hike for crop research
Rep. Paul Mueller, the bills' sponsor and a farmer, says the higher taxes will be better for his wallet in the long run: "I know what a better strain of barley does -- it adds 5 bushels to my yield. I know what a better strain of wheat does. I don't have fusarium head blight (scab disease)." Blake Nicholson of The Associated Press notes that "scab disease devastated wheat crops in North Dakota in the 1990s, costing farmers an estimated $2.6 billion in lost crops between 1991 and 1997." (Read more)
Southern Rural Development Initative is closing next week, after 16 years of rural advocacy
The problem "wasn't as much driven by the economy as by the priorities in philanthropy at this point," says Alan McGregor, the executive director of the Raleigh-based organization. "As we got more focused on a strategy and more focused on community-based organizations, we seemed to have fewer places to go for money," he says. "There are fewer funders who have that specific focus, working on grassroots community-based change in poor rural places." (Read more)
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Rural Ky. town of Lincoln's birth marks his 200th
"Even though the park was not fully accessible, there was still a crowd – visitors from Switzerland, Wisconsin, Colorado, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland," Ireland reports in an e-mail to The Rural Blog. "Abe would have been proud of their tenacity."
Locals hoped that President Obama would visit the birthplace today, but he chose to go to his home state of Illinois and the capital of Springfield, where Lincoln lived when elected. In Hodgenville, the U.S. Mint exchanged old pennies for new ones featuring an engraving of the cabin that the memorial houses. (The cabin is a replica but may contain logs from the actual birth cabin.) "The ceremony is part of a two-year commemoration of Lincoln’s birth," Ireland notes. "The national kickoff, scheduled in Hodgenville Feb. 12, 2008, was canceled due to wintry weather." (Read more)
Obama holds roundtable with regional reporters
News & Observer, Raleigh: “Obama talks about N.C.'s big issues”
Omaha World-Herald: “Obama praises Nelson's role in stimulus bill”
Anchorage Daily News: “Obama calls Alaska gas pipeline promising”
Columbus Dispatch: “Stimulus not perfect but will help Ohio, Obama says”
Dayton Daily News: “Stimulus package provides relief to Ohio, Obama says”
Diane Sawyer returns to Kentucky to tell the troubling story of children in Appalachia
For most of the week, ABC Television has promoted "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains," a special edition of "20/20" that airs tonight at 10 (Eastern and Pacific time). The network promises "things you never expected to see happen here, in America." The show's focus is Central Appalachia, specifically the part of the region that lies in correspondent Diane Sawyer's native Kentucky. A network team spent two years looking at the region's poverty and related problems, and reports them largely through the lives of four children. (ABC photo by Heidi Gurman)
Thursday's excerpt on "Good Morning America" focused on dental problems, with emphasis on what some dentists call a regional addiction to Mountain Dew, the heavily sugared and caffeinated drink made by PepsiCo. "The biggest offender may be acid," Sawyer reported, noting dental research that showed Mountain Dew caused "two to five times the damage of regular colas."
Sawyer read a statement from the company calling the report "irresponsible news" and saying people should exercise more responsibility for their oral health. Friday morning, she reported "an eruption of reaction" to the report, on both sides, re-aired parts of it, and interviewed Dr. Edwin Smith of Barbourville, Ky., a dentist who spends heavily from his own pocket to provide free dental care to poor children.
"The thing that is unique about Mountain Dew drinkers is they keep a bottle handy" and drink frequently from it, Smith said. "You're soaking your teeth in sugar all day." As for Pepsi's view, he said, "I think it's blaming the victim, People could do a better job, of course." Asked what he would like to see Pepsi do, he said, "I'd like for them to help us educate people. ... They could help fund our program to help educate kids and restore some of these problems we see." Sawyer replied, "We'll go back to Pepsi."
While some in the region fear the 20/20 report will be overly negative and buttress stereotypes, the excerpts we have seen so far on the air and the ABC Web site all have a dose of hope and a degree of respect for the people profiled. Promoting the full report, Sawyer said Friday morning, "You're going to meet some extraodinary people who will rededicate your hope." In an interview with the main ABC affiliate that serves the region, Lexington's WTVQ, she said she wanted to take the story beyond stereotypes and show the subjects' "fighting spirit."
Sawyer was born in Glasgow, Ky., which is not in Appalachia but is amid some counties that Congress has designated as Appalachian. Her grandparents were from a few counties east, where the hill country of the Highland Rim or Eastern Pennyroyal region meets the Appalachian coalfield. She told Katya Cengel of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, where she grew up, that "she felt at home with the accents" she found a few counties still farther east, in Southeastern Kentucky. "Those are the accents I love," she said. "Those are my grandparents and great-grandparents. ... I love this region so much, I love these accents, I love the music, I love the mountains. I feel that this is my DNA." (Read more)
Cattle producers see prospects for a better 2009
In states like Iowa, many farmers switched from raising cattle to corn and soybeans. "The thinning herds reflect the struggles cattle raisers and feeders have fought for years against surpluses, changing dietary tastes and imports," writes Piller. "The most recent whammy has come from high corn prices, fed primarily by the nascent ethanol industry and the entry of speculators into the commodity grain markets."
Despite the economic downturn, cattle producers remain hopeful. They point out that when the economy is down, fewer people eat out, which usually sees a spike in beef sales at supermarkets. (Read more)
Texas in the grip of worst drought in a decade
For farmers the time to plant corn has nearly passed, with sorghum and cotton to only remaining options should the rains come. Ranchers' worst fears may be realized this summer if they are forced to slaughter their herds. "Complicating the calculus for farmers and ranchers, prices for grain and beef have dropped, as people across the country have cut their spending in the economic crisis," writes McKinley. (Read more)
The Dallas area has experienced two years of prolonged drought and climate scientists say conditions are likely to continue. "The U.S. Climate Prediction Center foresees drought conditions continuing or developing across most of the state.," reports Roy Appleton of the Dallas Morning News. "Forecasters expect the La Niña weather pattern to persist through April, with cooler-than-normal water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean tending to weaken the tropical jet stream and keep rain-producing storms north of Texas." (Read more)
Four gun-friendly states are among last to consider open-carry laws
Florida and New York ban open carrying, but the four other states that don't allow it "are extremely gun-friendly. They understand the individual-rights aspect. Yet for whatever reason, the carry laws in these states are restrictive," says John Pierce, a co-founder of OpenCarry.org, which promotes gun rights.
Grass-roots organizations in support of open-carry laws have popped up on the Internet and through email campaigns. A petition in support of the bill has 55,000 signatures in Texas and OpenCarry.org has raised $25,000 in online donations. (Read more)
Missouri town of 35 gives OK to medical marijuana
“This is symbolism, pure and simple,” said Mayor Joe Blundell, who says that marijuana has helped ease pain he suffers following a train accident which left him in a wheelchair. “I would like to be the brave one who grows the first plant, but they’ve built a lot of cages for the people who stick their necks out.” He says that his high profile has led him to quit smoking pot, he said that his use was not recreational: “I’m not just stoning myself out. It allowed me to function.” But "skeptics say research is slim to support its medicinal benefits and call it a ruse for the partying crowd," writes Scott Canon in The Kansas City Star. (Read more)
Small chicken flocks becoming more popular
He says that most refer to the economy when asked why they want to keep their own flock. One man told him that “’running into town’ was actually a 50-mile round trip, and with gas at $4 a gallon, a dozen eggs could cost him $15!” But Beyer also says that growing interest in locally-grown produce and increased coverage of small chicken farmers in national magazines and newspapers have also helped the hobby grow in popularity. (Read more)
USDA agency in line for $1.5 billion of broadband money has been criticized for lack of oversight
In 2005, the USDA's inspector general reported that one-fourth of the loan money reviewed "was either not used as intended, not used at all, or did not provide the expected return of service." Cecilia Kang writes in The Washington Post that, in a separate investigation, the inspector general found that "$430,000 went to a Lubbock, Texas high-speed Internet service provider that used the money for pilot lessons for its president and treasurer."
USDA says that they have worked to correct past problems. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said: "It's important for folks to give us an opportunity to prove that past mistakes are in the past and corrected and that we will do a more progressive job to make sure people who need broadband service will get it."
Others say USDA lacks the experience to administer broadband grants. Ben Scott, policy director of public interest group Free Press, says the money should be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which would handle the rest of the approximately $6 billion set aside to help create morebroadband infrastructure. (Read more) But NTIA did a questionable job of managing the consumer side of the digital TV transition.
The Daily Yonder reports that local broadband providers have told the rural news outlet "that they have experienced long delays and interminable red tape in dealing with USDA's utilities branch." But Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, fought for the agency, saying it was more familiar with rural communities and their needs. (Read more)
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Environmental groups reiterate 'whoa' on ethanol; industry worried about EPA carbon footprint rule
The coalition, made up of the Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, Newtork for New Energy Choices and the Clean Air Task Force, has been working closely for the past year with food manufacturers. It argues that the effects of corn ethanol production on the environment make it an unstable source of renewable energy. In an earlier post, we comment on a research study with initial findings supporting this claim. Jonathan Lewis of the Clean Air Task Force said, “From a climate perspective, burning gasoline is better than increasing the production of corn ethanol” for the next five to 10 years.
The Renewable Fuels Association, a voice for the ethanol industry, blasted the coalition's latest effort, arguing that the coalition is interested more in demonizing ethanol production than engaging in talks with renewable-energy industries. RFA Communications Director Matt Hartwig says, "This is nothing more than a repackaging of tired and unsubstantiated rhetoric."
The biofuels platform proposed by the coalition includes measures to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, tie biofuel tax cuts to performance and rebalance the U.S. renewable energy investment portfolio. "We are at a critical juncture," Lewis says. "If new policies for promoting biofuels incorporate the same flawed assumptions that plague Washington's previous efforts, we will be stuck with another generation of biofuels that undermine public health and harm the environment." Read the biofuel platform here, RFA's response here.
The Environmental Protection Agency is upgrading the Renewable Fuels Standard, which mandates and regulates the use of such fuels. The new standard includes indirect effects on land use, and "Some ethanol proponents are concerned that if the EPA gives too much credence to the possible effects of U.S. ethanol production on Brazilian rain forests, the industry won’t meet the low carbon fuel standard," reports Ken Anderson of Brownfield Network. Geoff Cooper of RFA told Anderson that EPA sent its analysis to the White House's Office of Management and Budget last fall, and that OMB could issue a proposed rule for comment at any time. (Read more)
"The low carbon fuel standard requires that, starting this year, grain-based ethanol must have a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline," explains Dan Looker of Agriculture Online. "Several studies show that the industry could easily meet that, unless it has to account for carbon dioxide released when forests and grasses are put into crop production because of ethanol."
"We will continue a dialogue on precisely what the congressional intent was when that was crafted," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Looker. "I think there are obviously some concerns about modeling land use outside of the United States because sometimes it's difficult to verify." Looker notes, "The law doesn't say whether EPA has to consider so-called indirect land use in just the U.S., or globally, Vilsack says ... even if satellite images are used." (Read more)
Debate over Kentucky's tobacco and alcohol taxes reopens the state's rural-urban divide
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear proposed raising the cigarette tax 70 cents to $1 a pack, and doubling taxes on other tobacco products, as part of a plan to balance the state's recession-starved budget. The plan drew fire from rural and Republican lawmakers, many of them from border areas, which get a boost in retail sales because Kentucky's cigarette tax is one of the lowest. Many of those areas have voted to maintain Prohibition, and some of their "dry" voters said that if taxes on tobacco were raised, levies on alcoholic beverages should be too -- even though Kentucky already has relatively high alcohol taxes.
So, Beshear and leaders of the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate agreed to a 30-cent increase on cigarettes and applying the 6 percent sales tax to packaged alcoholic beverages, now free of sales tax. That drew objections from urban legislators, who said it was another example of rural areas benefiting from taxes paid by their city cousins. "Some urban legislators who normally would vote for any tax increase are saying no to an increase they consider an inadequate fix and overly burdensome to their constituents," Larry Dale Keeling writes in the Lexington Herald-Leader.
One Louisville lawmaker went so far as to introduce an amendment to require alcohol taxes to be spent only in counties where the sale of alcohol is legal. Keeing says that was "a takeoff on the coal severance tax," about half of which is spent in coal counties. The bill is scheduled for a House floor vote today. (Read more) For a map of wet, dry and so-called "moist" jurisdictions in Kentucky, click here.
Recession raises use of local libraries, but also costs them state funding
"When times are tough, that's when library usage is the busiest," Cleveland County Memorial Library Director Carol Wilson told the Star. At her library the number daily visitors is up by 200 hundred people from 500 to 700. "Public computer usage is up 25 percent, despite people being guaranteed they can utilize the computers longer," Allen writes. People are using their computer time to search for jobs and fill out applications online.
However, the recession also means that funding for libraries may be cut. North Carolina has cut the Cleveland County library by $161,000 and more cuts could be coming. When use is up and money is down, libraries depend heavily on donations and fewer purchases of new materials. (Read more; hat tip to Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute.)
Two High Plains refineries cited for air pollution
The two companies are Frontier Refining, cited for violations at its refineries in El Dorado and Cheyenne, Kan., and Wyoming Refining, cited for violations at its refinery in Newcastle, WY. Frontier has"agreed to pay a civil penalty of $1.23 million and spend about $127 million in pollution control upgrades," writes Bleizeffer. Wyoming Refining has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $150,000 and is required to spend roughly $14 million in facility upgrades. (Read more)
U.S. may give farmers a say in grain freight rates
Over the past two years shipping rates have not been as much a concern because grain profits were high, making shipping rates a smaller proportion of the farmer's share. But as grain prices begin to fall off the issue is reemerging.
Farmers have been removed from the negotiation of shipping contracts because grain "elevators buy the wheat and barley, and then pay the railroad to ship it out," reports Tom Lutey of the Billings Gazette. "Because it's the elevator's name on the shipping contract, the farmer in the eyes of the law wasn't considered part of the deal, even though the shipping cost actually came out the farmer's grain payment."
Depending on the price of grain, the pass-through cost of shipping could cost farmers up to half their payments from an elevator. Other industries have complained about the costs of shipping by train. "Buyers of Montana and Wyoming coal are big critics of shipping costs," writes Lutey, noting that a Wisconsin utility "pays $75 million a year to ship $30 million worth of coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin. ... Customers pay that shipping cost through higher utility bills." (Read more)
Rural residents oppose Iowa school consolidation
The plan would reduce the number of school districts to 144, from 362. "People are very reluctant to give up their schools," Steffen Schmidt, an Iowa State University political science professor, told the Register. "It means you lose your team, your community identity, everything that makes people happy to pay taxes because it's their school that gets lost."
While rural residents argue that small classes help students learn, proponents of consolidation worry that the smaller school districts could shortchange students. "Small schools often can't afford to hire qualified teachers in certain subjects and to offer a broader menu of classes, both of which are designed to give students the boost they need for life after high school," write reporters Staci Hupp and Jennifer Jacobs. Rural Iowans point out that rural school achievement scores are higher than those in Des Moines. (Read more)
Salazar delays Bush-era offshore drilling plan
The Obama administration's decision indicates a departure from the "oil or nothing" approach of the Bush administration, Salazar said. A combination of offshore wind farms and drilling seems to be the approach favored by Obama.
"The Interior Department will extend the public-comment period for the new plan, which had been scheduled to close March 23, by 180 days," David Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin write. "But he also said the administration will look for ways to generate energy offshore by using renewable sources such as wind, waves or tides." Salazar called the Bush administration's approach "a headlong rush of the worst kind" and "a process tilted toward the usual energy players." (Read more)
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Out of reach of TV stations' new signals, rural Americans are discovering digital disappointment
Some stations are moving their transmitters as they switch to digital, leaving rural areas in their dark. Digital signals supposedly travel about 75 miles, and then drop out quickly, unlike the old analog signals that get fuzzy and fade. "There is a hell of a lot of rural people that live more than 75 miles from an urban center large enough to have a broadcast television station," Brian Depew of the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs writes on its Blog for Rural America.
"The problem started to come home for me when my parents called this week," Depew writes. "They live in rural northwest Iowa where they receive analog signals for stations broadcasting from Des Moines (150 miles away), Sioux City (100 miles away) and Fort Dodge (60 miles away). They hooked their brand-new digital converter box up, and lost the stations in Sioux City and Des Moines. Only the Fort Dodge station came in digitally. The Sioux City station and at least one of the Des Moines stations are already broadcasting a simultaneous digital signal, but alas, it seems they are too far away to receive it."
Depew says his folks "could get satellite television, but that's not cheap. And for many poor people, especially during these tough economic times, the satellite bill might be out of reach. For these people especially, broadcast television is important. Having equitable access to news and information is a democratizing force that we should take seriously." (Read more)
But the whole story of the digital transition remains to be told, says David Greer of the Kentucky Press Association, who knows a few things about television."Many stations now broadcasting digital signals are doing so with low power, temporary towers and different channels than they will eventually use permanently," Greer wrote us in an e-mail. "In other words, it's too early to judge the quality of digital reception for folks in rural areas, in some cases. ... The current transition period is just that for some stations. Some, obviously, are better off technically and are already transmitting HiDef with as much wattage or more than analog. But not everyone is there yet."
Local TV's outlook not good; news suffers cuts
According to Bernstein Research, ad revenue is expected to drop 20 to 30 percent this year. Broadcasting is also facing difficulties associated with the digital transition. Congress recently voted to push back the transition to June, meaning that most stations will be running two types of transmitters, adding substantial costs. Meanwhile, Nielsen estimates that as much as 5 percent of television households are currently unprepared for the move to digital broadcasts.
What really makes local stations nervous is that executives at some major networks, including CBS, are entertaining the idea of placing some of their shows on cable networks. Such a move could allow networks to gain a steady stream of revenue from subsriber fees. However, as CBS's chief executive, Leslie Moonves, notes, any move to cable would take place 10 years from now.
To cope with change, stations are increasing online content and sending content to mobile devices such as cell phones. While cuts in news staffs are common, some stations are expanding news programming with the hope that original content will bring in more revenue. Stations owned by NBC Universal are beaming content and ads into television screens in supermarkets, taxi cabs, and other new venues. (Read more)
Obama should see Daschle's departure as an opportunity, not a problem, health expert writes
Robert Slaton, who was Kentucky state health commissioner under Gov. Brereton Jones in the early 1990s, recalls how Jones, like Obama, named one person to oversee both health-care reform and run health and human services programs. "The new secretary/reform coordinator learned very quickly that these were both 24/7 jobs; time and attention focused on one was time and attention not available for the other. As a result, both efforts suffered," Slaton writes. Having one person try to do both at the national level is likely to result in failure."
Daschle was viewed as ideal for making the sort of deals needed to achieve success on such a complex issue as health care, but Slaton says Daschle may have "spent too many years pointing fingers in the health care arena to enable him to be successful at this kind of consensus building." He says the logical starting point for health reform is a plan offered in November by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana. "Baucus represents a state that is virtually as rural" as South Dakota, and heads the Senate Finance Committee, Slaton notes. "With Senator Daschle out of the picture for now, we can hope that the President will turn to Senator Baucus for significant input on health-care reform."
Slaton is on the advisory board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, and his article is posted here, on the Institute Web site.
Virginia House passes smoking ban
The measure was a compromise plan worked out between Republican House Speaker Bill Howell and Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine. The House added exceptions for venues booked for private functions or times when establishments are not open to minors. The bill also allows restaurants to have a separate room for smokers; an earlier version required a separate ventilation system. The bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. Ralph Northam said he could not support any of the amendments, writes Mason Adams for The Roanoke Times. (Read more)
Senate, House differ on funnel for broadband cash
By contrast, the Senate would send its broadband money to the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, with half of the $6.65 billion allocation earmarked for rural service. (This is the same NTIA that has done a questionable job managing the digital TV transition for consumers.) The Commerce Department would then have the option of transferring funds to the USDA. The bill also requires a "comprehensive nationwide inventory map of existing broadband service capability and availability in the United States."
"Some Senators prefer the House's decision to the allow USDA to administer the rural portion of the broadband kitty," writes Bishop. "Since the House and Senate bills still must be reconciled, there is no way to know how the differences between the two will settle out." (Read more)
Monday, February 09, 2009
Registration deadline for conference on economic development extended to this Friday; sign up now
The conference will feature an outstanding lineup of speakers, including three keynoters with ties to both journalism and economic development: David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, which owns Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. and Raycom Media, a group of television stations; Edgar Blatchford, a former mayor and state commissioner of commerce who founded a chain of rural newspapers, ran an Alaska Native Corporation, and now teaches journalism at the University of Alaska; and Jack Schultz of Agracel Inc. and Boomtown USA, a venture capitalist who writes and speaks regularly all over the U.S. about rural development.
Other speakers will include Brian Dabson, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, who will discuss the rural economy, its prospects and key strategies for rural development; Will Lambe of the University of North Carolina, who will present real examples of successful small-town development; Vaughn Grisham of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi and Lionel “Bo” Beaulieu of the Southern Rural Development Institute at Mississippi State University, who will discuss community-based economic development; Brian Mefford of Connected Nation, who will discuss the importance of broadband, which can spur rural development but poses challenges for traditional media; and several journalists, researchers, government officials and development financiers.
The conference is supported by Jacksonville State, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority. Full descriptions of the program and logistics are available here, on the Web site of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which is programming it. The document does not reflect the extended earlybird registration fee, which is $60.
Va. Tech turns coal sludge into a useful product
"The hyperbaric centrifuge is like the spin cycle on a washing machine, with the addition of compressed air," said Yoon. "Combining increased spinning and compressed air has a synergistic effect and cuts the moisture in half compared to conventional technology." The breakthrough is a welcomed by environmentalists and engineers, who once had to dispose of the product because of its unmarketable nature. Coal sludge is similar to ash, which is cleaned off in order to make coals burn longer and more efficiently.
"For me, that is a great accomplishment," said Yoon. "People living in coal-mining districts will see fewer and smaller slurry ponds. We have done something for the industry and for the public." Peter Bethell, a director of coal preparation at Arch Coal, says the product can be reused in the environment and improve economic returns. "It also goes to energy independence because we are using more of the available resource." Read more.
Falling milk prices force many dairy farms to quit
The cost fluctuations force many dairy farms to go out of business since the price they receive for their milk is "set each month based on a formula beginning with cheese prices from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange," Groom explains. Tim Halsey, a former dairy farmer in Mexico, tells Groom, "You need to make about $18 a hundred just to cover the cost of production." In New York alone, the 2007 Census of Agriculture showed five counties lost 151 dairy farms between 2002 and 2007. The downturn in the world economy is another factor resulting in less dairy demand. Read more.
Census of Agriculture has a story for every news outlet in rural America
Here is the home page for the census, which is conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Near the top is a line, "State and County Profiles," which leads you to a map and list of states, and then to maps and lists of counties.
For example, the page for my home county in Southern Kentucky, Clinton County, shows that its agricultural production grew by 48 percent -- even though most farms raised tobacco in 2002 and the federal program of tobacco production quotas and price supports was repealed in 2004. Why was that? I think I know, but the county agricultural extension agent should be able to confirm it for me, and his counterparts in every other county should be able to do likewise.
The county pages also give the number of farms, and the amount of government payments received, in each county in 2002 and 2007. Clinton County's page shows that government payments went up 84 percent, surely because of the so-called "buyout" program that compensated tobacco growers for the loss of their quotas. And despite the end of the tobacco program and the consolidation of farms, the county had exactly the same number of farms, 629, in 2007 that it did in 2002.
The county pages also have charts and graphs showing the number of farms in each of six size categories, how farmland was being used in 2007 (cropland, pasture, woodland and other uses), the county's state and national rankings for agricultural production, the value of sales and the rankings for each crop and type of livestock, the acres used for each major crop, and the number of farms in each of 12 categories of total sales, total and average production expenses, net cash income (total and average), primary occupation of farm operators (farmer or otherwise), and operators by sex, age and race. The page doesn't have 2002 data, but this USDA Web page does, and we'll bet the county Extension office does, too. Do this story!
Pentagon pays landowners to protect endangered birds in Texas, but long-term impact is questioned
Many question whether the program will help the birds in the long run, since the easements on private property are temporary. Permanent easements that permanently bar development are known to be more effective in protecting threatened species.
"It remains unclear whether the program is succeeding in expanding the number of golden-cheeked warblers in central Texas," writes Eilperin. "A biological evaluation issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service on Aug. 2, 2007, agreed with the Army that the project's impact would not necessarily boost the bird's numbers."(Read more)
Economic woes delay 'clean coal' plant in Ohio
Palin appoints a new (and Native) rural adviser in the midst of a food and fuel crisis in rural Alaska
Last fall, when Palin was running for vice president amidst controversy, rural adviser Rhonda McBride resigned, saying an Alaska Native would be better suited than she was for the role, which had always been filled by a Native. Victoria Barber reports for The Arctic Sounder that Moller "is a former crab fisherman from Unalaska who brings a long career in fisheries management to the post, including experience with the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council and the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association."
Moller, an Aleut, has promised that his post will include multiple rural visits, especially in light of the energy crisis affecting "Bush Alaska," the huge swaths of the state that are not on the road system. Barber reports Moller will be traveling to Emmonak, Kotlik, Alakanuk and Nunam Iqua to assess their situations and "the effectiveness of some of the efforts that the state has taken already."
"The reason I signed on for this job was to advise the governor on what I think we need in rural Alaska. And it's not a one-size-fits-all hat. We are a very diverse state," Moller told Barber. "I'm absolutely amped -- I think I can make a difference." Read more.
Vilsack is open to a single agency for food safety
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today that the time have finally arrived for a single federal agency to handle food safety. "Currently the job of meat and poultry safety is with the USDA, but the FDA handles most everything else," Brownfield Network reports. "Every agriculture secretary in the last three decades has rejected the single agency handling food safety," and legislation to unify the function has always failed.
Vilsack said on Oregon Public Radio's "Think Out Loud" show, “There are 325,000 people in this country that are hospitalized every year for food-borne illnesses and countless millions that have problems that they don’t even realize are connected to their food supply. That suggests to us that we’ve got an issue and we’re the only industrialized country in the world, to my knowledge, that has two separate departments handling this very important responsibility.” To listen to the show, click here.
W.Va. officials avoid saying whether coal slurry in underground mines threatens drinking water
"The DEP cannot say precisely what's in that waste, how much is injected annually, or whether and where it migrates," reports Vicki Smith of The Associated Press. "Nor is it under any pressure to do so: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hasn't studied the practice in a decade and said in 2002 its existing rules were adequate to protect groundwater." This ambivalence continues despite law suits from several West Virginia communities which claim to have tests showing heir water is contaminated with toxins including arsenic, lead and manganese.
"Slurry is created when coal is washed with water and chemicals to separate clay, rock and other impurities that keep the carbon from burning efficiently," adds Smith. "Underground injection is one of the ways companies can legally dispose of it. It can also be stored in massive impoundments or dried and buried in earthen cells." (Read more)
Oregon goes to war against destructive feral swine
Currently the feral pig population in Oregon is estimated to be between 1,000 and 2,000, but scientists fear that the population could spike quickly since the pigs can breed before they are a year old, have two litters a year, and each litter usually contains between 5 and 12 piglets.
Aside from their threat to crops, feral pigs threaten livestock, wildlife and humans. "They can carry pseudorabies, swine brucellosis and foot and mouth disease," writes Mortensen. "They can transmit to humans a whole host of vile sounding illnesses: brucellosis, balantidiasis, leptospirosis, salmnellosis, toxoplasmosis, trichinosis, trichostrongylosis, tuberculosis, tularemia, anthrax, rabies and plague."
Efforts to control the population are proving difficult since many of the animals are on private land where state officials can not hunt them. "Data in Oregon’s Feral Swine Action Plan says that most of the pigs were killed by hunters on private land," adds Mortensen. The idea of sponsoring feral pig hunts in Oregon is gaining popularity since it would not only reduce the pig population but help the state's economy. (Read more)
USDA, EPA talk raising share of ethanol in gas
The industry is facing significant challenges. The high gasoline prices seen last year lowered demand for fuel, and ethanol producer Archer Daniels Midland Co. says U.S. ethanol production is only making 79 percent of what it could be making. The industry's second-largest producer, VeraSun Energy Corp., filed for bankruptcy protection in October. "By increasing the blend, demand for ethanol will be boosted even as gasoline use falls," writes Bloomberg's Tina Seeley.
“I do think it’s important for us to look for strategies to make sure the infrastructure of the ethanol industry is preserved, because it is a key component to this new energy future the president’s laid out," Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, a big corn and ethanol state, told Seeley in an interview Friday.
Where'd that chicken come from? Company tells
The company emphasizes local produce and eco-packaging. The food blog Eat Me Daily says that the farm verification system helps provide "accountability and transparency" to the food industry. (Read more)
Livestock-industry supporters step up advocacy in light of state animal rights legislation
Take, for instance, Troy and Stacy Hedrick, South Dakota ranchers who now spend much of their time advocating for their industry. As fifth-generation farmers, the Hadricks worry that their children might not get a chance to ranch. “That [opportunity] might not be there if people don’t start standing up and defending this industry and telling the truth about this industry,” Troy Hedrick told Andrea Cook of the Rapid City Journal. They have traveled to 10 states speaking about what they do through Advocates for Agriculture, a public speaking group they founded.
Livestock-industry activists say advocacy is necessary to counteract the work of organizations such as the well-funded Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, both of which provided significant financial support to the campaign for Proposition 2 and seek similar restrictions elsewhere. “People do believe what we have to say,” Nebraska cattle and pig farmer Hilary Maricle said. “But, we’re very good at being too polite and not speaking up. We have to speak up or someone else is going to tell our story, and it won’t be accurate." (Read more)
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Stimulus compromise: much less for states, but still billions for broadband; Collins key player
The compromise has $7 billion to expand broadband in rural and other underserved areas. The Senate Finance Committee bill called for $9 billion; the House passed $6 billion. "One of the last decisions was to strike $5.8 billion in public health funds to fight preventable diseases," reports David Rogers of Politico.
"Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine, right) was the driving force in making this cut, but elsewhere, she was also a force in adding $870 million for community health centers. The savings include $2 billion from the president’s health information technology initiative." (Read more) Collins represents the nation's second most rural state in population; so does Sen. Olympia Snowe, another Republican who is expected to vote for the bill. The key Democratic player was Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Maine's major paper, the Portland Press Herald, recently closed down its Washington bureau, but Tom Bell interviewed Collins by phone and wrote, "She said her role in negotiating a compromise has been one of the highlights of her career. "A lot of people back in Maine have been contacting me to say they are delighted that I played a key role in bringing people together," Collins told him. "And they didn't want to see partisan gridlock, which is what we were heading towards." (Read more)
The story for rural areas is not just at the federal level. Few states can run deficits, and most are cutting budgets because tax revenue declines with the economy. They would not get as much money from the compromise version. The compromise cuts to $39 billion from $79 billion a "fund to help states avoid sizable layoffs and cuts in services, especially in public education," Gail Russell Chaddock reports for the Christian Science Monitor. She notes the Senate bill eliminates $3.5 billion for higher-education construction and has $16 billion less for school construction, $1 billion less for early childhood education and $600 million less in new Title I funding for schools with low-income students. Some of that could be restored by a House-Senate conference committee; top White House economic aide Lawrence Summers said on ABC’s “This Week” today that education funding in the House version was “critical.” (Read more)
Schools construction, broadband and rural water and sewer lines ranked 3-2-1 on a list of stimulus needs offered by Billy Ray Hall, president of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, in a column in the News & Record of Greensboro. "This is not an urban recession, as it is sometimes portrayed," Hall wrote. "It is a severe recession for both rural and urban America." (Read more)